Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
This week’s photos come from a January trip that was mostly (gasp!) not about radio. Let me explain: our travel partner of long standing, Garrett Wollman of the legendary Archives@BostonRadio.org, is also on a quest to see his beloved Montreal Canadiens play away games at every other NHL arena. One of those arenas was Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena, and the Habs were about to play their very last game there before the Joe went away at the end of the 2016-17 season.
“Want to meet me in Detroit?” Yes – and with your editor’s dad in tow, who’s both a Detroit sports fan and a car buff, we set off across Canada to spend a day at the Detroit Auto Show and at the Wings/Habs game next door at the Joe.
What Dad didn’t know as we set out, though, was that there was going to be a certain amount of radio along the way, because there is always a certain amount of radio along the way.
And so it was that we passed through Hamilton and Brantford and London and then on to Highway 402 for the ruler-straight approach to the Bluewater Bridge that links Sarnia, Ontario to Port Huron, Michigan, 60 miles or so north of Detroit up at the end of I-94 and I-69.
Crossing back into the US, we were quickly within sight of the tower on 32nd Street, on the west side of Port Huron, that’s home to Liggett Broadcasting’s WHLS (1450), WSAQ (107.1) and WHLS translator W288BT (105.5).
We could have hopped back on to 94 for the speedy drive southwest to Detroit, but one more site also awaited us south of Port Huron on South Range Road, Liggett’s WPHM (1380), with its six day towers and a seventh tower that’s part of a four-tower night array.
After that, it was all non-radio as we enjoyed the auto show and the hockey game, dropped Garrett back at the airport for his flight home, and headed back across the border to get halfway back home ourselves before stopping for the night in Kitchener, Ontario.
Alert readers may note here that Kitchener isn’t exactly on a direct route from Detroit to Rochester, and that’s true. But it is home to Rogers’ three-station cluster that had just recently relocated from downtown Kitchener to a new retail/office center on the edge of town called the Boardwalk – and we were happy to get up early and head over there for a tour.
We’ve been in a lot of newish studio facilities lately, so we thought we knew what to expect, but Rogers’ new home in Kitchener/Waterloo far exceeded any expectations we had on this rainy, chilly January morning.
Starting right from the front lobby, this is one well-conceived layout: visitors in search of prize pickup are guided right up the stairs and (with the help of big graphics on the wall) to a window that looks in to the reception desk.
For those with more business to be had, the main door is just around the corner, and beyond it a spacious conference room that’s lined with a comprehensive history display. Here you’ll see an early Rogers “Battery-less” radio below a portrait of Ted Rogers himself. You’ll also see lots of memorabilia from early Kitchener/Waterloo radio history, back to the early days of CHYM (now CKGL 570) and its sister station CKGL-FM (now CHYM 96.7).
That history quickly gives way to a very, very modern broadcasting plant that wraps in a big “L” around one corner of the second floor here.
You won’t see many private offices here; instead, almost everyone in the building works in a big open-plan space meant to promote collaboration and creativity.
The dedicated newsroom staff of “570 News” (CKGL) has its own space back in the corner, looking into the line of studios that power the AM operation here. There’s a news studio that’s in use for the 570 News morning show when we arrive; it looks into a long, narrow talk studio used for the station’s midday talk shows – and dig what’s going on under that custom furniture. There’s LED lighting under the counter to indicate on-air status, slick Yellowtec mic arms, and Wheatstone Blades cleverly concealed in one end of the furniture, with a PC tucked in down there, too.
The talk show producers look in to the other side of the talk studio, and they also keep an eye on the TV simulcast of the mid-morning show that airs on Rogers TV. (Feeds from the HD cameras in the studio actually go to a Rogers facility elsewhere to be switched and have graphics added before they go out to the cable system.)
The tech core for the stations sits across the hall, visible to the staff through glass sliding doors.
The cluster’s two FMs are down at the end of the hallway, beyond a production room.
CHYM (96.7) is the big AC station in the market, blasting out 100 kW of power to a big swath of southern Ontario from the CKCO-TV (Channel 13) tower in Baden, west of Kitchener. Its air studio sits at the back corner of the facility, and its morning show is just wrapping up for the day when we peek inside.
CIKZ (106.7) is “106.7 Country,” a much newer addition to the region’s radio dial. Larche Communications put the station on the air in 2004 as “KICX Country” at 99.5 on the dial; it moved to 106.7 just a year later to escape interference from Buffalo’s WDCX, and it became part of the Rogers cluster in 2007.
(Its transmitter site at the St. Agatha CBC tower is actually very close to the Boardwalk studios here, but we didn’t realize that at the time, and in any event it was raining outside and wouldn’t have been a good day for tower photography.)
The Country 106.7 studio on the back corner of the Rogers complex provides a great illustration of some of the sophisticated pieces of this new facility, including the color-changing LEDs under the Wheatstone consoles that light up red when the studio mics are open.
It’s a beautiful new plant – and at some point, we’ll have to get back up this way to see the transmitter sites that it feeds, and perhaps to show off more of the neat technology here in more detail!
Thanks to Rogers’ Mike McCabe for the tours!
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Next week: Omaha, part I