Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
Springfield, Massachusetts is one of those towns we just don’t spend enough time visiting – by the time we get there heading eastbound, it’s just another 90 minutes or so to Boston, after all. But this past June, we managed to find an excuse to stop there for the night, and to visit some studios we’d been meaning to see for a while.
First up was an early-morning visit to the new downtown Springfield studios of New England Public Radio, WFCR (88.5 Amherst) and the news network based at WNNZ (640 Westfield).
We visited WFCR’s longtime home on the UMass Amherst campus back in 2006, two years before the station opened a satellite studio here in Springfield inside the WGBY-TV (Channel 57) building. That turned out to be just the start of a larger WFCR move down the Pioneer Valley to a new base in Springfield, and it all paid off in 2014 with the grand opening of this new studio and office facility in the historic Fuller Block right on Main Street downtown.
The building is actually an amalgamation of several structures, including one right on the corner that spent much of its life as a bank. That explains the beautiful paneling and vaulted ceiling in the boardroom – and the vault just down the hall that now houses valuables such as NEPR bumper stickers and other pledge-drive premiums!
Deeper into the building, isolated from streetside noise, we find the rack room and the core of broadcast studios, including the main air studio from which the local “Morning Edition” inserts are airing as we take our tour.
There are more production studios just around the corner from the air studio, and we find one of WFCR’s music shows being recorded in one of the studio/control room pairs here. There’s office space up front in one of the streetside windows, next to the stairwell that leads down to the basement where there’s more office space as part of this 17,000-square foot facility.
(Meanwhile, up in Amherst, they’re renovating the old Hampshire House facility, which will be used for interviews, student intern training and more.)
From NEPR, we head up to the east side of town to an historic Springfield broadcast address, 1300 Liberty Street. Up on a hill across from a strip mall, this brick building went up in the 1950s as the new suburban home of WHYN radio and television, complete with a big rooftop sign advertising “Channel 40.”
WHYN radio moved out in the 1970s after it was sold separately from the TV station, which became WGGB (“Guy Gannett Broadcasting”) and served as the launching pad for many New England TV careers.
In recent years, WGGB changed hands repeatedly, spending time under the ownership of local businessman Bruce Gormally before landing with its present owner, Meredith. Meredith already owned the market’s relatively new CBS affiliate, WSHM-LD (“CBS3”), and it didn’t take long for the company to merge its CBS newsroom (which had been downtown in the Monarch Place tower) with its ABC/Fox WGGB operation up here, sharing an expanded studio on the north side of the building under the “Western Mass News” banner. There’s a new set from which newscasts originate on all three signals (ABC on 40.1, “Fox 6” on 40.2 and “CBS3” on 3.5, which is a low-power RF21 signal), occupying the original 1950s-era TV studio space at the core of the building.
A door separates the news studio from a second studio area that can be used for interviews, and from here we move to the south side of the building, which is where the old radio studios used to be and where the current digital tech core is located. (Everything except master control; Meredith hubs its master control operations for all its stations.)
They were in the midst of upgrades when we stopped by, building a new control room for the full slate of HD newscasts that air on “Western Mass News” – a long way from the early days of WHYN-TV here!
Thanks to NEPR’s Chuck Dube and the staff of WGGB/WSHM for the tours!
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Next week: Manchester, NH