Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
What do you do once you’ve seen studios and transmitters all over Omaha? You point the rental car to I-80 westbound and make the speedy drive (less than an hour) to Lincoln, which is not only the state capital but a great radio town, too.
There are two big commercial radio groups here, and they’re not far from each other on Lincoln’s west side. We made it to one before closing time on a Monday afternoon – Alpha Media’s six-station cluster that features one of the radio gems here in town, the full-service, news-heavy voice of KFOR (1240).
As we made the drive in to Lincoln, KFOR had Nebraska’s governor on the air here for his monthly “Ask the Governor” radio show, syndicated to stations all across this huge state. The governor had departed by the time we got to the station, but the newsroom was still hard at work with live, local programming, the kind that wins award on top of award. (And it’s not even the only solid radio newsroom in town; down the road, NRG’s KLIN 1400 also provides great news service here!)
KFOR’s studio sits at one corner of the building, part of an L-shaped arrangement that includes the newsroom off to one side and a control room adjoining the studio.
Down the hallway toward the back of the building, the FM music stations all line up with their own studios: classic rock KTGL (92.9 the Eagle), the market’s top-rated station; country KZKX (96.9), top-40 KFRX (106.3) and alt-rock KIBZ (104.1 the Blaze), as well as sports KLMS (1480). Toward the back of the building is a well-equipped rack room.
From here, we head off to check in to a hotel to catch the local TV newscasts. KOLN (Channel 10) is the established local behemoth, the CBS affiliate that’s been here since the 1950s and serves most of the state west of Omaha via satellite KGIN (Channel 11) out in Grand Island and KNPL-LD (Channel 11) in North Platte. Its competition is a newer ABC station, KLKN (Channel 8), which also operates Fox affiliate KFXL (Channel 51); NBC, which long came from Omaha’s WOWT, now comes from “NBC Nebraska,” KSNB (Channel 4) out in Superior, seen on a low-power translator in Lincoln.
KOLN started out on channel 12 but soon absorbed competitor KFOR-TV on channel 10; the channel 12 facility was donated to the University of Nebraska in the 1950s and became KUON-TV, the cornerstone of what’s now the statewide NET network.
After dinner, we enjoyed a late-night tour of NET’s operations, in a hulking brick monolith on the university’s satellite campus on 33rd Street. The NET lobby includes a nod to the early KUON-TV history, via a vintage TV camera near the door to the TV production side of the building. It also includes a nice look into the studios of the much newer NET radio service, which built up across much of the state starting in the 1980s. (In Lincoln, it’s KUCV 91.1, which began as the U of N’s radio station independent of the KUON-TV operation.)
Across the lobby from the small radio studio complex at one front corner of the building is the TV production area, where we see the new HD control room before heading into the spacious studio area at the middle of the building.
Behind the studio is an equally spacious garage housing two TV production trucks. Unusually for a public broadcaster, live sports is an important part of what NET produces, including high school football and some college sports (but not Nebraska football, which is big commercial TV business here, of course.)
Rounding the back of the building, there’s a spacious meeting area behind the studio, looking into the tech hallway that runs the south side of the first floor back toward the radio studios and lobby.
Dig the artwork that lines these walls and hallway – it’s all repurposed vintage technology, everything from hard drives to circuit boards to strands of old videotape cleverly turned into decorations that stretch up to the ceiling.
Our visit to the tech area begins in the rear corner in NET’s master control area, which not only handles the continuity for NET’s multiple TV streams but also constantly monitors the complex network that includes multiple TV and FM transmitters that reach into even the most remote corners of the state.
No matter how distant (looking almost 400 miles west to remote Alliance, Nebraska, out in the panhandle), all of these transmitter sites send telemetry back here so that NET’s technicians can keep tabs on transmitter and building status and sent out maintenance and repair crews as needed.
Technical facilities continue down the hallway, including an ingest area and spacious rack rooms featuring a mix of some older gear and newer, state-of-the-art HD servers and automation – which brings us back around to the radio corner and the lobby.
We’ll wrap up Nebraska in next week’s installment, then move west for some California radio, too!
Thanks to NET’s Matt Sperling and Alpha’s Rob Kelley for the tours!
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Next week: A few stray bits of Omaha – and San Diego, too!