Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
For those of you new to this column, 13 years in, here’s the deal: you see lots of Hoosier State tower sites here on Site of the Week because Indiana is a frequent travel destination of ours. It’s not that we’re passionate about miles upon miles of corn fields, or that we’re terrified of driving on anything more than a 1% grade – it’s simply that the in-laws live in Fort Wayne, and as a result, we’re in Indiana for anywhere from two to four weeks out of a typical year.
Fortunately for all involved (especially the in-laws), Fort Wayne is also home to our colleague and good friend Blaine Thompson, editor and proprietor of Indiana Radio Watch – and Blaine knows pretty much everyone in Indiana radio and TV, which is why we get out of Fort Wayne for a lot of that annual trip and find ourselves touring every nook and cranny of the Hoosier broadcast scene.
Until the summer of 2011, though, there was a big gap on the map. We’d intended to visit Bloomington as part of a 2005 trip that took us to Terre Haute, only to get so absorbed in the nuances of Terre Haute radio and TV that we ran out of time for anything else. (You can see those Terre Haute installments here and here.)
It’s too bad it took six more years to get to Bloomington, because it’s a neat town with a lot to offer, both broadcast and otherwise. About 50 miles south of Indianapolis, Bloomington is roughly the point at which flat northern Indiana begins to give way to the rolling hills of southern Indiana. It’s the biggest college town in the state, and the presence of Indiana University makes for an atmosphere quite different from most of the rest of the state. And being isolated from most of the state’s big markets – you pretty much need cable to see most of Indianapolis TV, and Indianapolis radio fades out south of Martinsville as you head down State Road 37 to get here – means that the stations right in town tend to play pretty big, considering the size of the market. (There are about 140,000 people in this Monroe County, not even a fifth the size of the “other” Monroe County we call home.)
Over the course of a day and a half in Bloomington, we saw pretty much every radio station in town, thanks to Blaine’s connections, starting with one of the smallest. Mid-America Radio Group, based up the road in Martinsville, owns stations in several Indiana markets, including an unusual little cluster here in Bloomington. When we visited in 2011, the stations Mid-America operated were spread across two locations: classic rocker WCLS (97.7 Spencer) had its studios out in suburban Ellettsville, on State Road 46 northwest of Bloomington. We didn’t get there, but we did get to WCLS’ sister stations, an interesting pair of Christian broadcasters operating out of a small office park on East 3rd Street on the east side of Bloomington (which is also State Road 46 on the other end of the traffic-choked bypass that carries state roads 46 and 45 around the north side of town.)
“Spirit 95,” WVNI (95.1), is licensed to Nashville, in scenic Brown County out in Route 46 to the east, but since its debut in 1997 the class A station has targeted the Bloomington market, aided since 2006 by translator W299BD (107.7) in downtown Bloomington. The contemporary Christian music on WVNI is complemented by southern gospel on sister station WMYJ-FM (88.9 Oolitic), which runs a mostly satellite-delivered format as “My Joy 88.9.” (It’s owned by Spirit Educational Radio, a non-profit also headed by Mid-America’s Dave Keister.) While WMYJ-FM provides “My Joy” to Bloomington and points south, sister station WMYJ (1540 Martinsville) also does “My Joy” as part of the Mid-America cluster up in Martinsville.
In 2013, both sets of Mid-America stations moved in together at a new studio location on North Walnut Street, just north of the bypass, and we’ll have to get back to Bloomington sometime to see the new digs there.
From WMYJ – and after a lunch along the strip of good restaurants adjacent to the IU campus – we head over to the university itself to see its broadcast outlets. There are three stations that call the university home, but because it’s summer, we don’t make it over to the student-run LPFM, WIUX-LP (99.1), which is too bad, because there’s lots of history there. Present-day WIUX traces its heritage back to two student outlets, carrier-current WIUS and a cable FM station, WQAX, that operated though the 1980s and early 1990s; it made its over-the-air debut as an LPFM in 2006 and then had to change frequency from 100.3 to 99.1 in 2007 after a new full-power 100.3 was granted in Columbus, east of Bloomington.
