May 20, 2011

South Bend, Indiana (part II)

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.

We've been working to fix that gap for the last few weeks, including last week's installment that spotlighted many of the radio and TV studios and tower sites around South Bend. This week, we wrap up our 2008 and 2010 visits to South Bend with two more studio facilities, starting with one of the market's top-rated radio clusters.

Federated Media is a big player in northern Indiana, with major radio clusters in Fort Wayne and South Bend as well as the Elkhart stations we showed you a few weeks ago - and the Elkhart Truth newspaper, too. The South Bend stations make their home in a facility in suburban Mishawaka called "Planet Radio," and it's a good thing we visited there in both 2008 and 2010, because a lot changed in the interim.

Planet Radio is built on two floors in an office park building, with one row of studios, the rack room and a big sales office downstairs and two rows of studios and another sales office upstairs. The lineup of stations on each floor has varied a little over the years: when we visited for the first time in 2008, the spacious first-floor studios were home to the big guns of the lineup, country "B100" WBYT (100.7 Elkhart) and classic rock WAOR (95.3 Niles MI). Upstairs, one row of studios housed FedMed's "MNC" (Michiana News Channel) online service and urban "Power" WYPW (95.7 Nappanee), while the other studio was home to active rock "Bear" WRBR (103.9) and a studio for urban AC WUBU (106.3), a station FedMed housed under a joint sales agreement. (One more station in the cluster, talk WNIL 1290 in Niles, has no studio here, just an automation computer in the rack room downstairs.)

Two years later, several formats and studios had shifted: while WBYT and WRBR remained in place on the first and second floors, WAOR's classic rock format had migrated up the dial from 95.3 to 95.7 and up the stairs to the second-floor corner studio where WYPW had been located.

What landed on 95.3? An FM news-talker, WTRC-FM, simulcasting with Elkhart's WTRC (1340). Gone are the street-corner WTRC studios we showed you in our Elkhart installment; instead, the new "MNC Radio" ("Michiana News Channel," that is) comes from the former WAOR 95.3 studios on the first floor of Planet Radio.

(Also moved from Elkhart is the FedMed corporate headquarters, now ensconced in a separate building next door to Planet Radio here at this Edison Road office park.)

As for WUBU, it's on its own now, occupying a nice suite of offices in a renovated warehouse building just east of downtown South Bend. Most of its programming is satellite-delivered, so there's not much need for a fancy studio, just a small desk in the general manager's office where the local public service show and community-calendar segments can be produced.

WUBU's transmitter site is right in downtown South Bend, atop the Chase Bank building that's one of the city's tallest.

And where are the towers for all of FedMed's stations?

The Nappanee-licensed 95.7 signal (itself actually an LMA from Talking Stick Communications) is a rimshot from way south of town, and we don't have a picture of that one to show you.

WAOR's former home on 95.3, now WTRC-FM, used to transmit from Niles, Michigan, a few miles north of the state line, but since 2003 it's provided a better signal to South Bend from a self-supporting tower on the Indiana side of the state line, just north of the Indiana Toll Road (I-80/90) interchange with US 33/Indiana 933, and not far at all from the WNDU-TV studios.

WRBR's tower is in Mishawaka, just down the road from Planet Radio itself.

The lone class B signal in the bunch, WBYT, is in the tower farm south of town that we showed you last week, sharing a tower with its erstwhile FedMed sister TV station, WSJV (Channel 28).

And that brings us back to Ironwood Road and the southern end of the tower farm there - and to the last major TV/radio facility in South Bend that we haven't profiled yet.

Indiana is fertile ground for Christian broadcasting, and one of the largest Hoosier religious broadcasters is Lester Sumrall's LeSea Broadcasting, which operates radio and TV stations worldwide from its home base here on Ironwood Road, including a network of shortwave signals.

Those shortwave stations - the former Christian Science Monitor facilities at Cypress Creek, South Carolina (now WHRI) and T8WH on the Pacific island of Palau - are controlled from an operations center in the radio part of the building, where there's a line of studios and control rooms right behind the main lobby. (Over the years, LeSea has operated other shortwave sites as well, including the original WHRI in Noblesville, Indiana, north of Indianapolis; the former Monitor Radio plant at Greenbush, Maine and a site in Hawaii.)

There's local radio here, too: the original LeSea station, WHME-FM (103.1 South Bend), with its tower right out back, and Christian top-40 "Pulse," which broadcasts over WHPZ (96.9 Bremen) to the south and WHPD (92.1 Dowagiac MI) to the north.

Behind the line of radio studios is a very spacious TV facility, home to LeSea's worldwide "World Harvest Television" operation. Locally, it's seen on WHME-TV (Channel 46), with a transmitter site just to the east of Ironwood Road, but the control room here handles much more than just the local station. It's also the hubbed master control for LeSea's local TV stations everywhere from Hawaii to New Orleans to Tulsa to Indianapolis, as well as WHT's national satellite feed.

In addition to the control room, there are two very big TV studios here where the daily "Harvest Show" and other programs are produced.

And that pretty much wraps up our look at South least until we can get back there this summer or next and bring you up to speed on all that's changed in this ever-changing market.

Thanks to Blaine Thompson, WUBU's Gene Walker, WHME's Gary Hegland and the crew at Planet Radio for the tours!

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