MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - When the studio lights were drawn down at 11 p.m. Friday, a chapter in the history of WSFA Television closed. That moment marked the end of the final broadcast to originate from the station’s original East Delano Avenue studios in west Montgomery.
It’s been 65 years since WSFA signed on back on Dec. 25, 1954. If every day were a page in the station’s history book, Friday, March 27, 2020 would have been page No. 23,834! That’s a long time in one place, as many of our employees can attest. Some have spent decades on Delano, including one member marking 45 years of service!
Needless to say, it was a bittersweet moment. Now, it’s time for something new and very exciting. Our new home.
The move hasn’t come without considerable planning and training, and there were many technical obstacles to overcome. But we’re ready to take on the task, and we promise it will be an upgrade that will greatly benefit you, our viewers.
WSFA 12 News viewers only got their first outward indications that a move was in the works in November. One Saturday morning, a crane lifted two giant WSFA logos to the top of 445 Dexter Avenue, revealing our new downtown home.
The calls were almost immediate and viewers wanted to know what was happening. By that point, though, the planning process had already been well underway for several years.
SLIDESHOW: THE SIGNS GO UP!
Back up to October 2017. An email went out to employees regarding a station meeting. “Huge news,” its subject line said. Such meetings are rare, and questions in a building full of journalists quickly started to pile up.
Station General Manager Mark Bunting and senior officials with our then-parent company Raycom Media, now Gray Television, would soon break the news. A move was in the works and, after pouring over a number of options, the decision was made to renovate the seventh floor of the RSA Avenue Dexter Building near the Alabama Capitol.
WSFA would share the floor with Raycom’s recently acquired CNHI newspaper group. The process of transitioning WSFA 12 News from one location to another was not exactly simple, as that email would show.
“We anticipate the move to take place around this time next year,” the email said. That would have been late 2018, and that clearly did not happen.
As the new station’s planning got underway, another big announcement would be made on June 25, 2018. Raycom, a private company, would be sold to Gray Television as part of a multi-billion dollar deal. The pending sale slowed the station’s transition, with some worrying it may even fall through. But Gray ultimately announced the move would be a priority and it moved ahead.
The sale would prompt a change, however. As part of the Raycom purchase, Gray sold off CNHI, which would ultimately vacate its portion of the seventh floor, leaving WSFA 12 News with the entire floor to utilize.
Television stations are highly specialized facilities and the transition process has been slow and methodical. Bids went out and final approval was awarded. Then, construction started.
Leading the WSFA team is Chief Engineer Morris Pollack, who has 38 years in the business. This is his second television station build from the ground up and his fifth rebuild overall.
Morris says the search for the perfect site started four years ago, while physical work has been underway in one form or another for the last year-and-a-half.
Through it all, WSFA’s engineers had to overcome hurdles that, at times, seemed almost insurmountable. Where would the station store its large fleet of news vehicles, including large satellite trucks and StormTracker12? Where would all the satellites and broadcasting towers be installed? Then there were the issues of running at least 20 to 30 miles of wiring through the ceiling and building generators to keep the station’s critical systems online but independent of the building’s power supply.
One by one, each challenge was overcome and on March 28, all systems were go for a 6 p.m. launch.
Our first priority has always been to keep our viewers informed. From our 12 East Delano Avenue studios, we’ve covered major stories for decades from the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott, the 1965 Selma to Montgomery March, to local children’s programming like “Young World” and “Cartoon Carl”.
There’s also been political and sports news, and a considerable amount of severe weather coverage along the way. We’ll continue bringing you the best coverage, regardless of our location. That will never change.
The move has been a bit more complicated that turning out the lights, locking the doors and driving over to the new station. The actual moving process has been underway for several months with a phased approach.
Our sales department packed and was first to move to the new station in late January. Human resources and marketing moved in mid-February, only to be followed by all master control operations in early March.
The news department was slated to complete the move in mid-March with a first broadcast set for March 14, but technology needs and the ongoing coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic caused a two-week delay.
Join us at 6 p.m., and come back to read more about our exciting new home soon!
The first newscast debuted with new graphics and music at 6 p.m. Saturday, March 28. Valorie Lawson and Mark Bullock anchored from the main set while Chief Meteorologist Josh Johnson has a new weather center loaded with advanced forecasting tools.
The studio is fully automated with robotic cameras mounted from the ceiling. Each show is specifically scripted with camera movements for a seamless transition between each report.
Multiple monitors make up the main background, which can be transitioned to any number of views. Newscasts feature a backdrop of the Montgomery skyline.
Located behind the set is a new state-of-the-art master control center and area for the director of each broadcast.
SLIDESHOW: Views from the new WSFA studios
We certainly have a plan for 12 East Delano Avenue, and we’ll share that with you very soon!