Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
Our typical mode of travel doesn’t match up well with the usual kinds of tourism. We go to Orlando, head for the tall towers in Bithlo and never make it inside the gates of Disney World. If we’re in New York and headed for the Empire State Building, it’s not with the hordes on the 86th floor public observation deck.
But if we’re in a big city we’ve never visited before (and there aren’t that many of those left in the US), even if time is very limited, we’re going to try to at least stop by one or two signature attractions just to make sure we’ve gotten some of the non-broadcast flavor of the place.
And so after spending a morning and early afternoon out in decidedly non-touristy parts of greater San Antonio looking at towers and studios, we pointed the rental car from the north side toward downtown with every good intention of spending some time at the Alamo and along the Riverwalk.
For normal tourists, that might have been a 10- or 15-minute drive down I-10. For us, of course, there were still a few stops to make along the way, at the two TV studio buildings that sit on the north side of downtown San Antonio.
The building occupied by Graham Media’s KSAT (Channel 12), the ABC affiliate, on N. St. Mary’s Street looks new, and it is. But Channel 12 has a long history in this very spot, and there’s an even longer history of broadcasting here in general.
The little street that runs parallel to St. Mary’s by the San Antonio River, Alden Grove Street, was the studio address for many years of San Antonio’s KONO radio – and also a transmitter site, at various points, for all of its stations. The AM side of KONO came first, of course, in use from 1938 (when the station shared 1370 with KMAC), through to its move to 1400 under NARBA (when KMAC split away to fulltime on 1240 and then 630), and right up until 1950 when KONO moved to 860 and a new directional site on the east side of town.
In 1947, KONO-FM signed on here, eventually splitting off to take on its own identity as KITY 92.9; much later, it would move down to the Elmendorf tower farm under its current calls of KROM, one of Univision’s Spanish-language stations. KONO-TV (Channel 12) made its debut here, too, in 1957, soon moving its transmitter to the tower farm out by Elmendorf where its competitors were building a shared tall tower.
Even after ownership split between KONO-TV (renamed KSAT) and the radio stations, the TV and radio studios remained attached to each other here right into the early 1990s. The old KONO building was eventually torn down, and where it sat is now a parking lot for the newer, spiffier home of Channel 12 – but there’s still a 500-foot tower here, still home to a KSAT aux.
So we got our picture of KSAT’s current home, we headed back across the river, and now we’re southbound on Broadway for the quick drive a few more blocks to see the touristy heart of San Antonio… as soon as we snap a quick shot or two of the exterior of the city’s PBS station, KLRN (Channel 9).
Except that while our rental car is parked in the little lot by the front door and we’ve stepped across Broadway to get a better view of the streetside windows decorated with promotions for each of KLRN’s DTV subchannels, a gentleman in a bowtie has seen us, stepped outside, and is wondering why we’re standing on the street looking at the station. And after introductions are made and our status as a fellow public broadcaster has been noted, we’re invited inside for an impromptu tour of the facility.
This is actually two buildings, with offices in a 1920s-vintage brick building that was long used as a Buick dealership, attached to a blocky studio building that was added in 1994 when KLRN moved here from rented space at the HemisFair grounds. (We have, on several occasions, recounted the twisty history by which KLRN began as a shared service halfway between San Antonio and Austin, then spawned an Austin-only station, KLRU, and eventually ended up under its own separate board as the Alamo Public Telecommunications Council.)
These are very nice studio facilities, with a well-appointed green room, production control rooms that have recently seen upgrades, an in-house master control rather than outsourcing those duties to one of the national hubs, and lots of space for local productions, studio rentals and community meetings.
There is, as it turns out, a station board meeting about to get underway, so the rest of our tour is swift, moving back into the old Buick building to see some of the station’s production and programming offices, including a small studio where web content can be quickly and efficiently produced.
It’s not until we’re back in the lobby and exchanging business cards that we realize just why our surprise tour guide is as knowledgeable as he is about every aspect of KLRN’s operations, and why he’s pressed for time now and has to leave us: we’ve just been shown around KLRN by the station’s president and CEO, making for one of the more unusual station tours in our long years of broadcast visits!
(And yes, we did finally make it those last few blocks down to the tourism district – we’ll show you all that, including a distinctive FM site, when we wrap up our San Antonio visit in next week’s installment.)
Thanks to Arthur Rojas Emerson for the KLRN tour!
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Next week: Downtown San Antonio – and eastward!