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March 12, 2001

After hectic move, KHQ makes smooth transition

By Erica Curless
The Spokesman-Review

Audiences probably didn’t notice the small audio blip during “Saturday Night Live,” but for KHQ-TV it was history.

That 1 a.m. blip Sunday signaled the first broadcast from the television station’s new $15 million studio at 1201 W. Sprague.

Moving the signal was the easy part. All through the night, workers dismantled the old studio at 4202 S. Regal. From the end of the Saturday 11 p.m. newscast, workers had less than 16 hours to load the moving vans and reassemble everything, including the weather center, at the downtown location.

The 5 p.m. newscast was the deadline – the first live performance from the new headquarters. And they made it in plenty of time.

Newscasters and technical crews practiced all week to make sure they knew how to operate the new equipment.

An hour before showtime Sunday, operations manager Scott Blair poked his head from under a console in the master control room where he was checking some wires.

Disheveled and weary, Blair stood and looked around the glass- encased room that allows visitors to watch the action from the lobby.

He hadn’t slept in more than 24 hours.

“My energy seems to come in waves,” he said. “I just had a cookie and that helped.”

But with a proud smile, Blair admitted loss of sleep was a fair price.

As the “On Air” light popped on and the cameras began to roll, relief filled the control booth. A round of smiles shot around the room before the crew turned its concentration back to the show.

More is new than the building and the 60 miles of wire and cable that enable the station to operate. KHQ-TV became the first television station in Spokane to go digital, leaving the analog system to the history books.

“The way we do our job is extremely different than it was 24 hours ago,” said news director Patricia McRae.

President and General Manager Lon Lee said audiences will probably see few differences, but they exist. The station spent $2 million on the new equipment.

“Digital cameras are nice on the skin,” Lon explained while showing off the new features. “It doesn’t highlight the wrinkles and it doesn’t fatten you up.”

The station had outgrown its South Hill home, which was built in 1952. The electrical system couldn’t keep pace with technical advance, the air conditioners were inadequate and there just wasn’t enough space.

The new 53,000-square-foot building, which fills a downtown block, solves all those problems and is designed to keep pace with the station’s growth for the next 50 years.

Planning for the new station began in 1998.

To ensure that the new building fit in with its historic downtown neighbors, architects matched the bricks to blend in with the other red brick buildings.

Yet once inside, the station takes on an art deco flavor with red walls, lots of glass and natural light.

“It’s phenomenal, just terrific,” said Lee, who has overseen the project from blueprint to Sunday’s first news broadcast.

KHQ is owned by Cowles Publishing Co., which also owns The Spokesman-Review.

Although opening day put most staffers in a celebratory mood, some couldn’t help but mourn the old building.

Chief photographer Jeff Hite has worked for KHQ for 20 years and said many significant events have happened in his life while at the South Hill location.

“I was working here when I got married,” he said of the former site.

“I worked here when I bought my first house. I was working here when my son was born.”

Staff writer Ryan Blethen contributed to this report.

Monday, March 21, 2001


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