Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
It doesn't usually (or often) work out this way, but it's always exciting when we can see a whole bunch of facilities in just a couple of hours, especially on very short notice. And that's just what happened in Dallas in December 2012, when a day that started with just one scheduled visit - the KXAS-TV studio tour we showed you last week - suddenly blossomed into a late afternoon of stops at four interesting facilities around town.
We started with a quick peek at Belo's WFAA-TV (Channel 8), whose "Communications Center" complex in downtown Dallas we'd last visited a decade earlier. Things were changing in a lot of ways at WFAA at that point: having already split off from Belo's newspaper holdings, including the Dallas Morning News next door, the ABC affiliate was just a few months away from the big merger that rolled Belo's broadcast stations into Gannett.
Since our previous visit, WFAA had rebuilt its control rooms for local HD news, added a sister station (MundoFox affiliate KFWD-TV 52), built out a master control hub from which Belo's stations across Texas could be controlled during overnight hours - and added a completely separate second studio for its newscasts.
While the late-night news still originated from Broadcast Center, WFAA's morning, midday and some early evening newscasts had relocated a few miles north to Victory Park, the fairly new office/entertainment complex anchored by the arena where the Mavericks and Stars play.
This nifty street-level facility is not only visible to the crowds that gather here at game time, it also provides a dramatic skyline view of downtown just to the south behind one of its several mobile sets, which can be easily reconfigured for all the many things a morning "news" show does these days.
If visitors to Victory Plaza look carefully, they'll see that it's not just WFAA with a broadcast presence here. Just across the plaza from WFAA's streetfront digs on the west side, Cumulus occupies two upper floors on the east side of the complex for its cluster of four FMs and three AMs - and we get a peek at that plant, too, while we're here.
Past the lobby and the rack room that's displayed through a big glass wall behind the reception desk, there's a big studio for the smallest of the FM signals here. KLIF-FM (93.3 Haltom City) does top-40 as "i 93," down the hall from the two big FMs in the bunch. KSCS (96.3 Fort Worth) and KPLX (99.5 Fort Worth) are the heritage country signals in town, both with monster class C signals from the Cedar Hill tower farm, and while it's somewhat odd that these longtime competitors ended up as sister stations when Cumulus (KPLX) bought Citadel (KSCS), they've differentiated themselves nicely: KSCS is the "new country" outlet and KPLX ("The Wolf") was pioneering "90s to Now" country long before Cumulus took it national as "Nash Icon." (At least for now, they've retained their local branding; no "Nash" in Dallas, yet.)
The spoken-word piece of the cluster is upstairs, with nice views down to the plaza below. KTCK (1310 Dallas) is the legendary "Ticket," one of the nation's earliest sports-talk success stories. And just as with the country stations, the merger of the Citadel (ex-Cap Cities/ABC) cluster into Cumulus (ex-Susquehanna) brought two big spoken-word competitors together. WBAP (820 Fort Worth) was the Citadel/ABC entry, moving to Victory Plaza from the longtime home it shared with KSCS in a prominent office tower just off I-30 in Arlington. (See last week's Tower Site for more on the even earlier history of WBAP, as well as the irony of WBAP having its studios in Dallas.)
At the Arlington site, there was a nice display of WBAP historic memorabilia, and some of that made it over to the Victory Plaza digs, where it's displayed in glass cases near the entrance to the newsroom WBAP shares with a longtime rival, KLIF (570).
Even getting past the idea of a WBAP studio that's in Dallas and not Fort Worth, there's still more historic resonance to the idea that WBAP now shares its space with KLIF: that former Susquehanna talker is the descendant of the old WFAA radio, which for decades shared both 570 and 820 with WBAP. When that unusual share-time split in 1970, making WBAP full-time on 820 and WFAA full-time on 570, could either side have imagined their stations would be under common ownership four decades later? (And of course back then, the KLIF calls lived at a completely different spot on the dial, the 1190 signal that's now Clear Channel's third-tier talker KFXR.)
