November 5, 2010

WPGW, Portland, IN

When you hang your brand-new copy of Tower Site Calendar 2011 on the wall in January (you have ordered one, right?), you'll be greeted by the image you see above.

This is WPGW in Portland, Indiana, a small town about 50 miles south of Fort Wayne and a few miles west of the Ohio state line, and it's on our January 2011 page for a very specific reason: on January 14, 2011, the station will celebrate its 60th anniversary on the air.

The WPGW call sign comes from station founder Glenn West, who put the station on the air in 1951 as a 500-watt daytimer at 1440 on the dial. West ran the station as a full-service community voice for Jay County and vicinity for almost a quarter-century before selling it to Bob Brandon in 1974.

Brandon built out the construction permit West had secured for an FM signal, and on May 19, 1975, "PG-14" was joined by an FM simulcast sister, WPGW-FM, with 3000 watts at 100.9 on the dial from one of WPGW's two AM towers behind this building out on Route 67 a mile or so west of downtown Portland.

The FM station broke from the simulcast in 1980, when new owners took over and flipped the FM side to "J-Country," or "Jay Country," if you prefer to use the county's full name.

When we stopped by the day after Thanksgiving in 2008, things were pretty quiet out here on Route 67, with just one lone jock manning the console in the venerable WPGW studio/transmitter building next to the towers.

The stations' long histories are on display right in the front lobby: a "J-Country" banner from more recent FM days hangs next to a vintage "LBS - WPGW - 1440 KC" banner, evidently from the days of the old Liberty Broadcasting System that carried baseball re-enactments back in the fifties.

Walk back and to the left and you pass that little automation room shown above. I don't believe either side of WPGW still uses the old open-reel automation, but it's not hard to believe that it was still in use fairly recently.
The studio itself was still using carts during our visit, and in classic small-town radio fashion, there's a nice view over the (rotary-pot) console into the transmitter room. That's an old Harris MW-1A and an even older Gates FM transmitter just beyond the glass, but neither is the current main transmitter. Those are over to the right: a rack-mounted Energy-Onix AM transmitter than handles both WPGW's 500-watt daytime and 52-watt nighttime signals and a Harris FM-3.5K that powers WPGW-FM's 4.6 kW/181' signal.

There's another room, not shown here, that's now an office - but I believe it was once another air studio, probably the one with a piano described in WPGW's unusually comprehensive Wikipedia entry.

Before we leave Portland behind, there's one more station worth noting: WBSJ (91.7) broadcasts from a three-bay antenna on this tower near Blaine, Indiana, just down Indiana 67 from WPGW. It signed on in December 1997 as part of the regional expansion of Ball State University's WBST (92.1) into "Indiana Public Radio," now a five-station service based in Muncie.

And on the way back to Fort Wayne, we catch one more tower with a WPGW connection: WZBD (92.7 Berne) is co-owned with WPGW, providing local service to the Decatur-Berne area, which lost its last local FM voice when the prior occupant of 92.7, WQTZ Decatur, moved to 105.1 in the early 90s as Fort Wayne move-in WQHK-FM.

Want to hear some IDs from WPGW, WZBD and other nearby signals? We'll have them starting Nov. 10 over at our sister site,

In the meantime, we remind you that Tower Site Calendar 2011 is much more than just pretty pictures and dates - the modest sum we raise from each year's calendar helps make possible the travel needed to make this feature happen every week on the website...and we're grateful for all your support! (Looking for a great client gift at holiday time? Ask about our discounts for bulk orders.)

Thanks to Blaine Thompson of Indiana Radio Watch for arranging the tour and driving!

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