WNYC (AM) broadcasts on 820 kHz, and WNYC-FM broadcasts on 93.9 MHz. Both stations are owned by New York Public Radio and are members of NPR and carry local and national news/talk programs. Some hours the programming is simulcast, some hours different shows air on each station. WNYC reaches more than one million listeners each week and has the largest public radio audience in the United States.
The WNYC stations are co-owned with Newark, New Jersey-licensed classical music outlet WQXR-FM (105.9 MHz), and all three broadcast from studios and offices at 160 Varick Street in the TriBeCa section of Manhattan. WNYC's AM transmitter is located in Kearny, New Jersey; WNYC-FM's transmitter is located on the Empire State Building in New York City.
WNYC is one of the oldest radio stations in New York. Funds for the establishment of the station were approved on June 2, 1922 by the New York City Board of Estimate and Apportionment. WNYC made its first official broadcast two years later on July 8, 1924, at 570 AM with a second-hand transmitter shipped from Brazil. With the commencement of WNYC's operations, the City of New York became one of the first American municipalities to be directly involved in broadcasting.
In 1928 WNYC was forced into a time-sharing arrangement on 570 AM with WMCA, another pioneering New York radio outlet. This situation lasted until 1931, when the Federal Radio Commission (a forerunner to today's FCC) moved WNYC to 810 AM. The frequency move did not help WNYC from an operational standpoint as it now had to share its frequency with the more-powerful WCCO in Minneapolis, limiting WNYC to daytime-only operations, broadcasting from sunrise to sunset. (AM radio waves travel farther at night and WNYC had to protect WCCO from interference.)
Great Depression and World War II
WNYC's transmitter was moved in 1937 from the top of the Municipal Building to City-owned land at 10 Kent Street in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, as part of a Works Progress Administration project. The site was later designated as WNYC Transmitter Park. In 1938 the Municipal Broadcasting System was established by the City of New York to run the station. For its first 14 years, WNYC had been run by the New York City Commissioner for Bridges, Plant and Structures. Now, under an agency devoted singularly to its function and with the leadership of new director Morris S. Novik, appointed by Mayor LaGuardia, WNYC became a model public broadcaster. Among its many landmark programs was the annual American Music Festival.
In 1941 the North American Radio Broadcasting Agreement shifted WNYC's dial position a second time, to 830 kHz. WCCO was moved to 830 as well, and was given clear-channel authority. WNYC would remain a 1,000-watt outlet for the next 48 years. Later that year, on December 7, WNYC was the first radio station in the United States to announce the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. During World War II, the FCC allowed WNYC to stay on the air a few extra hours in the evening due to the public service it was providing.
WNYC began regularly scheduled broadcasts on the FM band on March 13, 1943 at 43.9 MHz. Known originally as W39NY, the FM outlet adopted its present WNYC-FM' identity and its present frequency of 93.9 MHz within a few years. In 1961 the pair were joined by a television operation, as WUHF (channel 31) took to the air in an experimental format. The following year the station was renamed WNYC-TV.
The Municipal Broadcasting System (which was renamed the WNYC Communications Group in 1989) helped to form National Public Radio in 1971, and the WNYC stations were among the 90 stations that carried the inaugural broadcast of All Things Considered later that year.
In 1990 WNYC (AM) moved from 830 kHz to 820 kHz, commenced around-the-clock operations, and increased its daytime power to 10,000 watts while maintaining 1,000 watts at night, to protect WBAP in Fort Worth, Texas; WBAP is also a clear-channel 50,000 watt station but much farther from New York City than Minneapolis. The Brooklyn transmitter site was decommissioned, and the AM transmitter was moved to Belleville Turnpike in Kearny, New Jersey, sharing three towers with WMCA, its former shared-time partner.
The station's ownership by the City meant that it was occasionally subject to the whims of various mayors. As part of a crackdown on prostitution in 1979, then-Mayor Ed Koch tried to use WNYC to broadcast the names of "johns" arrested for soliciting. Announcers threatened a walkout and station management refused to comply with the idea; after one broadcast the idea was abandoned. See John Hour.
