Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
As our cross-country drive home from the NAB Show in April 2017 continued eastward, the weather just kept getting steadily worse – which meant some big changes in our itinerary.
We’d planned to make the weekend part of the trip all about baseball, catching games in two stadiums we’d never been to. The schedule looked perfect: a Saturday night Royals game at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, then an early wakeup the next morning to get to a Sunday afternoon Cardinals game at the latest incarnation of Busch Stadium in St. Louis, after which we’d speed the rest of the way back east to get Aaron back to work in Providence.
But here’s the nice thing about having radio friends all up and down the highway: when the weather rains you out of baseball, you can sometimes find a radio tour instead – yes, even at 6 o’clock on a Saturday evening, which is when Jeff Jaxon met us at Entercom’s Kansas City cluster studio, off the side of Shawnee Mission Parkway/US 169 deep in the Kansas suburbs southwest of downtown. (This is a popular place for corporate radio; Cumulus’ Kansas City studios are just north of here off US 69, too.)
This cluster came together from a bunch of different pieces, primarily the stations that had assembled around KMBZ (980) at its former studio/transmitter home just over a mile to the east on Belinder Avenue in Westwood, Kansas. While the studios had long since moved out of that location, the KMBZ transmitter had stayed behind – but that was changing early in 2017, and in fact demolition of that historic site was just getting underway when we were passing through. (But it was raining, and we’d seen it from the outside on previous visits, so we didn’t go over for a last look, nor did we get over to the new KMBZ AM site on the east side of town, diplexed with Bott’s KCCV 760.)
There are some other threads of Kansas City radio history woven into this cluster, too: back when it was still called KMBC, 980 competed vigorously with another heritage KC station, WDAF, and that legacy callsign lives on at the station where Jeff works, “106.5 the Wolf,” as well as on Fox-owned WDAF-TV (Channel 4) across town.
Let’s step back for a moment and get oriented: the Entercom lobby, business offices and some production rooms are on the second floor of this three-story office building, reached by a stairwell that features a nifty radio tower graphic. The lobby (adorned with the neon sign shown above) rises up through the second and third floors, with a big stairway leading up to the line of studios that runs along most of the north side of the third floor.
The FM studios lined up here are all very similar in design – a small studio for production and morning show producers looking into a larger air studio, all neatly outfitted with Wheatstone consoles – but each station gets plenty of personality: country “Wolf” WDAF, top-40 “Point” KZPT (99.7, the old KMBC-FM), modern rock “Buzz” KRBZ (96.5, descended from the old classical KXTR) and active rock KQRC (98.9, a move-in from Leavenworth, Kansas years ago).
There’s a rack room over on this side of the facility, and cubicles for the airstaff, and something we’ve never seen anywhere else: a bathroom dispenser that yields up discount earbuds and 1/4″ headphone adapters (instead of cheap perfume, feminine supplies and prophylactics) for anyone who’s forgotten those important radio necessities!
The spoken-word side of the cluster lives on the other side of the lobby, and it’s anchored by a large newsroom that looks into big mirror-image studios used by the two biggest stations on this side, news-talk KMBZ-FM (98.1, the old AC giant KUDL-FM) and sports KCSP (610, the heritage WDAF facility).
Each of those two big stations has both the big talk studio and a control room; KMBZ has another studio down the hall that functions as a production room and, when needed, the control room for KMBZ(AM) when it’s live and running a separate talk schedule from its FM sister.
Next door, KCSP would be originating the Royals game tonight to its huge network of stations across the Midwest, if it hadn’t been a rainout. And there’s one more small studio over here that feeds the last and least of the stations in this full eight-signal cluster: KWOD (1660) is a secondary sports outlet (“The Score”) that carries some sports overflow and parks the callsign that Entercom retired from Sacramento a few years back. (It was also the last signal in town to carry the KXTR calls and classical format before they went away completely.)
With no ballgame to keep us in Kansas City for the night, we say our goodbyes to Jeff and press onward two more hours to the east on I-70 to instead spend the night in Columbia. After Sunday brunch with engineer Patrick Neelin, we head out in the rain to the University of Missouri campus and the public radio studios that Pat warns us are rather temporary.
Make no mistake – news-and-information KBIA (91.3) is an important public radio outlet, with a newsroom staffed by students at Mizzou’s highly-regarded journalism school, and its newer classical sister KMUC (90.5, purchased from Stephens College down the road when it exited radio) is important, too. So it’s interesting to see their current modest physical plant, lined up in a series of what used to be ground-floor dorm rooms while the university readies new space after taking the old KBIA studios.
The KBIA news operation stretches down a long hallway from the temporary studios; at this end, it’s Wheatstone consoles instead of the Logitek in the main air studios, and all the way at one end is the newsroom where students work, with two edit suites in the middle. (One of them is named for Patrick, who left KBIA a few months later and is now with Colorado Public Radio in Denver.)
Our route from here was swift, very wet, and didn’t include any more tours: while the Cards actually played their Sunday game in St. Louis, we didn’t feel like sitting out in the rain, so we pressed on across Indiana and most of the way through Ohio, finally stopping late Sunday night near Ashtabula before completing the trip on Monday.
We didn’t know then that we’d be right back in Kansas City a few months later, but we’ll show you that part of the trip when we recap our second cross-country drive later this year.
Thanks to Jeff Jaxon and Patrick Neelin for the tours!
The 2020 Tower Site Calendar will soon be off the press, but you don’t have to wait to order it.
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Next week: London, Ontario