Radio Stories – Moving Two Radio Stations

Radio Stories – Moving Two Radio Stations

The ABC Cube looking south in front of 1330 Ave of the Americas

The ABC Cube looking south in front of 1330 Ave of the Americas

In mid March of 1985, it was announced that Capital Cities Communications had officially launched a bid to buy the American Broadcasting Company. Capital Cities who?? That was the general reaction to this news on the 8th floor of the ABC Building where 8 of us promptly went out to lunch, at which we consumed 8 carafes of wine! This unthinkable event had hit us very hard, and little did we know it would affect us all even more down the road!

On January 3, 1986, the American Broadcasting Company officially became ABC/Capital Cities, and shortly after that, the plans to move the ABC Headquarters to West 66th Street and to sell the long time ABC Headquarters building became public knowledge. Located across 53rd Street from CBS Headquarters and just a few blocks up 6th Avenue from 30 Rock, NBC’s Headquarters, the 40 story building at 1330 ABC LogoAvenue of the Americas had been the headquarters of the American Broadcasting Company since 1966, and the home of WABC and WPLJ (formerly WABC-FM) radio. Almost as soon as the merger was complete, building started on 66th Street, and 1330 went on the real estate market. As strange as the idea was of moving ABC Headquarters was, this was also a strange period for WABC and WPLJ, as we were without a Chief Engineer, with retired Chief Win Loyd back on the 8th Floor to just handle scheduling and payroll (and that’s another story that you may hear in the future). Without a Chief Engineer, we were without someone to champion the technical needs of the radio stations as talks started about moving them out of the building. As the WABC NABET Group 7 Ops Supervisor at the time, WABC GM Fred Weinhause asked me to sit in on some of these meetings.
 When I first started at ABC in 1976, WABC’s offices and all the studios for both radio stations were located on the 8th floor, with WPLJ’s offices on the 9th floor. By the time we started talking about moving, WPLJ had gone combo and they now had their air studio on the 9th floor. The first plans I saw were for both stations to share one floor for both studios and offices. The ABC Radio Network was located at a building on the far Westside of Manhattan at 125 West End Avenue. Located at 66th Street and West End, 125 was an ABC Building that at one time was an AMC car dealership, and the building still had remnants of that period. The first set of plans that I saw had the studios and offices of the two stations laid out on one of the floors of the building, but we couldn’t figure out what the large circle-like lines in the blueprints were all about. At the next meeting there were people from the ABC Real Estate Department there as we talked about changes needed in the studio layout, and we asked them about the circles, and they told us that they were the ramps left over from the building’s car dealership past which allowed you to drive from the first floor to the roof!
 Ramps or not, this version of the new WABC/WPLJ was not to be, as there was a concern that the FCC might not let CapCities/ABC keep all the broadcast properties that ABC had owned. That meant that if they had to sell one or both of the New York radio stations, having them in an ABC building would be inconvenient, so the decision was made to seek space in non-ABC property for the two stations. Ultimately it was decided to not only build in a non-ABC property, but also to build two totally separate radio stations so that if the company had to sell just one of the stations, they could seal off WABC from WPLJ and move on. That meant that not only were the offices separate, with WABC on a different side of the floor from WPLJ, but the technical plant had to be separate too. That meant that we had two transmission rooms, two sets of studios, two sets of audio paths, even separate studio air conditioning systems! In short, WABC and WPLJ were built as though they were two unconnected facilities. In fact, when built, there were even doors between the two so that had they sold one, doors could have been turned into walls.
 I’ve talked about these things in just two paragraphs, but in real time these discussions and meetings took months and months. By the time the decision was made to move to a non-ABC property, the new headquarters building uptown was well on in it’s construction and 1330 had been put on the block and had found a buyer. As the months dragged on,so did the discussions. We heard all kinds of rumors about where the company was looking at property to locate

The two buildings that replaced the majestic Penn Station

The two buildings that replaced the majestic Penn Station

WABC and WPLJ. Would we have to commute way downtown or perhaps up to the Westside? Would we be better off or worse off then what we had at the ABC Building? Well, when the suspense finally ended, we discovered that many of us who commuted to the city from the suburbs would be very happy, as the decision was made that the 17th floor of 2 Penn Plaza, right above Penn Station, would be our new home!

