SIOUX CITY | Come Thursday evening, for the first time in 62 years, the local ABC television affiliate won't broadcast from a studio at Seventh and Douglas streets.
It ends an era, if you will, dousing the lights on TV personalities of the past, men like Gene Sherman, Tom Peterson and Greg Lund. Even the late Jim Henry's "Canyon Kid's Corner" had a fun foothold in this 1905 facility, a structure that served as the Sioux City Auditorium before becoming the Tomba Ballroom and later KVTV, which became KCAU (call letters that mean "Cares About U") in 1967.
Lawrence Welk played here, as did Tommy Dorsey. I remember watching Peterson, the popular weatherman, pull a frightened crow or sparrow in from a spring monsoon. He sheltered the bird and simultaneously read storm bulletins as hail pounded the heart of the Woodbury County seat.
A figurative TV torch passes on Thursday as KCAU, now a member of the Nexstar Media Group, begins airing news and other programs from a spacious state-of-the-art studio and office complex at 5993 Gordon Drive, on Sioux City's east edge.
I saw both new and old on Wednesday. The old? It creaked and leaned and leaked nostalgia. The new? It delivered a wow factor with LED lights, changing background colors, lightweight cameras, dressing rooms, office suites and more. The new paint, glass and carpet come with a new station tag line: "Siouxland Proud." KCAU's full-time employees, which number near 50, are right to think highly of their new digs.
It'll be a banner day for KCAU General Manager John Curry, a 1975 West High graduate who returned to Sioux City not long before Nexstar's purchase of the station. CEO Perry Sook toured the old station site in the fall of 2013 and determined the company would invest in a new studio.
"We looked at several places, but nothing downtown would work for us," said Curry. "We needed at least a 40-by-40-foot-square studio space, plus office space and parking."
Officials also searched in South Dakota and Nebraska before settling on the empty building on Gordon Drive, a two-story structure owned by Eagle Capital Partners. Developer Bart Connelly, said Curry, made the building work for KCAU when he offered to add a front portion to the site, and create ample studio space. "Connelly's offer closed the deal for us," Curry said. "It's a great spot for us."
KCAU staffers have been rehearsing in the new studio for three weeks. Thursday's 5 p.m. newscast, for sure, will originate from the new site.
"The most significant opportunity is that with the new studio, where we were once limited to our desk and a grid wall behind the desk, we now have a dozen different shots," Curry said.
The site represents a $2.5-million brick-and-mortar investment in Siouxland by Nexstar. "We've gone from an Edsel to a Lamborghini," Curry concluded.
"This process has rejuvenated us as a staff and as an anchor team," said Jenna Rehnstrom, who co-anchors KCAU's nightly news with Tim Seaman. "We've always loved our jobs, but now we're just so proud of our new building and studio."
As excited as she was to jump in to the new surroundings, Rehnstrom admitted she'd retain a soft spot in her heart for the old KCAU. It was her work station, after all, the past 10 years. It's where she met her husband, Chris Liberto, former KCAU sports anchor. It's where they announced they'd get married and start a family.
"I do get nostalgic about the old building," she said.
It's where careers took off and ended. Sherman had entire teams flock to the studio for half-hour programs decades ago. Peterson helped welcome young staffers to the "Major 9" family by orchestrating unique pub crawls through downtown Sioux City. Ron Clements, a Bishop Heelan High School student who worked as an artist, made his first animated film, "Basil of Baker Street" in the building's top floor. Sunday night, he's nominated for his third Oscar, this time as one of the directors of "Moana."
This also is where Seaman reported to work 28 years ago. For 23 years, he directed the station's sports coverage. For the past five years, he's been a news anchor.
Seaman smiled as we stood outside the old KCAU office at Seventh and Douglas, a day boasting of record warmth and bright sunshine. Everyone wore a smile as they went about their business. "I will miss days like this," he said. "There's something about being out and about downtown, running an errand at City Hall or going to the courthouse. I'll miss that."
What he won't miss? The errands that involved parking fines. Seaman laughed when I brought it up. He was what City Hall called a "habitual" parking violator for nearly two decades downtown, and nearly all the tickets involved finding a spot near his workplace. Ever the good sport, Seaman called City Hall to ask how many tickets he accumulated over the years.
"It was over 100 tickets," he said, smiling and shaking his head. "My car was locked up twice for fines I hadn't paid!"
I'm guessing the city budget will miss the old KCAU, too.