February 11, 2011

More Minneapolis and St. Paul, August 2009

This week's installment of Site of the Week wraps up our return visit to Minneapolis and St. Paul, the first time we'd been back since a deep dive into the market as part of Big Trip 2005. (Read those segments here, here and here.)

In last week's edition, we visited the studios of Minnesota Public Radio, and this week we show you a few other radio sights we caught in the midst of a Twin Cities visit that wasn't completely about radio. (There was a Twins game at the old Metrodome, for one thing - and Mrs. F. just had to see the Mall of America...)

But amidst the non-radio tourism, there was plenty to see on the broadcast front, too:

A swing through downtown Minneapolis (to see the Mary Tyler Moore statue featured on this week's front page, of course!) brought us within a couple of blocks of the historic Foshay Tower, which was the tallest building in town in the days when television was just getting started - and which thus ended up being the transmitter site of choice for three of the city's earliest TV stations: WTCN-TV (Channel 4, later WCCO-TV), KMSP-TV (Channel 9) and the second incarnation of WTCN-TV, sharing channel 11 with WMIN-TV.

The TV transmitters moved out in the seventies when the new tall towers went up at Shoreview, to the north, but the Foshay remained in use for radio for a while longer, most recently by community station KFAI (90.3), which moved off the roof in 2007 when the building was being renovated into its current incarnation as a W hotel. Today, the tower atop the Foshay sits transmitter-free, but it's still a wonderful reminder of the early days of broadcasting here in the Twin Cities.

Speaking of "WMIN," at least one of that callsign's previous incarnations lives on in physical form just a couple of miles east of downtown Minneapolis.

In the days when WMIN-TV shared channel 11 with WTCN-TV, WMIN radio was on 1400, on the facility that would later be known as KEEY and KLBB and is now known as KMNV, broadcasting in Spanish as "La Invasora."

The AM 1400 tower sits just south of I-94 where it crosses the Minneapolis/St. Paul city line, and the building that sits at its base on Frontenac Place was apparently the studio for both the AM station and its FM sister (now KEEY-FM 102.1) for some time, though it now appears to sit vacant.

When you think "broadcast facilities" and "Minneapolis/St. Paul city line," though, what comes to mind isn't AM 1400 - it's the mighty KSTP, the flagship of Hubbard Broadcasting. The studios and tower site were deliberately placed right at the line along University Avenue when KSTP-TV (Channel 5) signed on in 1948 as Minnesota's first TV station, and while the transmitter has moved north to Shoreview, the studios have been here ever since.

And we got to go inside for a quick tour before heading out of Minneapolis - at least of the TV side. (It turns out KSTP's radio stations, sports-talk KSTP 1500, AC KSTP-FM 94.5 and talker WFMP 107.1, function as a very separate unit here from their own facilities in another part of this studio complex!)

Check out that lovely lightning-bolt logo in the linoleum on the lobby floor, which I think is original to 1948. From here, separate hallways lead to the TV side, under the big "KSTP" letters on the Minneapolis side of the building, or to the radio side facing St. Paul.

Most of KSTP-TV's technical plant (and that of its independent sister station, KSTC-TV 45) is downstairs from the lobby, and it's here that we find a shared master control for the stations, a rack room that's in the process of renovation, and a busy newsroom that's hard at work on the midday news when we stop by.

The studios are near the back of the building - and were, in fact, at the back of the original building, though subsequent expansions have pushed the structure so far back that part of it now sits directly beneath one of the legs of the old Channel 5 tower, whose base now sits surrounded by lockers in a green-room area outside the studios.

There are two big studios back here: one for channel 5's "Eyewitness News," the other for the "Twin Cities Live" show that's become a mid-morning staple, complete with studio audience.

And we wrap up our Twin Cities visit - at least for this go-round - with two more sites that had escaped our attention back in 2005:

For whatever reason, the very low-profile little daytimer at 690 on the dial just slipped off our radar back then: not only did we fail to make a pass by its transmitter site in suburban New Hope, out to the northwest of Minneapolis, but we didn't even remember to grab an aircheck of its legal ID.

We almost forgot it again in 2009 - except that on this trip, one of the non-radio items on the agenda was a visit to a family friend who lives out in that area - and as we were making our way out there, those three towers caught our eye and we stopped for a photo this time.

This is a relatively new AM station, having signed on in 1962 as KTCR, the calls it would bear for several decades. Later known as KTCJ and KXBR, 690 eventually settled in as KFXN, a little sister station to the big Clear Channel sports-talker, KFAN (1130).

That's what it was doing in 2009, and what it's doing now, though Clear Channel has announced plans to donate the signal to the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council. It's keeping the transmitter site, though, and in part because one of the three towers is now being leased out to hold the antenna of a relatively new Twin Cities FM move-in, KTTB (96.3 Glencoe), owned by the same Pohlad family that owns the Twins.

There's one more site out this way that we missed in 2005: the studios of NBC affiliate KARE-TV (Channel 11) are west of Minneapolis in suburban Golden Valley, near General Mills' headquarters. This is the latest incarnation of a station that's been known over the years as WMIN-TV, WTCN-TV and WUSA-TV, and this concrete bunker is home to a very well-respected local news operation. Perhaps we'll get a tour when we again visit the Twin Cities, possibly as early as the summer of 2011.

(In the meantime, hear more Twin Cities IDs beginning Wednesday on TopHour.com...)

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