After five years of inactivity, WBBM in Chicago plans to reopen its street-side studio as a weather center and install a shiny new video screen outside, reports Robert Feder.
The glass-enclosed studio, located at the corner of Dearborn and Washington streets in the Loop business district, will become a weather center, while the station invests in a new oversized video screen above the windows.
The studio opened in 2008 as part of the Block 37 development, of which WBBM’s broadcast center was an anchor tenant.
Prior to opening, renderings depicted a large wraparound video screen on two sides of the building, though this was eventually reduced to a single, smaller section.
For several years, the space on either side of the screen looked unfinished thanks to exposed power lines that likely would have been covered by the planned larger screen installation. Eventually, blind windows matching those found on the rest of the building were installed over the unfinished sections, apparently indicating that the screen would never be enlarged.
Over the years, parts of the screen stopped working and eventually turned off completely.
The space below, which featured specially designed windows on two sides to help prevent glare and reflection, housed the station’s main news studio, although the set was not oriented to use street views as the main background.
The station would eventually stop using the original base and moved the anchor office to instead use a stand-up and franchise area with three flat-screen monitors as its main aspect, but that didn’t work. still not taken advantage of the windows.
At the time, the studio also featured a functioning weather center and chroma key wall, with the ability to shoot weather and other reports with the bustling sidewalk beyond in the background.
Eventually, WBBM moved its newscast production down the hall to Studio B when it installed a new set in 2017, which features no windows.
Since then, the station has essentially decommissioned Studio A in order to prepare to sublet it as retail or restaurant space, but has apparently been unable to do so.
The COVID-19 pandemic has seen the station return to using space to create alternative workspaces for staff members to spread out and encourage social distancing.
In January 2022, WBBM, as would several other CBS-owned stations, transitioned to using the “First Alert” brand for its weather and traffic and it plans to use streetside space to create a storefront. of its weather offer.
The Studio B set already includes a functioning weather center with several presentation areas with large video panels, although these are also often used for news segments.
It’s not immediately clear how large the new weather center will be or how it will take advantage of the view.
Studio A occupies approximately 3,500 square feet, so a weather center filling all or most of that space would result in a fairly large facility.
Before leaving the studio, part of the windows were almost always covered to provide a kind of shooting wall, so it is possible that the station could choose to use only part of the space for the weather center and the enclosed space for backstage work or storage areas.
Plans also call for the station to display a feed from its 24-hour streaming service, CBS News Chicago (originally known as CBSN Chicago) on screen, Feder noted. It hopes to go live in August 2022.
WBBM has long underperformed in the Chicago TV ratings despite numerous format and anchor changes and experiments. More recently, he hired former WGN anchor Joe Donlon away from NewsNation, which is operated by Nexstar, the same company that bought WGN and its parent company Tribune Broadcasting.
Windowed studios were once popular in Chicago, with the other two “big three” stations having them. Since then, however, NBC-owned WMAQ has closed its street-side studio, and only ABC-owned WLS retains one, though it doesn’t use the view as its primary background.
WFLD, owned by Fox, has a studio on the second floor of its building that offers a view of Michigan Avenue.
WBBM’s parent network operates a large, upper-level windowed studio in Times Square for its morning newscast, “CBS Mornings,” but it not only uses the windows on-air, but mostly keeps them covered with large printed panels of the CBS News brand.