WFCR exposes more than news in its new studio

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Facility Showcase, Nov 2009

The control room looking into the studio. Photo by Scott Tulay/Juster Pope Frazier.

Old brick walls and century-old post-and-beam construction are not the first things that come to mind for a state-of-the-art radio studio, but for public radio station WFCR's newsroom, it was all about the character.

WFCR's home studio on the Amherst campus of its licensee, the University of Massachusetts, is set among the rolling green hills and small college towns of Western Massachusetts. It is literally and figuratively far away from the largest city in its coverage area, Springfield. The station decided to enhance its reporting from Springfield by basing part of its news staff right in the city.

The concept

Another view of the control room looking into the studio. Photo by Scott Tulay/Juster Pope Frazier.

The facility would need a single control room, a studio for four people, and an office for two reporters and two interns. Space was leased from Springfield's public television station, WGBY, which occupies an old warehouse renovated 30 years ago.

Beyond functionality, the WFCR space also needed an identity that would distinguish it from the television offices that surround it. This would help convey the message that the radio station is now physically, as well as in its programming, a part of the Springfield community.

The 1,145-square-foot space is rectangular in shape, allowing the main working space to be only 15' wide — not bad but somewhat limiting the options for room layout. A suspended ceiling had been hung 7' above the floor to accommodate existing ductwork, even though the full ceiling height of the old warehouse was almost 10'.

In addition, an interstate highway runs past the building on one side and a railroad track on another. And the studio was to be built within an office area of the television station, with the potential for noise to pass from office to radio studio and vice versa.

The studio looking into the control room. Photo by Scott Tulay/Juster Pope Frazier.

On the technical side, the facility had to be usable for live programming and pre-recorded news pieces. This could include discussion and call-in shows, and the local versions of national news programs like NPR's All Things Considered and Morning Edition. The control room had to support every level of news production from a single reporter recording a voice track to a fully-staffed call-in program.

Design solutions

Although WGBY had done a very good job of preserving the look and feel of the old warehouse when it renovated the building, the particular space designated for WFCR had been subdivided into many small offices with ordinary walls and that low ceiling. Architect Kevin Chrobak, principal architect of Juster Pope Frazier, immediately saw that reclaiming the old posts and beams, brick wall and high ceilings would give character and warmth to a modern radio facility. The existing television offices had to be completely demolished and something new created that would blend the old and the new.

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