May 11, 2007
The Big Trip 2006, Part XIV: Seattle Studios and Queen Anne Hill
Once every year or so, when finances and schedules permit, your editor and a couple of his similarly-obsessed radio pals get together to spend a week or so exploring a corner of our great nation, packing our schedules as full as possible to visit as many interesting broadcast facilities as we can.
And then, a few months later, once we've caught our breath (and some much-needed sleep), we share it all with you here on Tower Site of the Week (and in audio form over on Tophour.com) in a feature we call "The Big Trip."
The 2006 version of the Big Trip began and ended in Seattle, and along the way took us as far south as Eugene, Oregon and as far east as Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.
Day Nine - Friday, September 29
Like pretty much every day of a Big Trip, this penultimate full day of tower hunting came complete with a full schedule: after visiting the West Tiger Mountain and Cougar Mountain sites we showed you in last week's installment, our plan was to head for the docks of West Seattle and catch a ferry to Vashon Island, home of most of Seattle's big AM transmitters.
Unlike most of our Big Trip adventures, this part of the plan didn't work out according to schedule. We knew there would be lots of traffic leaving Seattle on a Friday afternoon for nearby Vashon, and we expected to wait in line at the ferry docks for a while. What we didn't expect, after an hour of waiting in that line, was one of the rudest law-enforcement officers we've ever had the misfortune to encounter. It seems that in the process of reading the inadequate signage directing cars to the line for the ferry, we inadvertently cut off one of the locals - and instead of having the courtesy to let us know what we'd done so we could let her in or move right to the (all but unmarked) end of the line, this charming specimen of Puget Sound citizenry decided to wait behind us all the way through the line to the ferry dock, whereupon she then chose to virtuously rat us out to Officer Friendly, or so we gathered.
The upshot was that after all that waiting in line, we were ordered, none too kindly, to return to the back of the (even longer) line, the practical upshot being that we weren't going to Vashon Island that afternoon, and so you won't be seeing any pictures of those sites here. (We did contact the Washington State Ferries' "customer information manager," who apologized for the incident, but the whole thing still left a rather sour taste, and it's hard to believe it couldn't have been handled a little more courteously.)
Still, we weren't going to waste a few quality hours of tower-hunting time on what would be the last nice day of the trip, so we quickly re-connected with Clay Freinwald to arrange a visit to the Entercom studios at 1820 Eastlake Avenue, just north and east of downtown Seattle.
In retrospect, it's a good thing we did, since just a few months later, that facility and the stations in it would change hands, becoming part of the Bonneville family.
This building was (and still is) home to news-talk KIRO (710 Seattle), talk KTTH (770 Seattle) and oldies KBSG (97.3 Tacoma), and the long heritage of KIRO is evident at once in the lobby, where a vintage transmitter tube holds pride of place in front of a display case full of KIRO's many news awards from recent years.
(Those other signs on the lobby wall proclaim the building's status as headquarters of the Seahawks' and Sonics' radio networks as well.)
Heading into the building from the lobby, we first enter a big bullpen area that's home to the newsroom for KIRO and KTTH, as well as cubicles for both stations' talk hosts. The KIRO and KTTH studios line one wall of that bullpen, while production booths line an opposite wall towards the center of the building.
Heading toward the back of the building, we find another cluster of studios for more production and for the music station in the group, KBSG. (In past years, this building was also home to the former KIRO-FM on 100.7, which was doing talk as KQBZ, "the Buzz," before going country as "The Wolf," KKWF. That station, which stayed with Entercom, is now with the other Entercom FMs, KISW, KMTT and KNDD, over at the "Met Park" office tower on Olive Way.
That's where Clay is now, too - so it's a good thing we also got to see his old office down in the basement of the Eastlake building. (Entercom corporate engineering chief Marty Hadfield also made the move to Met Park.)
While visiting Eastlake with Clay, the phone rang with one more invitation to round out our afternoon: a chance to see the new "Fisher Plaza" studios of KOMO (1000 Seattle), KVI (570 Seattle), KPLZ (101.5 Seattle) and KOMO-TV (Channel 4).
