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All Classical Radio Gains a Historic Headquarters

Music will soar from the station's new skyscraper home

With the help of a generous benefactor, classical music — and classical music lovers — will soon have a new home in Portland, Ore.

All Classical Radio, KQAC(FM), has received the largest grant in the station’s 40-year history. The M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust of Vancouver, Wash., has gifted $750,000 in support of the network’s relocation campaign. Now, All Classical Radio is in the process of building a new headquarters at the historic KOIN Tower in downtown Portland, which will include five new production studios, modernized audio/video technology and a performance hall to foster community.

KOIN Tower is a 509-foot, 35-story skyscraper next to the Willamette River in Portland, Ore. The building, the third-tallest in the city, opened in 1984. (Credit: KOIN Tower)

With the announcement of the Murdock Trust award, in addition to outside donations, the station has raised 62% of its $10 million capital campaign goal in just eight months. Demolition for the new headquarters began in August 2023 with the anticipated completion and move-in date set for July 2024.

All Classical Radio is a noncommercial educational FM radio station and multimedia network, boasting 98% locally-produced programming, including daily playlists, interviews, live performances, syndicated radio shows, podcasts and arts and culture specials. With an effective radiated power of 5.9 kW and height above average terrain of about 1,400 feet, All Classical serves more than 250,000 listeners in Oregon and southwest Washington.

The network broadcasts on FM and HD-1 on five full-service stations including KQAC Portland (its main signal), in addition to two translators. All seven signals simulcast KQAC’s programming.

All Classical also reaches international audiences via its online stream and is host to The International Children’s Arts Network (ICAN), which broadcasts 24/7 on HD-2 in addition to all seven signals.

To learn more about the station’s new media arts center, and its whimsical quirks, Radio World heard from Suzanne Nance, president and CEO of All Classical Radio, and Mike Alston, the station’s director of engineering and technology.

Renderings provided by GBD Architects.

Radio World: Describe the scope of this job. 

Suzanne Nance: Our new media center is on the third floor of KOIN Tower (formerly KOIN Center Cinema). It will feature five studios: one main broadcast studio “the Observatory” for daily live radio broadcasts, two medium-sized multimedia studios for A/V production and one dedicated studio “Studio Bee” to produce children’s content for the International Children’s Arts Network, which will also serve as a home for our youth mentorship programs. In addition, there will be a studio designated for nationally syndicated programs such as “The Score” and “Played in Oregon,” and soon to be syndicated, “Notebook” and “Sunday Brunch.”

Suzanne Nance, president and CEO of All Classic Radio. (Photo credit: Jaime Valdez)

The station will include a 100-person performance hall and a state-of-the-art recording studio, where composers and performers can create, rehearse, record and share their work. The performance space will also have a 16×9-foot LED wall screen, allowing for multimedia presentations and performances, screenings, interviews and video linkups with special guests and other broadcasters around the world.

Recognizing a regional demand, we also plan to offer studio time to outside organizations, artists, journalists, podcasters and community partners.

The build-out of our new media arts center will allow All Classical Radio to support and launch artists’ careers, helping them build creative portfolios and reach new audiences. All Classical will also be better positioned to expand its award-winning Recording Inclusivity Initiative, by producing new recordings in-house to be released and distributed globally by our partner record label Navona at PARMA.

Floorplan provided by GBD Architects.

RW: Why was the KOIN Tower chosen as the ideal location? 

Nance: All Classical’s lease was expiring at the Hampton Opera Center in Portland’s central eastside. Jake Lancaster, an advisor to the station in commercial real estate matters for over a decade, helped identify options for our new location. Through a painstakingly measured process, we identified the iconic KOIN Tower as the best fit for our new home. Our new space used to house KOIN cinema.

What began as a place to gather for communal arts experiences, was always destined to be brought back to life for public arts events.

It is gratifying to reinvigorate that space with arts and cultural programming. Having a state-of-the-art, intimate performance hall and recording studio in our center will be transformative for our service and our regional artists. The unique LED screen will offer innovative opportunities for exhibits, interviews and multi-media performance art.

