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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

New KPRC building moves channel 2 into 21st century

MIKEMCGUFF.COM EXCLUSIVE: As the first new TV station to be built in Houston since the 1990s, KPRC is building for the future of TV and employee happiness - get your first look

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Dave Strickland and Jerry Martin in new KPRC 2 newsroom SEE MORE PHOTOS

As I followed KPRC 2 VP/General Manager Jerry Martin through the hallways of the Graham Media Group station's future home, it became apparent that he has paid close attention to every little detail.

"Yeah, it's taken up a lot of extra time every day," Martin told "So there's a lot on the general manager to get it done and get it done on time, on budget, etc. So it's my baby, yeah."

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Still required to wear hardhats, the tour of Martin, news director Dave Strickland and myself encountered busy construction workers in practically every nook and cranny of the building site.

A representative from DPR Construction told me it has around 100 staffers working on the new 65,000 square foot station, being built directly behind KPRC's soon-to-be old building in the former parking lot. The current station has been there since the early 1970s.

"It was a great building, and I'm not trying to say anything about the architecture or this building, but it just doesn't lend itself to 2016 broadcasting," Martin admitted. "So, normally I think what would've happened is we would've just rehabbed this building, done a serious rehab. And we looked at that. But at the end of the day, we ended up with, a better building, but not a great building. And when we looked at building one in our own parking lot and we did the math on it, the difference between rehabbing this one the correct way and a new building, it wasn't too much of a difference."

And 2016 broadcasting means lots of computer servers and thousands of cable runs. The new building keeps all of that in mind, plus growth for KPRC's digital strategies with two control rooms and studios.

Then there is the employee morale factor.

The current KPRC newsroom looks like a bunker. That's because it was the home of the NBC affiliate's newscasts from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s. As a result there could be no windows. Once the news set was moved back to its own studio, the news department now lives in a big gray room with fluorescent lighting. A few artifacts from the old set remain. One employee joked to me it was hard to tell when Hurricane Ike was actually hitting the building with its Brutalist architecture fortress motif.

"In our present newsroom, you wouldn't know if you're working the midnight shift or if you're working at four o'clock in the afternoon," Martin said. "So, I think for employee morale, it'll be a big deal."

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The new KPRC newsroom will be all about light and have an open concept feel similar to what you would think of an internet company. But like those dot com companies, I'm doubting there will be a foosball table and beer pong area...after all it is still a news operation! And forget about fluorescent lighting - the new station is all LED.

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Balcony (inside view) SEE MORE PHOTOS

Part of the little details that Martin pointed out to me were an upstairs balcony in the sales department where all employees can get sun light and fresh air. It's an idea Martin had from living in a condo with a big balcony.

"It's a good option for people on both floors, second floor or first floor to get outside, but not be in an enclosed space where, if it rains or happens to rain, you're not going to get rained on at all," Martin explained.

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Old and new buildings with tower SEE MORE PHOTOS

That balcony has a covered walkway jutting out of it for employees coming to/leaving work from the parking lot. Then it donned on me. How many TV stations have I ever been to that have covered employee walkways? Not many.

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The central area SEE MORE PHOTOS

Next, what Martin calls, "the wow factor." The central part of the building could be called the Times Square of KPRC where all department wings come together in a lounge area enclosed by a grand staircase. Not only is this interior part the center of the station's universe, but much like Times Square, it also has some dazzle. A giant illuminated seven foot KPRC 2 logo will adorn the wall. Martin says employees can work, meet and socialize here.

KPRC management hopes the openness and flow of the new building will lead to collaboration between employees, because unlike the current building, someone from one department could actually run into someone from another. They realized the benefit of department-wide collaboration during the station's annual Habitat for Humanity community building project.

"You end up talking and working with people that you don't necessarily see on a day-to-day basis," KPRC news director Dave Strickland told "And it's really nice, and I think that's what makes this place so unique."

Bottom line, beyond the need for technical upgrades, station management thinks the new building will help keep good employees and attract new ones. Especially as KPRC 2 has steadily moved up in the TV ratings over the last years and has good momentum going forward.

"It's a competitive business, and I think if people are considering Houston as a place to work in the TV business, that's an advantage that we're gonna have," Martin told me. "And we think we have an advantage as it is because we have a very solid management team. And we've got continuity going back now that we didn't have when I got here. We've got much better communication throughout the building, and I think this will just enhance that when we get there."

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As the station opens a new chapter with its new building, it closes another as it will demolish the long-time current building. It's location will become the parking lot. I'm told the iconic KPRC tower that decorates the I-69/Highway 59 corridor will remain. A tall vertical KPRC sign will cover the front left side of the new gray and black building.

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The new studio SEE MORE PHOTOS

March is the projected time for the first wave of staffers to move into the new building. Houston TV viewers will probably actually see a newscast from the new station in April. Martin told there will be a brand new set too. Don't ask me for details on how that will look since the studio is still under construction. There wasn't even a hint of a set in the room yet.

Meanwhile, excited KPRC employees will have to wait for their move-in day and continue parking in temporary lots. Minor discomfort aside, staffers still work interrupted in their current building and then get a chance to work in the first new television station built in Houston since FOX moved KRIV to its new studio in the 1990s.

"The statement that Graham's making and that Emily [Barr] (President & Chief Executive Officer of Graham Media Group) was making is Houston is a very important part of our station group," Martin added. "And that they're investing in the future, and they believe in broadcasting."

- FULL COVERAGE: New KPRC 2 studio building for 2017
- KPRC 2 to get a new station, plus secret of current building
- KPRC 2 new studio construction begins


KPRC channel 2 and AM were originally on Post Oak near where the Williams Tower stands today. Former 950 KPRC employee, Jim Bell, told me the old spot was actually across the street by the lake where Hidalgo and Richmond sit today.

Bill Bremer sent me this photo.

Gary Griffin of Retronuvo Media adds that KPRC's original building was a Quonset hut down Loop 610 West behind what is now the giant Houston Community College (HCC) building. That was back when the call letters were KLEE-TV.

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