Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
When we show you a facility here on Site of the Week, we’re usually focused pretty tightly on what’s inside the rooms, less so than on the rooms themselves.
But then, most broadcast facilities aren’t built in a 1910-vintage elementary school like Binnie Media’s spectacular new plant in Concord, New Hampshire, which we had the privilege of visiting during our June trip to New England.
The Walker School closed in 2010, and two years later it sold at auction for $900,000 to Bill Binnie, the plastics mogul who’s become a major force in northern New England broadcasting in recent years. The radio stations Binnie bought from Nassau were in several locations around the state, his TV station (ex-WNDS, now WBIN) was in a nondescript space in Londonderry, and he needed a home for the NH1 news operation that serves the station – and thus began a two-year process of turning a century-old school building into a state-of-the-art broadcast center.
You know it’s a school as soon as you walk in the door – the stairwells, while tidied up and freshly painted, are straight out of the institutional architecture of the era. Visitors walk right into a lobby that adjoins an open newsroom area at the center of the first floor, with a spacious cafeteria right behind it and Binnie’s executive offices off to the right. (The cafeteria is also filled with selections from Binnie’s remarkable guitar collection, continuing the musical theme set by the giant blue notes outside the doors.)
To the left of the lobby, a row of former classrooms has been carefully preserved, transformed into conference rooms – and even one of the classroom doors remains, with signatures from former Walker School teachers and alumni adorning the inside of a coat closet.
The Binnie studio space is upstairs, anchored by the former auditorium that once filled the front center of the second floor. The big windows have been curtained over, and the stage has been replaced by the big video walls of the NH1 News set.
A U-shaped collar of studios and control rooms along both sides and the back of the second floor surrounds the big auditorium-turned-TV studio. In one corner is the TV control room and adjoining audio booth; from here, the NH1 newscasts are sent down to the WBIN-TV facility in Londonderry that still houses the TV station’s master control functions.
The other corners of the second floor all belong to radio – behind the old classroom doors, there are suites of production room/air studio pairs for each of the radio stations that come out of here. Top 40 WJYY (105.5) is licensed right here in Concord, while classic hits WFNQ (106.3) is licensed down in Nashua (check out the turntable!)
Binnie’s Lakes Region cluster yielded AC WLNH (98.3 Laconia), whose signal easily reaches down to Concord; its sister station WEMJ (1490, plus a translator on 107.5) operates from a local studio up in Laconia.
WNNH (99.1 Henniker) is the news-talk piece of the radio cluster, using the “NH1 News” branding and lots of news product from the newsroom downstairs, and country for this cluster is “Wolf” WNHW (93.3 Belmont), which shares its format and branding with sister “Wolf” stations up in the Upper Valley, WXLF (95.3)/WZLF (107.1), which get much of their programming from here.
(Check out how those big classroom windows let lots of natural light into the studios – these are really, really nice digs!)
Even the basement here is awfully impressive – head back down the stairwells on any corner of the building and you’ll find your way down to what was probably once a dank cellar. The Binnie folks cleaned up the old boiler room for modern HVAC and power, installed nifty ports that can be used to get audio and video in and out of the building (this is politics central, after all, and lots of TV crews have reason to be in here!), and put in one of the cleanest, neatest rack rooms we’ve ever seen to move everything around the building.
It’s no wonder that this building has won awards, including one from the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance.
Thanks to Binnie Media’s Dirk Nadon for the tour!
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Next week: More New Hampshire, 2016