On November 4, 1924, Clem Portman, John Tribby, Hobart Ashlock, and Frank Sharp introduced WFBM radio to Indianapolis listeners. Operating at 1260 AM, it was the fifth radio station licensed in Indianapolis. The first broadcast featured returns of that year’s presidential election.

WFBM Radio Station announcers, 1930
Credit: The Bretzman Collection, Indiana Historical Society

Owned by Merchants Heat and Light Company (all but Sharp were Merchants employees), the station’s programming was primarily local in nature during its first years on the air. State high school basketball tourneys proved to be an early favorite for listeners. Other early programs included the Christian Men’s Builders Hour, hosted by Merle Sidener from the Third Christian Church; Wheeler Rescue Mission, an hour-long broadcast of inspirational messages and hymns; and live remotes from such venues as the Indiana State Fair.

In 1928, WFBM joined Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), becoming the first network-affiliated station in the city. This affiliation greatly increased program choices, but local broadcasts remained popular as well. In the 1930s, local programming included Hoagy Carmichael’s orchestra live from the Columbia Club and Herron Art Institute director Wilbur D. Peat’s series of lectures on art. By the 1940s, through their CBS affiliation, the station brought broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow, popular singer Kate Smith, and comedians Burns and Allen into Indianapolis homes.

WFBM Radio Station singing trio from left to right, Bromley House, Jim Boyer, and Louis Lowe, 1930
Credit: The Bretzman Collection, Indiana Historical Society

WFBM became the only local station to send a correspondent to the war front in 1944 when newsman Gilbert Forbes, one of World War II’s six accredited, non-network correspondents, interviewed Hoosier soldiers at Omaha Beach on D-Day and elsewhere in the European Theater, broadcasting his reports back to Indiana over WFBM. Following the war, in 1947, over 1 million listeners in Indianapolis and the surrounding area tuned in to The Best of the 48, a series of dramatizations of Indiana history.

In 1949, the station’s owners created the city’s first television station, Wfbm-Tv. Time, Inc. purchased WFBM AM-TV in the mid-1950s, and, in 1959, added an FM sister station WFBM-FM. Within a few years, these two additions would eclipse the original AM station in ratings. In step with national trends, Indianapolis radio listeners shifted their attention to television and FM stations in the late 1960s and 1970s. Along with AM stations nationwide, WFBM-AM lost much of its audience during this period.

McGraw Hill publishers purchased the station in 1972. WFBM-AM became WNDE in 1973, and its FM sister station became Wfbq in spring 1974. The call letters “NDE” were chosen because they phonetically sounded like “Indy.”

WNDE competed with popular AM radio station Wife in a “Top 40” format in the 1970s. To fit a niche that FM radio did not cover, the station shifted to an “Oldies and Fun” format in 1982 and began broadcasting in AM stereo in 1983. Low advertising revenue brought another change in 1989 when the station changed to all-news, talk, and sports broadcasting. By 1991, WNDE, with men aged 25 to 54 as its target audience, ranked 10th in ratings among Indianapolis-area radio stations. That same year, Great American Broadcasting sold WNDE and WFBQ to Cincinnati, Ohio-based Broadcast Alchemy, L.P.

In 1992, the new owners contracted with the Indianapolis Colts organization for exclusive rights to broadcast Colts football games. It held these rights through 1997. WNDE also broadcast the Indiana Pacers (professional basketball) and the Indianapolis Ice (professional hockey) games in a revised sports-and-talk format that kept it popular among Indianapolis-area radio stations.

Leading concert promoter SFX Broadcasting Inc. purchased the licenses of WNDE and sister station WFBQ in 1997 when it also acquired event promoter Sunshine Promotions. The $50 million deal included Deer Creek Music Center in Hamilton County.

In 2000, Clear Channel, the biggest radio station operator in the U.S., acquired WNDE and WFBQ when it purchased SFX Communications, as part of a $2.9 million deal. Clear Channel hoped to boost event ticket sales using its radio stations.

WNDE became a Fox Sports Radio affiliate in 2002. The station switched to NBC Sports Radio in September 2012 for weekday hours from 10 pm to 5 am but remained with Fox for the other broadcast hours. The station also produced local programming during late afternoon hours. Sports journalists Tim Bragg and Bill Benner, Wish Tv sports anchor Mark Patrick, Pacers announcer Mark Boyle, and sports journalist John (JMV) Michael Vincent have served as hosts for drive time between 3 and 7 P.M.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network announcer Jake Query and sportscaster Derek Schultz had the longest run hosting a local show on WNDE in this drive-time slot. Query and Schultz began broadcasting on the station in August 2011. They competed directly with the former WNDE drive-time host JMV, who had moved to sport-talk station Wfni in 2010.

For many years, WNDE broadcast Cincinnati Reds Major League Baseball games. It then switched to the Chicago Cubs radio network from 2009 to 2011. The station dropped NASCAR programming in 2011 and began broadcasting Indianapolis Indians games. WNDE also has served as the local broadcaster for Purdue football and men’s basketball events.

WNDE’s owner, Clear Channel, became part of a private holding company through a leveraged buyout in 2008. It was rebranded as iHeartCommunications, Inc. in 2014 (later to become iHeartMedia). In a noted departure from sports-talk programming, the station began carrying Rush in 2015, after Wibc decided to drop the talk-radio show hosted by conservative political commentator Rush Limbaugh. WNDE also discontinued its affiliation with NBC Sports and became known as Fox Sports Indy that same year.

In January 2020, iHeartMedia released Query and Schultz as part of “massive corporate layoffs.” The national Fox Sports Network Doug Gottlieb Show, hosted by the former NCAA and professional basketball player, replaced Query & Schultz. The cancellation was notable because it left The Ride with JMV on WFNI as the only remaining drive-time local sports show in the Indianapolis radio market.

Revised July 2021
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