Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
It’s late on a Sunday afternoon in the Texas heat. We’ve pulled in to the Bryan-College Station market, checked into the hotel, set up our recorders, and indulged another one of our travel habits, visiting presidential museums. (The George H.W. Bush museum is a nice one, with lots of engaging exhibits and a beautiful walk around a lake to the secluded gravesite where George and Barbara are buried. 4.5 stars. Go visit.)
What to do next? It’s late on a Sunday, yes – but the chief engineer of the local public broadcaster is just back from his own weekend travels and happy to give a quick tour of his studio, and so off we go to the other side of Texas A&M University to see what things look like inside KAMU-TV (Channel 12) and KAMU-FM (90.9).
The Moore Communications Center is a squat tan brick building on Houston Street, just off George Bush Drive, one of the main drags that runs through the university.
If it’s not the very first thing you notice here, you could be excused: its rear parking lot backs right up to the massive Kyle Field, the biggest stadium in Texas and the fourth-biggest in the country.
Imagine what the scene must be like here on Aggies game day, when more than 100,000 fans converge here to root for their team against the Longhorns or whatever other rival they’re playing!
Fortunately for us, it’s not a game day, so we can park right in the lot and walk in the back door, which opens to KAMU’s main studio hallway.
A side hallway here leads to the small studio complex for KAMU-FM, which carries a hybrid format that mixes NPR news and talk with classical music. It’s cozy and well-designed, with Axia consoles and a compact talk studio and control room adjoining the main air studio and a hallway that doubles as a music library.
Across from the radio studios, the long hallway along the back of the building opens to two big TV production studios. These spaces are used not only for KAMU-TV productions but also for distance learning, and there are sets here for classroom teaching and for cooking shows, too.
There’s a production control room across the hall, and a larger master control area for KAMU-TV’s three channels, which include World and Kids channels alongside the main KAMU 12.1 channel.
(Quick bit of history here: KAMU-TV came on the air in 1970 on UHF channel 15, and it stayed there until the end of analog TV in 2009. By then, KAMU’s digital signal had hit the air on VHF channel 12 – and unusually, it was able to change its virtual channel from 15 to 12, where it doesn’t really conflict with anyone else. I assume that before KAMU-TV came on the scene, cable viewers or those with big rooftop antennas could get educational TV here by way of Houston’s KUHT, channel 8.)
A rack room off master control houses the racks for KAMU-TV and KAMU-FM, including their satellite receivers, automation, STLs and so on. There’s a big garage in back, too, with a storage area full of older equipment and even some older promotional items. (We scored a KAMU-TV mug with the old “15” logo on it, which now occupies a proud place on our desk here.)
As for KAMU’s FM and TV transmitters, they’re just a few miles north of the studio, up at the north end of the A&M campus, tucked in next to the university’s horticulture gardens.
This isn’t a very tall tower – barely over 300 feet, in fact. I suspect it was once crowned by a top-mounted UHF antenna for the old analog channel 15 signal, but that’s gone now, and instead there’s a panel antenna mounted around the top of the tower for the digital signal on VHF channel 12, above the KAMU-FM Jampro antenna.
At least based on the signage on that metal shed at the tower base, the KAMU transmitters share the building with some of the horticulture garden offices.
A final note before we move on to the commercial side of the market: as we observed when we were over in Waco in an earlier part of this trip, this is another one of those artificial TV markets. While the nominal “Waco/Bryan-College Station” market covers a huge swath of central Texas, KAMU-TV only reaches the eastern portion over here in College Station and Bryan. Even after the Waco-Temple side of the market (the I-35 corridor an hour to the west) lost its own PBS station, KNCT-TV (Channel 46), a few years ago, that’s still not KAMU territory – it’s served on cable by Austin’s KLRU and Dallas’ KERA.
(The commercial TV stations do it differently; we’ll show you how in next week’s installment.)
Thanks to KAMU’s Wayne Pecena for the tours!
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The Radio Historian has created another historic calendar for 2021, and we’re selling it!
This year’s calendar features 13 new full-color historic images of radio broadcasting from 1913 to 1969. We only have 30 and they sell out fast, so don’t wait!
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This is the 20th year we have been publishing our calendar. In addition to the beautiful cover shot of WEJL, we have photos from New Jersey, Nebraska, Texas, and much more!
And while you’re getting your calendar, don’t forget the other great products in our store.
And don’t miss a big batch of Bryan-College Station IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: More Bryan and College Station