Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
In the last installment of our Southern Tour from September 2015, we finally arrive in Atlanta for the Radio Show – but you don’t really want to see pictures of hotel meeting rooms and show floors, do you?
Fortunately, we had a chance to sneak away from the show for a little bit to visit with some Atlanta radio friends and see some interesting changes in the market since our last time through, back in 2009.
Last time we visited, WSTR (94.1) and WQXI (790) were in the penthouse of a Buckhead office building and were owned by Lincoln Financial Media. This time out, the stations had moved to the Perimeter, in an office park overlooking the I-285/I-75 interchange and the construction site of the new Braves stadium. The stations also had a new owner, Entercom – and their new digs were actually the old studios of WKHX (101.5) and WYAY (106.7), dating back to the days when those were ABC-owned stations and later Citadel before being merged into Cumulus and moved in with the rest of Cumulus’ Atlanta signals.
These days, there’s a lot of studio here at 210 Interstate North Parkway for what Entercom’s doing with it. Shortly before our visit, Entercom pulled the plug on the sports format at WQXI, turning that AM signal into a temporary simulcast of top-40 “Star 94” (and inadvertently returning WQXI to its own heritage top-40 roots in sort of a back-door way!)
There are two large suites of studios here, going back to the days when one side was WKHX and the other was WYAY. The sports-talk studio for WQXI was configured to do video as well as radio, as well as to originate the Falcons radio network back when it came from here. WSTR is in the old WKHX studio, I believe, which is nice and spacious and adjoined by several production spaces.
And check out the way Entercom handled the eternal challenge of putting station branding on a Shure SM-7 mic – instead of a big flag above or on the side of the shockmount, they took the mics to a shop that does vinyl wraps for station vehicles, where they carefully matched the dimensions of the mic’s body with a custom wrap with the station logo.
Back in the heart of Atlanta, the Biltmore Hotel on Peachtree Street has a neat radio tie, too – those two towers on the roof that say “BILTMORE” on them were the original supports for the longwire antenna of Atlanta’s WSB back in the day. (We’ll see in a moment where they ended up…)
With the Braves poised to leave their current home at Turner Field after the 2016 season, we weren’t going to leave town without taking in a game, even on a brutally humid night with rain threatening. This is still a relatively new ballpark, just two decades old, and the amenities here include a nice enclosed concourse studio from which flagship station WCNN (680) originates its pregame show. Will they still be the flagship by the time the Braves move north to Cobb County in 2017? We’ll be back for a game no matter what.
One more tour completed our escape from convention-land: we’d seen Georgia Public Broadcasting’s 14th Street headquarters from the outside on previous Atlanta visits, but this time around we got to go inside to see the statewide network’s radio and TV facilities.
The dish farm on the roof of GPB’s parking garage gives a great overlook of the Turner Broadcasting campus on Techwood Drive just to the south, not to mention downtown Atlanta beyond.
Inside, some of the lighted panels in the lobby advertise the new partnership that gave GPB Radio an Atlanta outlet for the first time. Somewhat controversially, GPB struck a deal with Atlanta State University to take over the daytime hours on WRAS (88.5), displacing student and community programming to an HD2 and stream.
GPB’s radio facilities are on one side of the first floor of the building. There’s a spacious rack room from which GPB sends network programming out to its local studios and transmitters around the state, and a studio cluster down the other end of an L-shaped corridor.
A pledge drive was underway in one half of a pair of mirror-image studios this October day; the next studio over belongs to “On Second Thought,” the network’s 9 AM daily talk show hosted by Celeste Headlee.
There’s a performance studio/control room combination here, too, along the radio hallway.
Upstairs, there’s a spacious newsroom where GPB’s radio, TV and online crew does its work. Atlanta’s lucky to have two vibrant public media newsrooms; while GPB covers the whole state, across town there’s an excellent local newsroom at WABE (90.1), the established public station owned by the city school district.
GPB’s TV network is headquartered here, too: we get a glimpse through the glass at the TV master control that feeds transmitters statewide (including WGTV channel 8, the Athens-licensed signal that serves Atlanta from the top of Stone Mountain), and a walk past the complex of TV studios that are down in the basement.
There’s another big TV studio at ground level, too; GPB rents out this space for commercial productions, including tapings of “Divorce Court,” which apparently make the lobby an interesting place to be. (GPB also rents out some office space here to Fox News Channel, which thus ends up with an Atlanta bureau just down the street from CNN headquarters.)
The last night of the Radio Show brings a neat vendor party: our friends at the Telos Alliance partnered up with WSB (750) to host an event out at WSB’s transmitter site, and even though we’d been there before, we couldn’t resist an opportunity to go back out to this unusual site that’s been surrounded by a shopping mall. (The mall used to be known as “Northlake Tower Festival,” but it’s now just “Northlake Festival,” even though the tower is still right there in the middle of the parking lot.)
Not much has changed here since our last visit a decade ago, but it’s still very much worth the visit just to see how spotlessly maintained a transmitter building can be.
And with that, we’re off from Atlanta on the rainy trek home…
Thanks to WSTR’s Scott Trask, GPB’s Sean Powers and WSB’s Charles Kinney for the tours!
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Next week: Washington, DC