WZMQ, Lilly Broadcasting’s new CBS affiliate in Marquette, Mich., spent almost a year turning a 150-year-old building into a 21st century television studio. On Oct. 3, the station started airing nightly newscasts at 6 and 11. “We had to build this whole thing from the ground up,” says Brian Trauring, the EVP at Lilly.
WZMQ in downtown Marquette, on the shore of Lake Superior in the upper peninsula of northern Michigan, starting broadcasting local news on Oct. 3, following a 10-month transformation that turned a 150-year-old building into a 21st century TV studio.
The 150-year-old building is right in the heart of downtown Marquette, and has served many purposes over the years, says Brian Trauring, executive vice president at Lilly Broadcasting, the station’s owner.
From shoe store to restaurant to an Irish tavern, the building was renovated to serve as a TV station starting in January when WZMQ became the CBS affiliate in the market (it also carries MeTV).
“The idea was to purchase a building, hire a staff and get on the air as quickly as we could,” Trauring says.
The fact that the building was right in downtown Marquette was all part of the plan.
“The owner [Lilly Broadcasting] said ‘we want to have a building downtown,’” Trauring says. “I love the idea of having a television station downtown because the other ones are all more or less in the outlying areas.”
During the rehabbing of the structure, “people would just stop in because we are on the main street there and they are curious,” Trauring says. When told it was going to be a TV station, people were supportive. They told Trauring, “Oh this is great.”
Trauring says the historic building “fits with the character of downtown Marquette.”
But transforming an old building into a television station is an expensive, lengthy process. “We had to build this whole thing from the ground up,” Trauring says.
And to start a local TV news operation from scratch took some hiring even though WZMQ is airing newscasts only at 6 and 11 p.m. currently.
Everybody the station has hired for the news team is local to the area, Trauring says. “We thought it was really important because these are people already know and love the community,” he says. “It’s just a charming place and people are very passionate about the area.”
The station hired a veteran anchor who worked at another station in the market, Sarah Blakely, and a meteorologist, Karl Bohnak, who spent 30 years in the market at another station. “We have some familiar names that helped establish credibility,” Trauring says. In addition, the station hired other people who either worked in TV or radio and some who didn’t have TV experience, he says, including students from Northern Michigan University in Marquette, which has a strong broadcast and journalism program and a PBS station.
The students work part-time while going to school and handle the technical parts of the station’s broadcasting, while also providing part of the news coverage content, Trauring says.
Promotion for the station started at halftime of the Green Bay Packers game CBS aired on October 2rd. The Packers have a huge fan base in Marquette, so WZMQ “put together a highly produced spot to introduce ourselves to the community and what our team is doing,” Trauring says.
“The support from the community has been fantastic,” he says. “We have gotten a lot of nice Facebook comments, and a lot of nice emails.”
Trauring says the station is not done hiring, and is looking to expand.
“I am really proud of what we have achieved” he says. “It has worked out really quite well.”