Oklahoma broadcaster makes one-of-a-kind donation to local college

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Griffin Media, the owner of Oklahoma City’s KWTV and Tulsa’s KOTV, has announced it will donate its entire Oklahoma City television station building, including almost everything in it, to Langston University when it moves downtown later in 2022.

KWTV currently operates in a relatively rural area north of downtown at 7401 N. Kelley Ave. and previously announced plans to move to Century Center on Main Street.

A rendering of Century Center with a KWTV-themed image on the large outdoor digital billboard. 

The station is spending about $10 million to renovate space inside the building, with the station expected to get around $2.7 million in tax incentives for moving.

When KWTV started looking toward its future, it became clear that upgrading its current home would also commit the station to staying at that location for at least another 15 years in order to realize a return on its investment. Instead, Griffin Media opted to invest money into building a new facility inside Century Center.

Although not a purpose-built building, the station does have the opportunity to build out a substantial amount of its space, installing millions of feet of upgraded cable, wiring and other equipment, as well as creating new workspaces for its news and administrative team.

KWTV has been at the Kelley Avenue location for 70 years, in a building that’s been expanded over time. 

“If we abandon this building, there is going to be a hole in this community, and we just did not want to leave this community alone,” Griffin Media president and CEO David Griffin said in a statement issued by Langston. “So, we went on a search to see how we could be a part of something bigger than ourselves. And then it just dawned on me, Langston has a journalism program.”

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All told, KWTV will donate the property the building sits on, the structure itself, plus its sprawling news set. Also included are all tables and chairs, computers and select professional-grade broadcast equipment.

Langston’s statement notes that the donation will include “all the existing equipment used for the News 9 newscast,” wording that suggests some gear and equipment might be making the move downtown. 

The estimated value of the gift is over $10 million, making it the largest single corporate gift in Langston’s history.

The site will also be home to the Center for Media and Community Advancement at Langston University, a historically black college and university, funded in part by a grant from the Inasmuch Foundation.

Griffin isn’t just handing over the building, however. The company plans to partner with Langston to have its staff teach classes, mentor students, and provide opportunities to work at the new downtown facility. 

The impact of the gift is expected to expand beyond just the journalism department, Langston President Kent J. Smith Jr. noted.

“There is an entire business behind news production. From computer technology to marketing and sales, our students will have the benefit of learning here. Now we can think of Oklahoma City and our Oklahoma City campus in an entirely different realm that we could not imagine before,” Smith said.

Langston is scheduled to take possession of the property in January 2023, with KWTV is expected to go live from the new facility in November 2022.  

While working on updating the building in September 2022, a crane collapsed while a team was trying to remove the large digital billboard on the side of the building, but KWTV says the move is still on.

The original date of occupancy announced was the summer of 2022, though construction delays due to supply chain and labor shortages have been causing issues with many projects, though it’s not clear if that’s the case here. It’s also possible that changes to the timeline or scope of the project caused the move date, which was likely only an estimate, to be pushed.

While TV stations have been known to donate old equipment and sets to local educational institutions, handing over an entire building, complete with essentially everything inside of it, is unprecedented. 

That said, Griffin likely closely examined the cost of moving everything from furniture to broadcast gear downtown compared to the cost of buying new and getting to upgrade to the latest technology — and realized that it wasn’t worth moving most of it.

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Langston will gain access to the station’s massive news set, designed by FX Design Group in 2006. It’s undergone some updates since then but still has many hallmarks of the original design. The News 9 branding will presumably be replaced.

In theory, the set could have been disassembled and relocated to the downtown location, though the expense of moving it likely outweighed the cost of building a new one (it’s also not clear if the existing set would fit inside of the new building’s studio given it takes up about 4,000-square feet and requires a fairly high ceiling).

Much of the original on-set technology, such as the three rear projection screens, were considered state-of-the-art at the time it was installed, but would likely be created using LED video panels if the set were built today. The set also has decorative backlit column elements and backgrounds created using full-color printed duratran material but wasn’t designed to take advantage of color-changing LED backlighting lighting, another technology that’s exploded in popularity in set design.

KWTV has upgraded some of the technology on the set in the decade and a half since it was installed, including bringing in new movable video panels for on-set use and replacing RPs. Much of the other technology installed back in 2006 has likely passed its practical lifecycle and has been either replaced or upgraded. There was also changes made when the station switched logos in 2010.

Griffin may be able to write off at least some of the value of the real estate, fixtures and equipment as a charitable donation, though that may depend on how the transaction was structured. Tax-exempt donations typically take aspects such as depreciation and fair market value into consideration when calculating the value of a donation.

KWTV and Griffin did not return requests for comment for this story.

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