50 years ago: Farewell WFBM, hello WRTV

WFBM-TV became WRTV-TV in June 1972
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Posted at 5:29 AM, Jun 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-02 12:46:35-04

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana’s first television station, WFBM-TV, changed its call letters to WRTV in June 1972. It’s the same call letters the station uses today.

WFBM-TV began broadcasting on May 30, 1949. Its original call letters were derived from its sister radio station, WFBM-AM, which began broadcasting in 1924.

The call letter change coincided with a change in ownership when McGraw-Hill purchased the television station from Time-Life.

Farewell WFBM, hello WRTV
WRTV management explained the call letter change in this ad from the Indianapolis Star on June 2, 1972.

McGraw-Hill used the new call letters to emphasize the fact that WRTV was in fact a television station and no longer affiliated with the WFBM radio stations which were not part of the sale.

Former WRTV anchor Ken Beckley recalled the call letter change in a 2019 interview.

"We became WRTV, so station management required that going into each commercial break of the newscast, we had to say WRTV, We Are TV, to get across this is WRTV," Beckley said.

“We got so tired of it and didn't want to do it, but they insisted. They said once you are so sick of it and just can't say it again the public will finally grasp that it is WRTV.”

While there have been a few iterations of branding through the years: The News, Channel 6, Six News, and RTV6, the station returned to using its call letter roots in August 2020.

The refresh once again focused on the fact that "We are TV."

Call me by your call letters

Hoosiers who’ve lived in central Indiana for some time might recall a pretty ingenious way The WFBM Stations helped folks remember its call letters. It was as simple as adding just a few vowels.

WFBM began using the phrase “Woof Boom,” with help from two carefully crafted characters.

There was Woof Boom the dog and Woof Boom Mary.

Jerry Chapman, who held various titles during his 30 years at the stations including general manager, discussed Woof Boom Mary in an Indianapolis Star article on June 21, 1966.

According to the article, “Woof Boom Mary, a crackle-voiced woman who breaks into the station’s broadcasts all day, she is ‘a sophisticate to some, a clod to others.”

Chapman went on to describe the character in detail.

“You’re a grand gal with too much makeup and lipstick a little smeared. Your hair could stand another do and yesterday’s fashions look a little hysterical on you. You love martinis and have been known to wear sneakers to Glendale.”

WFBM employee Jim Mathis wears a Woof Boom Mary shirt.

Woof Boom Mary’s true identity was eventually revealed years after she stopped appearing on the air.

In addition to her Woof Boom Mary duties, Mary C. Douglas was also a record librarian and secretary during her time with The WFBM Stations.

The other Woof Boom was less of a mystery and more of a saint. Specifically, a St. Bernard.

Woof Boom the St. Bernard
Woof Boom was a mascot for The WFBM Stations.

Woof Boom the dog was the station’s mascot in the 1960s. She traveled to and from the station via taxi and would be dropped off at the station in the afternoon when school children were often passing by the building.

“They just loved old Woof Boom,” Ruth Hiatt, a longtime station employee recalled in 1997 interview. “Woof Boom would take their school books.”

Hiatt said it was a good gimmick.

“It’s hard to promote your call letters sometimes, I guess if you’re going to use call letters, you need to choose the slogan first and then try to match the call letters to them,” said Hiatt.

Jerry Chapman described Woof Boom as “one of our better employees,” in her obituary which ran in the Indianapolis Star on Oct. 16, 1972. She was 10 years old.

Lights, Cameron, action!

WRTV introduced a more traditional looking mascot in the early 90s.

WRTV mascot Cameron
Cameron was WRTV's news camera mascot.

Cameron (as in, camera-on) was a life-sized television camera.

The costume featured a large rectangular body that resembled a TV news camera, along with the WRTV-6 logo. The shimmery silver camera body was complimented by a white WRTV-6 ball cap and red shoes. Cameron had a camera lens made with a mirror so that people could see their own reflection.

WRTV enlisted the services of AvantGarb, an Indianapolis mascot design company, to bring Cameron to life.

President and self-proclaimed, 'Queen of Fuzz' Jennifer Smith says Cameron was one of the first mascots created in Indianapolis.

Cameron could be found at a variety of parades and events around central Indiana in the early 1990s.

WRTV mascot Cameron poses for a picture
WRTV mascot Cameron poses for a picture.

While it isn’t clear when Cameron was retired, the lore of the costume's pungent aroma quite likely contributed to its demise.