Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
Let’s stipulate a few things here: the other side of the household comes from a very large family, and when that side of the family has events, they have them big – and everybody goes. And so when there was a family event on the calendar for Omaha in February, there was little doubt that we’d all be packing up and heading to…yeah, Omaha in February.
With a little time before the weekend family events got started, and then an extra couple of days on the other end after sending the rest of the clan back home, it turned out to be a great opportunity to see lots of broadcast sights in a market we hadn’t visited in a while – and the weather ended up being fantastic, to boot!
Our first stop after the airport was on the city’s southwest side, where Journal Broadcast Group had combined its radio and TV properties in town before merging into what’s now the Scripps group.
This building on Mockingbird Drive had been the home of CBS affiliate KMTV (Channel 3) since the late 1970s, when it became the first of Omaha’s TV stations to leave the area just west of downtown where the market’s TV studios and transmitters had been concentrated from the very beginning.
In the 1960s, all the stations moved their transmitters west and a bit north to the big tower farm on N. 72nd Street (which we’ll examine in detail next week); only KMTV followed by moving its studios all the way west to S. 108th Street, which was then the outer edges of Omaha and is now part of a busy commercial strip just off I-80.
There were two big studios here, one of which still holds the KMTV news set, flanking the access stairs to the weather radar tower that rises high above the building. The TV technical core was and still is in the middle of the building, across the hall from the TV studios in the rear; today, there’s a spacious master control adjoining the production control room for KMTV’s newscasts, with easy access to the newsroom on the east side of the building.
When the radio cluster moved in, it took over office space in the front, on the left side of the building. Its studios, however, went into the opposite back corner, where a former TV studio became the high-ceilinged box inside which two rows of new radio studios were built.
Those new radio studio spaces ended up forming a long hallway running parallel to the east side of the building, giving half of the stations windows to the outside (cut into what had been windowless studio walls, I think.)
This cluster formed around what had been the old WOW stations: WOW (590) is now sports KXSP, where there was a local show on the air this Friday afternoon. The second incarnation of WOW-FM, after a complex series of swaps in the 1980s, is now top-40 KQCH (Channel 94.1), just across the hall.
KKCD (CD 105.9) was a late arrival on the Omaha scene, starting as a standalone in 1990 before being consolidated; it’s still playing essentially the same classic rock that it’s carried all along.
KSRZ (Star 104.5) was “Easy” KESY-FM when we first came to Omaha in the early 1990s, operating from studios on Dodge Street just down the road from the WOW stations; today, it’s hot AC from another one of the studios along the outside wall.
The tidy engineering room is next to the TV technical core, with radio’s racks as part of a line of racks for KMTV; going back to the end of the radio hallway, we come to the big studio space at the end that’s home to rock “Z92,” KEZO (92.3), and its syndicated “Todd N Tyler” show.
KEZO was the original WOW-FM, and we should quickly note the irony that WOW(AM) and WOW-FM were the sisters to WOWT (Channel 6), now the NBC affiliate that fiercely competes against KMTV, these stations’ current radio partner. Go far enough back in history and you’ll find that KMTV was started by the May Seed Company, which didn’t have radio right here in Omaha but which reached the market just fine with its flagship KMA over in Shenandoah, Iowa.
We didn’t get to see the Scripps radio transmitters; Journal had combined all the FMs on a new tower at the south end of the 72nd Street farm, and they’re all still there, though the former studio building at that site is now leased out to other tenants. On the AM side, 590 is also up just off 72nd Street, and we’ll see its facility from the outside in next week’s episode.
Dodge Street, as mentioned earlier, is the main east-west drag that goes from the Missouri River downtown out to the most distant suburbs, carrying US 6 as it goes; today, two commercial clusters sit almost within view of each other near where Dodge meets 50th Street in the Dundee neighborhood. (That’s also where my mother-in-law grew up, for whatever that’s worth.)
