TV 9 Moving Operation To State-of-Art Facility

 WTVC-TV, NewsChannel 9, is moving. To a new $6.5 million, state-of-the-art facility, that is. A week from today, the local ABC affiliate will begin broadcasting from its new headquarters on Benton Road off Highway 153's Highway 58 exit. "We were landlocked where we were," said Jerry Lingerfelt, vice president and general manager of the station which has occupied quarters in the Golden Gateway downtown for the past 33 years. "We had 17,000 square feet in the old building, and no room to expand," he said. "Now we have 27,000 square feet of space on three acres of land and we're centrally located, just 10 minutes from downtown." BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, owner of the property being vacated by NewsChannel 9, will absorb the TV station's former space for its own corporate operations, said Ron Harr, vice president of communication for the insurance company. The television station project, headed by TWH architects and Schaerer Contracting, was two years in the making and involved the input of numerous engineers, designers and station planners as well as NewsChannel 9 employees. "We asked each person what they needed and sent their requests to the station planner and the architect," Mr. Lingerfelt said. The result is a spacious, one-story building that houses the latest in office and broadcasting equipment, including the station's newest acquisition, a Doppler Radar System acquired in partnership with Erlanger Health Systems. "The Doppler represents the single biggest improvement we've made -- the weather center," he said. "We've put $800,000 in new equipment in the weather center and hope to have the Doppler up and running right after the first of the year." The move also completes NewsChannel 9's transformation from analog to digital broadcasting, the first local station to do so, said Steve Hunsicker, news director. "Digital gives us a lot more capability. All the stations are converting now," he said. Outside, views of Lookout and Signal Mountains form a backdrop to the satellite dishes that line the parking lot. A stone entranceway in the shape of a giant "9" leads to the reception area. Access to the newsroom and offices requires an electronic card. "It's a safety feature, but one most newsrooms are having to go to," Mr. Lingerfelt said. Inside, workers hurried to put the finishing touches on the newsroom, production studios, audio and master control rooms, and laying the miles and miles of cable that snake beneath the tile flooring. "We have 30 miles of cable just for the phone and computer systems," Mr. Hunsicker said, sidestepping a mass of wires. Although the first broadcast from the new studio won't occur until Dec. 17, support staff and personnel have already moved into their new work stations. "We expect the actual transition will go pretty smoothly," Mr. Hunsicker predicted. "We'll do a few practice runs before the live broadcast." While the new facility and equipment are Y2K compliant, the new station boasts a diesel-powered generator large enough to keep NewsChannel 9 on the air in the event of any power failures or emergencies. NewsChannel 9 is owned by Free Communications, based in Irvine, Calif.

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