April 22, 2011

WSBT's New Studios, South Bend, IN

As long-time readers of this column well know, the Hoosier State has effectively become our second home, what with our several visits a year to see the in-laws in Fort Wayne.

In last week's installment of Site of the Week, we presented the "before" half of the big move that Schurz Communications' radio/TV cluster in South Bend, Indiana made in 2009 - and one of the great things about being in northern Indiana as often as we get there is that we've had the chance now to make two visits to see the "after" side of the move.

When Schurz moved its stations (CBS affiliate WSBT-TV, news-talker WSBT 960, AC "Sunny" WNSN 101.5 and the studios of WHFB-FM 99.9, a Benton Harbor, Michigan station operated under LMA by Schurz) out of downtown South Bend, it opted for a new home at a considerable distance: a piece of land adjacent to the Edison Lakes office park on Douglas Road in Mishawaka, five miles and about a 15-minute drive away from the old downtown location.

The new facility was designed from the start to remedy many of the problems at the old downtown site: at some 85,000 square feet, it's more than twice as large as the old building, with plenty of parking and easy road access to both South Bend and the neighboring city of Elkhart.

Like the old building, the new facility's lobby honors WSBT's long radio and TV history, with display cases full of old equipment and awards. And while it's tough to make out in the photo above, the stairway that leads upstairs from the lobby to the new Schurz corporate offices is lined with old 16-millimeter film reels and strung with actual old WSBT news film!

Like the old facility, the new building puts most of the radio operations in a separate area from TV; in this case, off to the left as we head into the building from the lobby. But while the old radio studios were jammed into a corner of the downtown building, the new studios are spacious and light-filled, with big glass windows looking out to the main radio hallway. They're color-coded, with Sunny getting a bright orange wall and WSBT(AM) decorated in blue and gray.

The cramped old rack rooms upstairs at the downtown building have been replaced by a spacious tech center full of both radio and TV equipment, centrally located between the radio and TV sides of the new facility.

In the old building, TV master control and production control were separated on different levels of the multi-story building, but not here: they're closely connected, and with lots of expansion space to boot. (At the time of our first visit to the new studios, Schurz was negotiating to buy South Bend's low-power ABC, CW and My affiliates from Chicago-based Weigel, and there were plans afoot to move those stations in here as well; the deal was never consummated, though.)

The centerpiece of the new building is a huge newsroom, a big leap forward from the very cramped old space downtown.

This newsroom was designed from the start to provide space for news staffers across several Schurz media outlets: not just WSBT-TV, but also the news staff for WSBT radio, the Mishawaka/Elkhart reporters for the Schurz-owned South Bend Tribune and the stations' and paper's website all operate from this room, which is drenched in light from windowed offices around its rim and from a big skylight up above the assignment desk.

There's a studio off to the side of the newsroom for WSBT radio newscasts - and instead of the roundabout hallway journey from the old TV newsroom to the TV studio downtown, the new TV studio is located directly adjacent to this newsroom.

It's been quite a transition for WSBT's staff and management, but they're settling in nicely and enjoying one of the most sophisticated broadcast facilities in the state - and we hope you've enjoyed your look inside, too!

Thanks to WSBT's Jim Roberts for the tours!

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