June 25, 2010

Clear Channel Radio, New York

Few, if any, big radio markets have seen as much physical change in as short a time as New York City over the last few years.

We've seen a major transmission facility destroyed by terrorism (the World Trade Center, of course), a new major transmission facility rise from the ground (4 Times Square), the reconstruction of an even more major transmission facility (Empire State Building), not to mention AM sites being torn down and rebuilt in the New Jersey Meadowlands (WINS, WEPN, WOR).

On the studio side, nearly all of the facilities that were built in midtown Manhattan and across the river in New Jersey in the 80s and 90s gave way to new cluster studios in lower Manhattan, most of them in the space of just the last few years.

Two weeks ago, we showed you WNYC's big move from its longtime digs in the Municipal Building to new space a few blocks away on Varick Street.

This week, we show you another big move that was taking place at the same time: Clear Channel's consolidation of its five New York City FM stations from separate studios scattered around midtown Manhattan and Jersey City to a single cluster facility in the old AT&T Long Lines Building at Sixth Avenue and Canal Street in Tribeca. What the new space lacked in glamorous location, it more than made up in convenience: it sits directly above several subway lines in a building that also functions as a major co-location point for telco and data carriers, providing all the connectivity and backup power (and raw space) that a modern major-market broadcaster needs.

We last profiled this space in early 2008, when Clear Channel was midway through its buildout. The first of the stations to move downtown, WAXQ (Q104.3), had already moved out of its old digs at 1180 Sixth Avenue by then, and by the time the last of the five, WLTW (Lite FM 106.7) made its move south from 1133 Sixth Avenue in May, it was a prominent enough relocation to merit an article in the New York Times.

The full Clear Channel space in the building takes up 126,000 square feet on three floors of the building, but the broadcast operations are all confined to one floor, in a design that's somewhat different from the other major-market cluster studios Clear Channel was building elsewhere around the same time. In Chicago and Los Angeles, for instance, each station has its own "pod" of studios, just as each of the New York stations does. But in New York, each of those studio pods is enclosed within a larger suite of production rooms and programming offices - and each of those suites has its own separate entrance, complete with backlit logo signage, that leads off the twisting hallway that snakes its way from the main lobby back to the engineering offices and rack room.

While each station's studio suite is conceptually similar - a pair of mirror-image studios, with one typically used by the morning show and the other by the rest of the on-air talent, both facing out to a desk where a call screener or show producer would sit - each station nevertheless has its own identity here, with a distinct color scheme for each. And the irregular nature of the existing space, which was designed way back in 1932 as telephone company rack rooms, meant that each station's layout ends up being somewhat different, too.

Q104.3 was our first stop on the tour, and it's a nice example of what went into each of these rooms: the SAS Rubicon consoles that are a common feature of many of the New York studio rebuilds from this era; that nifty Omnirax furniture that can be reconfigured on the fly to provide extra mics for a morning show or rolled out of the way to allow for a band to perform live; that clever ceiling design that sends cool air through a big opening above the console so there's no loud whoosh of air through a small vent; and, this being a Clear Channel station, Prophet automation everywhere, of course.

The basic concept behind the layout, with the mirror-image studios facing a producer/call-screener position, came out of Z100 (WHTZ 100.3), and if the new version of Z100 lacks the million-dollar view that the old Z100 Jersey City studios enjoyed, it at least retains the basic layout that chief engineer Josh Hadden designed when Z100 made the move from Secaucus to Jersey City not all that long ago.

(That's afternoon guy JJ behind the mike in the Z100 studio, and it turns out he's a Tower Site of the Week fan who'd been waiting for a long time to get his star turn on the site!)

We get only a peek through the glass at our next stop, WKTU (103.5), where the color scheme is bright blue, but a somewhat better look at "Power 105" WWPR (105.1), where rust orange ("copper" is the preferred architectural term, I'm told!) is the color of choice. There's one touch that's unique to Power's studios: those turntables in the production room get used during the station's mix shows.

And our last stop on the tour is at "Lite FM," WLTW (106.7), where Rich Kaminski's on the afternoon shift when we poke our head into the studio.

Next week, we'll show you another major downtown move, the CBS Radio consolidation on Hudson Street - but first, a bit of business: while we still have a few remaining copies of Tower Site Calendar 2010 to sell you, we're also hard at work getting Tower Site Calendar 2011 ready to go to the printer - complete with that fabulous view of Mount Beacon from last week's installment on the cover!

And for a very limited time - just until July 1 - we're giving you the chance to pre-order Tower Site Calendar 2011 at a special early-bird discount. If you order now, you'll get to be among the very first people anywhere to see the new calendar, since we'll ship it out to you just as soon as it comes back from the printer right around Labor Day.

(It's much more than just pretty pictures and dates - the modest sum we raise from each year's calendar helps make possible the travel needed to make this feature happen every week on the website...and we're grateful for all your support!)

Thanks to Josh Hadden, Jeff Smith and George Marshall for the tours!

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