Long before WIUX (or even WIUS or WQAX), IU’s big radio voice was WFIU (103.7). The big class B public radio voice of south central Indiana dates back to 1950, when it signed on at 90.9. That frequency near the bottom of the dial made it hard for the TV tuners of the day to pull in the distant signal of Indianapolis’ channel 6 (then WFBM-TV), and when Bloomington’s WSUA-FM on 103.7 fell victim to the woes of so many early FM stations, the 103.7 transmitter was donated to IU to become the 75,000-watt home of WFIU.
(WSUA-FM was the sister to one of the three AMs that operated in Bloomington after World War II, WSUA on 1010. In next week’s installment, we’ll trace more of the market’s commercial radio history and see what happened to the other two signals.)
In 1971, WFIU moved from a transmitter site on campus to the 646′ tower of its new TV sister station, WTIU (Channel 30), on Sare Road not far south of the campus, dropping power to 29 kW but picking up more height for wider coverage.
Today, WFIU is heard via translators as far afield as Kokomo to the north, Terre Haute to the west, Greensburg to the east and French Lick/Baden to the south, while WTIU (digital RF 14 these days) is seen on cable in a big swath of south central Indiana and on satellite throughout the sprawling Indianapolis TV market. Of the four TV stations licensed to Bloomington, WTIU is the only one that transmits from here; the other three rimshot Indianapolis from the Trafalgar tower farm that we showed you not long ago in this space.
Now operated as “Indiana Public Media,” WFIU and WTIU share studios in the Radio-TV Center building near the middle of campus, which has been home to the radio station since 1963 and to the TV station since its debut six years later.
WFIU’s studios are lined up toward the back of the building, past the station’s business offices. There’s a technical core with the usual racks of NPR satellite receivers, audio processing, STLs and such, but instead of being tucked away in a rack room, these racks sit out in the open in a big room that faces a row of studios, including several production rooms, a live performance studio and the air studio at the end of the row. (That’s midday classical host/PD George Walker on the air.)
Move around the corner and down the hall from the radio studios and we come next to the newsroom, where a combination of IU journalism students and paid staff cover the news of the region. Without a local commercial TV station in the market, WTIU tries to fill the gap with news briefs that run each evening, as well as a weekly public affairs show.
At the center of the building is the very large (89′ x 55′) main TV studio, known for some reason as Studio 6. It’s home to several of WTIU’s weekly productions, including the “Friday Zone” kids show and “The Weekly Special” arts and culture hour. There’s an HD control room up above (dubbed “Control 6”), and down the hall we see WTIU’s master control, adjacent to the TV station’s rack room. There’s office space for the TV station’s programmers and member services/underwriting staff closer to the front of the building, which also houses plenty of classroom space for IU communications students.
In next week’s concluding installment of our Bloomington travels, we’ll see the local community station in a most distinctive location, as well as more of the market’s commercial signals.
Thanks to WVNI/WMYJ-FM’s Mike Petersen and WFIU/WTIU’s Dr. Cary Boyce for the tours!
But the wait is over. The Tower Site Calendar, 2014 edition, has gone to press, and you can be the first to reserve your very own. We expect delivery at the end of the month, and we’ll send them right off to their loving homes, spiral bound, shrink wrapped and best of all, with a convenient hole for hanging!
This year’s gorgeous electronic pinups include the iconic towers of Catalina Island, a combiner system in St. Louis, the twin towers of KNRS in Salt Lake City, a historic rooftop site in Jamestown, New York and many more!
If you want a tower calendar on your wall NOW, you can pick up the current edition for just $5 with your 2014 order!
Click here to order your new calendar!
Then check out our store page for our other great merchandise, including the last-ever FM Atlas, the new NRC AM Log and a model of the KSAN tower.
And don’t miss a big batch of Bloomington IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: Bloomington, Indiana, part II