Radio’s ripple effect
On the 50th anniversary of the high school station, alumni recognize its impact on their lives
By Terri Spilman
Former Carmel High School Principal Earl F. Lemme launched more than just the city’s first radio station, WHJE, 91.3 FM in 1963. His ingenuity fostered an environment that encouraged the personal growth of his students and catapulted many a career despite drastic transformations in the radio industry over the 50 years that followed.
The call letters WHJE stand for High School, Junior High and Elementary.
And a look around the expansive state-of-the-art, computer-based studio reveals numerous awards along with a plaque of station alumni that reads like an industry Who’s Who with such notable on-air personalities as NPR’s Steve Inskeep, WTTS’s Paul Mendenhall, WOWO’s Charly Butcher, ESPN’s Lance McAlister and comedian Dave Dugan just to name a few.
Wall to wall collages of album covers, vinyl records and Rolling Stone magazines send a reminder of the glory days of radio. If only those walls could talk.
‘What a thrill’
Fishers resident Tom Hamblen was the first engineer at the original studio located in the “old log cabin” building on 4th Street when the station first went live. He said he remembers calling his parents to make sure the broadcast could be heard over the radio.
“It may be difficult given the immediacy of technology today to imagine what a thrill it was to a kid in high school in the early ’60s manning the technology of that day,” Hamblen said.
Radio programming consisted of school announcements, basketball and football game broadcasts and community events. There was no formal school radio curriculum as the station was staffed entirely by students who volunteered their time before and after school. The students brought in their own records and all music had to meet Lemme’s approval before being played over the airwaves. According to Hamblen, that meant a lot of easy-listening music by Henry Mancini, cool jazz by Dave Brubeck and even the bubble-man himself, Lawrence Welk. And according to Hamblen, the students would call to complain at times about the choice in music.
Each broadcast day would end with the Star Spangled Banner.
Principal Lemme was a man people respected.
Hamblen said, “In my own career as a business owner, I often found myself thinking of how Mr. Lemme would handle a management issue or resolve a conflict effectively. For me he was a ‘best of class role model.’”
‘Blessed to have tremendous students’
The next two decades marked an era of growth at WHJE. Scott Gregg joined the school in 1970 to manage the station and design a radio curriculum. And the FCC required students to maintain a license.
“It was a big thing to pass the test and have your license at the time,” Gregg said. “The radio station was basically student-operated. We were blessed to have tremendous students who cared about the radio station and cared about what went out over the air.”
In 1973, there was a big push in the community made up of adult leaders who were a little bit concerned about the music they were hearing on the radio station and an advisory group was formed. A color dot system was instituted to ensure “heavy rock ‘n’roll” wasn’t played during the hours the adults were listening.
‘Exciting for the kids’
The programming was run like a commercial radio station in order to give the students practical industry experience according to Tom Schoeller, who was on-air staff as a student and later became station manager.
“The kids really had to study music, listen to all the new things that came out and predict the next hit,” Schoeller said. “It was exciting for the kids to meet their public by doing live remotes at local businesses such as Woodland Theater, Keystone Square Mall and Union State Bank as well as broadcasting community shows from McDonald’s.”
Schoeller told his students, “If you can sit in a closet and hold a conversation with yourself, you’ll make it in radio.”
‘Turning point of my life’
This mantra held true for comedian Dave Dugan who confessed, “This obsession started at the age of 11 when I created my own radio station in the closet beneath our basement stairs, broadcasting to anyone within a half mile radius who had a walkie-talkie, which I realize sounds like the plot of one of those bad afterschool specials. I think it would be called ‘The Kid Under The Stairs’ starring Robby Benson.”
“It may sound overdramatic, but WHJE was the biggest single turning point of my life. Without it, I don’t know where I would be today,” Dugan said. “Probably still under the stairs.”
‘Screaming into the microphone’
Former WHJE News Director Patricia Pickett’s fondest single memory is covering the Gerald Ford campaign at the State Fairgrounds Coliseum. According to Patricia, “News Director Dick Eppert and I had press credentials — and Tom Brokaw was standing next to me eating a bag of peanuts. Yes, I saved the peanut shell he threw on my foot … it may still be in my jewelry box. But in general, it was the camaraderie during the course of time — 1974 – 1977.”
“It was where I went first thing in the morning before school and where I went at the end of the day,” she said. “These folks are some of my dearest, closest friends to this day. And most agree that their time spent at WHJE propelled them to the modicum of success they have experienced as adults.”
Carmel High School Athletic Director, Jim Inskeep was a Sports Director and did play-by-play announcing.
Inskeep said, “I was always impressed with the coaches from other schools that were willing to do pre-game interviews with a high school radio station. In 1991, I called a game-winning shot from 35 feet out at the buzzer from Scott Shepherd to defeat a ranked Muncie South team. I was literally screaming into the microphone. Scott and I still talk about the last seconds of that game often.”
Preparing students for the future
WHJE has had several staff members from the same family throughout the years, including the three Inskeep Brothers – Jim, Bruce and Steve.
Bruce said, “WHJE was one of the best things that happened to me. WHJE and CHTV are better than most College Radio and TV programs. Carmel students are extremely lucky to have facilities like they do. My brother Steve, is a perfect example of where a start at WHJE can take you.”
Steve is co-host of NPR’s “Morning Edition,” one of the most popular news programs in the country.
Today, the curriculum surrounding WHJE has more of a broad communications focus and the station is grouped in the Greyhound Media Network along with CHTV, HiLite Newsmagazine and Pinnacle Yearbook according to current advisor, Brian Spilbeler.
The studios are located in the middle of the communications department with broadcasts piped into the senior hall. The station broadcasts between 150-175 sporting events a year. The station programming consists of music reviews, in-depth reports, radio dramas and commentary on teen-based topics from the serious such as rape culture and suicide to the lighter side of daily school life.
WTTS on-air personality Paul Mendenhall said, “WHJE meant everything to me in high school, it gave me a place to fit in and develop some rudimentary skills that were good enough to allow me to get started in commercial broadcasting.”