by SCOTT FYBUSH
Over the years, we’ve featured South Bend, Indiana several times here on Tower Site of the Week: it was part of the very first official “Big Trip” back in 2001, and in the decade that followed we spent several installments profiling some of the market’s studios and in-town transmitter sites. (Check out WSBT’s big studio move, here and here, for instance.)
But if there’s any part of this market that’s been consistently fascinating to us, year after year, it’s been the tower farm that sprawls out just south of the US 20 bypass that wraps around the southern part of the city.
We’ve chronicled part of the tower farm in previous installments; in particular, the line of towers that stretches down Ironwood Road on the western edge of the farm. There are three major sites along Ironwood: from north to south, the WSBT/WSBT-TV/WNSN-FM facility (seen in the 2001 Big Trip); the WNDU-TV/WNDV-FM/WSND facility (seen both in 2001 and in this 2008 visit, which also included another look at the WSBT site) and the LeSea Broadcasting (WHME) facility, seen in this 2008 visit.
But there’s another set of towers down here, too: the sites for most of the rest of the South Bend TV and major FM signals stretch out for another mile or so to the east of Ironwood Road, where we took a drive one summer evening in 2008 just as the sun was setting rather spectacularly to our west.
Our tour starts on Johnson Road, which forms a short east-west bend between two north-south roads, Hickory Road and Grass Road, that run east of Ironwood.
(We’d never noticed, at least until we started writing this piece, that the north-south roads south of the 20 bypass are all in alphabetical order from east to west, starting at the Elkhart/Mishawaka county line: Ash, Beech, Cedar, Dogwood, Elm, Fir, Grass, Hickory and Ironwood…)
Two towers sit in close proximity on the north side of Johnson: a 747-footer that was the former home of public broadcasters WNIT (Channel 34) and WVPE (88.1) and a 1046-footer that belongs to the market’s Fox affiliate, WSJV (Channel 28, with a side-mounted antenna on the tower back in 2008 for its interim digital operation on RF 58.) WSJV, licensed to Elkhart, was once owned by the Dille family’s Federated Media, and its tower is still home to Federated’s Elkhart-licensed FM signal, WBYT (100.7).
(I’m pretty sure this area, which is not especially elevated compared to the rest of the very flat South Bend market, was picked for TV towers because it’s somewhat centrally located with respect to South Bend and nearby Elkhart – and because it’s far from the South Bend and Elkhart airports, which are on the north sides of their cities.)
With the move to DTV, WNIT (now on RF 35) built its own new transmitter site just southeast of the bend from Johnson to Grass Road. That new 1042′ tower is also home to public radio WVPE (88.1), which has long partnered up with WNIT for facilities even though it’s under separate ownership. (You can see the WVPE/WNIT studios, prior to WNIT’s move to South Bend, on our 2008 Elkhart visit Site of the Week.)
Another fairly new thousand-foot tower sits east of Grass Road and just north of the new WNIT site, accessed by a long driveway that comes in from State Route 331 to the east, and it has a neat story behind it: when WSJV flipped from ABC to Fox in 1995, ABC needed a new home – and in a market with only three full-power commercial signals, there weren’t many options. So ABC ended up on an LPTV signal, W58BT, which had previously been the Fox affiliate – and under owner Weigel Broadcasting and new calls WBND-LP, the station became one of the more impressive LPTV operations anywhere in America.
WBND eventually moved to channel 57 (and is now digital on RF 49), and today it enjoys full cable carriage, a decently competitive signal within the market, and even offers its own high-definition local newscasts. Weigel also operates two more LPs from this tower: WCWW-LD (Channel 25/RF 27) and WMYS-LD (Channel 69/RF 23) carry CW and MyNetwork TV, respectively, complete with cable carriage throughout the market.
There’s one more TV station out this way, and it’s another half-mile or so to the southeast, across 331 (Bremen Highway) on Fern Road. This 982-foot tower belongs to LeSea’s religious station, WHME-TV (Channel 46/RF 48), and no, I have no idea why WHME built the TV site out here instead of at its studio on Ironwood, just over a mile to the west. (There’s even a tower at the WHME studio site, carrying WHME-FM 103.1.)
And from the WHME site, as the sun sinks behind the horizon, we looked west to get that nifty sunset shot that led off this week’s installment. Those are the Johnson Road towers, and from left to right they’re the old WNIT, WSJV/WBYT, the new WNIT-DT/WVPE and the WBND/WCWW/WMYS tower.
Thanks to WNDU’s George Molnar for navigating, and to Indiana Radio Watch editor Blaine Thompson for driving!
The South Bend sunset photo at the top of the page is one of many you’ll find featured in the all-new Tower Site Calendar 2012, available now from the all new Fybush.com store!
Next week: Flint Peak (KLAX-FM), Glendale, California