Rock to Rubble: Howard Stern’s One-Time Studio Faces Wrecker’s Ball

55 Woodside Avenue – Former Home of WRNW (Photo: Robert Brum)

A rundown shack on a dusty Briarcliff Manor street where “The King of All Media” launched his career may soon be reduced to rubble.

The two-story building on Woodside Avenue that once housed a beauty parlor is the former home of the progressive-rock radio station WRNW FM, where Howard Stern was at the mic in 1977.

The village is mulling Landmark Management LCC’s $1 million plan for demolishing the building and replacing it with a mix of office space and apartments, according to Planning Board documents.

The third-of-an-acre parcel that was the longtime home of the Yankee Clipper hair salon changed hands earlier this year for $525,000, according to Town of Ossining records.

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Left to right: Singer Bryan Ferry, and WRNW DJs Bob Marrone and Tom Jones in the Briarcliff Manor studio. Photo courtesy of Bob Marrone

WRNW (whose call letters stood for Radio of Northern Westchester) took to the airwaves at 107.1 FM in 1960, broadcasting easy listening and light classical out of a Mount Kisco studio. By the time the station moved into its Briarcliff digs in 1973 the station had switched to the prog-rock format that dominated FM dial in the 70s.

Stern arrived at WRNW’s Briarcliff studios after a failed gig as afternoon drive-time disc jockey at an AM station outside Boston, according to his website.

Stern was the station’s midday DJ and took over as program director after the departure in late 1977 of Meg Griffin, who gained acclaim on the station for pioneering new wave and punk rock bands like the Ramones, Elvis Costello, Blondie and The Sex Pistols.

“We want to have a definite sound,” Stern told The New York Times in February of 1978. “We want people to turn on WRNW and know right away, ‘That’s WRNW, that’s my station, I like it.’ “

Bruce Figler on air at WRNW FM circa 1978-79. Photo courtesy of Bruce Figler

Bruce Figler, who was hired as a disc jockey by Stern in 1977, recalled the station as hot and cramped, with advertising sales and administration sharing a small downstairs office; upstairs were two studios with the music director and teletype machine installed in separate closets. The stairway was so narrow, you had to turn sideways to let someone pass, he said.

“It wasn’t an appropriate place for a radio station,” said Figler, who started as the overnight host and eventually worked every on-air shift. “It was someone’s house, and we were in someone’s attic bedroom. There was a window behind where you sat and you had to keep it open because it got hot.”

Figler joined the station as it was shifting from free-form with each DJ putting a personal stamp on the playlist, to a mellower format limiting some of the choices. “Not Streisand but softer rock,” he recalled.

“He was not the Howard Stern he would become,” Figler said of the man who later gained fame (and infamy) as a shock jock. “He was trying to do the soft rock thing and by everyone’s opinion he was awkward at it. But he was a very nice guy … A bit of a geeky guy, corny sense of humor. He didn’t get music that much.”

Howard Stern at the WRNW mic (Photo-Nuttawut Permphithak on YouTube)

Stern soon departed for a Hartford radio station, on a trajectory that eventually led to his stardom with WXRK FM and then SiriusXM.

Figler would later meet up with his former boss when Stern returned to Briarcliff to shoot scenes outside the old studios for his 1997 autobiographical film “Private Parts.”

Figler was fired by the station’s program director in 1981, just before WRNW moved to Pleasantville. He would go on to several other radio jobs before founding Creative Sound Works in 1985.

He also was a weekend and fill-in DJ on The Peak – which took over the 107.1 FM spot on the dial around 2004 after a period of ownership changes starting around 1982 that switched between adult contemporary, country, Spanish and hard rock formats.

The Peak’s offices are in White Plains but the station still uses “Briarcliff Manor” in its on-air ID because the village is listed on the FCC license.

 

 

3 Comments

  1. I hung out there many times in the late 70s as a teenager. My friends and I would sneak out in the wee hours of the morning and hang out with TJ the DJ also known as Tom Jones. I also hung out with Howard Stern twice. I studied guitar at Wizard Sounds Studio, which was right up the street and there were lots of people that would hang that were affiliated together. Great memories ♥️

  2. Gretchen Sundstrom-Smith, My band Ronnie and the Jitters recorded our EP, ‘Roll Over Richard’ at Wizard Studios in Briarcliff ca. 1982 with engineers, Dave and Warren. It was a world-class facility! I recall that the owner was Bob Clearmountain’s (Rolling Stones, etc.) engineer when Bob was in the producer’s chair. Leslie West was one of the big clients of Wizard. Briarcliff Manor and surrounds is a gorgeous place!

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About the Author: Robert Brum