WTIU50: WTIU’s First News Broadcast was a Chilly Run-In with the Blizzard of ‘78

January 1, 2019
        A snowy image of Indiana University's campus for WTIU's special report on the Blizzard of 1978.

On January 25, 1978, a polar jet stream merged with a subtropical jet stream to form a cacophony of snow, ice and wind that enveloped much of the Midwest. It would be known as the Blizzard of ’78.

For the next several days, life in Indiana came to a standstill. Indianapolis was hit with 15.5 inches of snowfall; the storm still holds the record for the most snow in one month in the city – 30.6 inches.

According to the National Weather Service, Governor Otis Bowen declared a snow emergency for the entire state on January 26. The Indiana Bell Telephone Company shut down all non-emergency phone traffic.  Emergency personnel rode snowmobiles to deliver medicine and rescue people. And Governor Bowen even had National Guard tanks mobilize onto Interstate 65 to remove stranded semi-trucks.

It was the first time the NWS issued a Blizzard Warning in Indiana, and for good reason: 11 people in Indiana died as a result of the storm.

Down in Bloomington, conditions closed off much of the town. One resident recounted to the Herald-Times (then the Herald-Telephone) how he used his cross-country skis to get around an empty Indiana University campus. Another recalled being unable to get the newspaper in the storm, so the local television station read it over the air.

That station was WTIU, still less than 10 years old at the time. WTIU didn’t have its own local news department back then, although WFIU did. But the need to get news out during the blizzard became so evident that the station conducted a live broadcast to give updates on conditions and closings.

You can check out a clip of the broadcast below. It’s a bit rocky, but it’s a fascinating time capsule of a TV station still getting its live broadcast sea legs.

On it, WTIU Public Affairs’ Katie Larson is joined by WFIU News Director Margaret Joseph, City of Bloomington Coordinator of Public Works Jim Wray, Indiana Daily Student Editor-in-Chief Hunt Helm and IDS reporter Phil Kincade.

It’s an informal show that took place on a set built for another program, but it gave WTIU’s audience a chance to interact with the station in real time.

Of course, this special was far from the only news show WTIU would produce. But we’ll take a look at those – and how we arrived at Indiana Newsdesk – another time.