I noted the passing of WIBC-AM with more than just a little interest. Yes, my little interest-I don’t listen to commercial radio-was coupled with a heavy dose of nostalgia.
This is the end of an era, for crying out loud.
WIBC, which in my youth we referred to more often as “WIB-see,” was my parents’ favorite station in the morning. I equate the sound of Gary Todd’s voice with the smell of bacon and eggs on school days.
I also remember WIBC fondly as the station my brothers and I eagerly listened to for school closings.
On a grander scale, the call letters WIBC were synonymous with the words “news coverage.” The station has always been the radio-news leader; its staff seemed to be everywhere.
In the 1970s, WIBC distinguished itself with its coverage of two major events. It was Information Central during the blizzard of 1978, a historic storm that dumped 20 inches of snow overnight and virtually paralyzed the city for three days.
Mayor William Hudnut made the station his on-air headquarters and was interviewed live regularly during and after the storm, talking it up with Todd and legendary newsman Fred Heckman and keeping the city informed.
He knew where the biggest audience of parents and other responsible parties was.
The year before the snowstorm, Heckman actually became part of the news as the bizarre Tony Kiritsis story unfolded live. Kiritsis had taken a mortgage executive hostage, wired a sawed-off shotgun to his head, and paraded him through the streets of the city.
During the 63-hour ordeal, Kiritsis would speak to no one but Heckman and repeatedly called him on-air. Heckman was at the scene when Kiritsis finally surrendered in front of local and national television news cameras.
This kind of news coverage cemented the already deep relationship WIBC was able to cultivate with its listeners by being folksy and personal. In its heyday, the station’s on-air personalities seemed like family to its listeners.
That style and format suited my parents’ generation to a T.
Heckman’s booming voice and “My Town Indy,” Todd’s name-dropping and friendly interview style, and “Big John” Gillis’ traffic reports from the 10-7-0 Whirlybird are indelible parts of this city’s radio history.
But alas, those days are over. (See related story on page 1.)
Today, the AM audience is dwindling. What’s more, it skews a bit too old for radio executives looking for advertisers, the majority of whom are targeting a much younger demographic.
So, the still-strong WIBC news coverage is moving over to 93.1 on the FM band and retooling in hopes of cultivating that younger audience. Exactly how it will retool is unclear.
(We do know this: Until the change is official Jan. 7, listeners can tune in the FM frequency and listen to holiday music 24/7. Do we really need that?)
Meanwhile, WIBC’s exclusive local-sports coverage-Indianapolis Colts, Indiana Pacers and Fever, Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Indiana University football-will be paired with ESPN and stay on the AM band with its muscular, 50,000-watt signal.
That signal, by the way, has always been a plus for WIBC because it has allowed listeners in Kentucky, Illinois, Ohio and Michigan to hear the station. But did you know that big signal worked only during the day? At night, the FCC requires the station to cut back to 10,000 watts for technical reasons you don’t want me to explain.
While the fate of WIBC in its FM reincarnation remains to be seen, the sports format on the AM band has the potential to be lucrative. Coupling our local heroes with ESPN’s strong sports franchise and a strong signal could be a home run for Emmis.
But we should all have a moment of silence-dead air, they call it in the biz-to remember a legendary AM powerhouse.
Katterjohn is publisher of IBJ. To comment on this column, send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.