A demolition crew will soon take down a Gainesville icon.
The old KGAF Radio building — site of a 1955 interview with Elvis Presley and countless live performances by other bands and musicians — is set for demolition in a few weeks.
Saving the aging structure on Radio Hill Road wasn’t really an option, said Steve Eberhart whose company Eberhart Broadcasting operates the radio station that is now known as Memories 1580.
“We would’ve liked to have saved the building, but it had declined too far to make that feasible,” Eberhart said.
The radio station was created on Oct. 1, 1947, he said.
“The Leonard brothers, who also owned the Gainesville Daily Register, built the original building,” Eberhart noted.
Waples Painter Company did the construction work.
“When (KGAF) opened, the building was a small studio and transmitter site only with offices in downtown Gainesville next to the State Theater,” he said. “Later, the offices were moved to the Radio Hill location. By 1958, FM was added, and the building was enlarged (to accommodate the FM transmitter.) At one point, 10-15 people worked daily keeping the station on the air.”
Eberhart said the building was well constructed for its time.
“The studios were originally built very well with acoustics and soundproofing,” he said. “It was a very cool retro building from broadcast days gone by, but it has fallen into disrepair and the cost to remodel it was greater than it was to build the new facility.”
The new studio — completed in 2009 — is significantly smaller than the previous building.
“Because of advances in technology, not as much space was required today nor as much staff so a smaller building was constructed,” Eberhart said.
He said the company considered moving the station downtown but eventually decided against it.
“We chose to stay on Radio Hill where the station has traditionally been since the beginning,” he said. “We were able to construct a building here that met our needs perfectly for today.”
A demolition crew is set to begin the tear-down within the next few weeks. Some preparations, including asbestos removal, are already finished.
Walking through the empty building is a bittersweet experience, Eberhart said.
“The old building was the site of the beginning of many fine broadcasters’ careers and it will be sad to see the building go,” he said. “I remember visiting (KGAF) in 1963 with the Boy Scouts. At 16, while in high school, I started my career in broadcasting as a DJ here.”
Eberhart noted that things have come full circle for him.
“All these years later, I own and operate the business,” he said.
The interview with Elvis was a red letter day for staff at KGAF.
“Elvis was interviewed just prior to his concert at Owl Park,” he said. “This was during a tour event just as Elvis was becoming popular. He was on his way to West Texas.”
Unfortunately, nothing but memories remain of the Elvis interview.
“I wish there was a recording of it but there’s not one that I’m aware of,” Eberhart said.
Only a few things including the old facility’s on-air lights were salvaged from the structure.
“When we moved out, the equipment was old and outdated, so we couldn’t bring any of the old equipment to the new building with the exception of the old studio on-air lights which were refurbished and installed in the new studios,” he said.
Eberhart said he’ll likely have a lump in his throat when the demolition crew starts its work.
“The building is emptied out now, and it’s kind of nostalgic to walk through and remember all the early moments of our careers, to remember the things that happened and the people who once worked within these hallowed walls,” he said. “I grew up sitting in the kitchen listening to the news coming out of that building every morning, but things change and you have to move forward.”