NPR Bids Farewell to NY Bureau Space NPR is opening a new, slightly tonier bureau space in Manhattan. But for radio veterans, the East Side space that's closing houses many memories.
NPR logo NPR Bids Farewell to NY Bureau Space

NPR Bids Farewell to NY Bureau Space

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NPR is opening a new, slightly tonier bureau space in Manhattan. But for radio veterans, the East Side space that's closing houses many memories.


More than 30 years ago, a fledgling radio network - this one actually was seeking an outpost in the media capital of the world, New York, New York. And so NPR leased space on the East Side of Manhattan and over the decades, that studio has seen, gosh, heads of state academy award, award winners and, and -


All sorts of luminaries. Me, for example. Well, anyway, I worked there for a couple of years before I came here and out. I have to say physically, the place is pretty grim. Let's just say windows were not really in large supply.

But now, NPR is finally moving to new, slightly tonier offices, a few blocks away. NPR's Mike Pesca prepared this, his last report from the old New York Studios and it's quite a (unintelligible).

MIKE PESCA: If you walked down 42nd street, take a left up 2nd, pass the two or three guys who are always protesting the Israel Consulate across the street, you'll find our building, or the building that used to be ours.

The big NPR logo on the bureau's door offers no hint of just how underwhelmed you're about to be. Reporter Robert Krulwich is here now and was here two decades ago.

ROBERT KRULWICH: To this day, really, but then especially there was just nothing corporate or inviting. You tumbled into the University of Iowa's radio station.

PESCA: But a Hawkeye 100 or whatever the kids listen to in Iowa City, you don't get the scenes that you do here. Krulwich remembers that just a couple months ago, sitting in our lobby were Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Ricky Gervais and Calvin Trillin.

KRULWICH: We just have three chairs stuck against the wall.

PESCA: And it's the first thing you see when you walk in. So the FedEx guys walks...

KRULWICH: Right, the FedEx walks - so you want to say Calvin Trillin, Mr. Jabbar, this man's a very, very famous star in England, this is a major star on the basketball courts all around the world, and this guy here is like one of the funniest and most widely respected - but why would they have to know that?

PESCA: It's also probably best if the guests don't look around too closely to check out the neighbors. At different times, the building has housed various non-permanent member nations to the U.N., like SWAPO and the Tibet Mission. But the largest single tenant is Universal Media.

Early on, engineer Minoli Weatherall(ph), who's been working here since 1978, filled me in on the nature of their business.

Ms. MINOLI WEATHERALL (Engineer, National Public Radio): Mostly they do soft porn.

PESCA: Most of the guests who visit our bureau are nice enough not to be put off by the holes in the carpet, but some get irked for other reasons. Former Interior Secretary James Watt once walked out of an interview. Lou Reed had to be handled when an interviewer admitted that she hadn't listened to the entire two-disk album. And Monica Lewinsky turned on her heel, leaving Terry Gross asking, Monica, Monica, are you there?

Some stars, as Margot Adler remembers, are much more friendly.

MARGOT ADLER: Arnold Schwarzenegger came in. I was up on a stool editing tape, and he came around and he put his hands in my hair and went, Oh, beautiful hair.

PESCA: And don't get Margot and Minoli started about the visit from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

ADLER: He wouldn't use the men's room because according to his people it was far too disgusting.

Ms. WEATHERALL: It was, it was.

PESCA: They wound up offering him the women's room and changed the sign so as not to insult the former KGB officer. These little quirks, indignities you might say, are the very things that endear us to this place. If ever anyone accuses NPR of going corporate, how could your mind not instantly flash to the filthy coffeepots or the un-vented microwave nook. To hear Robert Krulwich tell it, we'll miss the quirky things about the old bureau, which hardly compares to his other, tonier workplace.

KRULWICH: I still work at ABC News. So when you walk into that building, you walk into a marble lobby, and then you rise up from the lobby on a very, very angular escalator, which takes you to someplace that seems - well, you haven't gotten there yet because it takes so long - very, very important.

So there's so much threshold and so much proscenium and so much getting ready to meet the man. Here, you open the door, and there's Steve Martin, some banjo players that you would die for, and a world-class dancer. They're just sitting there on an old, rickety chair.

Now, if I had to choose, and I sometimes get to every week, between going up the escalator in the beauty spot or going through that door, I'd choose the door because it's human scale.

PESCA: The new offices open Monday. I've seen them. They've got a reception area and everything. Too bad. Mike Pesca, NPR News, New York.

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