‘From the outhouse to the White House.’ WUKY moves up and off campus

WUKY-FM general manger Tom Godell in the recording studio that is the centerpiece of the the station's new headquarters in the former Saint Claire Recording Company headquarters at Spurr and Greendale roads in Lexington.
WUKY-FM general manger Tom Godell in the recording studio that is the centerpiece of the the station's new headquarters in the former Saint Claire Recording Company headquarters at Spurr and Greendale roads in Lexington. rcopley@herald-leader.com

More than one person asks, "Have you seen the bathrooms?"

A tour of WUKY-FM 91.3's new home at the corner of Greendale and Spurr roads on the outskirts of Lexington yields plenty of jaw dropping spaces, including the recording studio that could hold an orchestra, the spacious newsroom complete with a wet bar and general manager Tom Godell's office backed by a long deck that will soon have Adirondack chairs.

But, you have not completed the tour, the public radio station employees say, until you have seen the expansive upstairs bathrooms with black-tile walk-in showers that must tempt some staffers to wait and tidy up at the office.

"This is the nicest public radio office I have ever seen," says Godell, who like many radio people has seen more than his fair share of studios and offices.

The move has been a long-time coming.

WUKY, originally WBKY, initially went on the air in 1940 and operated since 1945 atop McVey Hall on the University of Kentucky campus. For decades, the age has showed in well-worn furniture and equipment and accommodations that could be generously described as quirky.

The search for a new home preceded Godell's time at the station, which started in 2004, and has included a few plans that did not come to fruition, such as the old North Side library location.

Then, in 2015, Godell was invited to tour a new property that had come into the UK fold.

WUKY-FM has moved off of the University of Kentucky campus to a former recording studio at the corner of Greendale and Spurr roads in Lexington, Ky. Rich Copley rcopley@herald-leader.com

Saint Claire Recording Company built a high-end studio that opened in 2005 at the intersection of Spurr and Greendale roads on the outskirts of Lexington where artists such as Alejandro Escovedo recorded. Other stars such as Dolly Parton and Bruce Springsteen have reportedly darkened its door. After the studio closed in 2013, Ann Bakhaus, president of neighboring Kentucky Eagle beer distribution bought the property and initially planned to donate it to the UK Opera program.

UK Opera director Everett McCorvey liked the space, but said his program would have limited use for it, and suggested the radio station might be interested.

"It was the best Christmas present I ever got," Godell says, recalling that December 2015 visit to the facility.

It took more than two years to plan and renovate the space enough for the station to move in and begin operating from the new facility, which it has been doing since March. And there are still numerous projects to complete, including outfitting the recording studio, where the station hopes to record musicians for broadcast, hold performances and rent to recording artists.

Godell says repeatedly that the building was built extremely well, particularly for broadcast and recording. Despite the fact that there are very active train tracks very nearby and the facility is in a flight path for Bluegrass Airport, none of that sound makes it into the broadcast or recording studios.

The WUKY-FM newsroom, which is quiet the morning after primary elections, in the station's new headquarters at Greendale and Spurr roads in Lexington, Ky. Rich Copley rcopley@herald-leader.com

Renovation included creating new broadcast studios for a variety of uses, including music, interviews and news. When the studio is up and running, the station will be able to present live music performances with an engineer working in a separate room, an ideal that could never be achieved in the station's old facility. There are numerous technical advantages Godell outlines in a tour of the new facility, which the public can get Saturday, when WUKY holds an open house.

And that reflects one of the station's big goals with the move: greater community engagement.

Godell and others point out that between parking issues on campus and a somewhat hard-to-find location — Godell recalls having to show former UK president Lee Todd up to the station's studios, because he couldn't find them — it was difficult to get people in the community involved in things like fund drives.

"This is much more inviting than the campus location," membership manager Robert Hansel says. "This has opened up many more opportunities, and new ideas. Somebody said it was like going from the outhouse to the White House."

Godell has other ideas, such as opening the facility up for public performances, both in the studio and out on its back lawn, which he can survey from the deck behind his office.

WUKY-FM station manager Tom Godell looks out from the deck outside his office in the station's new headquarters in the former St. Claire Recording studio at Spurr and Greendale roads. The station hopes to host concerts and events on the lawn behind the studio. Rich Copley rcopley@herald-leader.com

In the new facility, WUKY staff are also freed from the bane of most everyone's existence at UK: parking. Lytle said it was often easier for news staff to file reports remotely than hunt for parking and walk up to a mile to get to the studios. Now, they can practically drive up to the door.

Lytle does acknowledge that when it comes to campus news or having faculty and staff come up to the station, the distance can be a challenge. Music director and on-air host Mike Graves says he does miss the feel of being on campus as he'd walk to the studio. But he and others at the station concur the benefits of the new home outweigh the disadvantages of being away from campus.

Mike Graves in the air WUKY-FM's new studios in the former Saint Claire Recording Company facility at the intersection of Spurr and Greendale roads. Rich Copley rcopley@herald-leader.com

"The facility is fantastic, and we have nothing but gratitude to the nice woman who gave it to us and UK for making it happen," Graves says, between cuing up songs during his Wednesday morning shift. "But in the end, it's what you put into it that matters."

For listeners, not much has changed, so far. The signal still comes from the station's antenna atop the KET antenna in Clays Ferry, sending out a mix of local and public radio programming from familiar voices such as Graves and Lytle. But the new space is a dream come true for the staff, and it has given them room to dream about what can happen next.

If you go

WUKY open house

When: Noon- 4 p.m. May 26

Where: 2640 Spurr Road

Online: WUKY.org