June 9, 2006

Terre Haute, Indiana (Part II)


As frequent readers of this column are all too aware, a significant portion of your editor's vacation time is spent visiting the in-laws in beautiful Fort Wayne, Indiana. As a result, we've spent a lot of time checking out the radio sights of fine Hoosier destinations ranging from Indianapolis to Lafayette to South Bend to Valparaiso to...well, you get the picture.

And so it came to pass, having run out of other Indiana towns to visit, that your editor and a small band of equally-crazed radio folks found ourselves heading to Terre Haute, an hour or so west of Indianapolis, one evening in November 2005.

We wrapped up part one of our Terre Haute recap with our stop the next morning at the WTHI stations on East Ohio Street, and we begin part two a few minutes later, a few blocks to the east at the studios of Crossroads Communications' five stations: sports simulcast WBOW (1300 Terre Haute)/WSDX (1130 Brazil), hot AC WBOW-FM (102.7 Terre Haute), oldies WAXI (104.9 Rockville) and the unusual country-rock hybrid called "Crock," WSDM-FM (92.7 Brazil).

When we visited, WSDM had just completed a move from 97.7 (swapping frequencies with WCLS in Spencer, which allowed that station to move into the Bloomington market), which precipitated a series of format moves that relocated oldies from WSDM to WAXI (which had been standards) and launched the unusual "Crock" format on WSDM.

The WBOW calls, meanwhile, have their own long history in the market. They originally stood for "Banks of the Wabash," and were originally found on the market's very first radio station, which signed on in 1927. That WBOW ended up on 1230 after World War II, and in the late eighties moved to 640 with 250 watts day and night. (The 1230 facility stayed on the air as well, changing calls to WZZQ to match its sister FM outlet on 107.5, then becoming WBUZ in 2000.)

In the meantime, the licenses for 640, 1230 and 107.5 had come under FCC scrutiny after station owner Mike Rice was convicted on 12 felony charges of child sexual assault. After several appeals, the licenses were finally pulled for good on October 4, 2001, and those three frequencies (along with KFMZ 98.3 in Columbia, Missouri) went silent.

The WBOW calls were quickly snapped up on 102.7 (which had begun its life as WPFR and was then WLEZ), and eventually landed on 1300 as well (which had been operating as WJSH after signing on in 1958 as WAAC). And in 2002, the "new" WBOW stations, along with WAXI, landed right back at the 1301 Ohio Street facility where the "old" WBOW had been for many years. (By the time the old WBOW/WZZQ/WBUZ signed off, it had moved a few doors down to 1341 Ohio.)

The building at 1301 Ohio had been converted into offices in the meantime, so it was rebuilt more or less from scratch when the Crossroads stations moved in. The big studio shown at the top of the page serves multiple purposes - it's home to the live afternoon show on the AM stations, as well as to WSDM in the morning. That's "Studio C," above, which is next to the big studio and is used by WAXI; one more room over is the studio that's used by WBOW-FM, and a production room behind them runs the AM stations in the morning as well. It's a very visible location right on US 40, and a nice spot for a radio station.

We'll pick up the rest of the threads of the WBOW story again in a bit - but first, we head 15 miles south of town to the little crossroads of Farmersburg, Indiana, home to all of the market's TV transmitters and one of its studio buildings. WTWO (Channel 2) signed on out here in 1965, adding a second channel to a market whose dials had long since frozen on WTHI-TV.

The building next to the thousand-foot tower dates right back to 1965, when it was considered enough of a showplace small-market TV facility to merit a long article in an issue of one of the engineering magazines of the day. Today, much of the facility's layout remains unchanged from that era, though there's since been a second station added. Fox affiliate WFXW (Channel 38) is operated under an LMA by WTWO owner Nexstar, and the set for its 10 PM news sits across the studio from WTWO's news set.

A second studio was added on the south side of the building (on the left in the photo above) a few years ago, but today it's used mainly as a garage.

A newer control room for the newscasts also sits in back, and beyond that is the transmitter room, where the original General Electric transmitter now sits unused in front of the current Harris analog transmitter and a very low power DTV transmitter. (We couldn't pick up the WTWO-DT signal in our hotel room on the south side of Terre Haute at all.)

Winding around to the north side of the building, there's a small newsroom, several rows of offices and the master control room for WTWO and WFXW.

And if the WTWO call letters sound somewhat familiar at the moment, that could be because of the surprising amount of publicity the station garnered recently for the ad campaign touting the advantages of its Farmersburg-based weather radar over the WTHI radar, which sits next to the WTHI studios in downtown Terre Haute and therefore (at least if you believe the WTWO ads) misses storm action right in the middle of town. Somehow, even Jon Stewart got into the act, showing bits of WTWO's "negative advertising" on The Daily Show a few weeks back. (Hey - as long as you get the call letters right...)

After a nice tour of WTWO, we head outside to look at the tower - and right across the street, the 995-foot tower of archrival WTHI-TV. To complete the set, the WFXW tower is just a short distance to the south on US 41, also checking in at just under a thousand feet.

After lunch, a quick circuit of transmitter sites wraps up our Terre Haute visit. We start right on Poplar Street in downtown Terre Haute, at the now-vacant building that was home to Channel 38 in its previous incarnation as WBAK-TV, named for former owner Cy Bahakel. As an ABC affiliate on the UHF dial, WBAK never managed to gain much traction against its two big VHF competitors, and it eventually shut down its local news operation and flipped to Fox before ending up partnered with WTWO. (Terre Haute now sees ABC on cable, via Indianapolis' WRTV.)

Up to the north of town, just beyond the "Twelve Points" neighborhood, we come to the six-tower array that was WTHI(AM) and is now religious WPFR. By day, it's a 5 kW signal using three of these towers in a row (I believe it's the three rightmost towers in the photo above); at night, it's 1000 watts from four towers in a box (I think that would be the four at left.)

Heading back into the middle of town, the old WBOW/WBUZ site is indeed on - or at least near - the banks of the Wabash. Silent for more than half a decade, this two-tower facility is the site for several applications that were filed for new signals on both 640 and 1230 during the last AM window. (A number of applications were also filed for 1230 at the 1480 site, proposing diplexed operation.)

Crossing the river to West Terre Haute, busy traffic on US 40 makes it impossible to get good pictures of the little 1300 tower just west of the Wabash, or of the WWVR (105.5 West Terre Haute) and WMGI (100.7) towers a mile or so west of that. But we do head north to the Marion Heights neighborhood to see the tower for the defunct WZZQ (107.5), still in use by Rose-Hulman college station WMHD (90.7) and religious WCRT (88.5).

Since the forced sign-off of WZZQ, the 107.5 allocation has been reserved for noncommercial use. It's likely to return - someday - as either a public radio station (Terre Haute currently has only a translator of Bloomington's WFIU) or a religious broadcaster.

And we'll wrap up our Terre Haute visit about 15 miles east of town, at the tower of WSDX (1130)/WSDM (92.7) over in Brazil.

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