Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
Ah, Terre Haute! Maybe it’s the Fort Wayne in us talking, but it takes some explaining as to why we’ve spent so much time in this small city halfway down the west side of Indiana in recent years. Unless you’re a fan of baking powder history or you have a kid at Indiana State or Rose-Hulman, or maybe a job that requires you to go back and forth between St. Louis and Indianapolis, what’s to draw you to the banks of the Wabash as often as we’ve been there lately?
In four letters, “WTHI.” The station that used to belong the Hulman family (of baking powder and auto racing fame) ended up split a few years ago, with its FM side going to Emmis and its TV side, eventually, to LIN and then Media General. More to the point, at least for our tourism purposes, the WTHI stations all vacated the century-old building at 918 East Ohio Street where they’d been since the 1950s. FM moved to a new building just behind the old one, while TV went two blocks down Ohio Street to its own new building.
The summer of 2015 brought us back to town for “after,” including a look at the parking lot where 918 E. Ohio used to be. Just down the street, we get a look at the compact, neatly-designed WTHI-TV facility. Enter from the lobby on Ohio Street and you’re in a two-story L-shaped area that wraps around the main TV studio at the heart of the plant. The newsroom is on the first floor, a big step up from the low-ceilinged second-floor space in the old building; upstairs, those are promotions offices and other staffers on the mezzanine, which in turn wraps around to executive and sales offices above the lobby.
Master control for WTHI’s CBS and Fox channels is at sister station WISH-TV in Indianapolis, so there’s just a production control room here that handles local newscast production from the studio. (Where new construction means no pole in the middle of the room as in the old TV studio down the street!)
Keep going down Ohio, turn left on US 41, and you’ll pass the studios of Midwest Communications’ Terre Haute cluster. This is something of an “after” visit, too, since this is a dramatically different station group from what was here on our last visits to town.
In addition to the signals it already had here, led off by “Magic” WMGI (100.7) and what used to be WWSY (95.9, now “Duke FM” classic country as WDKE), Midwest had added several stations from the now-defunct Crossroads cluster across town.
WDWQ (102.7), doing country as “Q102.7,” is the former WBOW-FM; the WBOW calls have moved across the state line to Midwest’s 98.5 over in Paris, Illinois, which does adult hits from an automation system here – and on the AM dial, the original WBOW frequency of 1230 is now news-talk WIBQ, with the format that Midwest used to have on 98.5. (There’s a story here, too; 1230 was one of several Terre Haute frequencies that went dark in the late 1990s when then-owner Mike Rice went to jail. The channel eventually went to an application window, was obtained by Bott Communications, then sold to Midwest, which swapped it out for the lesser 1300 signal it had obtained from Crossroads.)
Our 2005 visit included a stop over at Indiana State, where WISU (89.7) was the student-run station. That changed a decade later, when the university bought Rose-Hulman’s station, WMHD (90.7), and moved it to become the new ISU student station as WZIS, “Z90.7.”
WZIS now lives in a comfortable studio that had been a WISU production room, just down the hall from the main WISU studio that overlooks a classroom for communications students.
When WZIS became the student station, WISU became the NPR outlet that Terre Haute had been conspicuously lacking, save only for a translator of WFIU from IU in Bloomington. WISU’s NPR hookup comes from WFYI (90.1) in Indianapolis, for the most part, but ISU is working on developing more local programming to flesh out the 89.7 schedule.
Another casualty of the Crossroads collapse was WAXI (104.9), a class A rimshot up north of Terre Haute in Rockville. Under Crossroads, WAXI was operated out of Terre Haute studios, but new owner Dave Crooks reopened the old studios just outside Rockville at the base of the tower, so we had to stop by and see operations manager Barry Kent at the new-old WAXI.
At the outset, WAXI was mostly using True Oldies Channel syndication, but Barry was hard at work rebuilding local presence – that’s him hosting a talk show in the main studio, as seen through the big window from the front lobby. WAXI’s transmitters, new and old, are in the room next door. It’s your classic small-town local station, and we wish Barry and crew much luck!
From WAXI up north of Terre Haute, we head back down US 41 through town, stopping at what’s proclaimed to be “Terre Haute’s Finest New York-Style Pizza” for a quick lunch before continuing south on 41 down to Farmersville, where several tall TV towers dot the landscape. (About the pizza? Not bad – for 750 miles west of Broadway.)
Look carefully at the sign out front of Nexstar’s WTWO (Channel 2) and you’ll see new signage below: its sister station, formerly Fox affiliate WFXW (Channel 38), has returned to its former ABC affiliation as WAWV, “ABC for the Wabash Valley.” (And the TV landscape is about to take another big turn here as Nexstar buys WTHI-TV owner Media General, with either WTHI-TV or WTWO/WAWV sure to be spun to someone else.)
WTHI-TV’s tower stares down WTWO from directly across US 41, with WAWV just to the south along the highway.
We close this week’s installment with an unusual visit for TSoTW: a station that didn’t exist yet when we stopped by!
Engineer Kevin Berlen was at a tower site in Farmersville just off 41 waiting for parts and crew to arrive to finish building out Bott’s newest religious station, WMCV (96.3 Farmersville).
These pictures were taken in mid-August, with the Nautel NV5LT transmitter but not much else yet in place in the transmitter building and no antenna on the tower. Within just days after our visit, Kevin finished building out WMCV, and the new signal filed for a license to cover August 25, just beating its construction permit deadline.
(Which means, we suppose, that there’s still another “after” visit in our future in Terre Haute…)
Thanks to WTHI-TV’s Rod Garvin and Todd Weber, Midwest’s Amy Dillon, WISU/WZIS’ Rich Green, WAXI’s Barry Kent and WMCV’s Kevin Berlen for the tours!
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Next week: Vincennes and Princeton, Indiana