20 Years Ago This Week, Emmis Bought AM1070

75years_blackredCEO Says Station Personalities Today “Really Touch A Nerve Here”

Emmis BroadcastingFor a couple reasons, it was a bit of a local shocker when the announcement was released April 15, 1994 that then 1070-WIBC and sister station 93.1 WKLR would be sold by Sconnix Broadcasting to Emmis Broadcasting (which has since changed its name to Emmis Communications).

To start with, business deregulation that blazed through so many industries in the 1980s & ‘90s had just arrived to broadcasting.  Previously the FCC limited local owners to one FM station and one AM station per market to avoid monopolies.  So a radio operator merger or acquisition announcement was news in any city.

Also, more emotional in Indianapolis, WIBC had been going through a bumpy transition.  For years it was Indy’s top station with unparalleled credibility, a middle-of-the-road format and the positioning statement “the friendly voice of Indiana”.  But in an effort to reach younger demographics, the out of town ownership shifted to a news-talk format laced with controversial conservative shows like Rush Limbaugh and Stan Solomon, who infamously uttered years ago that “[abortion rights activists] are homosexuals, wimps, and/or Jewish lawyers”.  Naptown residents bristled at many of these changes, which included the firing of legendary News Director Fred Heckman, and were hopeful that a return to local ownership would lead to a product that better reflected the community.

Emmis founder and CEO, Jeff Smulyan
Emmis founder and CEO, Jeff Smulyan

“I guess from a hard, cold business standpoint I shouldn’t be proud of the statement I’m about to make… but we bought WIBC for probably less economic reasons than anything we’ve ever purchased,” Emmis CEO Jeff Smulyan told Radio Indiana in a previous post when recalling this purchase. “There was more of an emotional pitch to buying WIBC, because it had always been sort of the legendary standard in this community, and it had fallen into disrepair.  It was hard for me as a Hoosier to see that radio station sort of suffering.”

Change did come quickly to 1070-WIBC following Emmis’ purchase.  Within a year,

  • Stan Solomon was fired, as was much of the previous Sconnix management.
  • Fred Heckman returned as News Director Emeritus, can continued with his daily “My Town Indy” commentary until his passing in 2001.
  • Play-by-play broadcasts of the Indianapolis Colts and Indiana Pacers, both which had been on other stations for a couple of years, returned to AM1070.
  • Also, AM1070 signed an agreement to be the exclusive broadcast outlet the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race after years of several stations being allowed to carry the treasured civic event.

In ensuing years AM1070 would become even more ingrained in Indy’s fabric with its studios, along with Emmis’ corporate headquarters, moving to Monument Circle along with other programming changes.  “With Dan Dakich, Grady & Big Joe and JMV, we’ve got (local) personalities that really touch a nerve here,” said Smulyan during another prior discussion with Radio Indiana, this time about the popularity of THE FAN.

Today, no local radio frequency is more identified with our city.  Within minutes of when you tune to AM1070, you know you’re listening to Indianapolis!  But if Emmis hadn’t made the purchase 20 years ago, this is probably not the case.