For Fox 5 reporter and morning anchor Holly Morris, the view is one of the best parts of the TV station’s recent move from its longtime home in Friendship Heights in Northwest Washington, D.C., to a new high-rise in downtown Bethesda.
“I worked in the basement for 22 years and never saw outside,” says Morris, who lives in Chevy Chase and starts her shift at 3 a.m. “To be able to watch the sunrise is so good for the soul. Never underestimate the power of just having a window.”
Headquartered at 5151 Wisconsin Ave. since 1966, Fox began looking for a new home for WTTG Fox 5 and WDCA Fox 5 Plus in 2015. It ultimately relocated to a building about 2 miles away at 7272 Wisconsin Ave. and began broadcasting on July 24, 2021. “The combination of a great location, vibrant area, dynamic new building and state and county incentives, in the end, made Bethesda the obvious choice,” says Patrick Paolini Jr., senior vice president and general manager at Fox 5.
Here’s a quick tour of Fox 5’s new digs.
Fox leases three floors in The Wilson, a 23-story office tower developed by Carr Properties. Its 60,000 square feet of space was designed by the D.C. office of the international architectural firm Gensler.
The newsroom on the sixth floor has lots of natural light, an open floor plan, wall-to-wall windows and an inviting collaborative feel, reporter Bob Barnard says. “While you’re at work, you can actually tell what time of day it is and what the weather is like,” he says. There are nooks with equipment where reporters can broadcast breaking news, and a central desk where anchors and reporters sit that lights up and rotates to provide different settings.
Also on the sixth floor, the large, main studio has a vaulted ceiling with hanging lights that can produce 500,000 different combinations, such as a red, white and blue scheme for election night, Paolini says. Furniture and cameras are movable, enabling greater flexibility than in Fox 5’s former home. The high ceiling allows cameras to provide an overhead view of the entire studio, and there’s even a staircase that reporters can descend as they deliver their stories.
“Just in a matter of seconds or minutes, the whole look can change,” says morning anchor Wisdom Martin, who likes that he can move easily from the news desk to the kitchen, the loft or a sofa for various segments. “It gives a different vibe and a different feel, depending on the circumstances—it could be a sense of urgency or it could be a sense of ‘we’re about to have some fun now. ’”
The Fox stations produce nearly 80 hours of programming each week. Two control rooms allow two live shows to be produced simultaneously. Instead of the standard serial digital video used by most broadcasters, Fox’s new facility employs a state-of-the-art audio and video system that can deliver a better picture even as broadcasting technology evolves, says Jim Beahn, vice president of engineering and operations. New virtual reality and green screen equipment expand options for set designs; for example, news anchors in the studio who are broadcasting a show about soccer can appear to be on the playing field—or even kick a virtual soccer ball into a net.
Taking advantage of The Wilson’s location near the Metro’s Red Line and the light-rail Purple Line, now under construction, Fox runs a digital news ticker above the entrance to the Metro station on Wisconsin Avenue. Paolini says being in the heart of downtown Bethesda gives Fox 5 a “definite leg up” when recruiting new staff. Fox has nearly 200 employees; about one-third live in Montgomery County.
Reporters can use The Wilson’s terraces and a rooftop enclosure for interviews and live shots—including weather forecasts. “The outdoor space has been a game changer for us,” says chief meteorologist Sue Palka, who has worked for Fox 5 for 36 years. She often broadcasts outside on the Skydeck that’s adjacent to the weather center and studio. Palka recalls how she’d be interrupted by passing traffic when she’d try to report live from Wisconsin Avenue at the Friendship Heights location. “It’s so quiet up here. We don’t have to worry about a bus rolling through live shots,” she says. “It’s absolutely been thrilling. Just seeing the clouds go by gives you so much more to talk about.”
Morris says the terraces and the rooftop area, with its firepits, landscaping and view, are also great options for segments on working out or for cooking demonstrations that feature grilling. “Anytime we can be outside, overlooking Bethesda, it’s just really impressive and makes for fun storytelling,” she says.