 Everyone seemed to have a very laid back attitude about this move, mainly because the contract with the buyer of 1330 Avenue of the Americas said that ABC could rent back individual floors if they were not ready to move by the time the sale closed. That was until they discussed that with the Japanese real estate investors who were buying the building. Either someone misunderstood, or they’d overlooked specific terms of the sale agreement, but at the meeting, ABC broached the subject with the buyer they were told that they’d be happy to rent the entire building to ABC, because according to the language in the contract, it was all or nothing! No way CapCities/ABC was going to rent back an entire building for 2 radio stations, so now the race was on! Building offices was easy, but building a multi-studio complex for two radio stations from scratch was not an overnight operation.
 We were still without a Chief Engineer, and the technical head of ABC Radio was brought in to get the ball rolling. The first thing was to get a design, and in very short time we were shown the proposed studio complex for the stations. There were several things that we had problems with, but the first thing was the amount of studios available. At this time WABC was the Yankee flagship station and the home of the Rush Limbaugh Show, both of which had requirements over and above just a local program. Maintenance Supervisor Al Gold and I expressed our concerns to John Manelli who was the WABC PD, and one day we were called to a meeting with Al Resnick, who was the ABC Radio Technical Director. After Al and I made our pitch for what WABC needed, someone produced a hand full of change and said “let’s put a coin on each studio we will be using”. Well, we started off doing that until we had all the studios covered with a coin and we still had more tasks to be done. The coins were promptly swept off the design plans and we were told, “see, plenty of room.” At that point Al and I knew that our input was neither desired, nor would be tolerated, so we went back to our real jobs and left the building of WABC and WPLJ’s new studios to others!
 Shortly after this meeting, we were lucky enough to get a new Chief Engineer. In the fall of 1988, WNBC was sold by GE to Emmis Communications and WFAN took the 660 spot on the AM dial, and WNBC’s long time Chief Bill Krause became the new WABC Chief Engineer. Bill was perfect because he came from a NABET shop, was use to payroll and scheduling, and dealing with both Operations and Maintenance. Bill was exactly what we needed and he fit in well with the group, but his task was not easy. By the time he came on board, a location had been found, a design locked in, ABC had signed a contract with Pacific Recorders to build a turnkey studio complex for WABC and WPLJ on the 17th floor of 2 Penn Plaza, and the build was under way. To further complicate things, the clock was ticking, and the date that we had to be out of 1330 was just months away, and since this was a non-NABET turnkey build, ABC did not want any of us NABET folks anywhere near 2 Penn Plaza.
 Once Bill came on board, we discovered a couple of things about our new studio complex. The first thing we discovered was that because the time from design to ready to go on the air studios was so short, what we got was basically the recently designed WJR studio complex, changed slightly to fit our space. Okay, now we knew why the studios didn’t seem to match our needs. The second thing that became obvious was that the studios were designed as combo studios. Only problem was that WABC did not do combo then, and in fact still doesn’t. Hmm…I bet WJR did. As time went on and Bill shared the details of what was happening at 2 Penn with us, we discovered other things. Things like the fact that to save money, the two commercial production studios didn’t have real boards, but were designed with small, almost Shure remote mixer like “mixing” boards. Bill was able to change out one of them, but we were stuck with the other for a number of years. Then there was the day he came back to 1330 to share with us that the Maintenance Shop on the plans had no wall and therefore no door. Luckily he was able to catch that one or who knows what would have happened. Another thing we discovered was that there were turntables in all of the WABC studios. Turntables? A News Talk station? I guess WJR played records, but at WABC we played nothing on the air that wasn’t on cart.
 The first time I saw the 17th floor of 2 Penn was the Wednesday of Thanksgiving weekend, 1988. Remember that ABC didn’t want any of us NABET folks on the floor of the turnkey build, so Bill and I came over that night after the workers had left for the day. I don’t know what I excepted to see, but I was really not prepared for what I did see. It was kind of like when people wander through a new house that is only at the stud stage and say, “now this is the living room, and here’s the kitchen”. Bill gave me the nickel tour, but frankly I wouldn’t have had any idea what I was looking at without his play by play. So now we were in the last week of November, 1988 and the rest of the company was starting to move out of 1330 Avenue of the Americas early in 1989. Wow…there was still a lot of work to be done!!
 So the holidays came and went, and Bill continued to give us progress reports, and fill us in on what we were missing. Meanwhile, the new headquarters building at 77 West 66 Street was being completed, and floors of 1330 were moving out, and heading up town. Every week it seemed that there were fewer and fewer neighbors in the elevators, and soon there were just a few floors still occupied. The next time I saw 2 Penn was a couple of weeks before we were scheduled to move it. Bill took Su Ronneburger, Jimmy McGuire and myself on a field trip one afternoon to see what we’d been hearing about. The complex was way more finished than the first time I saw it back in November, but it still seemed like there was a heck of a lot yet to do. The walls were finished and much of the studio furniture was in, but there was little equipment in place, and much wiring still to do. In fact, I remember Su getting paint on the sleeve of her coat during our visit because they were just painting the studio doors that day!
CE Bill Krause, me, Su Ronneburger, and Jimmy McGuire in a yet to be finished Commercial Production Studio

CE Bill Krause, me, Su Ronneburger, and Jimmy McGuire in a yet to be finished Commercial Production Studio 17E

