By SCOTT FYBUSH
How many places are there in America where you can stand in front of one major-network TV affiliate and look right across the street at another one? Not many, to be sure (though there have at least been a few “down the street” examples in places like Syracuse and Rockford, Illinois, and once upon a time Social Hall Avenue in downtown Salt Lake City boasted all three TV stations in town all on a single block!)
One place where you can still see two major TV stations just by crossing the street is on the south side of downtown Albuquerque, New Mexico is still one place where you can do just that. (If you can think of another, please suggest it in the comments.)
So here we are, on a sunny (if unpleasantly dusty) April day on Broadcast Plaza SW, a wide one-block street tucked in between Coal Avenue and Iron Avenue just a couple of blocks from the Rio Grande. On the west side of the street, at “4 Broadcast Plaza,” sits New Mexico’s oldest TV station, NBC affiliate KOB-TV (Channel 4), and on the east side is CBS affiliate KRQE (Channel 13) and its sister Fox outlet, KASA (Channel 2), and we had a chance to visit both of them that day – the very same day we shot a photo of their towers up on Sandia Crest that’s now the cover of Tower Site Calendar 2013. (We’ll take a closer look at the Sandia tower farm next week…)
Let’s start at the older of the two stations here. KOB-TV began using its studios here sometime around 1953, after starting out closer to downtown at the 5th Street/Gold Avenue home of its older radio sister, KOB (770). (We showed you the KOB radio transmitter, now KKOB, last year here on Site of the Week.) When the radio and TV stations arrived out here, the address wasn’t “Broadcast Plaza” yet – it was “1230 Coal Avenue, SW,” the northern edge of the station’s property. And I’d bet, given the 50s-blockish style of the building and signage, that the faux-adobe design of the lobby came later, too.
KKOB radio moved out of this building in the 1980s, when Hubbard Broadcasting sold them to new owners, but Hubbard held on to the TV station, which it had owned since 1957 – and indeed, still owns today. There’s more than just the local NBC affiliate coming out of the master control at the heart of this building: Hubbard once owned U.S. Satellite Broadcasting, ancestor to today’s DirecTV, and it continues to have at least a small interest in national satellite TV in the form of the “Reelz Channel,” which has its master control here as well.
The spacious two-story newsroom is toward the back of the building in a newer addition. KOB, like its Albuquerque competitors, covers nearly all of this enormous state, and then some. It has full-power relays to the northwest in Farmington (KOBF-TV 12) and to the southeast in Roswell (KOBR-TV 8), and in the analog days it also had KOBG-TV in Silver City, to the southwest. Once upon a time, those stations had their own local newsrooms doing inserts to KOB’s Albuquerque-based newscasts, but today they’re just bases for local reporters feeding news back to the newsroom here in Albuquerque.
There’s a fairly sizable studio here for KOB’s extensive newscasts (they’re on the air at 4:30 in the morning, plus an hour at noon and the usual early-evening and late newscasts), and another studio down the hall for the “Good Day New Mexico” lifestyle show that airs in the late morning.
And right across the street sits half of KOB’s competition, in the form of KRQE and KASA. (The other local news operation, ABC affiliate KOAT-TV 7, was apparently courted at one time to put its studios at the north end of Broadcast Plaza, but instead followed much of the city’s growth up north, and we’ll catch up with them in a moment.)
KRQE signed on from this spot (then known as 1411 Coal Ave. SW) back in 1953, when it was known as KGGM-TV, the outgrowth of the city’s oldest radio station. KGGM (610) operated from this location for several decades as well, but by the early 1980s it had split from the TV station, and we’ll catch up with it again in a later installment.
While KOB’s building has had a few small additions over the years, KRQE’s has gone through several growth spurts, including a very large addition on the south side that was originally put here with an eye toward developing Albuquerque as a site for big-time film and TV production. (There’s been some of that over the years – AMC’s Breaking Bad, for instance – but for the most part it hasn’t taken place on Broadcast Plaza.)
So instead, what we have here is the original 1950s-era building, now mostly occupied by sales and programming offices, and that big addition that’s now home to a two-story newsroom/studio combination and a new control room that allowed KRQE to become the market’s first station producing local news in HD.
Like KOB, KRQE (short, of course, for “AlbuqueRQuE”) covers nearly the entire state from this newsroom; it too has, or had, satellite stations in other parts of the region, including KBIM (Channel 10) in Roswell and KREZ (Channel 6) in Durango, Colorado, serving the Farmington area as well. (KREZ is in the process of being sold and will apparently no longer be carrying CBS to that area, which will instead depend on cable or satellite to receive KRQE’s programming.)
Unlike most of the stations owned by parent company LIN Television, KRQE and KASA have their master control right here in Albuquerque, a little too far away from LIN’s big master-control hubs in Indiana and Massachusetts.
We didn’t get tours of Albuquerque’s other TV stations, but we at least had a chance to drive by and snap some exterior shots while driving around town.
KOAT-TV, the ABC affiliate, also signed on in 1953, originally making its home near downtown at 122 Tulane Drive SE, just off Central Avenue, historic US 66. As noted earlier, it eventually moved north along I-25, where it’s now located in a modern building on Carlisle Boulevard NE and Comanche Road NE, not far from the University of New Mexico. UNM is home to public TV station KNME-TV (Channel 5), which not long ago spawned a sister station, KNMD (Channel 9).
Moving back up the I-25 corridor heading north brings us to the remaining TV studios in town, tucked into the office parks that line the highway as it heads up toward Santa Fe. Entravision owns Univision affiliate KLUZ (Channel 41) and operates Telefutura affiliate KTFQ (Channel 14) from its facility at 2725 Broadbent Parkway NE, also home to Entravision’s KRZY (1450)/KRZY-FM (105.9).
And we leave the market via ACME Communications’ duopoly at 8341 Washington Street NW: KWBQ (Channel 19) is the market’s CW affiliate, while KASY-TV (Channel 50) is the MyNetwork TV outlet. (Both stations are in a shared-services agreement with KRQE/KASY, and they’re both in the process of being sold to a new owner, marking ACME’s exit from TV ownership.)
In next week’s installment, we’ll show you the site where all of these stations have their transmitters, the mighty Sandia Crest. Stay tuned!
It’s that time of year! We’re now shipping Tower Site Calendar 2013 from the all new Fybush.com store! Order now and be one of the first to have your copy…why wait? (We’ve also got the very last FM Atlas copies available for sale, and the new edition of the National Radio Club’s AM Log.)
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Next week: Previewing Tower Site Calendar 2013 – Sandia Crest, Albuquerque