Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
Over many, many years of summer travel to see the in-laws in Indiana, we’ve had the pleasure (and it has truly been a pleasure) of visiting almost every corner of the Hoosier State, meeting many fine broadcasters and seeing lots of nice facilities.
For our summer 2019 visit, we suggested to our usual Indiana tour guide, Indiana Radio Watch editor Blaine Thompson, that it might be fun to go deeper into a corner of the state that had long eluded us: the I-65 corridor in southeast Indiana, the part of the state that hews most closely to Louisville and central Kentucky.
We did indeed go there – but getting there from our home-away-from-home base in Fort Wayne meant passing through Indianapolis. When you do that with Blaine, there’s always a visit – and in this case, a really cool invitation.
“Hey, if we head down an evening early, we could have dinner with some of the guys from Bob and Tom.” Sold!
“Hey, if we get up early the next morning, we could go see them do the show.” Also sold!
So it came to pass that we had a most enjoyable dinner (remember those?) with John Kesler, the general manager of the syndicated “Bob & Tom Show,” and with Chick McGee, the show’s announcer (since 1986!), sports guy and, these days, one of the key comic voices.
After a pleasant couple of hours of swapping radio war stories (and a fair amount of beer), we called it a night so we could be up bright and early the next morning for the short drive to 6161 Fall Creek Road, one of the oldest addresses in Indiana radio.
As we explored in some detail on a visit to the building in 2009, this site started as the AM transmitter facility for pioneering Indianapolis station WFBM, the ancestor of today’s WNDE (1260) and its FM sister, WFBQ (94.7). By the 1970s, 1260 and 94.7 had moved their studios and offices out here, later joined by another FM signal, today’s WOLT (103.3).
A big addition at the turn of the millennium expanded the building significantly to the north, adding on a new lobby, office space and – in a separate chunk of the building next to the new lobby – a big studio and office complex specifically for the use of the Bob and Tom Show, which had by then grown from a local WFBQ offering into national syndication.
It’s 7 AM when we pull up at the side door here for our chance to watch the show on the air. The entrance to the Bob & Tom suite takes us right into the studio complex: there’s a long hallway lined with the covers of the many comedy albums the show has produced over the years, a studio to our left that’s used largely for photo shoots and videos – and once we’re comfortably seated there, the blinds open and we’re looking into the huge main studio where the cast puts all the moving pieces together for a show that manages to sound loose and fun on the air, while being carefully produced and timed behind the scenes.
Since the retirement of Bob Kevoian back in 2015, Tom Griswold has been the show’s solo anchor, presiding over the laughs from his seat stage left. Veteran Indianapolis broadcaster Ace Cosby sits just to Griswold’s left, running the board in the studio. (There’s another master control room off to our right where another producer puts it all together for syndication.)
Newscaster Kristi Lee, a Bob & Tom staple since 1988, sits to Kevoian’s right, with her back to us as we watch from the photo studio, and comedian Josh Arnold, another recent addition, sits to Lee’s right.
The show does a lot of musical bits and parodies, many of them live in the studio with comedians Pat Godwin and Dean Metcalf. (Many national comedians stop by to swap jokes with the crew, too.) McGee sits at the far right, by the studio door. It all sounds relaxed and loose – but there’s always an eye on the clock, as the show meets the hard rejoin times for the network. (Indianapolis listeners hear some localized banter before the network rejoins, with a local producer and board op running the show from the WFBQ air studio way back in the opposite corner of the building.)
It’s an impressive machine to watch in action – and perhaps it even inspired your editor to start trying his hand at standup comedy, a career that’s been (temporarily?) put on hold now that there’s no standup anywhere. Will he get to match wits with the Bob & Tom crew someday? Unlikely. But it sure was fun to watch as an observer – and perhaps things will calm down enough for there to be a NAB Radio Show again this fall in Nashville, with the Bob & Tom crew in their usual spot doing a live remote show from the floor.
In the meantime, we’re told that because this studio is so spacious, they’re actually able to keep most of the cast in the building, with enough room in this room for appropriate social distancing while the show’s much-needed humor rolls on.
Thanks to John Kesler and the Bob & Tom Show cast and crew for the tours!
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Next week: Columbus, Indiana