The Rebuilding Spirit

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Facility Showcase, May 2010

What began as a Catholic radio ministry in a former 1950s motel has blossomed into the driving force of Christian music in the Tampa Bay market. WBVM 90.5 FM, a.k.a. Spirit FM, owned by the Diocese of St. Petersburg, had humble beginnings when it initiated broadcasting in 1986. Much of the studio equipment was donated gear that no one else wanted. Music consisted of donated LPs and carts with worn-out pads. Volunteers came and went like the tides and it was difficult to keep staff happy with inadequate equipment. Despite these obstacles, donations came in and this Catholic radio ministry grew to the point that space became a premium: Something had to be done.

Permission from the local bishop was granted to launch a capital campaign. In short order more than $1 million was pledged to construct a new facility. Then the unforeseen happened: the largest economic tumble since the Great Depression. Gifts fell off and the plans were scrapped from constructing a stand-alone facility to building out an existing area. Although cash was still trickling in, the diocese gave the green light to move forward with the new facility. Plans were finalized in March 2009 and the first workers showed up in June. Nearly four months later, the build-out was complete: 7,000 square feet of office and studio space to accommodate the main 90.5 FM channel and two HD Radio multicast channels, plus a production room and small performance studio.

The space

Spirit FM control room

Spirit FM control room

The existing space was the top floor of a recently constructed three-story facility owned by the adjacent church. It was unoccupied and constructed with the hope of leasing to a willing tenant — and Spirit FM was the perfect tenant. The building was adorned with windows around the perimeter, providing natural light and break points for offices and studios. The only downside was that the building overlooked a major artery in Tampa, FL, that created considerable traffic noise. This was a minor nuisance that could easily be remedied when construction started.

Alfonso Architects and Bollenback Builders were tapped to design and construct the facility. Both companies had worked on church projects and commercial ventures, but neither company had experience in constructing or designing a radio broadcast facility. It was refreshing that both companies were open to input and direction. They relied on Spirit FM's Chief Engineer Chris Sampson for design and layout assistance. Sampson came with build-out experience in the Miami market while with Clear Channel.

The production room is the only studio with a sit-down console.

The production room is the only studio with a sit-down console.

The floor space was basically a rectangle with large windows on the north and south ends of the building and smaller windows on the east and west walls. After numerous notepad and napkin drawings it was decided that the studios would be housed on the east wall facing the main road and downtown Tampa. The north and south ends of the building would house the staff, management and conference room. The center of the building would house the heart of the facility: electrical, mechanical and broadcast technical center (rack room).

The windows afforded a great opportunity to capitalize on the natural lighting and create an open atmosphere in the building. The architect envisioned an open office setting and keeping offices clean with store front glass in the private offices. One unique feature was that the walls separating the offices do not go to the ceiling, creating an openness to distribute lighting and HVAC. However, designs for the studios would be much different.

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