A piece of radio history in Briarcliff Manor will soon be lost to the wrecking ball.
The deteriorating house at 55 Woodside Ave. in the village may appear to be just another decaying structure, but for much of the 1970s and into the early ‘80s it served as the studio for progressive rock station WRNW.
WRNW, which could be found at 107.1 FM, was not just beloved by local rock ‘n’ roll aficionados more than 40 years ago. It served as the training ground for legendary radio personality Howard Stern, renowned disc jockey Meg Griffin and many others who launched their careers at the station.
“The story of WRNW is the story of radio,” said Christian Larson, who has created a documentary on the story after the publication that he works for, The River Journal, ran an article on the house’s pending demolition in March. “It started with creativity and chaos and then it became business, it became corporate, it became formatted and the soul was taken out of it.”
Last Saturday afternoon, many of the station’s alumni returned to the house, swapping stories and taking a trip down memory lane. The house, which for many years afterward was home to a hair salon, will soon be taken down once property owner Landmark Enterprises obtains the demolition permit, said its President John Saraiva.
His company will be erecting a new mixed-use structure with Landmark Enterprises’ offices on the ground level and five apartments upstairs.
But for former WRNW employees who remember the current building’s spartan surroundings, stifling summer heat in the attic studio and the noise from the construction yard down the street, that all added to the station’s unique charm.
“This building was never really much to look at. It is not much to look at today,” said Pleasantville’s Bruce Figler, who was hired by Stern in 1977 to initially work overnights and moved on to WTFM and WAPP in the city and later 107.1 The Peak in White Plains. “However, what took place inside of that, that was something and somehow the most creative people in the world came out of here, and what came out of here in terms of product was amazing.”
But it was also about letting young, talented personalities, most of whom were right out of college or no more than a few years removed from school, make the decisions about the music they wanted to play. It also served as a farm system for New York City radio stations.
Gary Axelbank, another of the station’s on-air personalities, said WRNW was able to speak to its listeners and was “what real radio is about.”
“If it’s raining you play ‘Riders on the Storm,’ if it’s a sunny day you play ‘Summer in the City’ and you really relate to people’s lives,” he said. “Unfortunately, the consultants came in and formatted everything. I wouldn’t read from the cards. It didn’t work.”
DJ Harris Allen, who worked at the station from late 1976 until early 1978, said program director Donald Barnett was the one who let the on-air personalities make the music choices.
“He was the guy who gave us the free rein to play literally anything we wanted to play, and also decided on who he was going to take a chance on and give this responsibility to,” Allen said. “That was an amazing thing.”
One of those people was Stern. Those who remember him described him as a bit of a geek back then. Larson said he invited him to the event but Stern didn’t return his calls.
Originally, WRNW was based in Mount Kisco, created in the early 1960s and playing big band music. It changed to the progressive rock format in 1972 with an odd mix of funk, jazz, blues, reggae and later on new wave and punk. The move to Briarcliff Manor came in 1974.
The village’s mayor, Steven Vescio, said he loved hearing about the days of WRNW.
“You would have never known that this megastar, multi megastars, came out of this small space, which is kind of neat,” Vescio said. “I think there’s a lot of stories like that around Westchester.”
One of the few news reporters who worked for the station was Bob LeMoullec, known back in the day as Bob L. LeMoullec, who would go on to a lengthy career at 1010 WINS, brought an old WRNW jacket and reminisced about the old days.
“Every other place I worked it was news, news was the thing,” LeMoullec said. “So that was my fondest memory, being around people who were really knowledgeable (about music) and a lot of fun to be around.”