Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
Trivia question: name the broadcast facility at Fifth Avenue and 34th Street in midtown Manhattan.
The Empire State Building, right? Well, yes – but while that most famous of all transmitter facilities is on the southwest corner of that busy intersection, there’s another, much lower-key broadcast facility tucked away on the northeast corner of Fifth and 34th.
The imposing columned building at 365 Fifth Avenue was built in 1906 as the famous B. Altman department store. After Altman’s closed in 1989, it got a new life as the City University of New York’s Graduate Center in 1996. Among the CUNY departments that moved in here was CUNY-TV, the university’s citywide cable channel, which took a space down a first-floor hallway to the right of the main entrance.
What was originally the “City University Television Studios” was renamed a few years later in honor of the legendary Himan Brown, who graduated from CUNY’s Brooklyn College and went on to enjoy a 60-year career in radio drama before his death at age 99 in 2010.
And a few years ago, the Himan Brown Studios became home to another city-owned broadcaster, WNYE-FM (91.5) and WNYE-TV (Channel 25). Long owned by the city schools and headquartered in Brooklyn, the WNYE stations changed hands in 2004 to the city’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (“DoITT”). Their offices moved to the Municipal Building, in space that had been vacated by former city-owned WNYC, while their studios very quietly moved in with CUNY-TV up here at the Graduate Center.
WNYE-FM’s master control, Axia console and all, sits in a small room down the hall from the CUNY-TV lobby, adjacent to CUNY-TV’s curtained interview studio.
There’s a control room down the hall for CUNY-TV, which reaches city viewers on cable channel 75 and now on WNYE’s 25.3 subchannel for over-the-air viewers in the tri-state area. Down another hall at the far end of the CUNY-TV facility, there’s another control room for WNYE-TV, which puts out “NYCLife” programming on 25.1, “NYCGov” on 25.2 and also oversees several cable-only channels that provide traffic information and other programming.
I’m not sure if it was an original part of the CUNY setup or if it came later, but there are more studios down in the basement, in what were apparently once the B. Altman accounting offices.
Go down a couple of hallways and past the engineers’ desks (where we were pleased to spot a Tower Site Calendar prominently hanging) and you’ll come to a corridor that runs past three radio studios to a rack room with the WNYE-FM processing and STL equipment at the far end.
(We didn’t get to the transmitters this time around. WNYE-FM and WNYE-TV are both up at 4 Times Square these days, having moved in the 2000s from their previous homes at, respectively, Brooklyn Technical High School and the Empire State Building. The tower at Brooklyn Tech, where WNYE began way back in 1938 as an experimental high-fidelity “APEX” outlet in the 40 mc band, still stands and is still a local landmark.)
The studios down here are home to some of WNYE’s ethnic programming, as well as CUNY radio programming – and, because it’s Friday when we’re visiting, they’re also leased out to public radio’s “Science Friday,” which has been originating its national live broadcast down here for the last few years…which means we get a peek at host Ira Flatow on the air as part of our tour!
Thanks to WNYE’s Tony Peiffer for the tours!
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However, our mailing schedule has been disrupted due to quarantine.
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Next week: iHeart New York