Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
If you’re a regular reader of this column, you know all about how we spend a significant amount of time each year in our “alternate home base” of Indiana. This week’s installment inaugurates a series of Sites of the Week that stem from our residency in Indiana for part of the summer of 2012 – but never fear, you Hoosier-burnout crowd: there’s actually not all that much Indiana in this next batch. Most of that August 2012 trip found us heading westward through some new territory (to us) in central Illinois, followed by a very neat couple of days in St. Louis, which you’ll see here in a few weeks.
Along the way, though, we did squeeze in one stop at a little corner of Indiana we keep missing on other trips. Crawfordsville sits along I-74, about 50 miles northwest of Indianapolis, just far enough from the big city that there’s a separate thriving radio market here in Montgomery County, population 38,000 or so.
There’s an interesting radio history here, because this is one of those rare towns where FM came first by many years. The local newspaper, the Journal-Review, figured out during the postwar radio boom that it could get an FM construction permit right away, instead of waiting (perhaps for years) for an AM CP to be granted. In 1948, the paper put WFMU on the air on 102.9, and as with so many early FM standalones, it failed quickly. By 1951, WFMU was off the air (the calls, of course, would resurface quite famously in New Jersey) – but the First Baptist Church, which had been broadcasting its services on the station, decided to buy the transmitter and put its own noncommercial FM signal on the air. Instead of 102.9, the church’s new WBBS used 106.3, and it was on the air by 1953 as one of the very few new FM licenses in those dark days for the band.
Meanwhile, several would-be AM broadcasters were busy proving that the newspaper had been right when it decided an AM station would take too long to obtain. In 1956, Crawfordsville Broadcasters applied for a 1000-watt daytimer on 1410, but ended up in conflict with another 1410 proposed for nearby Lafayette. After more than three years of wrangling before the FCC, Lafayette won the channel (it became WAZY when it signed on in late 1959), and another group called Radio Crawfordsville began its own fight for a different daytime-only facility, 250 watts on 1550. That application quickly became hung up in a group of other applications for new facilities on 1550, all of which eventually ended up being granted: Sullivan, Indiana; Lake Geneva, Wisconsin; Morris, Illinois and Madison, Wisconsin. It was June of 1963 before the CP was issued, and December 1964 before WCVL finally hit the air on 1550.
Nearly half a century later, WCVL was still right there at the studio/transmitter site where it all began, joined now by two FM sisters – and the story of how they got there is an interesting one. By 1960, WBBS was operating only on Sundays at the church, and in 1965 the church sold the 106.3 facility to Wabash College, which moved it to its own campus and renamed it WNDY. Wabash ran the station for three decades before selling it to Ohio’s Xavier University in the 1990s; under Xavier, 106.3 became part of the “X-Star” public network based at Cincinnati’s WVXU (91.7), taking new calls WVXI in 1997. In 2000, Xavier sold the X-Star stations, and that’s when 106.3 joined the Crawfordsville Radio family. Since 2003, it’s been playing country as WCDQ.
Long before 106.3 moved in here, WCVL got its first FM partner in 1974, when it signed on WLFQ (103.9) as a sister station. WLFQ started out as beautiful music, then went country. In 1987, 103.9 took its current calls of WIMC, and for the last decade or so it’s been a classic rocker, currently as “Thunder 103.9.”
So with all that history under our belts, let’s head up to the northwest side of Crawfordsville, to the road known (in oh-so-poetic Indiana fashion) as N 175 W, and step inside the C.V.L. Broadcasting studios. That pretty neon sign seen at the top of the page is on the south side of the building, but the actual entrance is on the east side, facing the road.
Inside, we could turn to the right and see a few small sales and executive offices – or we could turn left and head toward the studios and the transmitter room. There’s a bullpen/lounge area in the middle, surrounded by studios for each of the stations: WCDQ (“106.3, Country for the Heartland”), as the latecomer here, gets a small studio on one side of the room; WIMC (“Thunder 103.9”) and WCVL (“Cool Oldies 1550”) get the main studio complex on the south side of the room, where a studio for WIMC faces into a studio for WCVL that doubles as the morning show studio and rack room. That studio, in turn, looks into the little transmitter room where WCVL’s little Nautel AMPFET transmitter feeds the short tower out back. (And yes, that’s what looks like an old Gates phasor back there behind it, which is an odd thing to see in a non-directional AM station.)
WCDQ’s tower isn’t very far away, a mile or so to the south, behind a house on US 136, the main east-west drag that runs out of downtown Crawfordsville. I believe 106.3 moved here during its Wabash College era; after Wabash sold the 106.3 signal, it got a new license for a new WNDY on 91.3, which operated as a student-run station for a few years but has more recently become a repeater for Indianapolis NPR outlet WFYI (90.1). In any event, 106.3 and 91.3 both use this tower on 136.
WIMC’s tower, meanwhile, ended up fairly far north of Crawfordsville, a couple of miles up US 231 (the main north-south drag) past the I-74 interchange. I think this spot was picked to give the station at least a chance at hitting parts of the bigger Lafayette market to the north, which it does, sort of. (The current tower at this site dates back only to 2007; I think it replaced an earlier one at this site.)
Also up this way is Calvary Chapel’s noncommercial FM, WSRC (88.1 Waynetown), just up 231 to the north of WIMC. There’s a fascinating story that goes along with this one: in addition to WSRC, which does contemporary Christian and teaching as “The Source,” Calvary was running an LPFM in town as well – but it returned the license to WVRG-LP (93.9 Crawfordsville) a few months ago, after the FCC realized that Calvary doesn’t fit within the narrow exemption that allows recognized schools to have both a professional full-power station and a student-run LPFM.
From Crawfordsville, we made the short jump westward on I-74 into Illinois – and next week, we’ll show you what we saw in Urbana and Champaign!
Thanks to WCDQ/WIMC/WCVL’s Dave Peach for the tour!
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Next week: WILL, Urbana, Illinois