Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
One of the things we really like to do here on Site of the Week is a “before” and “after” series of visits, especially when a broadcaster is moving from a facility with lots of history to one that’s a showpiece of innovation. It’s even better sometimes when there’s a deadline to prod us into making the trip – and so it was with Cox’s WHIO stations in Dayton, Ohio, which we visited on the “before” end in 2010.
That visit (chronicled here on Site of the Week) took us through one of the first buildings purpose-built as a joint radio/TV studio way back in 1949, and while it had seen plenty of updates over the years, WHIO’s “before” home on Wilmington Avenue on Dayton’s east side had plenty of drawbacks. Its radio studios were bigger than the stations needed in the 21st century, its TV newsroom was too small, its location was less than optimal, and its design didn’t easily allow for WHIO radio to work closely with WHIO-TV, nor for either to work well with their Cox sister, the Dayton Daily News.
In 2007, the Daily News moved from its longtime downtown home to the new “Cox Media Center,” a renovated building on Dayton’s South Main Street that had formerly held offices for one of the city’s biggest local employers, NCR. The 243,000-square foot building had space for 600 Cox employees, and it added another 150 when Cox decided two years later that it would move the WHIO stations to the Media Center, where it began construction in 2011 on a studio addition on the north side of the old NCR building.
In December 201o, just a few months after our “before” visit to Wilmington Avenue, Cox moved the radio and TV stations into the expanded Media Center, and it was just a few months later when our annual summer midwestern swing brought us back to Dayton to get the “after” tour of the combined operation.
What you see here is a real rarity: there are plenty of facilities where radio and TV stations work together, but very few that bring radio, TV and daily newspapers under a single roof in a single newsroom. (In fact, the only other one that comes immediately to mind is the shared operation of the Tampa Tribune and WFLA-TV, which was a big deal when it happened a decade ago but has an unclear future now that Media General has sold the newspaper to a new owner.)
The Cox newsroom here serves the Daily News, its nearby sister papers (the Springfield News-Sun to the east and the Middletown/Hamilton Journal-News to the south), CBS affiliate WHIO-TV (Channel 7), the news-talk simulcast of WHIO (1290 Dayton) and WHIO-FM (95.7 Piqua) and, to a lesser extent, country WHKO (99.1 Dayton) and classic rock WZLR (95.3 Xenia).
So let’s go for a tour of this $15 million expansion: from the lobby, which has windows looking into the TV control rooms and several radio studios, we head down a hallway to the left, where we’re in the massive joint print/broadcast newsroom, complete with a combined assignment desk and a live camera position for WHIO-TV. The reporting staffs are still separate for print and broadcast, but that “News Center” desk allows print and broadcast editors to work together to coordinate coverage.
Moving down an interior hallway from the “News Center,” we peek into the WHIO-TV control rooms and pass a nifty wall-mounted model of the old Wilmington Avenue building, which was demolished in 2012 after sitting vacant for a while. (The old Daily News building downtown just had its own appointment with the wrecking ball more recently.)
WHIO-TV became the market’s first HD news operation with the move to the new digs, and its new studio came with a new set for the market’s dominant newscast. No, that’s not the new Channel 7 anchor team at the desk above – instead, it’s a reflection that this particular tour stop was a family one. (And you should have seen Ari, who was then almost 8, doing a bang-up job of reading news copy from the prompter!)
The new radio studios are in the addition on the north side of the building, wrapped by a wall of windows looking out to the parking lot. WHIO’s talk studios get the prime corner space here, with a control room looking into a studio in a setup that’s much better configured for talk than the old high-ceiling radio studio on Wilmington that dated back to the days of live orchestras on the air.
Across the hallway from the WHIO air studio, there’s a production studio, the traffic center that feeds both radio and TV (and the WHIO and Daily News websites, too), and an office area for the radio news staff that’s a little more convenient to the studio than the big newsroom at the other end of the building. The studios for WHKO and WZLR are down the hall from WHIO, looking out into the lobby.
