Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
In a market as big as Los Angeles, even with a travel schedule that brings us through town almost every year, there’s always a studio or two we haven’t seen before – and some new engineering friends to make along the way.
In April 2012, our post-NAB Show plans for southern California were supposed to have taken us out to Catalina Island and KBRT before its big move, but family issues kept KBRT’s engineer from being out on the island to show us around that day – which meant we had to make some quick alternate plans. Fortunately, that included some studios we hadn’t expected to be able to see on that trip, and now we can share those visits with you. (And we did make it to KBRT a few months later, so there was a happy ending to that story, too!)
On one of those chance encounters on the NAB Show floor just a few days earlier, we’d bumped into Saul Perez, chief engineer of Emmis in Los Angeles, exchanging cards with a vague promise of “we’ll come see your stations one of these days.” Little did he expect we’d be ringing him up the next week for an impromptu tour – but there he was, and there we were up on the 8th floor of 2600 Olive Avenue, one of those anonymous stone-and-glass office towers that have made “beautiful downtown Burbank” the hub of the media industry in Los Angeles these days.
Of all of LA’s major FM stations, Emmis’ KPWR (Power 105.9) now holds something of a longevity prize: while consolidations and lease expirations have relocated nearly everyone else, KPWR has been up here on the 8th floor since the late 1980s. In 2002, Emmis moved then-sister station KZLA-FM (93.9) up here, too, taking over the other half of the floor for what was always a rather odd combination of urban hits KPWR and country KZLA.
On the KPWR side, there’s been plenty of updates and renovations since the early days of Power here. There was no video studio here at the beginning, for instance – but now there’s a room at the end of the studio hallway with a green screen and TV lighting so KPWR personalities and artists can do interviews and performances that get streamed on the Power website.
There’s a small studio with turntables for mix shows, and it looks into the big main Power air studio, where the original Pacific Recorders gear has long since given way to a newer Harris console, a twin to the one next door in the studio dedicated to the Big Boy morning show. The last of the original studio gear lives on down the hall in another production room, though I think that lovely PR&E console was also almost due for replacement when we visited.
As for KZLA, it morphed into rhythmic hits “Movin’ 93.9” as KMVN for a few years (complete with Rick Dees in morning drive) before entering a long-term LMA with Mexico’s Grupo Radio Centro in 2009. GRC transformed it into “Exitos 93.9,” KXOS, and eventually bought the signal through an American shell company. That set up a similar scenario to Emmis’ New York facility, where Emmis-owned WQHT (97.1) now shares its Hudson Street studio complex with two stations, WBLS (107.5) and WLIB (1190), owned by another broadcaster, YMF.
Here in Burbank, Emmis simply walled off the hallway that connected KPWR to the 93.9 half of the floor, and now the two stations share a lobby and some engineering services but otherwise operate completely independently. Much of the KXOS programming doesn’t even originate here, fed in by satellite from GRC’s studio hub in Mexico City with local content inserted by board ops in Burbank, working out of a mirror-image pair of studios similar to the ones down the hall at KPWR.
If KPWR is one of the oldest FM studio spaces in town, KUSC (91.5) occupies one of the newest. In the spring of 2010, the public radio station owned by the University of Southern California moved from the downtown Los Angeles studios it had used since 2002 into a new space on the lower floors of the AT&T Center complex at W. 12th and Hill Streets.
Unlike its previous downtown home, on two upper floors of a skyscraper, the new space gave KUSC an opportunity for some street-level branding above its 12th Street windows – but those windows don’t look into the KUSC studios. As we found out when we made our way inside, the ground-floor space behind those windows is home to the KUSC offices, with the membership and underwriting staffs working from a bullpen area looking out onto the street.
The new studios are actually in a separate space one floor down, nicely isolated from all the noise of bustling downtown LA. This is a relatively simple but effective space: entering from the ground-floor hallway, there’s an open area where the phone banks get set up for membership drives and where station staff can meet. That area, in turn, looks through some heavy sound-isolating windows into a row of studios that can be used for on-air or production work for KUSC’s classical format. It all routes out to the outside world through the rack room across the hall, where the feeds to KUSC’s satellite stations as far afield as San Francisco are all managed.
Thanks to Emmis’ Saul Perez and KUSC’s Jim Sensenbach and Eric DeWeese for the tours!
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Next week: Several LA AM sites, 2012