The Hoosierist: Spelled Out

Clever call letters, an empty zoo, and the worst snow storm ever. Ask The Hoosierist.

Q: Do television-station call letters stand for anything?
Denise D., Beech Grove

A: The Hoosierist always figured they were burped out by a computer in the basement of the FCC’s headquarters. Boy, was he wrong. As it turns out, they’re like vanity license plates, with each featuring a coded message, some of them actually clever. For instance, WRTV is code for We aRe TeleVision, and WXIN means something to the effect of “Indiana’s Crossroads.” (The X symbolizes the crossroads, followed by the state’s initi-als. Get it?) In a similar vein, WTHR is short for THiRteen, and local PBS outlet WFYI’s last three letters are short for—you guessed it—“For Your Information.” The folks at venerable old WTTV, which signed on the air in 1949, took a different tack. The last three letters stand for Tarzian TeleVision, after the station’s original owner, Sarkes Tarzian. About the only letter set that lacks an interesting backstory is WISH, which apparently just stands for “wish.” As in, “Man, we sure wish we had Angela Buchman back.”

Q: Why does the zoo stay open in winter? What’s the point?
Henry N., Indianapolis

A: One reason the Indianapolis Zoo doesn’t lock its gates and hibernate through the cold months is because most of its animals don’t hibernate either. They still have to be fed and cared for, which means the staff has to be paid, so why not accommodate the occasional visitors who don’t mind a little frostbite with their fauna? And it’s not as if the place is a lifeless, ice-covered tundra. Enclosed areas such as the Deserts dome and Oceans building stay toasty year-round, and a good portion of the outdoor animals don’t mind the cold at all.

Zoo staffers even assert (with a straight face) that strolling the grounds on a bitter winter day can be fun. Or at least easy on the pocketbook. Ticket prices drop from $16.95 per adult in summer to only $10 during midwinter. And while the chill might be an issue for offseason visitors, oppressive summer crowds are not. Plus, guests who are fans of winter-hardy species such as polar bears, walruses, and Amur (Siberian) tigers can enjoy serious quality time with their favorites, many of whom become far more active and far more interested in visitors when temperatures drop and the snow flies. The Hoosierist can attest to this, having visited the tiger enclosure one bitter January afternoon last year. The big cats spend most of the busy summer piled up in a shady corner, but on this day a roughly 600-pound male bounded down to the fence line and fawned back and forth like a housecat begging for a treat. Weird, but fun—and well worth the momentary loss of feeling in one’s toes and fingers.

Q: Do I have to obey those 25-mile-per-hour school zones in the summer, when school’s out? How about near Christmas, when almost every school is closed?
Paula W., Indianapolis

A: According to the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, if school’s out, you can cruise past the building at full speed with impunity. But you’d better be really, really sure there are no kids in there. If it’s Dec. 24, then yeah, you’re probably safe. But if it’s Columbus Day, when most public schools close but many private ones stay open, watch it. Blaze past an elementary holding class, and you’re looking at a ticket. On the flipside, if you can prove that the school was in fact closed, you can win in traffic court. Though The Hoosierist would hardly call losing half a day of your life just to worm out of a ticket “winning.”

Q: Are plans available for future construction projects around Indiana? I’d love to see what they have in mind for the interstates around here.
Sloan I., Fishers

A: If looking at highway schematics really turns your crank, you’re in luck. The Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) keeps several years’ worth of construction plans and contracts online. Visit the agency at, and in no time at all you’ll be up to your asphalt in diagrams.

But you have to negotiate a couple of speed bumps first. The website is as tricky to navigate as the Spaghetti Bowl at rush hour, and the massive PDF files take a while to download. Plus, gaining access to specific projects requires a five-digit INDOT contract number. If you need help finding this, contact the agency directly. However, The Hoosierist guesses that anyone who is this interested in poring over roadway plans probably won’t have much trouble tracking down contract numbers on his or her own.

Q: What’s the worst snowstorm Central Indiana has ever faced? Was it the Blizzard of ’78, or was there something even worse?
Emily A., Avon

A: The Hoosierist long ago tired of hearing people’s Blizzard of ’78 “survival stories,” most of which center around such less-than-harrowing anecdotes as “They canceled school for two weeks, and the kids drove me nuts” or “We ran out of coffee, and I went into caffeine withdrawal.” He always figured there were bigger storms in old-timey times, but that people back then were too busy stoically whittling turnips or lacquering chickens (or whatever) to whine about them.

Which made the discovery that the Blizzard of ’78 was indeed the worst snowstorm in Hoosier history all the more surprising. The storm hit on Jan. 25 of that year, laying down some 20 inches of snow in the Indianapolis area—the most the city has ever faced at one time. But the snow wasn’t the real issue. It was the relentless wind that piled it in inconvenient places. For instance, a massive snowdrift stopped an Amtrak train; National Guard tanks were used to pull stranded trucks off of I-65; and a newspaper published on pink paper so subscribers could find it in the snowbanks.

So when it comes to wrath-of-God–style winter weather, the Blizzard of ’78 remains the gold standard. Considering all of the awful things that happened, perhaps it would be best for us city-dwellers to keep our “I ran out of coffee” stories to ourselves. They’re kind of insulting to the storm’s true heroes—especially the intrepid paperboys who somehow summoned the moxie to deliver those pink newspapers.  


Illustration by Shane Harrison

This article appeared in the January 2014 issue.