Monday, December 28, 2009

643 Studio 8H

643 Studio 8H

Studio 8 H is accessible only from the 9th floor of the GE building, formerly the RCA building. If you push the button to stop the elevator at "8," you still get to the ninth floor. The most famous event that takes place there is the broadcast of "Saturday Night Live," which is the second most important event to take place in that room. The MOST important happened before most of us were born. That's where the NBC Symphony used offer its weekly stuff. It's where Arturo Toscanini was king.

When you view SNL, you see what looks like a huge hall, with balconies for the audience and a few select seats on a ground floor. This is misleading. It's really small. Most TV studios are way tinier than you think. Fortunately, in the days of Arturo, no one noticed. There was no television and radio could create any nonsense it wanted.

Today's groupies think of 8H as the center of the universe. It isn't. But it was, in a way.

The early folk at NBC thought 8H had lousy acoustics. It does. In the radio days, no one paid much mind to that. Except the NBC audiophiles who didn't want to record the orchestra there, preferred Carnegie Hall and accepted a middling compromise in Manhattan's West 40s. Arturo didn't care. He was, after all, Arturo.

So a lot of this band's prime stuff was recorded in the RCA Victor studios. The records were crap. But the weekly radio shows came from either 8H or Carnegie Hall.

Toscanini had a suite of offices on the 11th floor of the RCA Building. He had two -- yes, two -- private elevators that got him there from the lobby. The shafts remain to this day. But the elevators are gone. They are sealed behind plaster board right near the elevator that brings you to 8H.

What would Toscanini think of today's NBC? Impossible to tell. Would he like what goes on in 8H these days? Impossible to tell. But the betting is he'd be fine with it. Toscanini was nothing if not practical.


--The standard note that defines modern music is "A440." That's 440 cycles per second. Older stuff used other frequencies and that's why the "early instrument" recordings don't sound exactly like you expect them, if you have perfect pitch, but work out fine if you don't -- and most of us don't.

--There have been far too many RIPs in this space lately, but, unfortunately, here's another. This time it's Percy Sutton, 89, political powerhouse, a guy who should have been mayor, a guy who understood broadcasting, a pioneer in African American radio, civil rights and Malcolm X's lawyer, son of a slave, brilliant, gentle, up from the bottom former postal clerk, war hero. Oh, and a good friend and confidante for decades, even though the political rival of another good friend and confidante, Ed Koch.

--First it was a fake Nigerian prince looking for our bank account numbers. Now, it's two Nigerians trying to cause trouble on flights from Lagos to Amsterdam to Detroit. You have to wonder about anyone from anywhere who actually WANTS to go to Michigan.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2009

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