On December 31, 1921, commercial broadcasting in Indiana began when Indianapolis mayor
Lew Shank posed his immortal question from the “studio” (a garage, actually) of radio station
9ZJ, “. . . (D)o you mean to tell me that people can actually hear me over that damn dingus!?”
For over a century since that memorable debut, Indiana broadcasters have provided daily music, news, sports, interviews, opinions, advertising, comedy, drama and a boundless array of productions to their fellow Hoosiers, and audiences far beyond our borders.
Unfortunately, much of that story has been lost. Stations change owners and formats, personalities pass on. Yesterday’s news and entertainment become today’s fading memories.
With major support from the Indiana Broadcasters Association (IBA), the Indiana Broadcast Pioneers (IBP) have embarked on an ambitious project to preserve what remains of the artifacts that tell this illustrious tale.
Neither the IBA nor the IBP have the resources or the expertise to preserve the relevant materials. What our respective membership – and our associates – do have is possession of such treasures, or the knowledge of where caches may reside.
In a systematic manner, the IBP is collecting microphones, cameras, other test and broadcast equipment, audio and video in various formats, photographs, scripts, advertising, posters, contracts, correspondence and other documents, etc. These items are stored in a secure location until an appropriate repository (archive, museum, university, etc.) is identified on a case-by-case basis.
The intent of this project is to rescue items from basements, attics, garages, sheds and other improper locales, place them in a safe environment and begin the process of getting these irreplaceable assets into suitable hands where they can be made available to both scholars and the general public.
Although this project is in its early stages, there have been several notable successes to date.
A native Michigander, in 1957 Fred Heckman (1923 – 2001) settled in Indianapolis to work at WIBC-AM, eventually becoming the station’s News Director. Under Heckman’s guidance, WIBC was a leading source for news in Indianapolis and his “My Town Indy” essays, which aired at the end of WIBC’s noon newscasts, became a daily ritual for the station’s listeners.
Through the generosity of the Heckman family, the IBP acquired approximately 7,000 “My Town Indy” scripts that provide a near daily synopsis of life in Indianapolis circa 1970-2000. In turn, the IBP placed this priceless archive with the Indiana Historical Society (IHS) where it will eventually be accessible in perpetuity.
In addition to the Heckman Archive, the IBP has also placed quarterly editions of the Indiana Broadcast Pioneers Newsletter (circa 2002-2020) at the IHS. Largely written and edited by WISH radio and TV alum, and long-time Indiana Broadcast Pioneer, Bob Smith, this incredible resource includes biographies, photos, station and program histories, personal reminiscences of
countless broadcasters and a wealth of additional information on 100 years of Indiana radio and television history that is otherwise extremely difficult to come by.
While anyone who’s interested can currently find 38 issues of the Indiana Broadcaster Pioneers Newsletter (2011-2020) on the IBP website (www.indianabroadcastpioneers,org ), a more comprehensive collection will soon be accessible through the IHS website.
Recently, the Indiana State Museum (ISM) accessioned over 100 costumes, props, photos and other artifacts from Bob Warren’s radio\TV career c. 1955-2000, which were made available to the IBP by Bob’s daughter, Kathleen. Most of these artifacts relate to Bob’s clowning career, particularly on multiple WISH-TV children’s shows c. 1958-1975. Many others document a variety of locally produced shows that aired on WISH c. 1965-1980, which Bob directed and\or produced. Material from his later career hosting primarily jazz-oriented programs on WXTZ-FM and WICR-FM is also included.
The Indiana Historical Society has accessioned over 200 additional radio scripts, promotional items, photographs and other artifacts the Pioneers directed to that organization via Kathleen Warren.
The IBP is currently in possession of several pieces of film editing equipment that was used extensively by cinematographer\director John Blair McGinnis. A native of Columbus, Indiana, McGinnis created nearly all of the television spots for most Indianapolis-based banks, utilities and other public and private entities during the 1960s and ‘70s. He later developed in-house training videos, commercials and other promotional materials for IBM, Georgia Pacific, Jack Daniels and a host of other American and international clients. The Pioneers are currently in discussions regarding an appropriate repository for John’s artifacts.
IBP vice-president, Ken Owen, has provided Indiana University with numerous audio and video tapes from his extensive collection, while the Pioneers remain in discussions with IU regarding the creation of a statewide database for material held by several institutions that relate to Indiana broadcast history. Additionally, the IBP is currently exploring the acquisition of at least two other collections, which are not yet ready to be publicized.
Those looking for a home for items related to the history of Indiana radio and television should contact IBP archivist Dale Ogden 317-699-0534 [email protected] or IBP vice-president Ken Owen [email protected] Decisions regarding the placement of artifacts are made by consensus of the IBP board in agreement with donors and the relevant institutions involved. The IBP is especially interested in artifacts that relate to Indiana broadcasting in areas of the state beyond Indianapolis.