New Building, New Ventures, New Hopes

ST. LOUIS - The architect's rendering of what the building will look like when finished. (Photo provided by St. Louis Public Radio.)
ST. LOUIS – The architect’s rendering of what the building will look like when finished. (Photo provided by St. Louis Public Radio.)

“Well, Good Morning, this is 90.7 KWMU broadcasting in HD from the University of Missouri – St. Louis. I’m Bob McCabe.” The St. Louis Public Radio’s approximately 271,800 strong listening audience knows this greeting well. It travels through the airwaves to their radios every morning. Soon, however, it will originate from a new location – Midtown.

St. Louis Public Radio 90.7 KWMU is nearing the completion of construction on their new studios in the Grand Center, and they will be making the move in June of 2012, with the building completed later this month. “Everything is running right on schedule.” said St. Louis Public Radio General Manager, Tim Eby.

This move has not been an overnight occurrence by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, the discussions about the move began over three years ago. “The move to Grand Center actually started early in 2008 and progressed over the summer. As I was interviewing for the position [of General Manager] it really became the firm plan…so when I came on board in early 2009, we were full on to make the move…and I started talking about the construction process at that point in time,” said Eby. The project began with an idea by Ken Kranzberg, a supporter of the University of Missouri – St. Louis (UMSL), St. Louis Public Radio, and The Grand Center, who thought that UMSL would profit from a presence in the Grand Center. During conversations, the University decided that they should move St. Louis Public Radio, along with a few classrooms, to the new building.

The station is not only closely tied to UMSL; they are part of the university. St. Louis Public Radio’s license is held by the University of Missouri Curators, who are the trustees; and all KWMU employees are employees of the university. As Eby explains it, “While we may work for UMSL and be owned by UMSL, our mission is to serve the entire community and the citizens within the region.”

Though the discussion started years ago, it wasn’t until Friday, April 15,2011 that the university and St. Louis Public Radio were finally able to break ground on their new site, located next to the Nine Network of Public Media, on Olive. “We were very worried about rain, but the weather gods were watching over us in many ways because the skies cleared…university representatives were there, representatives from The Grand Center donor community, from the Nine Network of Public Television…it was a very exciting time in terms of making the announcement and getting the thing officially started,” Said Eby.

The move to Midtown will allow the station more access to collaboration and partnerships with area theaters, museums, and the Nine Network of Public Television than they currently have secluded on UMSL’s campus. Eby is excited about the prospects. “We’re right in the heart of Midtown and Grand Center, which, as you know, is the arts and entertainment district in St. Louis. So we are going to be around all these great institutions where we think there will be opportunities to tap in and share resources, share ideas, and create programing and content and partnerships around that.”

The move will also give St. Louis Public Radio much more space. The three-story, 27,000 square-foot facility will feature two talk show studios, a multi-use studio for town-hall style meetings, two community rooms for volunteers and partners, a “green room” in which program guests can ready themselves to go on-air or to perform, and more office space. To accommodate its growth, the current station, located on UMSL’s campus, has had to add a trailer onto the back of the building. Those offices will now be able to move inside the new building. “We are going to have the space to do more local programs in the studios we’ll be adding, but we will also have more space to actually house news reporters and producers. Right now, we have run out of space in our newsroom in the station. That is really the most substantial piece of what we are going to be able to do – produce more local programming and news stories,” said Eby.

The station hopes to hire more local news reporters to cover the region.  “We have a list of beat areas that we want to have a reporter focusing on; education, the economy, arts and culture, the environment, sustainability, health-care. All of these are areas where they can contribute reports during shows like Morning Edition, and All Things Considered, and provide expertise during our 11:00am talk show,” said Eby. In addition, they will be filing stories for NPR, so more stories about St. Louis will show up on NPR’s national programing. “We think that local news and information for the community is going to be more and more important as time goes on.  As resources from other media outlets do less and less really substantial local new coverage and programing, we want to step in and provide that service,” he added.

The building project will also create a public media commons. “The media commons is really going to be a unique space. It’s not a large space. It’s about 12,000 square feet in total… it’s going to be a multimedia experience for someone to walk into. We’ll have projected video on a big LED screen as well as smaller video screens. One of the ideas we have is to have a microphone there where someone can stand at a certain point, and only a certain point…and have their voice amplified.” In addition, the media commons will have a screen dedicated to a live twitter feed. Users who place a certain hashtag after their tweet will have it appear on the screen. There is also talk of having visitors submit pictures, and a screen that will display the images or shadows of those images around it. “We envision an energetic space that attracts and engages people of all ages. It will be a powerful expression of how we envision the future of public media,” said Jack Galmiche, president and CEO of the Nine Network of Public Media. The idea is to create a space that is highly interactive and “to create a space that people will want to hang around for a little while, to walk through, to make a beautiful space, and space for things to happen,” said Shelly Kerley, Development Director at St. Louis Public Radio.

ST. LOUIS - An architect's rendering of what the public media commons should look like when completed. (Photo provided by St. Louis Public Radio)
ST. LOUIS – An architect’s rendering of what the public media commons should look like when completed. (Photo provided by St. Louis Public Radio)

Eby states that the station currently has a great relationship with Saint Louis University, with programs streamed from campus and faculty frequently appearing as guests on their shows. He hopes that the move will be able to open up even more opportunities for collaboration between the station and SLU, or even for SLU to cross-list classes with UMSL at the station as Washington University in St. Louis now does. “We hope now that we will have more space, we can expand our internship program,” said Eby. “Because we will be close, I think it will be a lot easier for students to participate in the things we have to offer,” added Kerley.

St. Louis Public Radio 90.7 KWMU has a multitude of plans for the building currently under construction. It will allow for new ventures, new relationships, more expansive local reporting, and a myriad of opportunities for those in the area.

The new UMSL at Grand Center building under construction. (Photo credit: TIm Eby)
ST. LOUIS – The new UMSL at Grand Center building under construction. (Photo credit: TIm Eby)

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