Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Two Story Brick on North Illinois and a few memories from our get together in Cambria

The two story brick was built as the home of WIBC radio in the 30's. When the company moved to new facilities on North Meridian street in the 80's the old two story brick was donated to Butler University by the Fairbanks family, Butler housed their student and public broadcast stations there for years. I wonder if anyone connected to the Fathers and Families Center in Indianapolis has any idea of the old buildings history.

Tom Cochrun and I started at WIBC, Indianapolis the same week in 1969. Tom was hired by Fred Heckman, the storied news director of WIBC. In anticipation of the interview, Tom got his long hair cut. The interview went well, Fred hired him. When the interview was over, Fred said to young Tom, "Get your hair cut."

I left KQWB in Fargo to go to WIBC. My first job there was the all night show. From Midnight to 5, I did everything, played the music, did the news, weather, sports, you name in it, I did it. When I arrived at WIBC my news experience was "rip and read", as in tear the stories off the AP wire and read them. I soon found out I had to have News Director and morning drive anchor Fred Heckman's 5am,5:30am and the 10 minute 6am newscasts, written and ready. Fred gave me a crash course in broadcast journalism. It took a month of poking and prodding by Fred to get my news writing to an acceptable level, another month before he passed out a complement. I wrote those three newscasts a day for a year. Fred’s guidance gave me a foundation, I was later able to put to good use when I built news departments, hired news people and directed news/talk radio stations. Thanks Freddy for training me and kicking my ass when it needed kicking.

WIBC was a national trendsetter, one of the first major market radio stations to embrace the changing demographics and to redefine what adult contemporary radio would become.

The WIBC vison came from a young General Manager named Jim Hilliard. Jim came to Indy from Philadelphia where had built and programmed legendary Top 40 station WFIL. For whatever reason, Jim took me under his wing. He would get to the station early in the morning (6:30) a couple of days a week and go over air checks of my show. He taught me what I could do better and more importantly, what not to do. Those early morning teaching sessions with Jim gave me a foundation I could build on as I moved on in my career with Fairbanks and other companies. Jim worked me hard, 5 all night shows a week and a midday show on Sunday. I’d get to the station at 10 at night and usually get home between 10 and 11 the next morning. Jim had enough confidence in me to have me do fill in for our morning man Gary Todd when Gar was on vacation and then my eventual move down the hall to WNAP FM to do mornings and later on to program our stations in Boston.

Jim had a lot more confidence in me than I had. Until I got to WIBC/WNAP I wasn’t even committed to radio as a career. Jim taught me to see my possibilities and gave me the confidence and encouragement to make a commitment to broadcasting. Everybody worked hard for Jim, he made it so damn much fun, the long hours and dedication he required were well worth it.

Working at WIBC and WNAP was an honor, a privilege and one hell of an education. So thanks for that and so much more JCH.

We had some tremendous talent in that brick building on North Illinois. The great Chuck Riley, Orly Knutson, Gary Todd. Fred and Lou Palmer anchored either end of the day in the newsroom. Young guys like Tom Cochrun and Bruce Taylor doing reporting and occasionally anchoring. Tom and Bruce moved on to successful careers in television news. One of the reporters was a classy old guy named Bob Hoover. You could imagine him with a press card stuck in his hat. Hoover had been a broadcaster for so long, he had covered John Dillinger in the early days of radio news. Bob Hoover was a walking talking history book.

WIBC had a nationally recognized Farm Director, Harry Andrews. Harry did the bulk of his Farm Reports in the early morning hours, beginning each broadcast with "Howdy Neighbor". Harry was a Purdue University grad, a school with a very good program in agriculture. Interesting thing, Harry's degree from Purdue was in drama. Harry played a character on the radio who was an expert in agriculture, he certainly wasn't. He was so good at it, the farm community didn't notice.

