Each morning since late November, the first thing Brent Johnson has done when he walked into his office in The Tower at 1301 Gervais Street in downtown Columbia is look out his window.
Off to the southwest, peeking over the tops of state government buildings, he can make out the upper deck at Williams-Brice Stadium.
For Johnson, operations manager for Cumulus Media Columbia and WNKT-FM, 107.5 The Game, that view symbolizes his station’s role as flagship for the University of South Carolina football, basketball, baseball and other broadcasts, and how far he and the five-station Cumulus operation have come – lately, literally.
Earlier this month, Cumulus completed its month-long-plus move from cramped, aging offices and studios in Cayce to its new, spacious and centrally located base of operations. Its footprint covers 9,907 square feet on three floors at the corner of Gervais and Sumter Streets.
The move is not complete. On a recent afternoon as Jay Philips and Michael Haney did their “Halftime” show, equipment, furniture and other gear for 107.5 and Cumulus’ other four stations were stacked everywhere, with station personnel working around the clutter. Still, no one’s complaining, Johnson said.
“I see (the move) as a reward for our team,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of long-time employees” – including Johnson, a 23-year veteran – “who deserve a facility like this.”
Call it a reward for success, too. Since October, when IHeartMedia (formerly Clear Channel) abdicated local sports programming between 6 a.m.-3 p.m. while moving its remaining sports shows to 1400 AM from its previous, stronger 560 AM signal, 107.5 has pretty much owned the Midlands market. Now, it has a facility that indicates that.
The first floor, which shares an address with Bank of America and was previously home to the South Carolina Radio Network, houses Cumulus’ studios. Sales and management offices occupy the seventh and eighth floors. Plans are for an open house after the holidays, Johnson said.
Of course, even then, few listeners will ever visit 107.5’s home. But Johnson believes they’ll “hear” the difference – not just in less background noise thanks to improved acoustics, but in his broadcasters’ voices. A new facility, he said, equates to happy workers.
“We wanted to be in the heart of the business community, in a place where we can bring clients in and they can see all-new everything,” Johnson said. “You want to be proud of what you have – and we think (USC) will be proud, too.”
Since 2002, when Citadel Communications (WTCB-FM) won USC’s broadcast rights from Clear Channel, Gamecocks broadcasts originated in studios off U.S. 321. Cumulus Media took over Citadel three years ago and, after negotiating a four-year contract renewal with USC in 2012, plans were made to move and upgrade the workplace.
“At a time when a lot of broadcasters are not investing in (infrastructure), it shows us a vote of confidence,” said Johnson, who credited Cumulus Columbia vice president/market manager Rick Prusator with the logistics. “Rick said to corporate, ‘Let’s do it,’ and they made it a reality.”
Not an inexpensive one, either; Cumulus’ new location has state-of-the-art control boards, microphones, a new audio operations system (OpX), and a Web-based remote system to replace a phone-line predecessor. Johnson would not give the total costs of the move and facility but called it a “hefty sum.”
Sales personnel moved first, on Oct. 13, and 107.5’s on-air staff did so four days before the USC-South Alabama football game. The most involved switch was relocating Cumulus’ microwave satellite dish to its new rooftop site. “Ed Noyes, our chief engineer, worked on his birthday,” Johnson said, “but he said that was a small price to pay.”
The 107.5 weekday lineup is unchanged, from the three-man cast (Benji Norton, Bob Shields and Tommy Moody) of the 6 a.m.-9 a.m. “Early Game” to the solo operation of “Game Time with Heath Cline” (4-7 p.m.).
Case in point: Radio Ink, a trade magazine, recently ranked Cline, a Florida native, as one of the nation’s Top 30 (26th) local sports-talk hosts. “We don’t take (success) for granted,” Johnson said. “It takes a lot of work.”
The station is more than USC sports, having added high school coverage (Johnson says former WLTX-TV sports anchor Shields was instrumental there) and NFL games from Westwood One, which Cumulus bought.
Cumulus Columbia stations include: B106.7, NASH-FM 98.9, KISS 103.1 FM, 107.5 The Game, and Sports Radio 1320 The Fan