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A Home for Music That “Inspires and Restores the Human Spirit”

KMFA in Austin creates an open, welcoming space for listeners and visitors

KMFA Classical 89.5 in Austin, Texas, could finally throw open its doors for an open house in the spring of 2022, inviting the public to tour a beautiful new facility that was completed a year and a half earlier during the pandemic.

The independent public station serves 120,000 listeners each week with locally produced shows like “Classical Austin” and “From the Butler School” as well as nationally distributed programming from Public Radio International, American Public Media and National Public Radio.

This upstairs lobby serves the station offices and is a landing spot for visitors entering from the downstairs reception area.

The 18,000-square-foot facility is the first purpose-built home for the 55-year-old station. It is designed to be open and welcoming for live audiences and visitors, according to Anthony McSpadden, director of broadcasting and content.

KMFA’s “Sound Garden” is an interactive ecosystem of playable sculptures that merge historic musical instrument designs — Stroh horns, diddly bows, organ pipes, marching band instruments — with household materials (copper plumbing, fireplace bellows, plants) and contemporary controllers, contact mics and proximity sensors. It was designed by artist and musician Steve Parker.

The 135-seat Draylen Mason Music Studio is a performance space and state-of-the-art recording facility equipped with a Steinway Spirio / r high-resolution piano, tracking studio and two production studios separated by glass. Those are upstairs, while the air studio (along with a Steinway Model B grand piano) is downstairs adjacent to the main lobby.

“What sets KMFA apart from most other stations is that its studios are as much a gathering space as they are designed for the purpose of radio broadcasting,” McSpadden said.

Announcer Dianne Donovan in the main air studio.

“KMFA wants listeners to visit us, see the radio station they listen to and come to events here. The open spaces serve to create areas where people can gather in casual groups, and refreshments can be served.” 

The interior features subtle reminders of the station’s personality.

“For example, there are horizontal, wood-faced ceiling beams meant to evoke the lines of music manuscript paper. And on a prominent feature wall, there are tiles in black and white designed to mimic the visual image of a digital sound file — in this case, it’s Rossini’s ‘William Tell Overture,’ the first piece of music played on KMFA in 1967. In addition, we prominently display the technology running our building and on-air systems as well as our 40,000-CD library in a way that visitors can easily view.”

The ceiling treatments reflect and distribute sound while providing a striking visual presence. They were designed by acousticians from BAi LLC, headed by Richard Boner, in Austin.

The project was led by Engineer Phil Pollack until he left in 2019, at which point McSpadden took the lead. Anne Peterson, KMFA’s director of finance, played a key project role. The architect was Austin’s Sixth River, with interior design by STG. The acousticians were BAi LLC, led by principal Richard Boner. 

The building is new and designed for KMFA, which owns it.

The performance space technical plant was designed and installed by Big House Sound, while broadcast and production studio equipment was installed by KMFA staff.

The facility uses Axia broadcast consoles, with an Allen & Heath Avantis console in the performance space. Beck Integrating Media Solutions built the furniture for the air studio. Paravel Systems Rivendell Automation, GatesAir Intraplex with twin fiber connections and Telos Z/IP One codecs support important broadcast functions. Microphones range from Electro-Voice and Sennheiser to Rode, AKG and Neumann; McSpadden has also added a suite of mics from Austin-area manufacturer Warm Audio to the mic locker.

The project was funded entirely by community gifts totaling $10.5 million.

This story is excerpted from the free ebook “Spectacular Radio Studios 2023.”

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