We had a great mix of old pros and young kids at the station. When I arrived at WIBC, Sid Collins, the voice of the Indy 500, was the Sports Director. Paul Page was a young police reporter. Paul replaced Sid on the 500 broadcasts and later did the Indy 500 race on ABC TV for many years.

WIBC was the flagship of Indiana University sports, the Pacers, the Racers (with a young kid named Wayne Gretsky centering a line) and later the Colts. Those sports broadcasts were anchored by legends like Jerry Baker, Joe McConnel, Bob Lamey and later a kid named Kevin Calabro. Today Kevin is "the" sports guy in Seattle.

We did traffic reports, the reporter was Deputy, then Sergeant, then Lt. and later Marion County sheriff Jim Wells. We had a young mayor in Indianapolis named Richard Lugar. Mayor (later Senator) Dick Lugar was a regular guest on the WIBC morning show.

Down the hall at the Buzzard, WNAP FM. The talent level was scary. WNAP had broadcast hall of famer Cris Connor, Major Tom Lewis, Tom went to be the top meteorologist on TV in Washington DC. Old friend Mike Griffin was a mainstay of the WNAP staff in those early days. Mike said the other day he was astonished at the music we played, he remembers it as much hipper than it was. Sugar-Sugar, right Mike? Mike moved on to become one of the owners of the Panther Indy Car racing team. Fresh from the Navy, Charlie Kendall did nights. Charlie went on to a programming career at some of the finest stations in the country, WMMS, WBCN, WMMR and WNEW. The list of WNAP talent is long, guys like Buster Bodine, Psycho Billy Cadillac and so many more opened the mic at WNAP.

I did mornings at WNAP for a year and a half and then moved onto Boston. I couldn’t have made the move without my WNAP experience.

The two stations at 2835 North Illinois in Indianapolis became the foundation of the Fairbanks Group of stations. Boston, Dallas, Philadelphia, later Kansas City, Tampa and Palm Beach. We were the best.

Our success all began with Jim Hilliard. And Jim, I would be remiss not to say thanks for dragging Geo out of Canada, he has been my colleague and friend for so many damn years I can’t even remember when it all started. One thing I do remember is sharing an office with Geo, no windows, no ventilation and we both chain smoked Marlboro Reds in those days. The Duffy Twins would open our door and the smoke would just roll out into the hall. We must have smelled like ash trays, lucky the smoke alarms didn't go off. Maybe they did.

It seemed everybody in that old brick building was a character, we even had an engineer named Will Fix.

Don’t get me started on the sales department...they were crazier than we were. Yance, Johnson, Seeley, Shelton, Cooper, guys know who you are.

It was a special time in broadcasting and in my life. Special friends too.

BTW, growing up in North Dakota, until I got to WIBC/WNAP, I didn't realize I had listened to Jim, Gary and Chuck on Winnipeg's CKY when I was a kid driving around in my car. I later found out Geo was working behind the scenes at CKY as well. Small world.


  1. I remember Chuck at CKY and, as Chuck Dann, at KOMA in Oklahoma City when I was in high school. When I first came to Indy in April of '69 one of my first jobs was doing Palmer's newscasts in the afternoon because he spent all of May at the track. I was only a glass window away from Chuck and he tried to get me fired at first. We later became great friends and occasional drinking buddies. And you are right about WIBC and WNAP. They were great stations changed radio in Indy and probably far beyond that.

    Thanks for reminding me of some people I had forgotten.

  2. Great post Bob. We were lucky to walk into a very special moment. Jim was beginning what would be an industry shaping adventure and we had front row seats in the class room/laboratory. We had fun and invented modern radio concepts and promotions. Jim was such a master that I used his staff development and leadership techniques in my executive days in television and in my production company. We were surrounded by stars and legends on the ascent. Thanks to George for getting us together again. Jim and George still have the magic. And you are becoming an accomplished and skilled writer. Fred would love it.

  3. Great great memories which all come flooding back whenever you get back together again and/our read a blog like yours Bobby. geo

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