Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
[originally published Feb. 3, 2015]
When you spend a lot of time visiting one particular city, you get the chance to watch that city’s broadcast facilities evolve over time – and few have evolved quite as dramatically as the brick building at 2000 Lower Huntington Road on the south side of Fort Wayne, Indiana has done in the last few years.
To Fort Wayne old-timers, this is simply “the WGL building.” Since the late 1940s, this site has been the transmitter facility for the city’s second-oldest radio station, WGL, which built this three-tower facility when it moved down the dial from 1450 (and before that, 1370) to 1250.
In 1972, WGL’s owners moved the station’s studios and offices down here from their former downtown home, and by the early 1990s WGL had spawned its first FM sister, a new FM drop-in at 94.1 licensed to nearby Roanoke, Indiana. The complex machinations of the early cluster era shifted other signals in and out of this building: owner Kovas Communications added another FM at 96.3, initially beautiful-music WKQM and later known as WEJE, WWWD, WHTD and eventually rhythmic top-40 “Wild” WNHT. Kovas and subsequent cluster owner Summit City Media added to the cluster in the 21st century, buying rocker WXKE (103.9) and its sister station WEXI (102.9) and moving them in as well, then eventually selling 94.1 to the local public broadcaster WBNI.
And then came the big shakeup of 2014, when Adams Media bought out both Summit City and its erstwhile competitor Oasis Radio Group, which would have added three more FMs to the group here if not for those pesky ownership caps.
Instead, Adams dealt away the two FMs it couldn’t keep – the Summit City 102.9 signal that had most recently been oldies as WGL-FM and the Oasis 106.3 signal that had been doing classic hip-hop as WHPP. The 102.9 signal went to the national Calvary group (which now runs it as WJCI) in exchange for one Fort Wayne translator, W277AK on 103.3, while the 106.3 signal went to a local Catholic group in exchange for its Fort Wayne AM, WLYV (1450). Adams completed its new two-AM/four-FM/two-translator cluster by buying a second translator, W245CA (96.9) from CSN International. And then the fun began…
As we showed you last year, Oasis had been operating from a fairly lavish studio space on the ritzier north side of town, and for a few months Adams moved the Lower Huntington Road stations into temporary studios up there while it did an extensive rebuild down here.
How do you fit eight radio stations into a building that was originally designed to house just one? Adams’ answer was to take what had been a big open cubicle area at the front of the building and completely rework it, creating a big glassed-in conference room down the middle flanked by rows of new studios running the length of the building on either side.
The new studios, outfitted in large part with gear that moved down from the old Oasis studios up north, house a reworked lineup of stations: on the east side of the building, right next to the market manager’s corner office, the WXKE calls and rock format that used to be on 103.9 are now on the more powerful 96.3 signal. Just down the hall, we find the current occupant of the 103.9 signal, soft rock WWFW.
On the other side of the conference room, looking out at the AM towers, two more new studios are home to the survivors of the old Oasis group, country WBTU (93.3) and top-40 WJFX (Hot 107.9), with another space that’s now empty but will eventually be filled by a studio fitted out with all vintage gear. (Pretty cool, huh?)
There’s a cafeteria/mailroom area beyond that, and then a door leads into the original 1972 studio/tech core that’s still at the center of the building. The old WGL rack room is now outfitted with lots of new STLs and processors and automation for all those signals, and just beyond that the old WGL air studio is now a talk studio for weekend shows that air on WLYV, which is doing talk as “The Patriot.”
When Fort Wayne was still an AM music town in the 1960s and 1970s, WGL competed very directly with WLYV, the upstart that had signed on at 1450 (originally as WINT and WANE) after WGL abandoned that frequency. So it’s ironic, at least in a radio history geek way, to see WLYV’s banner decorating the talk studio and adjacent control room that were WGL’s studio home for so many years – and looking right through the glass at WGL’s transmitter room, at that.
(Imagine what the competing DJs at WGL and WLYV back then would have thought if they’d known that both stations’ memorabilia would end up featured in adjoining frames in the front lobby here half a century later, too!)
There are some offices and production rooms leading out of the WGL – er, WLYV – studio complex into the back hallway of the building, which is where Kovas and Summit City had carved out more studios as they added additional stations here in the 1990s and 2000s.
The room shown above, on the east side of the building midway back near the kitchen and break room, was where Kovas had put 96.3 for many years. That’s the room in the “Wild 96.3” era above at left, and it’s still at least somewhat recognizable these days as the studio home of one of Adams’ two translators.
“B96.9” is the first all-out urban signal in town since the early years of WJFX (pre-Oasis), and its 250-watt signal is fed by an HD subchannel of WJFX. (Adams at first installed the HD on WWFW 103.9 instead, but that didn’t last long.)
The other HD/translator in the building is “Classic Country 103.3,” a flanker to WBTU (which competes against the top-rated station in town, Federated Media’s WQHK 105.1), and we find it in a small studio almost all the way to the back of the building, across the hall from the addition to the building that now houses Adams’ sales staff.
And at the very back on the building, a small room with little decoration is now the control room for the Fox Sports feed on WGL – but for a few years, this space was home to “Rock 104,” WXKE, which had quite a lot more “stuff” on the walls. This still isn’t the Rock 104 studio where most of that station’s legend happened – that studio was a carpet-covered space inside a converted ranch house on Goshen Road, northwest of downtown, and that building is now a used-car dealership. (Someday we’ll dig out our pictures of that building, which is where Mrs. NERW began her on-air career…)
We can’t leave you without a few towers, and here too Adams has made some changes since arriving in town in 2014. When WXKE signed on back in 1976, the 103.9 signal came from a short tower at the end of Olympia Court, less than a mile from where that Goshen Road studio would be. But Adams didn’t keep 103.9 there: when it relaunched the signal as WWFW, it was from a tower a mile or so to the west of Olympia Court, near the south end of the Hillegas Road tower farm. That tower never had broadcast on it, but after Adams bought it the site became home to both 103.9 and a tenant, Christian broadcaster WLAB (88.3), which moved across Hillegas from its own longtime perch on the WFWA (Channel 39) tower.
(Where’s everyone else? The two translators are on a nondescript rental tower on Cass Street in north-central Fort Wayne, WLYV’s longtime site is east of downtown, 96.3 remains where it’s always been on the tower of public radio WBOI 89.1 about halfway between 103.9’s old and new sites, 93.3 is up north of town halfway to its city of license, Kendallville, and 107.9 is on a tower in a rural area southeast of Fort Wayne.)
And we close with one non-Adams facility: even as Adams was doing all of its moves, competitor Sarkes Tarzian was on the move, too. Its classic hits station, WLDE (101.7), had long been limited to a 3 kW class A signal because of short-spacings to its tower on Reed Road northeast of downtown. But in 2014, WLDE went up to a full 6 kW class A by building a new 375-foot self-supporting tower just a couple of miles to the east, another chapter in the ever-changing world of Fort Wayne radio.
Thanks to Rob Mackenzie for the tour!
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Next week: Toledo, Ohio