Programming note: We have some special content, off our usual schedule, for you to enjoy over the long Thanksgiving holiday. We’re bringing you Site of the Week on Tuesday morning, and we’ll have a holiday edition of the Top of the Hour Podcast later today as well. And then we’ll be back Monday, Nov. 26 with our usual NorthEast Radio Watch… but in the meantime, stay tuned for some great holiday deals on the Tower Site Calendar!
Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
Want to do some time traveling? It’s easy when you’ve been visiting broadcast facilities for the better part of three decades – and it’s also a little bit of an accident this time around.
We started writing up our Chicago studio visits from a pleasant summer’s afternoon in 2018, went to put in the links to the Site of the Week pages from visiting those same stations a decade ago, and… what? Somehow, back in 2008 and 2009, we never did get around to writing up our visits to what were then two separate studios at opposite ends of Chicago’s Magnificent Mile.
And so we go time traveling this week, all while staying put on the 27th floor of One Prudential Center. When we visited here in 2008, there were two stations here under Bonneville ownership. WTMX (101.9) had arrived up here in 1995, joined a few years later by what was then WILV (100.3), doing soft AC as “Chicago’s 100.3.”
Both stations had spacious studios just down the hallway from the main lobby, facing the rack room across the hall.
WTMX had new SAS gear that had just gone in when we visited in 2008, while WILV was still using older PR&E consoles. A decade later, 100.3 (now “She 100.3,” WSHE-FM) was using the SAS console, while WTMX (“101.9 the Mix”) sported new Wheatstone gear in a refreshed studio space down the hall in what had been a production space a decade earlier. Just a few weeks after our visit, 100.3 also made the move into a new Wheatstone-equipped space, and we’ll need to make another stop sometime soon to see how that all turned out.
(The view looking south from the lobby, meanwhile, had only gotten nicer over the years – what a beautiful day to look down on Millennium Park and the now-iconic “Bean,” which was brand new back in 2008.)
There’s another radio station up here now: in 2001, Bonneville had added a third station to its cluster, transforming what had been classical WNIB (97.1) into classic rock as “The Drive,” WDRV. It occupied separate digs uptown in the John Hancock Center until… well, until just a few months before our August 2018 visit. On May 11, with much on-air fanfare, the Drive signed off at the Hancock and broadcast live as its jocks moved down Michigan Avenue in a double-decker bus. An hour later, they arrived – again with much on-air fanfare – to a renovated space along the studio hallway here at the Prudential Center. (I think this was the WTMX studio back in 2008, if memory serves.)
Along the way, these stations have changed hands – in 2011, they were part of a deal that sent 16 Bonneville stations to Hubbard Radio. Hubbard’s move of WDRV down here came with additional space on the 27th floor, pushing things out to the right of the lobby to make room for many more offices. (Most of the office staff temporarily went uptown to the old WDRV space while the floor was undergoing heavy renovation, leaving only the airstaff down here for a while.)
It’s all much more open here, too, after the lengthy renovations were over. The work exposed some nifty light-colored brick detailing around the windows in the studio area and in the expanded lobby/lounge area. Staffers can hang out here, hold meetings or even welcome listeners in for live performances on the stage that now sits right behind the reception desk.
But our time traveling isn’t done yet. In May 2009, just a few weeks before the end of analog TV, we made a special trip (by train, if memory serves) to spend a day and a half visiting as many Chicago transmitter facilities as we could pack in. While we were up at the Hancock, we also got the chance to go down to the 15th floor to see where the Drive was then located – and we never posted those pictures here, either, for some reason.
This was a nice compact facility – and one of the very first places where we ever saw the automation extended out to large-screen monitors on the studio walls.
And we unearthed one more set of never-published pictures from those 2009 visits: while WDRV is the lone Chicago FM to have its transmitter on the Aon Center instead of the Hancock or Sears/Willis Towers (augmented by full-power satellite station WWDV 96.9 up in Zion, 50 miles to the north), the Hancock is home to the 100.3 transmitter. We didn’t see it in 2018, but we did get in to what was then WILV back in 2009, when a pair of BE transmitters faced each other in a small room on one of the top floors. (WTMX, for its part, is up at the Sears/Willis tower, another facility we’ve yet to see…and another reason to head back to Chicago, not that we need much of an excuse!)
Thanks to Hubbard’s Kent Lewin for the tours!
We have a great lineup of podcasts here on our site. While you’re catching up with your summer reading, don’t forget about your summer listening. Now is the time to make sure you’re up to date with Top of the Tower.
Our latest one features Donna Halper discussing her life in radio, from her time at WMMS when she helped Rush get US airplay, to what she learned from Arnie “Woo Woo” Ginsburg.
Don’t forget you can still visit our store to check out our other great products. We’ll be taking preorders for the 2021 calendar soon. Stay tuned!
And don’t miss a big batch of Chicago IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: Cumulus Chicago, 2018