Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
Even after almost thirty years (mis-)spent tramping around the country to see broadcast facilities hither and yon, there are still some surprisingly large parts of “yon” and even some “hither” that we’ve still never seen.
Until just last year, those gaps included one of the ten biggest markets in America. Over all that time, we never got to Houston – and wow, were we missing a lot!
Where to start on the first of two full days in this sprawling megalopolis? We threw ourselves into the capable hands of one of its top engineers, Entercom chief engineer Robbie Green.
And we really wanted to start the day at his studios, because when we got there in September 2019, he’d just finished a massive renovation of this facility, pulling together a quarter-century of haphazard expansion into a unified modern plant better able to serve four FM and two AM stations well into the 2020s.
Want to start with some history? You literally can’t miss it here – with the help of programmer Chris Huff and his historical skills, the creative services team here took what would otherwise have been a bland lobby hallway leading to the guest bathrooms and instead turned it into a long timeline of Houston history, CBS Radio/Entercom history and the individual histories of the radio stations that all came together here in the Weslayan Tower office building just off the Southwest Freeway in the Greenway Plaza district, a few miles west of downtown Houston.
(It was actually Westinghouse that first put stations up here on the 19th floor of 24 Greenway Plaza, back in the mid-1990s when Group W had just recently acquired country stations KIKK-FM 95.7 and KIKK 650 to add to KILT 610 and KILT-FM 100.3, which had been part of its corporate buyout of Legacy Broadcasting.)
When Westinghouse built out the first set of studios here, they did so on the raised flooring that was so common in broadcast facilities back then – and the floors continued into new studios that were added as the group grew under CBS to add two more FMs, KHMX (96.5) and KLOL (101.1), in a swap with Clear Channel.
Robbie’s big project here included a staged rebuilding of the studios to gradually remove those raised floors. Who needs all that space for wiring when everything has gone to Axia and the connections between studios are mostly just a few runs of cat-6 these days?
We enjoyed following along on social media as Robbie chronicled the careful dance that kept each station on the air while juggling studio spaces during the rebuild – and we very much enjoyed seeing the finished product, complete with contributions from local street artists to give a Houston flavor to the otherwise gray hallways that form a big “U” around the 19th floor.
KHMX’s hot AC “Mix” and KILT-FM’s country “Bull” formats come from similarly-designed rooms on one of the outer walls here, overlooking the freeway and the skyline. There’s a studio and control room here for KIKK, too, though most of its programming comes straight from CBS Sports Radio.
KILT, the other AM station, is mostly local (it’s the flagship for Texans football), and it has its own set of studio and control room across the hall on one of the interior walls.
As with any good modern studio rebuild, there’s a big performance space here, with comfy audience seating, good lighting and excellent video and audio production capabilities. (And a naming rights deal to make it the “Verizon Lounge,” of course.)
Around the other side of the building, there’s another row of studios – on the outside wall, one for KLOL, which was a rock station in its heyday in the 1970s and 80s and is now doing Spanish hits as “Mega,” and on the inside wall, a studio incongruously marked as “KKMJ 95.5.”
Yes, that’s a station in the Entercom Austin cluster, more than two hours away – but with the magic of digital technology, “Magic 95.5” can originate an airshift here in Houston, too.
The rack room got rebuilt as part of the renovation, too, and it’s just as tidy as the rest of the facility, as you’d expect from Robbie’s careful work.
There are the usual programming, sales and business offices, too, of course, some of them still in their original 1990s trim. (The lobby entrance has moved over the years, too, which helps to explain why there’s older lobby signage down here at this end – these days, it’s all done up with video screens, including live views into each of the studios from the reception desk.)
And from here, it’s off to grab some lunch – and then to see some of the tallest towers there are to see. There’s a lot more Houston for us to show you over the next few installments… stay tuned!
Thanks to Robbie Green for the tours!
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Next week: Houston’s Senior Road tower site