March 18, 2011

Indianapolis, Summer 2009 (Part I)

As long-time readers of this column well know, the Hoosier State has effectively become our second home, what with our several visits a year to see the in-laws in Fort Wayne. Those visits tend to give your editor ample jumping-off time to explore far beyond northeast Indiana - and often, they include the two-hour drive down I-69 to see the sites (and sights) of Indianapolis.

In the summer of 2009, we realized it had been a long, long time since we'd last visited Clear Channel's Indianapolis studios - long enough, in fact, for the place to be completely rebuilt.

Some history: the site at 6161 Fall Creek Road in northeast Indianapolis traces its broadcast legacy back as far as the late 1920s, when pioneering Indy station WFBM moved its AM transmitter out here.

Over the years, WFBM morphed from a wire antenna suspended between towers into a conventional three-tower directional array (with, so it's said, one of the original 1928 support towers now used as an insulated transmission tower) - and what was once just a transmitter site out in the distant countryside became a studio site as well.

That transition came to pass in the mid-seventies, when Time-Life Broadcasting, which by then owned WFBM radio and TV, sold off the radio stations. WFBM-TV (later WRTV, channel 6) stayed in the stations' combined studio building on Meridian Street just north of downtown Indianapolis, and the radio stations moved out to Fall Creek Road, adding on to the original 1920s-era transmitter building with new studios and offices.

WFBM(AM) on 1260 became WNDE, WFBM-FM on 94.7 became WFBQ, and in the years that followed the stations became part of Clear Channel, added a second FM, modern rock WRZX (103.3), and spawned a nationally-syndicated morning show, all packed into what had become rather cramped quarters out here in suburbia.

And so it came to pass that the 1920s transmitter building that had added a 1970s studio/office addition grew again in the early years of the 21st century. The old front of the building was pretty much obliterated by the new addition, which tacked on a new lobby and a big new studio and production space for that morning show, the by-now-legendary Bob and Tom.

Our tour, however, starts at the historic core of this building: the WNDE transmitter room, where a Harris DAX transmitter now generates the 5000-watt signal of AM 1260, one of several contenders for sports-radio dominance in this sports-obsessed market.

WNDE's studio operations were relatively small when we visited, but they grew not long afterward: the "Zakk and Jack" morning show produced here became first an alternate national offering for Fox Sports Radio affiliates, and then became the morning show for Fox Sports Radio by early 2011, making this facility perhaps the only local station group in the country originating two national morning shows.

That other show - Bob and Tom - used to occupy one of two large studios at the back corner of the building, sharing space with flagship WFBQ. Today, Q95 has its studios to itself, with sister station X103 just down the hall.

And Bob and Tom and their crew? They get a whole studio suite to themselves, complete with a separate hallway off the main lobby and separate keycard access.

As befits a fairly major national radio show, there's a lot of space here for production. The main air studio is huge, dominated by a five-sided table with room for all of the show's cast and guests - and for the TV crews that were here for a while shooting a video version of the show that aired on Chicago's WGN-TV and its Tribune sister stations in 2009-2010. The big studio looks out to several more rooms, including a control room and a small studio where the B&T gang can shoot photos and videos.

There's also office space for the cast and production staff and for affiliate relations, which is handled right here in Indianapolis.

There's something about Indianapolis that just makes for really nice radio studios, I guess - in addition to Clear Channel, there's the phenomenal Emmis headquarters downtown (we'll see that in a future episode), as well as nice cluster studios for Entercom and Cumulus, the stand-alone WKLU (101.9) studios that we'll show you in next week's installment...and one dynamite high school station, too.

Carmel High School north of Indianapolis is one of the nation's most affluent schools, and the students there have access to some extremely impressive facilities all around - including their radio station.

Check out the spiffy setup at WHJE (91.3), complete with a brand-new Axia console and a studio that had just recently been rebuilt when we stopped by.

This is more than just a play toy for the students - there's a classroom down the hall with a very comprehensive educational program, as well as several smaller studios where students can practice their on-air work, producing PSAs and news segments and interviews that are broadcast on WHJE and on the station's very comprehensive website.

(For whatever reason, central Indiana is a hotbed of high school radio: WHJE is one of a dozen or so stations within an hour's drive of Indianapolis, many with extensive educational programs attached to them.)

In our next installment of Indianapolis broadcast tourism, we'll take a look at the city's new public radio and TV studios - and at some of the sites in the big tower farm in northwest Indianapolis. And in the meantime, there's Indiana audio, coming Wednesday on

Thanks to Clear Channel's Dan Mettler and Scott Fenstermaker and WHJE's Brian Spilbeler for the tours!

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