Independence from the City
Shortly after assuming the mayoralty in 1994, Rudolph W. Giuliani announced he was considering selling the WNYC stations. Giuliani believed that broadcasting was no longer essential as a municipal service, and that the financial compensation from selling the stations could be used to help the City cover budget shortfalls. The final decision was made in March 1995: while the City opted to divest WNYC-TV (now WPXN-TV) through a blind auction to commercial buyers, WNYC-AM-FM was sold to the WNYC Foundation for $20 million over a six-year period, far less than what the stations could have been sold for if they were placed on the open market. While the sale put an end to the occasional political intrusions of the past, it required the WNYC Foundation to embark on a major appeal towards listeners, other foundations, and private benefactors. The station's audience and budget have continued to grow since the split from the City.
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 destroyed WNYC-FM's transmitter atop the World Trade Center. WNYC-AM-FM's studios, in the nearby Manhattan Municipal Building, had to be evacuated and station staff was unable to return to its offices for three weeks. The FM signal was knocked off the air for a time. WNYC temporarily moved to studios at National Public Radio's New York bureau in midtown Manhattan, where it broadcast on its still operating AM signal transmitting from towers in Kearny, New Jersey and by a live Internet stream. The stations eventually returned to the Municipal Building.
Move to new studios
On June 16, 2008 WNYC moved from its 51,400 square feet (4,780 m2) of rent-free space scattered on eight floors of the Manhattan Municipal Building to a new location at 160 Varick Street, near the Holland Tunnel. The station now occupies three and a half floors of a 12-story former printing building.
The new offices have 12-foot (4 m) ceilings and 71,900 square feet (6,680 m2) of space. The number of recording studios and booths has doubled, to 31. There is a new 140-seat, street-level studio for live broadcasts, concerts and public forums and an expansion of the newsroom of over 60 journalists.
Renovation, construction, rent and operating costs for the new Varick Street location amounted to $45 million. In addition to raising these funds, WNYC raised money for a one-time fund of $12.5 million to cover the cost of creating 40 more hours of new programming and three new shows. The total cost of $57.5 million for both the move and programming is nearly three times the $20 million the station had to raise over seven years to buy its licenses from the City in 1997.
Acquisition of WQXR
On October 8, 2009 WNYC took control of classical music station WQXR-FM, then at 96.3 FM. WQXR's intellectual property (call letters and format) was acquired from the New York Times Company as part of a three-way transaction with Univision Radio. WNYC also purchased the 105.9 FM frequency of Univision's WCAA (now WXNY-FM). WQXR-FM's classical format moved to 105.9 and WXNY's Spanish Tropical format debuted at 96.3. The deal resulted in WQXR becoming a non-commercial station. With WQXR as a co-owned 24-hour classical station, WNYC-FM dropped its remaining classical music programming to become a full-time news/talk station.
New Jersey expansion
On June 6, 2011, the New Jersey Public Broadcasting Authority agreed to sell four FM stations in northern New Jersey to New York Public Radio. The transaction was announced by Governor Chris Christie, as part of his long-term goal to end State-subsidized public broadcasting. The four stations were previously the northern half of New Jersey Network's statewide radio service, with the stations in southern New Jersey going to Philadelphia public radio station WHYY-FM. Upon taking control of the four stations on July 1, 2011, they were rebranded as New Jersey Public Radio.
Past WNYC radio personalities include H. V. Kaltenborn, who hosted radio's first quiz program on WNYC in 1926, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle's Current Events Bee, a forerunner to shows like National Public Radio's Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! In its early years the station lacked funds for a record library and would borrow albums from record stores around the Manhattan Municipal Building, where its studios were located. Legend has it, a listener began lending classical records to the station and in 1929, WNYC began broadcast of Masterwork Hour, radio's first program of recorded classical music.
Following the U.S. entry into World War II, then-Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia made use of the station every Sunday in his Talk to the People program. During a lengthy newspaper workers strike, La Guardia also used the WNYC airwaves to read the latest comic strips to local youngsters while they were not available in New York.
Margaret Juntwait, an announcer and classical music host at WNYC for 15 years, left for the Metropolitan Opera in September 2006. Prior to her death in 2015, Juntwait served as announcer for the Met's Saturday afternoon radio broadcasts, the first woman to hold the position and only the third regular announcer of the long-standing broadcast series, which was launched in 1931. John Schaefer, a music show host at WNYC for 20 years, has written liner notes for more than 100 albums, for everyone from Yo-Yo Ma to Terry Riley and was named a "New York influential" by the magazine New York (magazine)|New York]].