When we visited in 2012, WBAP was being simulcast on WBAP-FM (96.7 Flower Mound), a move-in serving the fast-growing north side of the market; not much later, Cumulus turned 96.7 into KTCK-FM to extend the range of "The Ticket." It had been heard on FM up north on KTDK (104.1 Sanger), a smaller facility that Cumulus surrendered and took dark to avoid market-cap issues; Cumulus also spun off KKLF (1700 Richards0n), an X-bander that went from a KTCK simulcast (KTBK) to a KLIF simulcast to "Comedy 1700" before going Spanish.
It wouldn't be a visit to Dallas without spending time in traffic on one of the many highways that snake northward from downtown, and our next stop is in one of the many shiny office towers that line all those highways and overlook all that brutal traffic. Just off the Dallas North Tollway, just north of the I-635 beltway, that particular shiny tower is home to Clear Channel's five FMs (classic rock KZPS 92.5, rock/talk KEGL 97.1, modern rock KDGE 102.1, top-40 KDMX 102.9 and top-40 KHKS 106.1), plus KFXR (1190).
This one's just a quick tour at the end of the day, but we get a nice look at the tech core at the center of this facility, as well as at a few of the individual stations' studios that line the other side of the hallway across from the core - and at the nifty performance studio that anchors one end of the line of studios. As that lighting might indicate, this room is set up as much for audio as for video, with frequent webcasts of in-studio performances from here.
One freeway to the east and a few miles back toward downtown, our final stop of the day is the CBS Radio cluster that occupies several floors of an office tower along US 75, the North Central Freeway.
This facility has been in an almost constant state of change for the last few years, and the end of 2012 was no exception, as we'll see in a moment. But we start with one of the more stable spots in the building, the tenth floor, where KLUV (98.7) holds pride of place right behind the lobby in a big studio with huge windows overlooking the traffic below. That's our friend John Summers on the air, and it's one of those sad "radio business at work" things that he's no longer at KLUV. On this December night in 2012, though, John was still in fine form playing old...er, "classic hits" with plenty of personality.
Three other CBS FMs share the floor: KVIL (103.7) is the legacy AC giant in town, now branded as "Fresh," but it was in all-out Christmas music mode on this December night. Down the hall, KMVK (107.5) went through incarnations as smooth jazz and "Movin'" rhythmic AC before the format wheel landed on Spanish hits as "Mega 107.5," an unusual format for a CBS station. The fourth entry here is "Jack" KJKK (100.3), which was automated.
The last time we were in Dallas, KRLD (1080) and the Texas State Network it runs were in a most unusual location: a suite of offices right in the Ballpark in Arlington, looking out on left field through a wall of windows. Distinctive as it was, the rent was expensive, and as KRLD became part of a much larger cluster of stations, it made sense to put them all in once place.
And so KRLD ended up moving to the fifth floor of this building at 4131 N. Central Expressway, where it built out a nice spacious newsroom that looks into a control room and suite of studios in a similar arrangement to some of CBS Radio's other recent news radio buildouts (WBBM in Chicago, for instance).
Back upstairs on the 12th floor, another suite of studios that's been used by several of these stations over the years is currently home to KRLD-FM (105.3). "The Fan" has been a fierce rival to Cumulus' "Ticket," reviving a frequency that had stumbled in previous years with "Free FM" talk, "Young Country" and a few other formats.
And we'll have to get back to this building at some point soon: not long after our 2012 visit, CBS set the wheels of change in motion again, announcing a plan to take even more space (and naming/signage rights) in the building in order to move the Dallas side of its TV operations into this space, including a newsroom and studio for Fort Worth-based KTVT (Channel 11) and its sister station KTXA (Channel 21) to replace an older facility they'd used just down the freeway.
Thanks to Melissa Hussel for the tours!
WHAT'S ON THE 2017 TOWER SITE CALENDAR COVER?
That's for YOU to decide.
We have so many beautiful photos set for the 2017 Tower Site Calendar. Several of them would make great covers. So this year, we want your input!
Check out the three following pictures, then cast your vote in the box below them. After that, send your name and preferred email to Lisa to receive your coupon for $1 off anything in our store and be entered in our drawing for a free 2017 calendar -- which is now on sale.
COVER CHOICE ONE
And don’t miss a big batch of Dallas IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: Warren and Youngstown, Ohio, 2013