March 18-25, 2005

An Icy Slide 'Round Central Indiana (Part III)

Regular readers of this column know by now that we have this thing about Indiana. It's not that we set out to become fascinated with the broadcast scene in the Hoosier State, it's just that being married to an ex-Hoosier means spending time in Indiana. A lot of time in Indiana, in fact. And once you've seen the sites in Indianapolis and Evansville and South Bend and Valparaiso and Richmond and Muncie and, yes, Fort Wayne (over and over and over again), what do you do then?

If you're us, you gather a couple of equally crazed friends and you plot out a 48-hour itinerary that includes stops in Peru, Wabash, Marion, Kokomo, Lafayette, West Lafayette (two very distinct communities), Logansport and Rochester. And if the January weather turns nasty? As long as the guy who drove all the way from Ohio doesn't mind driving, you pile into the car and set out anyway. (Attention, Indiana highway departments: Salt. Plows. Look into it...)

In any case, we begin our third installment of our recap of the trip on the second morning of our adventure, as we made an early departure from our hotel in Lafayette in order to do a bit of backtracking. It had been getting dark the night before, and we were in a hurry to get to Lafayette, so we'd passed up the chance to detour south off Indiana 26 to check out the tower of Lafayette's lone TV station, WLFI (Channel 18). The omission was quickly rectified with a short drive back east, passing through the hamlet of Rossville and turning south on US 421 to reach the site. (WLFI-DT, on channel 11, operates from here as well.)

If it looks like the WLFI guy wires are sagging a bit, there's a good reason - the ice here was among the thickest we saw on the trip, with well over a quarter-inch of the stuff coating tree limbs and tower parts.

From here, it's back into town, heading through the southern parts of Lafayette and eventually almost back out of town before we arrive at the studios of one of the two big radio clusters in town. Artistic Media Partners owns top 40 WAZY (96.5) as well as classic rock WSHP (95.3 Brookston) and the country simulcast of WLFF (95.7 Attica) and WLAS (1410 Lafayette), and they're all in the building that began as WAZY AM-FM, way back in the day. The only transmitter that's left here is that of AM 1410, with 1000 watts day, 65 watts night, nondirectional (and a legal ID that's just dropped in over the FM simulcast at the top of the hour); the FMs are all pretty far out of town, and we don't make it out there on this trip.

WAZY's the big gun in this group, with a nice big studio just off the front lobby and a big picture window that makes it easy to peer inside. WSHP ("The Rocket") is across the hall, running Bob & Tom's Indianapolis-based morning show when we arrive, and WLFF ("Wolf") is voice-tracked from a studio in back.

We get a nice tour from Rocket PD Steve Clark, complete with a peek at the AM transmitter in the back of the building and some bumper stickers from the stations' previous incarnations. (Rocket started on the 95.7 facility, formerly WGBD, and 95.3 used to be Wolf, and it was beautiful music WEZV before that.)

From the WAZY building, it's only about a mile's drive to the south to arrive at the market's lone directional array, not to mention its oldest and, arguably, most important station.

WBAA (920 West Lafayette) traces its heritage back to the teens, when Purdue University's engineering department began experimenting with radio. Amateur station 9YB evolved into WBAA (a very early sequential callsign) in 1922, and the station now boasts that it's the oldest continuously-operating radio station in Indiana.

It's transmitted from this site down on CR 100 E (the extension of S. 9th Street) for most of that time, long enough that these aren't the original towers. There were three self-supporters here back in the day to carry this 5 kW day, 1 kW night, DA-N signal, and they were replaced over time; there was a period when the array was one guyed tower and two self-supporters, and now it's three guyed towers and a squat brick building.

We'll get to the WBAA studios later in the day, a visit to be chronicled in next week's installment, but in the meantime there's more to see on the commercial side of the market - and another non-comm, too.

Over at Jefferson High School on South 18th Street, WJEF (91.9) is the voice of the Lafayette School Corporation, transmitting from a little single-bay antenna atop this short tower behind the school. It's off the air today, because all that ice means another day of cancelled classes.

From WJEF, we can look about half a mile to the east, across the US 52 bypass, to McCarty Lane and the tower of Lafayette's other AM station, WASK (1450), and its FM counterpart, WKOA (105.3), part of the Schurz Communications group that also owns South Bend's WSBT stations, the South Bend Tribune, and a small chain of stations and newspapers elsewhere in the country, including the WDBJ-TV facility in Roanoke, Virginia that's the March photo in your Tower Site Calendar 2005. (Now on clearance sale, by the way...)

We find the stations' studio building right at the base of the tower, and we're soon enjoying a friendly tour from former Fort Wayner Mark Allen, who's now operations manager for WKOA (country giant "K105") and WASK (which simulcasts oldies on the Lafayette AM and on WASK-FM 98.7, licensed to suburban Battle Ground and transmitting from another tower halfway between WJEF and the WASK/WKOA facility.

Most of the offices and some production studios are up on the second floor, leaving the first floor for a big WKOA air studio that looks right across the hallway into a big, well-lit, high-ceilinged transmitter room. (There's a second big studio across the hall that was undergoing renovation when we visited; it'll become the WASK studio when it's done.)

There are some great old pieces of gear to be seen here - the AM transmitter (at left) is a beautiful vintage Gates 1 kW unit, complete with the lovely sight of tubes glowing through the angled window in front. The FM side has that old Gates seen in the photo above, plus a newer Continental that's just out of frame to the right, yielding 50 kW ERP from the antenna on the 1450 tower.

And from here, it's off to West Lafayette - by way of lunch (at a Culver's, one of our favorite fast-food chains) and a drive past another studio building, RadioWorks' WXXB (102.9 Delphi, top 40 "B102.9") and WKHY (93.5 Lafayette, playing classic rock) - and the WBAA studios, which we'll visit in detail in next week's installment.

Thanks to Mike Ward for driving, to Blaine Thompson of Indiana RadioWatch for arranging tours, and to the folks at the Artistic Media Partners and Schurz stations for their hospitality.

It's here - the 2005 Tower Site Calendar is now available at special clearance prices! Click here for ordering information!