When we'd last visited Seattle back in 1999, KOMO's old studios across the street from the Space Needle were surrounded by massive construction in what had been the building's parking lot. That's the building you see at right - the Fisher Plaza East facility that became home to the radio and TV stations in 2000.
After that, the old KOMO studios were demolished and replaced by another new office building, "Fisher Plaza West" - but our interest this afternoon is in the first of the new buildings, which houses retail and restaurants on the first floor, offices on the second, and the KOMO stations on the top floors. (Trivia time: this building also doubles as the exterior of "Seattle Grace Hospital" on Gray's Anatomy, conveniently seen on KOMO-TV every week...)
Our tour starts in the massive data center that's at the core of KOMO's technical operation, with rack after rack filled with video servers, audio servers, streaming servers, and pretty much everything else that gets signals in and out of this building. Fisher Plaza was designed with data in mind, and these buildings include a lot of co-location and server farm facilities, with plenty of backup power.
There's a large area devoted to sales, and beyond that, a group of studios clustered around an open stairwell that were originally designed for all of Fisher's Seattle radio stations. Conservative talker KVI is down at the end of one hallway, and at the end of another is a studio cluster originally intended for KOMO, which was then a news-talker. Today, those rooms are used for the Mariners' baseball network, which originates here and claims KOMO as its flagship - and we'll see in a moment where the main KOMO radio studios ended up.
Hot AC "Star 101.5," KPLZ, sits just off the stairwell, which is surrounded by production rooms and by some vintage gear from earlier incarnations of KOMO, including an old telephone switchboard.
Up that flight of stairs, we find the spacious KOMO-TV newsroom, which was reconfigured a few years back to house the newsroom and studios of KOMO(AM) when it became an all-newser. Today, KOMO radio's reporters, editors and anchors work right alongside their TV colleagues, and the radio studio door is usually open to the newsroom outside and its stellar views of downtown Seattle.
Up one more level, we reach the TV studios and control rooms, which are served by one of the largest elevators we've ever seen (they can and do haul cars up here on occasion, for the live Northwest Afternoon show that originates from a big audience studio up here.)
The studios open to a big lobby area, which looks into the control rooms for KOMO-TV's newscasts and the master control for not only KOMO-TV but also for Fisher's chain of Univision and Telemundo outlets across the Pacific Northwest.
It's a gorgeous facility, with so many scenic views of the nearby Space Needle, Experience Music Project and the rest of the city that we wonder how anyone actually gets any work done here - but it's late on Friday afternoon by now, and so there's not all that much work getting done anyway.
We're not quite done with our work, though, so after bidding Fisher Plaza farewell and getting caught on the no-exit quasi-freeway that is North Aurora Avenue, we finally get turned around somewhere near Bellingham (or so it seems) and make our way to Queen Anne Hill, the neighborhood just north of downtown that's home to the towers of Seattle's first three television stations.
KING-TV (Channel 5, then KRSC-TV) was the first station in town, and in the region, when it signed on here in 1948 from the short tower at Third Ave. N. and Galer Street that's now its auxiliary tower. The main KING-TV (Channel 5/DT 48) tower next door also carries sister station KONG (Channel 16/DT 31), and it used to be home to KING-FM (98.1), which is now up on West Tiger.
Just west of KING-TV on Galer Street is the KOMO-TV (Channel 4/DT 38) tower and transmitter building, and down the road a bit at the corner of Queen Anne Ave. and Galer is the KIRO-TV (Channel 7/DT 39) tower, next to the building that once housed the studios of KIRO radio and TV.
With darkness soon upon us, we head back into downtown Seattle for a big seafood dinner before calling it a night and getting ready for our final day of Puget Sound tower-hunting to wrap up Big Trip 2007.
(And join us over at Tophour.com on Wednesday, May 16 to hear the second installment of our Seattle legal IDs!)
The Tower Site Calendar 2007 is here! They're about to sell out, just like 2006 did - order today at the Fybush.com Store!