Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
It’s hard to believe it’s been a decade since what was then Clear Channel moved five FM stations from five separate facilities in two states into a single massive studio complex in lower Manhattan.
But it really was way back in 2008 when we showed you all those “before” shots, and while we’ve been back in the city plenty of times for visits to what’s now iHeart Radio, it’s always nice to take a step back and get a full new tour of the place, as we did during AES/NAB New York week last October.
There’s nothing on the outside of the old AT&T Long Lines building at Sixth Avenue and Walker Street that tells you a huge radio cluster lives inside – and if you come the right way by subway, you don’t even need to go outside, since there’s an exit from the Canal Street A/C/E station right into the lobby. And if you walk straight out from that exit across the majestic Art Deco lobby, you’ll walk right into the iHeart Radio Theater, the performance space that’s an important part of this cluster.
This being New York, and iHeart being iHeart, you can imagine the big names who’ve been on this little stage and back in the green room down the hall over the years. (I’m sure my teenager would have loved one of those sofa pillows…)
And this being 2018, this isn’t just a radio studio; that control room off the back of the theater space can handle HD video and streaming, too.
Most of iHeart is a few floors up – office space on the second floor (and some space way upstairs, too), and the important part from our perspective, the broadcast studios that sprawl across the third floor.
This was an unusual space ten years ago, and it still is. For one thing, it’s largely windowless, as you’d expect for a building that went up primarily to house phone switches. For another, it was deliberately designed for the needs of five stations’ staffs who were accustomed to competing against each other from five separate locations.
And so once you walk in past the all-white lobby (with several small production rooms right there behind the lobby sofas), there’s not a lot of common space here.
Head in one direction off the lobby and you’ll see one of those rare common spaces, another smaller live-performance area that’s been carved out and heavily branded by Dunkin Donuts.
Beyond that, we start to get into each of the individual pods that was walled off for each of the FMs. Each one has its own entryway with station branding, opening into a call-screener area that looks into a mirror-image pair of studios.
After a decade in use, some of these studios are already getting a refresh – that one, above, for WWPR (Power 105), got some new furniture not long after our visit, though the SAS Rubicon consoles remained. (So did a feature unique to Power, the turntables in the DJ booth where live mix shows can originate.)
All the studios connect back to the spacious rack room at the core of the complex, where there’s lots of automation horsepower, audio processing and a very robust STL network that connects this facility to main transmitters up at the Empire State Building, an aux facility at 4 Times Square and an emergency studio facility over in New Jersey.
Preserved in one rack here is something especially poignant: the studio end of what was once the hookup between WKTU’s New Jersey studio and the transmitter site at the World Trade Center that it lost back in 2001.
Moving back out of the engineering core and its long row of glassed-in walls, we make our way around the circuit to see each of the other FM stations’ studio pods.
WLTW (Lite 106.7) is painted in a soothing shade of violet, while down the hall WKTU (103.5) has its studios decorated in a cheery light blue.
The engineers here have their offices down at the end of the hallway past the rack room, and outside their row of cubicles is an arrangement of monitors that keeps tabs on the health of all the moving parts that make up this cluster and all the revenue it generates.
In addition to the five local FMs (and, as we’ll see in a moment, a later AM addition), there’s plenty of network activity happening here in market number one for iHeart and Premiere Networks. Above, for instance, we see the studio where Hollywood Hamilton’s weekend countdown show is produced; below, we see a utility studio that handles all sorts of national content for Premiere. If there’s an awards show or live music festival on iHeart nationwide, it’s a very good bet that the audio is passing through this control room, and if you’re hearing a musician doing live appearances on local shows around the country from New York, they’re likely sitting across the glass in the studio here.
On to that AM addition: in 2012, Clear Channel added WOR (710) to its cluster, and in late 2013 it moved WOR from 111 Broadway (down by Wall Street) halfway back uptown to join the FMs here at 32 Avenue of the Americas. (WOR had only been at 111 for a few years at that point after moving from its very longtime home at 1440 Broadway; those studios at 111 were very quickly filled by Salem’s WMCA and WNYM, and we need to get back there eventually to see them again.)
When WOR moved in here, it took over what had been office space at the back of the building. There’s a newsroom back here, several production rooms (built out, in part, for a national morning syndication offering that never materialized), and two big talk studio/control rooms, one of them looking out to a glassed-in area that can be used for call screening or for a guest’s entourage.
(And yes, this is also the hub of the Mets Radio Network, which is why the new WOR logo is orange and blue.)
The main WOR control room looks out, a little incongruously, at another newer space, the former programming office that was turned into the studio/control room complex for “Elvis Duran in the Morning” as it expanded beyond being just the WHTZ (Z100) morning show into a national product.
In addition to the usual SAS gear, this studio has some very special features. That Corian countertop isn’t uniformly thick: there are squares at each talent position that are cut out very thinly and lit from below to tell each cast member whether their mic is off the air, on locally at Z100 or on nationally on the network.
And at the end of the desk, where Duran himself serves as ringleader every morning, there’s a unique gold-plated RE27 with his name engraved on it. (You’ll recall, perhaps, that at the NAB Show a few months later, SAS’ Al Salci presented Duran with a companion gold-anodized console!)
The Duran studio, in turn, looks into the main Z100 studio complex, where that step-and-repeat wall at the far end is motorized – it can display either Duran’s logo or Z100’s, depending on which artist is in there for pictures.
The Z100 air studios are done up in green, with that back hallway leading to Duran’s greenroom and music offices.
Around the last corner, we find one more important piece of this cluster, classic rock WAQX (Q104.3), with a slightly different layout that includes a record library down a short corridor that leads to a small window, lots of guitars lining the outside studio walls, and veteran midday talent Maria Milito holding down the fort in the main air studio.
Thanks to Jeff Smith, George Marshall and the rest of the iHeart engineering crew for the tours!
The Fybush Media podcast is back!
Season two of “Top of the Tower” offered you several preview editions during the NAB Show last month in Las Vegas – and now we’re back to regular weekly editions. Join host Scott Fybush and a wide variety of industry insiders every Wednesday for interesting conversation about what’s happening in the business of radio and TV, not to mention programming, engineering and the newsroom.
Find “Top of the Tower” on all your favorite podcast platforms or right here at fybush.com – and check out our Season 1 Archives, too!
And don’t miss a big batch of New York IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: A Taste of England, November 2017