May 13, 2011

South Bend, Indiana (part I)

It's only about two hours from our "alternate home base" of Fort Wayne, Indiana to another one of the Hoosier State's largest media markets, the twin cities of South Bend and Elkhart. And as we've been going through our photo archives to bring you the before-and-after shots of South Bend's WSBT radio/TV (seen here and here), we realized that over the last few years, we've visited most of the other broadcast facilities in town, too...yet we've never presented them here on Site of the Week.

After showing you a bunch of Elkhart sites in last week's installment, this week takes us 20 miles down the road to the larger city of South Bend and a pair of visits we made in 2008 and 2010 in the company of our Hoosier colleague, Blaine Thompson of Indiana RadioWatch.

If you know anything at all about South Bend, it probably has something to do with the University of Notre Dame - and there's a long connection between the famed Catholic university and broadcasting. We touched on some of that history in our very first pass through South Bend back in 2001 on our original Big Trip, but for some reason we never showed any of our studio pictures of Notre Dame's NBC affiliate, WNDU-TV (Channel 16) back then.

By the time we made it back to South Bend in 2008, things had changed a bit at WNDU's spacious studio facility on Indiana 933 (the old US 33) at the western edge of the Notre Dame campus.

For one thing, Notre Dame had sold off the TV station, following on the heels of its 1990s-era sale of WNDU radio (more on that in a moment.) Now in the hands of Gray Television, WNDU remains in its original studio facility, but by 2008 the master control room had been updated to pass NBC network HD, with local production to follow two years later.

On the way down to the WNDU transmitter site on Ironwood Road south of South Bend, we passed by the tower site of the old WNDU(AM) on 1490 - and we didn't know at the time that we were seeing a rare bit of history.

The original 1490 tower on the south edge of the Notre Dame campus (dating, I believe, back to the station's earliest days as WHOT before adopting the WNDU calls) had come down in a winter storm on New Year's Eve 2007, and it was replaced a few months later by a new tower at the same site, shown at left. But 1490 - now owned by Artistic Media and operating by 2008 under the callsign WDND - wouldn't get to use that new tower very long. In 2009, construction of a new hockey arena for Notre Dame forced the AM station to abandon its longtime site, and since then it's been mostly off the air, firing up from time to time from a longwire antenna to keep the license alive (now under the WPNT calls) while Artistic looks for a new site.

On we go to Ironwood Road, and a return to the WNDU transmitter building that we'd last seen in 2001.

We'd chronicled the history and rebuilding of the site pretty comprehensively then, so we'll just bring things up to date here with a look at the cleaned-up transmitter rooms now that the DTV conversion is all over.

WNDU's last analog TV transmitter, the Thomson shown above at right, also served as its transitional DTV transmitter, with one amplifier cabinet repurposed for digital operation on channel 42, and once the analog signal on 16 was gone, the station was able to power up on 42 by converting more of the transmitter to digital use.

In the back rooms, Notre Dame student station WSND (88.9) and Artistic's "U93" (WNDV-FM 92.9, the former WNDU-FM) were chugging along as well, the latter on a Harris transmitter that was new since the last time we'd been in the building. And in the front lobby, another landmark remains: the plaster replica of the cast-aluminum statue of Our Lady Notre Dame that was first placed atop the original WNDU-TV tower when it signed on back in 1955.

One historic South Bend site we still hope to see more closely is just north of the WNDU transmitter site: on the west side of Ironwood Road sits the majestic tower site of the WSBT stations, encompassing a four-tower AM (WSBT 960) and a tall guyed tower and shorter backup for WSBT-TV (Channel 22) and WNSN (101.5), whose studios we just featured recently here on Tower Site of the Week.

By this point, even on a long June day, we're running out of daylight - so this day ends with a nice sunset look back at Ironwood Road from the east (and from another cluster of towers, including PBS outlet WNIT, Fox affiliate WSJV and ABC affiliate WBND-LP) that we'll feature in a future column.

Looking back at Ironwood, the leftmost tower belongs to WHME (103.1), which we'll see in next week's installment; WNDU's old and new towers are in the center, and WSBT-TV is at right.

But we've got one more thing to show you in this South Bend installment, and that's the current studio home of the stations that used to be WNDU(AM)/WNDU-FM.

They're now part of Artistic Media Partners, and when we stopped by the company's headquarters/studio complex near the Indiana Toll Road in suburban Mishawaka on our 2008 trip, the station lineup here included WNDV-FM (92.9, top-40 "U93), classic rock WZOW (97.7 Goshen), WSMM (102.3 New Carlisle, soft AC "Stream"), sports WDND (1490) and talker WPNT (1620). Three years later, U93 and Stream (now oldies) are still there, but 97.7 is now WSSM, simulcasting WSMM, while WDND and its sports format have moved to 1620 and 1490 is silent.

Thanks to Blaine Thompson, WNDU chief engineer George Molnar and Artistic Media's Art and Arthur Angotti for the tours!

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