News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

October 9, 2012

New era at WTHI

Longtime TV station switches to new building Oct. 20

TERRE HAUTE — The building even smells new.

WTHI-TV, after more than five decades in a revamped garment factory, is set to move into a completely new building, custom-made as a TV station.

The station’s staff will do its final newscast Oct. 19 from the old building. Then, late that night, the “switch over” will happen and the oldest television station in the Wabash Valley, will start a new life one block to the west in a fresh, new, three-story building at Eighth and Ohio streets.

“The new era begins on October 20th,” said Todd Weber, vice president and general manager of WTHI-TV.

From its big, three-story building at 918 Ohio St., WTHI-TV relayed to viewers such moments in history as the launch of the Soviet Sputnik satellite in 1957, the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963 and the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger in 1986. The old building, built in 1906, was also the career launch pad for many well-known broadcasters, such as Phil Jones of CBS News, Indianapolis anchor Howard Caldwell, nationally known journalist Betty Chadwick and actor Jerry Van Dyke.

But, on Saturday, Oct. 20, WTHI-TV will have a new home, complete with a new studio, a new control room and all new, high-definition broadcast equipment.

“It’s a huge investment for the company,” Weber said.

The total cost: $7 million. The total size: 17,000 square feet plus a large basement.

As of Monday, workers with general contractor C.H. Garmong and Son were still putting some finishing touches on the building. Workers also were completing the sidewalk around the building. And, inside, engineers, technicians and others were working on the news set.

“You’re not going to find anything better than what we’ve got,” said chief engineer Jeff Tucker, who was working in the temperature-controlled equipment room on the building’s third floor.

Literally miles of wires and cable, neatly arranged in colorful groups, run up the walls and across the ceiling. In all, at least 80,000 feet (more than 15 miles) of electronic wiring is being used, Tucker said.

“We were looking for a ‘Wow,’ factor,” Weber said. “I think we’ve accomplished it.”

News Director Susie Dinkel said the old building at 918 Ohio has been like a second home, but she is excited about the new facility and what it means for the future of the station.

“Ever since I joined the WTHI-TV family 17 years ago, there’s been talk of one day moving our operations,” she said. “I’m still pinching myself that ‘that one day’ is just about here.”

Thompson Thrift, a Terre Haute developer, owns the old building and expects to demolish it in November, the company said Monday. In its place will be parking for the new Thompson Thrift office building at 925 Wabash Ave.

Weber said the transition to the new facility, with its brand new studio, new cameras and other high-definition equipment, will have a few bumps in the road. But he is expecting the station’s 75 employees to handle the change well.

“We’ve been training for this the past two weeks,” Weber said. “It’s like learning to fly an airplane. We’ve got to be ready by Saturday.”

One big change from the former facility is that WTHI-TV and WTHI-FM Hi 99 will no longer be under the same roof.

In fact, the long-time radio cousin of the TV operation, which is owned by Emmis Communications, moved to its new location several weeks ago, Weber said.

The two stations will retain a marketing partnership, Weber said.

WTHI-TV is owned by LIN Media of Providence, R.I.

“I grew up watching WTHI-TV and now I’m in a position to guide it into the future,” Dinkel said. “I look forward to the next chapter for WTHI-TV and I don’t think I’m alone.”

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@tribstar.com.

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