We’d visited Clear Channel, now iHeart, in our last big Omaha exploration (check it out here and here), but we’d never been inside its competitors in the newer studio cluster that fills a building that fronts on both Dodge Street to the south and Capitol to the north.
The regional group NRG Media is the owner here these days, and it’s filled this former bank building with a cluster of four AMs and three FMs that includes the market’s legendary AM top-40 station, KOIL (1290), which is back to its heritage calls now after a couple of decades as KKAR. The studio for its talk format is on the middle floor of this building, behind the lobby where videos from each station are cleverly projected on the wall near the reception desk.
There are two sports stations in this cluster, too – “The Zone” KOZN (1620 Bellevue) and “Zone 2” KZOT (1180 Bellevue) – and they’re on this level as well.
Heading toward the back of the building, the three FMs and one remaining AM look out over Dodge from big windows: hot AC KQKQ (98.5 Council Bluffs IA) is at one end, and we were glad to see it return to its heritage “Sweet 98” branding not long after our visit. KOPW (106.9 Plattsmouth) is the urban station in town as “Power,” even though its signal is a rimshot from the south.
Moving down the hallway, there’s regional Mexican KMMQ (1020 Plattsmouth) and, at the far corner, classic rock KOOO (101.9 La Vista), known on the air as “The Keg.”
But the real secret sauce in this building is all happening downstairs, at street level on Dodge, where there’s a big space that NRG uses on a regular basis for live performances.
This is one of those clusters that really gets the value of events as a source of non-traditional revenue for radio, and they make a lot of use of both this space and outside venues. There’s a green room for performers, a logo wall for pictures with fans, and a top-notch sound and video system so that the performances here can go right to each station’s digital presence. And it’s got its own separate entrance on Dodge so that listeners can come in and out down here without any disruption to the studios and offices upstairs.
There’s a spacious engineering area down here, too, including a huge workshop and a rack room that feeds the studios upstairs and the STL tower that feeds sites as close as KQKQ over at the 72nd Street tower farm and as far-flung as KOOO, halfway to Lincoln, and the AM sites to the south.
Fast-forward a few days and we have one more studio cluster visit to show you, way out west on Dodge past the big Boys Town complex. Up on the second floor of a nondescript office building, we find the cluster that Salem Broadcasting has been assembling over the years in town.
Off to one side of the studio cluster here is a neat master control area that’s rare in the radio universe: in front of a desk that’s equipped with a small console connected to the cluster’s Logitek digital network are racks holding the automation for each station, making it super-easy for an operator to manage any or all of them as needed.
The rest of the engineering rack space is in an adjacent room. Those PCs lined up along the top are streaming and airchecking machines, if memory serves.
As for outbound, it’s mostly terrestrial connections from here out to the three transmitter sites that we’ll show you as part of next week’s installment.
Salem’s secular “Answer” talk format is on KOTK (1420) and a new translator at 94.5, and it comes from a control room that looks right out at the master control area.
This studio’s entrance is around the corner, down a hallway that also leads into several other studios, including a talk studio that can be controlled by either this control room or another control room behind another window, which runs Christian preaching/talk KCRO (660) and its translator on 106.5.
Just down the hall from the KCRO studio is the FM in the house, contemporary Christian “Fish” KGBI (100.7), which also hosts a fourth format in the cluster, the streaming ClassicCCM.com.
“Wait,” I hear some of you saying, “Isn’t 660 the old KOWH, which competed so fiercely against KOIL back in the top-40 days? And where’s its transmitter?”
It’s an excellent question – and we’ll show you the answer when you join us right back here next Friday for part 2 of our Nebraska adventure!
Thanks to Mark Halverson and John Gaeta at Scripps, Andy Ruback at NRG and Mike Shane at Salem for the tours!
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This is the 20th year we have been publishing our calendar. In addition to the cover shot of WEJL, we have photos from New Jersey, Nebraska, Texas, and much more!
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Next week: Omaha transmitter sites, February 2017