Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
More Indiana in this week’s installment? Yes – because since the last time we swept through Evansville in 2011, the city’s TV dial was upended, and with the help of the newly-extended I-69, we needed a return trip in 2015 to see what had changed.
When we were last in Evansville, the building at 477 Carpenter Street just north of downtown was about to be vacated. This low-slung building was the longtime home of WTVW (Channel 7), which had gone from ABC to Fox to CW, only to end up in 2011 as part of a duopoly when Nexstar also bought WEHT (Channel 25), the market’s oldest station and its current ABC affiliate. As we’ll see in a bit, Nexstar moved WTVW into the WEHT facility across the Ohio River in Henderson, Kentucky, leaving the Carpenter Street building empty.
Then, in 2013, Nexstar also bought Communications Corporation of America, which owned Evansville’s CBS/Fox affiliate, WEVV (Channel 44). After an initial attempt to put WEVV in the hands of a shell company that would have operated it alongside WTVW/WEHT, Nexstar ended up selling WEVV to a new operator, Bayou Broadcasting. The sale also included the old WTVW building, which allowed Bayou to move WEVV out of the leased quarters on Main Street downtown where it had been since it signed on in the 1980s.
From the downtown studio, WEVV inherited what was essentially an empty box when it moved into the old WTVW digs and relaunched its dormant news operation. This is a neat example of 1980s TV studio architecture: the front lobby looks through big windows into a control room and newsroom/studio one side and the master control/engineering area on the other.
I’m told that when WTVW was here, its news set backed up to those control room windows. WEVV reversed the layout, putting a very simple, classy set at the far end of the studio and the newsroom cubicles toward the front. This facility was built from ground up for full HD, as you’d expect for something launching in August 2015. (It had been on the air for only a few weeks when we stopped in.)
Across the river, WTVW was fully integrated into the “Eyewitness News” operation at WEHT by the time we stopped in to its Henderson facility. This is one of those buildings that’s been expanded repeatedly since starting out as a little concrete-block box in the 1950s. That spacious newsroom sits just off the main lobby, servicing a full schedule of newscasts on WEHT and 7 AM, 6:30 PM and 9 PM shows on WTVW.
The studio adjacent to the newsroom is one of the original parts of the building, albeit heavily renovated with a very similar set to other Nexstar stations. In addition to news, WEHT/WTVW produces a late-morning “Lifestyles” talk show, and there’s even an outdoor deck that they can use for cooking segments when the weather is nice.
This whole building was rebuilt for HD in 2012, complete with a new control room for news production and a master control that handles both WEHT and WTVW and the Bounce subchannel on WEHT.
There’s a big and relatively empty transmitter room at the back of the facility; WEHT went from analog 25 to RF 7 for its DTV operation in 2009, which requires just a little Harris Platinum transmitter to generate its 12.5 kW ERP to send up the 995-foot tower out back.
WEVV and NBC affiliate WFIE are both just up the road in the tower farm on the bluff here; WTVW’s tower is way out to the east near Chandler, where “channel 7” is now RF 28 digital, from a much taller tower than the one shown in that 1956 sign-on ad below, which hangs on the wall right outside the transmitter room.
Our final Evansville-area stop is an unusual one: up in the hills northwest of the city, this old AT&T Long Lines microwave site was in the process of being converted into a main studio for three of The Original Company’s area stations.
The Lange family already owned WRCY (1590) and WYFX (106.7) in Mount Vernon, west of Evansville, and then bought what had been WEJK (107.1 Boonville) when the Engelbrecht family sold most of its stations to Midwest Communications. The Boonville station, east of Evansville, had to be spun off to stay under ownership caps – and the Langes needed a spot that was within 25 miles of both Mount Vernon and Boonville, which led them here. (107.1 had by then become WJPS, taking on a venerable Evansville callsign, and it was simulcasting an AC format with WYFX.)
After AT&T moved out, a new owner tried to renovate the transmitter building here into a home, cutting out holes for windows from that incredibly thick concrete. That renovation was abandoned partway, leaving the Langes to finish the job with new interior walls for a small office and a pair of studios.
One final stop completes this Indiana trip: after zipping back up the new I-69 to its temporary end south of Bloomington, we stopped by Indiana University’s WFIU (103.7) for a quick visit to check out how the main air studio had been rebuilt since our last stop there in 2011.
Thanks to WEVV’s Rob Williams, WEHT/WTVW’s Todd Rowe, the Lange family and WFIU’s John Bailey for the tours!
And don’t miss a big batch of Indiana IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: Across upstate New York, autumn 2015