Don Burton · 1986
Don Burton’s love affair with Muncie radio and television broadcasting reached its 59th year in November 1985. It all began in the early 1920’s when Don was a student at Central High School.
Earlier, Don became infected with the “wireless bug” when his father taught him fundamentals of the telegraph code, using railroad sounders in his home. Then a close friend, John Goodman, took Don home with him where they listened via wireless receiver to two Indianapolis stations, WOH and WLK.
Burton got his first amateur ham license in 1923, and in 1925 he graduated from Central High School. The first serious aspects of broadcasting occurred in 1924 when Don built his own microphone and phono pickups.
A friend and fellow ham operator, Don Harold of Logansport, obtained a license for a commercial broadcasting station and was “making a fabulous sum of money each week, about $100.” Harold helped Burton fill out papers for his first Department of Commerce commercial broadcast license.
Don almost forgot about the filing of the application for a license until a letter came in the mail from then Secretary of the Department of Commerce, Herbert Hoover.
Still a student at Central High School when the license arrived, Don was preparing to enroll in Purdue University to become an electrical engineer.
He had to make a choice!
Instead of electrical engineering, Mr. Burton became a broadcast operator and as a consequence, Radio Station WLBC was “born” in 1926.
The station was first located in Don’s father’s home on South Jefferson Street, and a flat wire antenna was utilized. Later, the station relocated on South Monroe Street at the Myer Baking Company, and later at Bell Music Company on South Mulberry Street.
About 1928, WLBC moved again, this time to the former Delaware Hotel. The transmitter and tower were located on the roof of the hotel, with studios on the second floor. About two years later, the station was moved into a building in the 200 block South Walnut Street.
In 1932, WLBC moved again, to the Anthony Building, in the quarters owned by Sears, Roebuck & Company. The first vertical tower was installed at this location.
The station moved to its present location on U.S. 35 South in 1941. WLBC became CBS affiliate in April, 1943; WMUN-FM was started in 1945. In 1967, the station went to stereo FM, with 9.8 kilowatts of power, and in 1973, this was increased to 50 kilowatts, stereo. WLBC-TV came into the “family” in 1953.
Like most Hoosiers, Mr. Burton was extremely interested in basketball and in the early 1930s became one of the first Indiana radio stations to broadcast Central High School and Ball State cage games. (Burris, Northside and Southside were still several years away from existence.)
At first, Don did not have the $500 required by the local telephone company to put in the radio line to the Central gym, so he arranged for a business phone to be installed.
The early game (or games) were reconstructed by having a reporter at the game relay to Don over the phone the lineups, who had the ball, who made the shots, etc. Don then reconstructed “action” in the radio station, supplying the emotion and excitement.
The first season of basketball broadcasting over WLBC was done in this way, and included the state finals in Indianapolis, which then consisted of 16 teams.
The following year, Burton obtained enough equipment plus the $500 to get the broadcast loop from the phone company. He then went to the games himself and did the play-by-play on location.
In 1937, station power was increased to 100 watts and Burton obtained the first full-time permit. Until then, WLBC had shared broadcasting time with two other stations.
Not only did Don Burton pioneer much of the sports broadcasting in the 1920-30 era in Indiana, but he later was acclaimed the top radio sports broadcaster in the state.