This weekend, the group owner will open a new 27,000-square-foot facility that will house its duopoly of WPTY (ABC) and WLMT (CW), plus WJKT, the Fox affiliate in adjacent Jackson, Tenn. The facility will produce 43.5 hours of HD news each week, with WPTY using JVC’s GY-HM650 and 700-series cameras in the field and JVC GY-HD250s in the studio. Master control will be running Sundance automation software.
Nexstar Broadcasting’s duopoly-plus-one in Memphis received a $5 million facelift that not only includes moving to a state-of-the-art news production facility and going live in high definition, but also being completely rebranded with new call letters and a more local website name.
The new home for the three-station operation — the Memphis duopoly WPTY (ABC) and WLMT (CW), plus WJKT, the Fox affiliate in adjacent Jackson, Tenn. (DMA 149) — is a 27,000-square-foot building in the Shelby Oaks Corporate Park, whose other tenants include Keebler, Honeywell and Pfizer. The stations have been housed in an aging five-story building in midtown Memphis.
The facility won’t display any of the call letters outside, says Blake Russell, Nexstar SVP of stations operations, but it will look like a brand new station to the more than 700,000 TV viewers that call Memphis and Jackson home.
WPTY ABC 24, the station that produces the news that simulcasts on WLMT and WJKT, is re-launching as WATN Local 24 starting this weekend, and its website will change from ABC24.com to LocalMemphis.com.
Ardyth Diercks, VP and GM of the three stations, said the branding change reflects the company’s deep commitment in serving the local Memphis community.
“We are re-dedicating ourselves to the local Memphis/Jackson community with the debut of our new technologically advanced operations center and innovative local news programming that will feature an updated, modern look, including new sets, high definition studio cameras, enhanced meteorological forecasting technology and advanced weather and traffic presentation equipment,” she said.
The new facility will produce 43.5 hours of HD news each week — 36.5 hours for WPTY, 12 hours for WLMT and seven hours for WJKT. WPTY is the last news-producing station in Memphis to go to HD.
“In this day and age, not everyone can put out the funding for something like this,” says Russell about the estimated $5 million project. “Building this new facility with a whole new look gives the advertising community and the community that watches us something to be proud of and shows our investment in the mid-South.”
The new facility is a former MCI call center with a “really nice technical base,” Russell says. “It has one of the biggest generators you’ve ever seen, UPS cabinets and an impressive tech core with a raised floor that lends itself to us very nicely.”
The tech core was the only area in the building that wasn’t demolished. A wall was installed down the middle of it, with channel racks on one side and master control on the other. The rest of the building was completely gutted.
Currently, there are three racks for each of the three stations, Russell says, with nine additional open racks alongside it, allowing for future growth. “As we decide to add in additional markets, this facility will be used as a central hub.”
WPTY will use JVC’s GY-HM650 and 700-series cameras in the field and the JVC GY-HD250 in the studio. For now, the station is opting for 16:9 SD from the field.
“We’re trying to make the biggest impact on the presentation,” Russell says. “I don’t think the biggest impact of the presentation is letting people see a reporter package for four or five seconds in HD.”
For ENG backhaul, the station uses TVU’s bonded cellular systems to go live from the field along with microwave and satellite trucks.
Nexstar also bought a TVU system for KARK Little Rock, Ark., so that KARK reporters can go live from the Arkansas capital several times a week for WPTY.
“The Memphis market sits right on the Mississippi River and we have a lot of people in Arkansas that watch our television stations in Memphis,” says Russell. “No other station has the ability to do this. It’s another unique piece of content that we’re able to pass along.”
The stations used Ross Overdrive to automate its news production at the old, midtown facility, says Russell, but they won’t be using it in the new facility.
“I just think that you have much more control over the quality of the presentation of your product if you’re not sitting on automation and putting all your eggs in one basket with one or two guys that hopefully aren’t sick that day.
“Until someone tells me otherwise, and especially with the investment you have to make in studio cameras and mechanisms for control, I just like to have the human intervention to control the type of product that we put out there to our clients and viewers.”
The decision not to continue with automation is no slight to Ross, Russell says. Inside the production room, there will be a technical director, graphics operator, a producer, prompter operator and an audio operator, working on a Ross Vision switcher and Ross XPression graphics.
Master control will continue running automation software by Sundance, as it did at the old facility.
The station is recycling the set of Nexstar-operated KLRT Little Rock, Ark., which consolidated with KARK in December 2012.
Russell says the set was a perfect fit after some slight cosmetic updates. “We were able to control our destiny by being able to move that over and re-commission the set for another market that, quite candidly, hadn’t seen anything like it.”
The KLRT set was fairly new, as the station had converted to HD before the consolidation. At its old location, WPTY didn’t have a full set.
“When the anchors presented news, they stood up with a monitor next to them — there was no real anchor desk. They’re going from a teeny-tiny studio to a 40-foot-by-64-foot studio that you could literally park a truck in,” he says.
The set will have some flexibility. During the 5 p.m. newscast, the station will broadcast from the anchor desk with the working newsroom and assignment desk in the background.
For the 10 p.m. newscast, when there isn’t as much activity in the newsroom, a duratrans will be placed behind the anchor desk that will show a skyline of Memphis. Russell says the duratrans for the morning newscast will likely have a different, “morning-type” look.
The set will also have presentation areas for weather and traffic and an “offshoot area” for a morning show or for groups like choirs, Russell says.
The stations’ weather system — WSI (Weather Central) Fusion — will be updated to the latest version, which includes more 3D imagery and storytelling features, in addition to social media integration.
The stations have been using Weather Central’s traffic solution, Russell says, but they opted for Beat the Traffic’s solution in the new facility. “For practicalities and other things we had going on, we decided to go with Beat the Traffic.”
Nexstar’s stations in Fresno, Calif. — KGPE and KSEE — also use Beat the Traffic.
This summer, Nexstar stations, including WPTY, will receive a website facelift, as part of a group-wide effort to modernize their design, according to Diercks.
WPTY has a time-lapse video of construction at the building available on its website here.