KBEM-FM: Revitalizing a Station, Reviving a School


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Housed in a north side neighborhood of Minneapolis, a station and its host high school both see opportunities to grow and improve.

KBEM-FM Control Room

A little over three years ago, I walked into KBEM for an interview to become the new engineer. Having worked for another station within the same statewide affiliate network, I was familiar with some of the challenges that the station was facing.

The station is owned by the Minneapolis Public Schools and is housed in the struggling North Community High School. Hardly a year before my hire, the school district staved off an effort to shut down the building (putting KBEM down a path of uncertainty) and began to invest in a new future for the school and the neighboring community. In doing so, MPS opened the door to make KBEM a stronger asset for education and outreach.

Punch block wall

My first week at KBEM basically consisted of a “this is over here, that is over there” walkthrough with the outgoing engineer. Although I have quite a bit of respect for his planning and design, he and I fundamentally disagreed on what technology should be in the facility. Two engineers, three opinions, right?

ASSESSING THE FACILITY

At the time, I felt that the technology that was available to the station and the staff was greatly underutilized. Each studio had an iMac with Amadeus editing software, but dubbing into a CD recorder was the preferred method for nearly all of the production work. Loading files into our ENCO automation system was done via manual internet downloads and ripping in all of our locally produced content off of the recorded CDs. Additionally, the protocol for scheduling daily ENCO playlists was carrying a USB drive between offices.

Patch bays

Audio routing between studios was done through multiple switches and a patch panel. Initially, I saw the value in this design, but the recent history was that the engineer was the only one who ever really understood how that all worked. It took all but 5 seconds for the station manager and me to agree that we needed to develop a plan that better maximized staff efficiency and streamlined station operations.

Finally, and most important, we needed to devise ways to make KBEM appealing to students. The school district takes their goal of “Every child college and career ready” very seriously. So, in addition to making the facility work better for me and other staff members, we assessed what we can do to help serve our student population.

It does not take much imagination to figure out that a member of the Class of 2014 would not be impressed with technology from 2004. However, the considerations of the staff members and volunteers who have been with the station for decades also have merit. So, the ultimate challenge boils down to this: How can I design a facility that is useful and relevant to a 14-year-old as well as a 74-year-old?

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