Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
It’s possible, depending on how things go with the pandemic and travel, that the summer of 2020 will be the first one in almost 30 years that won’t include some time in Indiana.
Over those decades, in between visits to the in-laws, your editor has worked in tandem with Indiana Radio Watch editor Blaine Thompson to document broadcast facilities in just about every corner, big and small, of the Hoosier State.
Even so, by the summer of 2019 there were still a few decent-sized pieces of Indiana that had still managed to escape our visits.
Seymour, for instance: when John Mellencamp sang “I was born in a small town,” this is the place he was singing about, off I-65 a little closer to Louisville than Indianapolis. When Mellencamp was born in 1951, Seymour’s radio voice, WJCD (1390), had just celebrated its second birthday. (Interesting trivia: WJCD’s 1949 debut couldn’t happen until WGRC down the road in Louisville moved from 1400 to 790.)
That station is still in the same place today, on N. Ewing Street (now Indiana 11, formerly Alternate US 31) a mile north of downtown – but it’s not WJCD these days. Since 1991, this station has been WZZB, and these days it’s “the Buzz,” with soft AC and a translator on 99.3 mounted on the side of its AM tower behind the studio building.
(Our apologies, again, for a run of very lousy exterior photos, the result of unfortunate operator error by a photographer who really ought to know better by now.)
There’s some interesting history on display in a cabinet inside the lobby here, not just from WJCD/WZZB but also from an FM station that isn’t here any longer.
Just before John Mellencamp turned 10, in 1961, WJCD added an FM signal on 93.7, initially running 5.6 kW from the AM tower here and eventually going all the way to 50 kW as a class B signal. The FM took the WZZB calls before the AM had them – right up until the FM moved out of Seymour. In 2003, the FM (by then known as WQKC) moved to a new site out to the west of Seymour, using a directional antenna nulled northward to provide some breathing room for an upgrade on 93.9 in the Indianapolis market. And then WQKC made a much bigger move: in 2007, it changed city of license to Sellersburg, changed frequency to 93.9, and moved all the way south to a new transmitter site in Louisville. (That move, incidentally, cleared the way for an even bigger upgrade of the 93.9 in Indianapolis; down in Louisville, meanwhile, 93.9 has become sports “the Ville,” WLCL, part of the Union Broadcasting cluster.)
The Seymour cluster didn’t stay without an FM: after WQKC moved away, it added WXKU (92.7) down the road in Austin, which runs “Nash Icon” country and now shares the building with WZZB.
Kelly Trask owns these stations, as well as the trio of stations down the road in Paoli whose studios we drove past for our French Lick visit a few installments ago.
If we’d made it down here just a few months earlier, we could have met Blair Trask, Kelly’s husband and a respected veteran broadcast engineer and owner here in southern Indiana; sadly, he died in November 2018, far too young at just 60.
There’s a nice plaque honoring him on the walls of the tidy studios here: WZZB is straight back from the lobby, next to a small AM/translator transmitter room; WXKU is just off the side of the lobby. (And we need to get back to Seymour to get some better tower pictures!)
On the way up to Indianapolis from Seymour, we turn off 65 to detour past the tower farm at Trafalgar, just south of the big city.
We’ve shown you this farm in detail before (a decade ago this week, in fact), and that’s good, because these are once again lousy pictures – but historically important ones, since they document the WTTV (Channel 4) tower just before the crews went up to take down the old channel 48 DTV antenna, now repacked to channel 27. (I think, but am not certain, that the channel 4 analog antenna at the top of the tower finally came down in that move, too.)
We make a quick stop on the east side of Indianapolis for another “just before big changes” revisit to a site we’ve seen before: Cumulus’ three FMs have long made their home off the side of the I-465 beltway at 6810 Shadeland Ave., but in the summer of 2019 they were about to be joined by three more signals, the two FMs and one AM that were moving over from the former Entercom studios on N. Meridian after Entercom swapped those signals to Cumulus in partial trade for WNSH in New York.
Former production rooms along this row of studios were in the process of being rebuilt to become home to the former Entercom FMs, WNTR (107.9) and WZPL (99.5); renovations were also being planned for the three existing Cumulus FMs, country WFMS (95.5), classic hits WJJK (104.5) and modern rock WNDX (93.9 – the station that got the big upgrade when Seymour moved, just to bring this full circle.)
And this being back in the days when there was baseball, our long day of Indiana travel concluded with a night out at Victory Field in downtown Indianapolis, watching the Indianapolis Indians defeat our hometown Rochester Red Wings.
Thanks to Kelly Trask for the tour!
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 Indiana IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: Texas Trip 2019 – Part 1, Waco