"It was a beautiful, beautiful idea."
KMFA general manager Ann Hume Wilson is recounting how the spacious studio performance space in the classical radio station’s new building was named after Draylen Mason, a promising young Austin musician whose life was tragically cut short when a package bomb exploded at his house in March 2018. The 17-year-old bassist was known to many KMFA staffers for his participation in the Austin Youth Orchestra and the youth music program Austin Soundwaves.
Austin philanthropists Lynne Dobson and Greg Wooldridge "had made a substantial donation" to KMFA’s fundraising drive for a new facility, Wilson explained, noting that their donation gave them the honor of naming the new studio space. "But they said, ‘Well, we don't really want to name it for ourselves. So let us think about that.’
"Not long after they had made their gift, the package bombing happened and Draylen was killed. I was telling (Lynne) about it, because we were all grief-stricken. Lynne was later sharing with a friend what had happened, and the friend knew Draylen’s mother and introduced them.
"This wonderful friendship developed. And then Lynne called us up one day and said, ‘What would you think if we named the studio for Draylen?’"
The studio, which has room for more than 100 — a huge upgrade from KMFA’s previous limit of about a dozen in its longtime North Lamar Boulevard location — is the crown jewel of its new facility, which is triple the size of the former space. Tucked into a new development called the Hatchery along the north shore of Lady Bird Lake just east of Interstate 35, the KMFA headquarters was designed to allow significantly more interaction with the community.
Some of that interaction is necessarily on hold for now, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. "Everything about this building was done in the name of bringing together the community as a two-way communication experience rather than one-way transmission," Wilson said, acknowledging that it’s a little bittersweet not to be able to make full use of the facility yet.
They’re still proceeding with plans for the future, including "some pretty amazing appearances by local community ensembles and artists when we officially celebrate the public opening of this building in January," Wilson said. If limits on gatherings are still in effect at that time, studio performances will be livestreamed as well as broadcast on KMFA. "People will be able to see and hear these performing artists, whether or not they can be in the building with us," she said.
KMFA’s relocation has been a long time coming. Founded in 1967, the station — Texas’ oldest independent all-classical radio frequency — had broadcast from offices it rented in a building at 3001 N. Lamar Blvd. for more than 40 years. Wilson says discussions about moving had been ongoing since 1999, well before Wilson moved to KMFA from a similar role at the Blanton Museum eight years ago.
Relocation became a higher priority recently, amid concerns that the building’s owner might sell the property. That transpired last year, after KMFA had finalized plans to build the new Hatchery facility. The new North Lamar landlord made a short-term lease deal to bridge the gap while construction was completed.
READ MORE: Classical station KMFA moving into new, more visible home
Building a new radio station headquarters isn’t cheap. The station’s "Dear Music" fundraising campaign has brought in $9.1 million so far, leaving $1.8 million still to be raised to cover the construction costs. The station, which broadcasts at 89.5 on the FM dial and streams at kmfa.org, will be conducting a special on-air fund drive in October to fill in the gap.
During the pandemic, KMFA on-air hosts had been handling their shifts from home, in part because the tighter quarters in the old building meant higher risk of virus transmission. In the new facility, "people have their own offices rather than sharing workstations or being crammed into room-sharing," Wilson said, noting that some staffers are already working in the building, with on-air hosts slated to return soon.
Longtime KMFA fixture Dianne Donovan, who hosts the "Midday Oasis" program from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays along with the Sunday morning "Classical Austin" interview program, says she’s looking forward to broadcasting from the new space.
"It's an incredible facility," she said. "The studio is larger, and we’ll have air without hearing the air conditioner go on. This space has a much more consistent temperature from room to room and from studio to studio, in fact."
She’ll miss a few things about the old North Lamar home. "It was painted purple, and that's my favorite color," she says with a modest laugh. "But on a more serious note, there’s something nice about something so small — like when you create a really good meal with just a few ingredients.
"I was always proud of KMFA and the work we did, even with the building being kind of small and not quite state-of-the-art. But we're bigger now; we’ve grown up."
The relocation also may foster new community ties with neighbors, including the adjacent Rebekah Baines Johnson Center, an independent living center for seniors and people with disabilities that opened in 1972 but is being significantly expanded as part of the Hatchery redevelopment. Wilson and Donovan also expressed eagerness to develop relationships with nearby schools and the East Austin community.
"I like the mix of age and economic backgrounds that will be in the Hatchery, because to me, that's what a classical radio station does," Wilson said. "You don't have to put on a tuxedo to listen to KMFA. So I think it's a perfect place for us to find our new home and be of service to this new kind of community."