The upper three floors of the building are office space, but with some extra amenities most broadcast facilities don’t enjoy: there’s a very well-appointed gym (I think that was actually down in the ground floor along with the cafeteria) and, up above the radio studio addition, a very nifty green roof that forms a “Sky Deck” that WHIO-TV can use for outdoor weather and skyline shots.
It’s a big shift from the old Wilmington Avenue studios, and we’re delighted to have had the opportunity to have seen “before” and “after” in such quick succession.
Our other stop in the Dayton area was purely a “before,” and we’ve yet to make it back for the “after.” At the other end of the radio spectrum from WHIO, in almost every imaginable way, is WYSO (91.3 Yellow Springs). Established in 1958 as the 19-watt FM voice of Antioch College, the distinctively progressive school half an hour east of Dayton, WYSO started out on 91.5 as a typical freeform college station. Even as it boosted power to reach Dayton and added NPR programming in the 1970s, WYSO retained a crunchier, more independent vibe than many other public stations, a reflection of the small college town it calls home.
(There are few drives that go through as many different kinds of place in as short a time as the 20 miles from blue-collar industrial Dayton out through past upscale suburban Beavercreek, then the military neighborhoods around Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and into Yellow Springs. And there are few as distracting, too – we could easily spend a whole day, and then some, at the Air Force Museum adjacent to Wright-Patterson!)
When we made it out to WYSO’s studio, we found the place in a state of transition on many fronts. On the ownership side of things, WYSO’s license had transitioned from Antioch College to Antioch University when the undergraduate college ceased operation in 2008. The University remained open under separate management, using Yellow Springs as a home base for a network of graduate programs around the country, but many of the former College buildings sat shuttered in the summer of 2010 while plans were in the works to reopen the College in slimmed-down form. On the studio end, the University was beginning to build out a new facility in a University-owned building across the street from the Sontag Fels building where it had been located since 1992. (Before that, it was in the college’s student center.)
The move to the new studios was still far in the future when we pulled up in the parking lot next to Sontag Fels in the summer of 2011, and so we got to see the 1992-vintage facility, such as it was, in its last years. Occupying part of the basement of the 1950s-era building, WYSO was spread out in a space that was never designed for radio. Its offices rambled up and down several concrete-block hallways, with a music library overstuffed in a room prone to water leaks, way at the other end of the hall from the studio area.
In the studio area, a room for conferences and pledge drives was bracketed by two studios: an air studio at the end of the building, next to a tiny rack room, and a production studio on the other side.
It was a space ill-suited to a 50,000-watt outlet that was rapidly becoming a major player in both news and AAA for the larger greater Dayton market, and in April 2012 the WYSO staff happily carried their equipment across the street to the new space in the Kettering building, including a proper workspace for the news team and a performance studio for music programming.
(If you’re not sufficiently confused about the college-vs.-university thing, here’s one more level of confusion: in July 2013, the revived Antioch College paid $8 million to acquire the WYSO license back from Antioch University.)
And yes, we absolutely do plan to find a good excuse to get back to Yellow Springs sometime soon to add “after” pictures of the new WYSO to our bef0re-and-after collection…
Thanks to WHIO’s Kevin Fodor and WYSO GM Neenah Ellis for the tours!
That lovely KYW photo we featured in our Bonus Site of the Week on Wednesday is just one of the many neat tower sites in the all-new Tower Site Calendar 2014.
It’s back from the printer and now shipping, spiral bound, shrink wrapped and best of all, with a convenient hole for hanging!
In addition to KYW, this year’s gorgeous electronic pinups include the iconic towers of Catalina Island, a combiner system in St. Louis, the twin towers of KNRS in Salt Lake City, a historic rooftop site in Jamestown, New York and many more!
If you want a tower calendar on your wall NOW, you can pick up the current 2013 edition for just $5 with your 2014 order!
Click here to order your new calendar!
Then check out our store page for our other great merchandise, including the last-ever FM Atlas, the new NRC AM Log and a model of the KSAN tower.
Coming Friday: Boston AMs