A new space at the Seattle Center for KEXP means more live shows for the community, but the expanded digs also include a huge upgrade in technology for the independent station.
KEXP moved into its new offices last week and gave GeekWire an inside look at the new space. With the grand opening for the public scheduled for April 16, 2016, “record store day,” the build-out has just begun, but our tour showed that the station is already putting the extra room to good use.
KEXP’s new space at 472 1st Ave North, just north of Key Arena, is about 28,000 square feet — a nearly fourfold increase in space over its old home at 113 Dexter Ave North, which was about 6,500 square feet.
The station’s donors helped raise nearly $14 million to help fund the move, and KEXP reports that it has about $1 million left to go to finish some spaces for its grand opening.
What exactly is all that space for? Most is going to be live performance and hangout space for the public, including an espresso cafe featuring high-end machines from La Marzocco, right in the lobby.
“We’re opening ourselves up to the public in a way no radio station has ever done before,” chief engineer Jamie Alls told us on the tour.
Let’s take a closer look at the space and new tech below:
KEXP’s new office boasts an open plan for its 40-plus staffers, a big upgrade since many of them had been crammed into offices at the old building or working in different offices around town. Check out the Notorious B.I.G. poster.
The entrance to the public space is bright, airy and modern. The drop cloths to the left are covering what will become the cafe, complete with those high-tech Italian espresso machines.
The front desk facing out to Seattle Center courtyard, just off 1st Avenue in Queen Anne, will greet guests.
A huge, loft-like space looks empty now, but this will be filled with a live performance stage to the left and room for audience seating. The windows look out into a Seattle Center courtyard. “We’re hoping to have a record store eventually,” Alls told us.
The new stage for public performances will be in front of the DJ booth. “We had to build it so a band could play, and we can broadcast at the same time,” Alls said. “The DJ booth is completely isolated. We had to build it so it would be soundproof, so essentially it’s like a box within a box.”
A huge project is digitizing KEXP’s vast collection, with the help of French company Dalet. The process is massive — every CD and album has to be scanned and metadata entered. The DJs still curate music from laptops and CDs right now, but they are also tapping into this digital library more and more. The new metadata system will also save them from having to manually key in details.
The library room also has a huge window facing out onto the street, so the public can see the station’s vast collection.
Alls shows us some vinyl. This is also part of the digitization project, with two scanning “CD robots” responsible for ripping the entire thing. Each robot can scan about 100 albums at one time, and do about 8,000 to 10,000 rips before they burn out. KEXP’s DJs have all left handwritten notes on albums and CDs, which will also be scanned and added to the metadata.
The servers. Not as sexy as the stage, but still, engineers can check out how the feeds are doing in real time on the computer screen.
The video editing room will take all original KEXP performances and crunch them into loadable videos for KEXP’s YouTube channel, which is becoming a primary source of content for its audiences worldwide. Currently, they have nearly 800,000 subscribers and 400 million views worldwide.
Midday DJ Cheryl Waters works the main DJ booth, which looks out over the public floor. A second DJ booth will be added in 2016 for additional streams and recording shows. Their live stream gets about 6,000 to 9,000 listeners during peak midday hours.
“We’ve always been out in front with new technology,” Waters tell us. “We were the first to live-stream, first to compress CDs, first podcast, and we’re the only DJs who still curate all our own music.”
The live performance room. Bands will set up here to record live shows for exclusive KEXP videos with at least four cameras rolling for each one. Alls told us they will be able to record up to four or five bands per day.
The engineers’ booth looks out over the live recording space. It will also have room for up to a dozen VIPs to watch performances being recorded.
There is still a ton of work to be done at KEXP, especially when it comes to updating the station’s website and app in 2016. They are looking to add more streaming content, and make digital properties even more community-based and interactive so fans can easily find one another at shows and look up events.