Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
Even after twenty years of traveling back and forth to see the in-laws in Indiana, there are still corners of the Hoosier State where your intrepid correspondent hadn’t ventured. In our continuing effort to fill in those blank spaces on our big map of Indiana, we partnered up in the summer of 2010 to do some traveling with two radio companions: Blaine Thompson of Indiana Radio Watch, who knows just about every broadcaster in the state, and Mike Fitzpatrick of NECRAT.us, who had never spent any time seeing Indiana towers.
Last week, we presented the first installment of a very busy morning in Columbus, Indiana, and this week we wrap up our look at this nifty small market an hour south-southeast of Indianapolis.
The Reising Radio stations we showed you last week have some stiff competition up at the north end of Washington Street: at number 3212, north of downtown, we find the brick split-level home of the White River Broadcasting cluster. This group includes the oldest station in town, news-talk WCSI (1010), as well as its original FM sister, country WKKG (101.5) and two more FMs, classic hits WINN (104.9) and rocker WWWY (106.1 North Vernon).
(White River, which is a subsidiary of Ohio-based Findlay Publishing, also owns WRBI over in Batesville.)
From the front door, visitors can go down half a flight of stairs to the offices downstairs (beneath a big vintage “WCSI” banner hanging in the stairwell), or up half a flight of stairs to the studios, all strung out behind sliding glass doors along a narrow hallway running the length of the building.
WINN (“104.9 the River”) anchors one end, next to the big WKKG studio. A newsroom separates the WKKG studio from the big WCSI studio at the other end of the hallway, which is a nice trip back in time with a vintage rotary-pot board and station logos from more than 60 years of history. (WCSI actually started out right after World War II as an FM-only facility on 93.7; it was able to add the daytime-only AM 1010 facility after the failure in 1950 of another 1010, WSUA, up the road in Bloomington. The original WCSI-FM went dark after its tower blew down around 1953, and the current WKKG license, the second WCSI-FM, dates to 1958.)
The WWWY studio and several production rooms are across the hall from the big row of studios, and the “rack room” is tucked in there as well, complete with a new stack of PPM encoders – because even though Columbus itself is a very small market (just 77,000 or so in the county), a few of its bigger signals make it into the fringes of the much larger Indianapolis market, 50 miles north, which was in the process of converting to PPM two summers ago.
Our morning in Columbus concludes out on the west side of town, where State Route 46 meets I-65 in a tangle of shopping-center sprawl that’s a sharp contrast from the architectural precision of downtown. (The small city has become an unlikely mecca for modern architecture, boasting homes, fire stations, churches and other structures by masters such as Saarinen, Pei and Venturi…but I digress.)
Tucked in just south of the Wal-Mart is Carr Hill Road, and straddling the interstate here are most of the city’s FM (and AM) towers.
On the west side of the interstate is the tower of WINN (104.9), just across the highway from what was the “KORN Country” tower back when WYGB was on 102.9. That station’s move to 100.3 and a new site north of Columbus left the tower ready for a new occupant: the new 102.9 in town, WXCH, which had just signed on from here, complete with a new ERI antenna. when we visited. (After we left, this also became the site of religious WKJD on 90.3, a quasi-sister to WXCH and WYGB.)
The 515-foot tower of WKKG (101.5) anchors the eastern end of this little tower farm, and it’s also home to WCSI, which runs 330 watts by day and 18 watts at night from a folded unipole strung partway up the FM tower. (WCSI once ran 1000 watts by day into a shorter tower, but the increased efficiency of the 189-degree antenna makes up for the reduced power.)
And we’ll show you one last Columbus site before hitting the interstate and heading north to some more familiar Indiana terrain: Bruce Quinn was a well-known radio pirate back in the day, but he went legit many years ago, building several commercial stations up in the Lafayette area before relocating to Columbus, where he and wife Mitzi now run WHUM-LP (98.5), a truly free-form outlet that boasts of being “HUM sweet HUM” from its little one-bay antenna atop a house near downtown.
Thanks to engineer Bob Hawkins (WTRE/Reising Radio and much more) and White River’s Scott Michaels for the tours!
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Next week: The Trafalgar tower site, Indianapolis, 2010