Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
When did the “Before Times” end? For us, at least as far as station visits go, we can provide a precise date and time: 4 PM, Monday, March 9, 2020 was the last time we dropped in to see a radio station in the days when offices and studios were full of people and the pandemic was still (barely) in the future.
We were on the way home from Chicago and what would turn out to be the Last Normal Weekend, enjoying a ballroom full of fellow trivia aficionados and way too much deep dish pizza and Chicago-style hot dogs (no regrets!)
And we made time on the return trip to visit a good friend in his new digs. We’d visited PD Brad Savage at “The Summit” (WAPS 91.3 Akron/WKTL 90.7 Struthers) just a few years earlier, when the station was still in a turn-of-the-century school district building on the south side of Akron. It was a memorable visit, complete with a production studio built inside a mock TARDIS, and we knew at the time the station would be in a new home the next time we visited.
At the end of 2019, WAPS moved into a different Akron Schools-owned building, the new Ellet High School facility out on the east side of town. The place still had the new-studio smell about it when we dropped in less than three months later – but it was a bigger new studio, for sure, almost twice the size of the old digs in the Conrad C. Ott Building that had been home to the station for 41 years.
Turn left out of the shiny new lobby, a separate door off to the right of the main entrance to the school, and you’re in the station’s office area, where a hall leads past management offices to the main studios. The Summit had already started a new collection along the hallway, featuring guitars signed by visiting performers, back when performers could visit and perform (sigh…)
The air studios at the end of the hall are two mirror-image spaces, with new Axia boards and rear windows looking out into the high school’s main atrium. (And very well soundproofed, too – hundreds of teenagers were noisily streaming out of school at the end of the day on the other side of the glass while we chatted with Brad for a special episode of our Top of the Tower Podcast before it went on COVID hiatus, but we couldn’t hear them at all.)
The station’s tidy new rack room sits on the other side of the hall from the air studios, along with production rooms also equipped with Axia – which of course turned out to be incredibly useful within just a few days, as the Summit joined so much of the rest of the radio world in working remotely, a task made easier by the system’s remote access capabilities.
The ENCO automation in here also powers a robust suite of additional HD and streaming channels, including “Rock and Recovery” aimed at the addiction community, plus channels for local music and for kids.
Over on the other side of the front lobby? Instead of the old basement “Studio C,” a rather small makeshift space WAPS had carved out for live performances at its old home, the new studios here at Ellet included a much more spacious new Studio C, decorated on one side with a cool mural celebrating Akron scenes and the station’s musical history and on the other with a proper performance stage with lots of room for bands and state-of-the-art recording capabilities. Invitations to live Studio C shows are a big part of the Summit’s member benefits, and the station has partnered with the local PBS station, PBS Western Reserve, for a video version of “Studio C Sessions.”
There was a live show scheduled that night, featuring a band fronted by local high school students (“Detention”), but things here shut down pretty quickly afterward, of course.
And a few hours after our visit, we were back home – and there we stayed for quite a while, which is why next week’s installment doesn’t pick up until pretty deep into the summer of 2020, such as it was.
Thanks to Brad Savage for the tour!
The Tower Site Calendar is nearly sold out.
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And don’t miss a big batch of Ohio IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: Elmira, NY