portland’s classical station prepares for major upgrade

Last week, I was fortunate to get a chance to take a guided tour of the still under-construction studios of Portland’s classical radio station, AllClassical 89.9. My tour guide was none other than CEO Jack Allen, and also along to check on progress were Vice President for Technology Larry Holtz, Operations Administrator Jordan Lewis, music director John Pitman, and on-air host Edmund Stone.

To call the transition that the station is about to undergo an upgrade is akin to calling trading up from an old 12″ black and white tube television to a 55″ high definition plasma display flat screen tv a mere upgrade. This new facility will, quite literally, catapult the station into the 21st century and prepare it for a long and vibrant future as the hub of Portland’s fine arts and culture community. Let’s take a look! (Note: click on any of the images to view them at full size)

Here’s a schematic of the new station – the current facility (which opened in 1992) is about 4400 square feet. The new one will be over 12,000 square feet, with 800 of that leased to Friends of Chamber Music. So there will be triple the amount of available space!

Schematic of the new space.

The station will take up the entire second level of the Hampton Opera Center, located right on the Eastbank Esplanade at the foot of the new light rail/pedestrian bridge over the Willamette. Plans are for the move to take place in May 2014, with the first air date from the new facility taking place in time for the June fundraising drive.

The first space one encounters entering the space is the reception area, with its own sweeping view of the Willamette and the new pedestrian bridge:

Reception lobby, with (L to R), Edmund Stone, John Pitman, and Jack Allen.
Reception desk area, with view of the new light rail bridge.

To the right of the reception area will be the AllClassical cafe, where visitors can enjoy a cup of coffee and a snack while looking at the river views outside:

all classical cafe view
Cafe view.
View from master control.

A trip to the left leads one into the membership department, which includes the all important phone center for taking membership pledges during the fundraising drives (you ARE a member, right? I am, and proudly so!).  And right next to the membership phone room is the heart of the new facility, Master Control, which also features a sweeping view of the Willamette, and will sport a $17000 broadcast desk that will gimbal on its axis 360 degrees to allow on air hosts to look outside or over at the membership ‘bullpen’ as needs dictate.

master control
Master control, with (L to R) Jordan Lewis, Edmund Stone, and Jack Allen.


john pittman and jack allen in the master control room
john pitman and jack allen in the master control room

Just beyond Master Control, as one turns 90 degrees around the core of the building, are three production suites, one large and two small, which will allow group interviews, either live or taped, for on air hosts and their guests. John Pitman was particularly excited about this, as both he and John Burk (Vice President of Programming) will have their own offices with their own production capabilities, leaving these three suites for the exclusive use of the on-air staff.  This will mean much easier scheduling of interviews and most likely eliminate the need to reserve space far in advance in order to avoid schedule conflicts. All of the production suites as well as master control are sound insulated with a special material called Mineral Sound Insulation (MFI), which absorbs a wide range of frequencies and enables simultaneous use of all of the production facilities at any time.

Past the production area comes what I, as a performer, am most excited about! There will be a dedicated space to live performances! Steinway is donating a new grand piano each year, and local and international musicians alike will be able to come to the studio and share their music with on-air and streaming audiences around the world, as well as in studio audience members. It’s a capability that the current facility used to have, but has since been cannibalized to make room for staff production quarters. The ability to have school children come in and tour the station, and hear live music from world-class performers, was one of the primary reasons that Jack Allen wanted to have a live performance facility in the new building. There will also be the ability to have outdoor performances next to the esplanade as weather conditions allow.

Jordan Lewis, John Pitman, Jack Allen, Edmund Stone, and Larry Holtz stand in the new performance space (now full of sound insulation).

The space outside the performance suite will be open and easily reconfigured to allow for audience seating, receptions, and catering for events.

The far walls of this largest room in the station are given to the executive offices, all of which will be open plan with glass partitions. The entire station is going to be open to a tremendous amount of natural light, with glass interior walls being used as often as feasible, and which also will allow for a feeling of openness and free flowing space for the staff members to interact with more spontaneity that the current facility allows with its many closed in spaces.

Continuing counter-clockwise around the building’s core, we pass by the space that will be leased by Friends of Chamber Music for their offices, as well as the staff kitchen and the very Star Trek looking Terminal Operations Center, which will house the vast array of computers and electronics that are required to keep a modern radio station and internet streaming facility up and running – not to mention that Jordan Lewis finally gets his own office right across the hall in which to do his technical wizardry!

On the south side of the building comes the production bullpen area, where the on-air hosts are corralled when not actually on the air with their silver tongues and velvety voices. John Burk and John Pitman each have their offices in this area as well.

Edmund Stone surveys the production offices ‘corral’.

Adjoining this space will be the new music library, which will finally be able to house all of the music collection in one dedicated space, with a capacity of around 34,000 CD’s. Music Director John Pitman is overjoyed at this development – he no longer will have to hunt for recordings in boxes next to his desk, or scattered down the hallways of the current building!

So, all in all, this new building for All Classical is a tremendous development, and will enable the station to continue to produce its own high quality, locally produced content for both the terrestrial listening area and the national and international streaming audiences. If you’re interested in contributing to the building campaign, you can find out more here, at the station’s On the Move page.

I’m tremendously excited about the many possibilities that the new facility will allow for hearing live performances, both in person and on-air, and I believe that after this move is completed, All Classical 89.9 may well be the happiest classical radio station on the planet! That bodes well for all of us lucky listeners!