When I started working at ABC in 1976, the headquarters of the three main broadcast networks were within 4 blocks of each other, on the same side of the Avenue of the Americas in Manhattan. “Radio Row” started with the NBC Headquarters at 30 Rock, next up was Black Rock, the CBS Headquarters between 52nd and 53rd Street, followed by the ABC Building, just across 53rd Street from CBS, at 1330 Avenue of the Americas. This was frankly heady times in the broadcasting business, when having a broadcast license was almost akin to printing your own money, and cash flowed like water. All three networks acted like the well would never run dry, and spent accordingly.
Now 30 Rock had been NBC’s base of operations for years, and contained many TV and
radio studios, but when CBS and ABC joined the old master on 6th Avenue, they weren’t about to move TV operations to these new buildings. They did, however, need some jewel of their broadcast crown to be a part of their headquarters buildings, somewhat as a display. Both companies had the same idea, and tapped their local radio stations to be original tenants of their new headquarters buildings. WCBS AM & FM resided in Black Rock, and just across 53rd Street, WABC and WABC-FM (shortly to change to WPLJ) took up residence in the ABC Building.
I’ll be honest with you, as a young guy, there was something very special about working for the ABC New York Owned and Operated radio stations, and doing so in the headquarters building of the American Broadcasting Company. First, it was a perfect location. Across 53rd Street from the CBS Building (and our WCBS AM & FM friends), across 6th Avenue from the NY Hilton, across 54th Street from the Warwick Hotel (where I saw Cary Grant and Diane Cannon getting into their limo one night), surrounded by great shopping and restaurants , and one questionable “science experiment” on 55th Street called the Joy Deli, that many of us who worked after hours ate at. Second, on any given day, you might see ABC founder Leonard Goldenson heading across the lobby to his private elevator, or see ABC President Elton Rule or ABC TV President Fred Silverman heading to his limo waiting on 6th Avenue. Oh yes, every morning and every afternoon, you could see the parade of light blue ABC limos in front of the building with their license plates ABC-1, ABC-2, etc. Third, it was also neat that you knew that EVERYONE who worked in this building, worked for the same company. Be it in the lobby, or an elevator, or the 2nd floor ABC Cafeteria where you’d be hard pressed to finish a lunch that cost $2, you were all ABC employees!
The 8th floor contained the offices of WABC, and the studios for WABC and WPLJ (WPLJ’s offices were on the 9th floor). The studios were in the core of the building with the outer perimeter given over to offices, and the entire northern end of the floor for the Sales Department. The building, and the WABC/WPLJ studios, dated from the mid 60s, and had served the radio stations well, but designs for updated studios were in the works. The night I started at ABC (August 8, 1976) was the beginning of the rebuilding for the WABC and WPLJ studios, as on that night, WABC’s main air studio was dismantled, destined to be the first of the new studios on the 8th floor.
This was a new modern design of very user friendly, sexy radio studios, designed by WABC/WPLJ’s Maintenance Supervisor George Berger, in consultation with Chief Engineer Bob Deitch. George was a genius in many ways (to see some others, I reference
my post Christmas Parties https://fdthird.wordpress.com/2015/12/23/radio-stories-christmas-parties/), but his design of studios was without equal. The studios were built around custom Rupert Neve consoles with all the furniture built by the ABC Carpenter Shop (one of the huge advantages of the ABC Building was that they had every imaginable trade available for just about every use, from carpenters to electricians, to even their own telephone guys). And while the sexy part was great, the user friendly part was even better! George’s ego was stoked not by telling people what they needed, but by listening to what the users wanted, and designing a studio that exactly fit their needs! These studios were the best!
Because the NABET Engineers went back and forth between WABC and WPLJ, George designed the studios with exactly the same custom Neve board, despite the fact that the look and function of the studios was totally different! Both had 3 mic faders on the left,
followed by a grouping of 4 and then 3 faders in the middle of the board, and then 2 that were separated on the right side. In WABC’s main air studio, those 7 faders in the middle were given over to 7 cart machines, which were arranged to the right and left of the engineer. In WPLJ, these same seven faders were 4 cart machines and 3 turntables, because all of WPLJ’s music was played off vinyl. The last two faders to the right were remotes, with selectors above them to dial up the many different available feeds. Above the main section, were your monitoring controls and studio switching buttons. The board was a pleasure to run, and made WABC or WPLJ operations so easy and clean!
8A and FM-1 were the first of 4 studios that got the Berger/Rupert Neve treatment, with WABC’s main Production Studio, 17C ,and it’s Commercial Production Studio, 8X (my home), following closely behind. These were also incredible studios, making this complex perhaps the best suite of radio studios in America! One of the saddest parts of our move from 1330 to 2 Penn in 1989, was leaving these great studios (and a great WPLJ Combo Studio George built in later years on the 9th Floor, again utilizing one of the original consoles) that were custom designed for what we did. In 1989, high above Madison Square Garden, we moved into a facility which I used to call “Generic Radio Design 101”, to which we had to adapt. We went from custom designed studios that were able to easily do exactly what we needed, to generic studios that we had to adapt to. Some progress! Later we found out that because ABC had waited so long to move us, the plans for the studios we moved into at 2 Penn were derived from a plan originally designed for WJR in Detroit. That design included turntables in every studio, and combo positions at WABC, a station that had no combo operations!
1989, and our move from 1330 to 2 Penn Plaza, was the end of an era of incredible studio designs at WABC and WPLJ. The sexy user friendly studios had been replaced by stock components that had to make do, and while there have been remodels in the last 25+ years to some of our original studios that have better suited the job done there, nothing can compare to those George Berger designed studios that graced the 8th floor of the ABC Building.
In August of 1979, WABC and WPLJ’s studios were the subject of a rare (for WABC AND WPLJ) broadcast magazine feature in Broadcast Engineering. Thanks to my friend Dan Taylor of WCBS-FM for providing the following digital copy of that feature, which details the studios I have been talking about in both text and pictures. If you look at picture 5 on page 3 of the article, you’ll see 8X, my home away from home during my time at 1330! Thanks Dan for being a digital pack rat!