WNYC produces 100 hours a week of its own programming, including nationally syndicated shows such as Studio 360, On the Media, Selected Shorts and Radiolab, as well as local news and interview shows that include The Leonard Lopate Show, Soundcheck and The Brian Lehrer Show. The entire schedule is streamed live over the internet and several shows also air over Sirius and XM Satellite Radio. As a result, the station receives listener calls from far-flung states and even has international listeners.
WNYC-AM-FM has a local news team of 18 journalists, as well as dozens of producers and other broadcasting professionals.
Studio 360 is a weekly one-hour program about arts and culture hosted by Kurt Andersen, the former editor of Spy Magazine. Taking current issues and trends as jumping-off points, the show explores a broad range of cultural ideas. Each program begins with a topical section of stories about the arts and culture from around the United States and around the world. It won a Peabody Award in 2004 for its episode American Icons: Melville's Moby-Dick.
On the Media is a nationally syndicated, weekly one-hour program hosted by Brooke Gladstone and Bob Garfield, formerly of Advertising Age, covering the media and its effect on American culture and society. Many stories investigate how events of the past week were covered by the press. Stories also regularly cover such topics as video news releases, net neutrality, media consolidation, censorship, freedom of the press, spin, and how the media is changing with technology. It won a Peabody Award in 2004.
The Brian Lehrer Show is a two-hour weekday talk show covering local and national current events and social issues hosted by Brian Lehrer, a former anchor and reporter for NBC Radio Network. It won a Peabody Award in 2007 "for facilitating reasoned conversation about critical issues and opening it up to everyone within earshot."
The Leonard Lopate Show, originally "New York & Company," is a two-hour weekday talk show hosted by Leonard Lopate, a painter who studied with Ad Reinhardt and Mark Rothko and the brother of writer Phillip Lopate. The show covers a broad range of topics including current events, literature, theater, science and history. It won a Peabody Award in 2012 "for considering all things New York in lively broadcasts that, like the host, value light more than heat."
Soundcheck is a one-hour weekday talk and music show hosted by John Schaefer. The program looks at music and the arts, featuring interviews with musicians, critics, journalists, authors and others. It sometimes has live musical performances in mix of genres, including indie rock, jazz, classical, and world music.
Folksong Festival has been airing on WNYC-AM on Saturday nights for seven decades. It is hosted by Oscar Brand, who debuted the show on December 10, 1945, and who was blacklisted in the McCarthy era. Folksong Festival is the longest-running radio show with the same host, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. It ceased making new episodes in April, 2010, and is currently reairing archived episodes.
WNYC broadcasts the major daily news programs produced by NPR, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, as well as the BBC World Service and selected programs from Public Radio International including This American Life and A Prairie Home Companion.
In 2006 the station began wnyc2 (lower case letters), an all-classical music channel broadcast on HD Radio and on the Internet. The slogan is, "Five hundred years of new music", and most of the playlist comes from the 20th and 21st centuries. This channel became part of WQXR as Q2 when WNYC's parent company acquired WQXR.
In 2013 WNYC launched The Jonathan Channel, a 24-hour streaming Internet radio station programmed by Jonathan Schwartz and dedicated to popular standards from the "Great American Song Book." The channel also features live programming hosted by Schwartz, including a simulcast of his Sunday WNYC-FM show.
Other locally produced programs include:
- The Jonathan Schwartz Show – airing Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons on WNYC-FM, featuring American Popular Standards, including Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand and Nat "King" Cole, as well as Schwartz's unique insights.
- New Sounds – guest musicians, from David Byrne to Meredith Monk, present performances and showcase new works from classical to folk and jazz.
- Radiolab – each episode is a patchwork of people, sounds, stories and experiences centered around one idea.
- Radio Rookies – provides teenagers with the tools and training to create radio stories about themselves, their communities and their world. It won a Peabody Award in 2005.
- Selected Shorts – actors read contemporary and classic short fiction before a live audience. Works range from Chekhov, Maupassant, Malamud, and Singer, to Jhumpa Lahiri and Jonathan Franzen.
- Spinning On Air – specializes in unusual, uncategorizeable music, with an emphasis on in-studio performances.
- The Takeaway – a weekday one-hour show, hosted by John Hockenberry, co-produced with Public Radio International.
- Death, Sex & Money – Anna Sale talks to celebrities and regular people about relationships, money, family, work and making it all count.
Listenership and new media
WNYC has been an early adopter of new technologies including HD radio, live audio streaming, and podcasting. RSS feeds and email newsletters link to archived audio of individual program segments. WNYC also makes some of its programming available on Sirius XM satellite radio.