The new media arts center is 15,643 square feet, which is [roughly] 3,000 square feet larger than our current headquarters. Home of Portland’s CBS affiliate TV station KOIN, the tower is uniquely equipped to house our two 24-hour radio stations [KQAC and the International Children’s Arts Network] with enough power and technical capacity to ensure a stable energy supply.

There were a few more considerations that made this a good home for us, including an unobstructed line of sight between All Classical’s antenna and our broadcast towers in Portland’s Southwest Hills (Sylvan Tower and Skyline Tower), and optimal equipment placement for performance and regular maintenance.

RW: Who is leading the technical project for the station and who else is involved in working on it? 

Nance: It is massively important to collaborate with the right team on a project of this scope and it has been rewarding and invigorating to work with such incredible partners. All Classical’s board and management team have been instrumental in the process, namely Board Chair Elaine Durst, COO Matt Kovich and Operations Manager Kristina Becker.

Our brilliant engineering team, including All Classical Radio’s Director of Engineering & Technology Mike Alston and long-time engineering consultant Dave Doherty, are integral to this move. Mike and Dave are partnering with ZTransform for integration of the broadcast systems and Listen Acoustics for acoustic wizardry on the performance hall and production studios. Everything in this space has been so thoughtfully designed (thanks to GBD Architects led by Scott Brown and Taylor Pasic) including but not limited to the overall aesthetic, creative community gathering spaces, advanced studio designs and a very sophisticated HVAC system.

RW: What were the major hardware or software systems chosen? 

Mike Alston: We’ve selected Axia’s AoIP system for broadcast and [an] ENCO automation system. In the performance hall we have Grace Design preamplifiers, Dante audio routing, Telos Infinity IP Intercom Systems and an Allen & Heath mixing console. Our microphones in the hall will be a collection of Schoeps, AKG and Sennheiser. We’re going with Electro-Voice RE27s for the production studio microphones.

Floorplan provided by GBD Architects.

RW: In your opinion why is this project special — what would a fellow engineer find most interesting about it?

Alston: This atmosphere is extremely unique for a radio station and gives us a great opportunity to build a state-of-the-art, acoustically pleasing recording studio, performance hall and radio station. This space used to be a movie theater, and the high ceilings in particular offer a lot of opportunity sonically.

RW: What were other technical considerations for this build-out?

Alston: While there is an extensive history of radio in this space — CBS Radio were former tenants — construction of the production and recording studios and performance hall has presented unique challenges.

The floors in the performance space and on-air observatory are being raised to create acoustical isolation from the tenants above and below.

We have also worked extensively with our team to design an ideal HVAC system for radio and recording, from acoustical considerations to maintaining the ability for All Classical to control the HVAC system ourselves during hours when a typical office worker would not be present in the building.

Click on the photo to toggle through pictures of the construction process (taken Jan. 2024).

RW: What other creative elements and interesting quirks will liven the space? 

Nance: Our music library will be on display for staff and guests: there will be a wall of music displaying many of the CDs used to create our daily playlists, (now digitized) with a rolling ladder to access the albums. In addition, the lobby will feature a record player (we do love vinyl), and a typewriter so guests can type and post a message about the station and their visit. The typewriter is a nod to a local journalist who is helping to fund All Classical’s capital campaign to build this new media arts center, and to one of All Classical’s flagship shows, Notebook, which is a radio program about music and literature.

Right outside of the [International Children’s Arts Network’s] “Studio Bee,” we’ve designed a reading nook, created by Taylor Pasic of GBD Architects. The design is whimsical with a wooden tree built into the nook with dangling fairy lights off the branches, a colorful bookshelf and a comfy cocoon chair.

We welcome visual art. There will be two vestibules that will function as rotating art galleries in our space, and there are two very large mural walls in the center.

We also aim to celebrate the beauty of our natural surroundings through wood provided by Oregon Lumber Company and a design that incorporates birds throughout the center, in architectural plans (with GBD architects) and bespoke art pieces with local artist Hana Rucker. Some [birds] will be Rucker’s sculptures and some birds will be a featured design in the wood. Donors contributing to the campaign may also have an opportunity to name a bird. Yes, I suppose this is our version of “put a bird on it!”

A rendering of All Classical’s breakroom. Note the birds on the wall.

[Check Out More of Radio World’s Facility Showcases]