 Meanwhile, back at 1330 the troops were preparing for the move. Drawers were being cleaned out, desks were being packed, file cabinets tagged and everyone was scrambling trying to do their jobs while preparing for the move. As for the technical side of things, we were just walking away from our studios and their equipment and taking very little beyond things like microphones and carts. Beautiful custom Rupert Neve boards that had been designed and built specifically for WABC and WPLJ were not making the move. Studer reel to reel tape machines were being replaced. Our many ITC cart machines were not coming, and were being replaced by Pacific Recorder Cart Machines which we’d tried and hated! But, the powers that be’s answer to every complaint in the last 6 months at 1330 was, “it’ll be better in the new place”. On that count, only time would tell!
 One thing that we did discover on that field trip visit was the number of things that were very obvious to us, but overlooked by the designers and builders of the new WABC/WPLJ complex. Like, what were we going to do with carts? There was no provision in the commercial recording studios for blank cart storage, and the air studios lacked any place to store commercial carts and show element carts. Another thing….we ran a telephone talk format where the screener was an important part of the mix and in this wonderful WJR design with all our turntables, there was NO place for a screener!! It was very obvious that there would be a lot of things that had to be figured out AFTER we moved into the new studios!
 So, finally the time was here, and the move was on. Because there were two radio stations, and two floors from the ABC building to be moved to 2 Penn Plaza, the move was staggered. It was around St Pat’s Day, 1989 that our new studios were “ready” and we were on our way! I have almost no memory of the WPLJ move as they were a combo station at this point, but oh boy do I remember the big move of WABC! We did it over a weekend with the offices moving on Friday, and the radio station scheduled to move on Saturday morning. The plan was that since WABC aired on tape “Best Of” shows Saturday morning, we’d move everything we could over and then when we were ready to make the switch, we’d just move the next tape and Bruce Anderson, that morning’s newscaster over to our new home, and WABC would be on the air from 2 Penn Plaza!
 The movers attacked the 8th floor of 1330, and in very short order the big items had been relocated to 2 Penn Plaza. Later on Friday we started taking trips down to 2 Penn with the smaller items that had to be moved. All through the night folks worked to make sure that the new studios were set to go. Big things like studio switchers and tape machines were working, but there were many small things that had to be tweaked before we went on the air. The first “Best Of” tape was loaded and ready to go at 6 AM, but as the clock passed 5:30, it was decided we wouldn’t make 6, so the tape was ferried up to 1330. As we approached 7, again it was decided that we wouldn’t make it, so again we and the tape went uptown! Everything was so confused, that between one newscast and the next, someone had moved Bruce Anderson’s mic down to 2 Penn and Bruce did his last newscast at 1330 using the mic he had in his remote bag! I think we finally made it at 8 AM, and so ended the years of WABC Radio and 1330 Avenue of the Americas! Oh, and you know what delayed our move over that weekend? Why, it was because the turntables that we’d never ever use in the air studios were not up to specs!
 So, were things better in the new place? Well, frankly they were not. Beyond the big things like the studios being designed for combo (in the main air studios, the engineer sat about 10 feet away from the window into the studio), having the studios designed without any cart storage (cart carousels and cart racks when into the air studios and furniture was brought from 1330 for storage in the production spaces), and having no space for the screener (a computer was plopped on the floor in the main air control room, and the screener sat in one of the combo guest positions) it really wasn’t. You see, in the 20 plus years that WABC had been at 1330, things had been crafted to address the job we did. With the generic WJR design, we had nothing like that. We lost flexibility in the on air phone system, auto starts that had been developed in our production studio 8X no longer existed in Studio 17E at 2 Penn, and the biggest thing we missed had to do with the Yankee games we were the flagship station for. Over the years, short cuts had been developed that made it easier to do the games on WABC, and to send a slightly different feed out to the network affiliates. The day we moved, all those semi-automation things were gone, and now the poor person running a Yankee game had an almost impossible task. So, in short, things were a lot harder to do in the new studios than they had been at the old ones. The result was that there were many discussions after the move about why things kept getting screwed up on the air. Guess what….nobody wanted to hear that it was because our new studios didn’t do what we needed, but then we’d been beating that dead horse for a couple of years by then, so why would we expect a different outcome!
 The move got done, 1330 Avenue of the Americas went on to have different owners and tenants, something other than the ABC meatball on its marque, and life went on for us down at Penn Station, keeping WABC and WPLJ on the air! 25 years later we’re still there and I still spend every day in Studio 17E looking at the exact same Pacific Recorder board I first sat down at in 1989!! Every time we drive by 54th Street and Avenue of the Americas I still look wistfully at the building that was my first WABC home, and still miss the good times we had in that building.
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2 Responses to Radio Stories – Moving Two Radio Stations

  1. Joel Thorne says:

    MusicRadio WABC was legendary. TalkRadio WABC, not so much.

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