Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
As most of our readers probably know, the genesis of this column was back in Boston, where your editor began his professional career as a newswriter at the legendary Westinghouse-owned WBZ (1030).
We’ve featured WBZ’s historic Soldiers Field Road studio and its transmitter sites in several of these columns, but it’s always nice to go “home,” as it were – and when our plans for New Year’s 2017 found us heading to Boston to document the big move of NBC’s affiliation, we took advantage of a chance to stop by WBZ with the kids in tow to show them where Dad used to toil.
The structure of the building is largely unchanged from its last big renovation, the 1995-96 addition that added a new atrium, control rooms and newsroom expansion on what had been the east wall of the original 1948 WBZ building.
New to us this time, however, was the big “CBS Boston” signage out by the roadside – and a new paint job and spiffy murals in the lobby.
Walking down the big atrium from the lobby, we got some updated views of the control room on the left side that serves as master control for WBZ-TV (Channel 4) and its now-MyNetwork sister, WSBK (Channel 38). On the right side of the atrium, the TV control room we remember from the 1996 renovation has been supplanted by a new control room across the hall, more suited to today’s heavily-automated HD production.
Another big change from our last visit is back in the TV studios: the small set in the compact new studio just off the expanded newsroom has been retired, recently replaced with a much bigger set that’s back in what had been the original big 1948 TV studio. (When we first arrived at WBZ in 1992, this big studio was being used for Tom Bergeron’s “People Are Talking” midday show, as well as a frowned-upon cut-through from the old radio studios over to the TV newsroom.)
The radio studios that were brand new as part of the 1996 newsroom expansion are still here and still largely unchanged, save for some new logos on the wall. Outside the line of studios, there’s been yet another change in the newsroom: the space that separates the radio and TV news cubicles is now a glassed-in conference room, replacing a weather pod that used to sit here (and a raised TV flash desk that was there even earlier!)
After a nostalgic walk through the old radio studios on the west side of the building (now converted to sales offices and the mailroom, which still houses the WBZ radio auxiliary transmitter, albeit relocated from where we remember it), we’re off to see things that the kids are more interested in seeing (hi, Gardner Museum!) and to get ready to celebrate the new year.
While the family relaxes early on New Year’s Eve morning, we’re off to do some broadcast sightseeing, including getting some updated images of the Route 128 tower farm ahead of some big repack-driven changes that are coming in the next few years.
From left to right below, we’re looking at: the 350 Cedar Street tower over in Needham, capped by that pair of master antennas that carries WGBH, WGBX, WBZ-TV, WCVB and WSBK (and which has been plagued by failures over the years); lower down we can see the WGBH aux antenna and WKLB-FM (102.5), which was just about to be joined by a new WBUR (90.9) panel antenna. (This is also where NBC had recently installed its new antenna for its new “NBC Boston,” WBTS-LD, RF 46/virtual 8.) In the center is the “FM 128” tower on Chestnut Street in Newton, whose tenants now include several smaller DTV stations – and on the right is the candelabra on Cabot Street in Needham, where WFXT and WLVI are on the air up top, with a new CBS Radio auxiliary master antenna down below.
From here, it’s a short Saturday morning drive south on 128 to WFXT (Channel 25), which has changed hands from Fox itself to Cox since our last visit.
Also new since that visit is a spiffy new set in the middle of the big atrium newsroom, as well as a new station logo. It’s a very photogenic set, with lots of interesting angles and giant flatscreens to keep the newscast moving along visually.
So what about NBC Boston itself? They were rather busy at their cramped Newton studio, launching a full new slate of local newscasts alongside the NECN and Telemundo broadcasts that were already originating there. We’ll have to find a chance to get back and tour that facility before NBC relocates to new digs in Needham – and to go see WHDH (Channel 7), the former NBC affiliate that’s now a high-powered independent doing hours upon hours of local news from its downtown “Newsplex.”
Thanks to Dave Goldstein at WBZ and Mike Fitzpatrick at WFXT for the tours!
And don’t miss a big batch of Boston IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: Kitchener/Waterloo, Ontario