Behind the scenes at NPR HQ
My current job as a production assistant on Morning Edition and Up First is my first non-temp job in journalism, and having the option to go to an office is something novel and fun for me, since I started my career amid the pandemic. I often choose to come to NPR HQ, even though some of my shifts are remote-friendly.
I've decked out my cubicle with a pink rug, twinkly lights and multiple lamps, and have been enjoying experiencing some of the fun quirks of the physical space where NPR operates. I've been greeted with a "good morning" at 10:45 p.m. as the overnight editor was starting her workday. I've had multiple "bathroom moments" – a driveway moment that happens in the bathroom, since NPR shows play in the bathrooms of HQ.
Beyond the spaces, the people are the most unique part of NPR. Here are some of them in their favorite spots around HQ:
The coffee machine near the Morning Edition area
Lilly Quiroz, Associate Producer, Morning Edition & Up First: "The coffee machine next to Morning Edition is the best one because we have added options like a latte or shots of espresso. Or you can do a 'milk boost' with a teabag of chai to make a chai latte. You'll have to fact-check this, but I think Rachel Martin said that she loves the coffee here."
Rachel Martin, NPR Host: "It is TRUE. It's legit good. When it was time for us to get back into the office after all of the lockdowns, the thing that got me there was the coffee."
Adam Bearne, Editor, Morning Edition: This is NPR's bike room and it's the best room in the building because its existence means I don't have to bring my bike up the stairs or elevator like I did at my old job."
Historical entrance of HQ
Jacob Conrad, Senior Editor, Morning Edition: "This building was built in 1927, only twelve years after the first coast-to-coast telephone call in the United States. It was built as a maintenance facility for Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company."
Studio 36 Control Room
Karan Chaudhary, Intern, Morning Edition and Content Ops: "This is where I've felt on top of my game, and also at my lowest. My first piece was recorded right there on Mic 2. I'm 7,800 miles away from home, but this feels like home."
Studio 36, behind the glass
In March, Steve Inskeep interviewed Ari Shapiro about his new book.
Steve Inskeep, Host, Morning Edition and Up First: "We're in Studio 36, where Morning Edition does a lot of its production. I went years without talking to anybody in here because of the pandemic, and the first guest who came back to talk to me face-to-face was Nina Totenberg."
Ari Shapiro, Host, All Things Considered and Consider This: "I was her intern twenty-plus years ago!"
The blue wall
Miranda Kennedy, Senior Supervising Editor, Morning Edition: "We're standing in front of the blue wall, which has been featured in many NPR portraits because the light is great from this wall of windows. The view from the windows isn't great. But it's not about the view."
Studio 31 control room: The director's side
Milton Guevara, Associate Producer & Director, Morning Edition: "This is where I direct Morning Edition. Being a director is like conducting an orchestra. I get to cue the hosts, the pieces and all the music."
Studio 31 control room: The technical side
Hans Copeland, Technical Director: "A fun fact is that there are 450 buttons on the board! I counted them."
The microphones all over the building
Audio engineer Neil Tevault estimates that there are one hundred Neumann U87 mics in this building. There are also about 15 mics at NPR West in Culver City, and about 5 at NPR NY, and we've had most of them for decades!
Neil Tevault, Audio Engineer: "I think the last time we bought any of them was before we moved into this HQ building, so somewhere between 2011 and 2012. We started with them in the early 80s, and the mics we bought back then are mostly still in use. Our largest purchase of these mics happened in the early 90s when we were designing our studios at our 635 Mass Ave building. So from experience, we can say that yes, they are expensive, but they're built really well and don't need to be replaced often."
Bob Boilen's working desk, a.k.a. the Tiny Desk
Josh Rogosin, Audio Engineer/Producer, Tiny Desk Concerts: "Just so you know, the Tiny Desk is a working desk. Bob Boilen is actually at it as we speak. This is what it's like when there's no Tiny Desk concert happening. It's Bob at his desk, and me, being annoying."
Tiny Desk storage closet
Around the corner from the Tiny Desk, there's a tiny closet where equipment is stored.
Josh Rogosin: "It's a tight space. I just kind of stack things because there's a lot of stuff, especially when the equipment is no longer behind the desk. This room fills up pretty quick."
Sixth floor ping pong table
Susannah Broun, Intern, TED Radio Hour and How I Built This: "It's a great way to break up the workday."
The quiet room
Kaity Kline, Assistant Producer, Morning Edition and Up First: "You sip your Red Bull. You take a little nap for 30 minutes."
Fourth floor terrace
Jonas Adams, Director, All Things Considered: "When it's sunny and nice out, this is where I eat lunch. It's where I chill. There's a nice view of the NPR sign."
Shot glass wall in Studio 42
When staff get back from faraway assignments, they'll sometimes bring back a shot glass to place in the wall of NPR's Studio 42. The tradition was already underway when audio engineer Neil Tevault started at NPR in 1996.
Neil Tevault, Audio Engineer: "It started in our old studio 4B at 635 Mass Ave. When we would travel and do remote recordings for the classical music show called Performance Today, one of the traditions we had was to buy a shot glass and bring it back and put it in the diffuser wall. It's sort of geographically representative of a map of the United States. We actually got a consultation from an acoustician that said that shot glasses in diffuser walls are just fine for acoustics."
The view of the construction site next door
Graham Rebhun, Software Engineer: "I love the corner of the building by the little pit outside. They're doing construction next door and we colloquially call it 'the pit' because it used to literally be a giant hole in the ground, but it has since become a building. We even have a Slack channel where people can keep up with what's going on and what the building looks like at any given moment."
The beehives, "All Stings Considered" and "Swarming Edition"
Devon Williams, Associate Project Manager, Event Operations: "We are on the seventh floor, the top floor at headquarters. And we are overlooking our NPR beehives down here."
Sounds Bites Café
My favorite part of HQ is Sound Bites Café, where I get breakfast and lunch when I'm at HQ. The food is so affordable. Four dollars for scrambled eggs with cheese and a side of potatoes? In this economy? Unheard of.
Each of these locations is just one part of the NPR HQ building, but all together, they make up an office that is completely unique, just like the staff who work there.
See the full reel here.
This story was edited by Kelsey Page.