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Radio on stage 

WAMC sees a bright future for its brand-new performing arts studio

By TANIA GARCIA DE ROSIER, Staff writer
First published: Sunday, February 10, 2002 

ALBANY -- Three years after announcing plans to open a state-of-the-art performing arts studio, WAMC Northeast Public Radio is ready to show off its new facility, a building it hopes will attract world-class talent for live, on-air music, debates, lectures and children's shows. 

WAMC performing arts studio
 STEVE JACOBS / TIMES UNION
The interior of WAMC's new performing arts studio.
During grand-opening celebrations this week, the station will present a sampling of what's to come with daily events including swing, classical, folk and salsa music, children's programming and live talk programs. And if Executive Director Alan Chartock has his way, similar events will continue at the WAMC Performing Arts Studio seven days a week.

"This is extraordinarily exciting,'' Chartock said during a recent conversation at the new studio. "Here we are in inner-city Albany, and this opportunity (to open a studio) came along, and we just took it, and the rest took care of itself.''

What Chartock calls a supernatural "guiding hand'' seems to have brought plenty of good luck to the project. Listeners from across the seven-state broadcast area of WAMC's network of stations helped achieve a capital campaign goal of more than $2 million in record time last year. (The new studio cost $1.3 million.)

"It shows people are incredibly invested in this radio station,'' Chartock said.

Opportunity knocks

The project began in 1998 when WAMC was approached to buy the empty Fleet Bank building on the corner of Central Avenue and Quail Street, across from WAMC's offices. Though its initial offer was turned down, the bank accepted the station's second offer -- $75,000 -- and the building was sold by the end of that year. After planning was completed, the station paid for the renovation of the 10,000-square-foot building with the help of donations from foundations, businesses and individuals, including a $300,000 matching grant from the Lennox Foundation and $100,000 from the city of Albany.

Envision Architects and U.W. Marx Construction Co. teamed with the station to transform the building into a state-of-the-art studio, complete with a multipurpose, 200-seat auditorium named after donor Linda Norris of Great Barrington, Mass.; control and dressing rooms; and a practice area. The station kept intact the bank's original brass gate and vault, and converted the safety-deposit area into the "green room,'' where performers prepare before a show. The station also installed a 16-by-12-foot retractable screen for showing films.

WAMC plans to partner with local arts organizations to host cultural festivals, speakers' series and educational shows. The opportunities for presenting a spectrum of fare on the air are almost limitless, said Selma Kaplan, WAMC's assistant executive director, who believes the variety of live shows will improve the station's programming. Every event that takes place in the auditorium has the potential to be broadcast. Events also may be aired on WAMC's two Web sites, http://www.thepublicradiostation.com and http://www.wamc.org. Admission to the new studio is free this week; thereafter, tickets will cost from $5 to $25.

"We're dedicated to bringing better radio, and this was an opportunity to do it,'' Chartock said. "And we're doing this using existing staff and volunteers.''

Three chiefs

After weeks of interviewing candidates to direct the new studio, the station decided to split the responsibility between three existing employees: Dona Frank, director of marketing and development; Kaplan; and April Kiss, formerly a receptionist and now an arts administrator.

In addition to improving local programming, the new cultural venue could help revive a section of Central Avenue known for its low-end retailers and ubiquitous double-parkers.

"This is a perfect example of everything we're working for,'' said Anthony Capece, executive director of Central Avenue Business Improvement District. "It brings people to the avenue and they become involved with other stores and businesses.''

Capece described WAMC's studio as a catalyst for a four-block section of Central Avenue the BID wants to turn into an arts and entertainment hub. The performing arts studio can fuel the beginning of that growth, he said.

"This neighborhood still has challenges, but it's getting better.'' Chartock said. To combat crime, WAMC installed a high-tech surveillance camera that constantly sweeps up and down Central Avenue and Quail Street. "This street has nowhere to go but up,'' Chartock said. "Opening this new studio gives us a chance to anchor Central Avenue.''

Week of free events marks opening

 Grand opening events for the WAMC Performing Arts Studio, 339 Central Ave., are free. Audiences are asked to arrive no later than 15 minutes before the listed time. Seating is limited. Call 465-5233 for reservations.

MONDAY
11 a.m. Ribbon-cutting with WAMC Executive Director Alan Chartock and Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings. Refreshments and tours.

 2 p.m. Live ``Vox Pop'' with host Joe Donahue and guest Rachael Ray.

 8 p.m. Dance Flurry preview with Teresa Broadwell's Thrivin' On a Riff, Spare Parts and Alex Torres and The Latin Kings.

TUESDAY
11:30 a.m. ``Performance Place Live'' with Susan Arbetter, Joe Donahue and Paul Elisha with guests The Lee Shaw Trio, Abba Bogin and Masako Yanagita. Also, Bett Williams and John Hodian, and Vladimir Pleshakov and Elena Winther.

WEDNESDAY
10 a.m. Community Partner Day with the Albany City School District, grades K-4. Kids' musical entertainers David Grover and The Big Bear Band.

 1 p.m. Interview with WNYT Ch. 13 anchor Ed Dague, hosted by Alan Chartock.

 9 p.m. ``Dancing on the Air'' celebrates Mardi Gras and Valentine's Day with Jay Ungar, Molly Mason and the ``Dancing on the Air'' Orchestra with special guests Professor Louie, the Crowmatix and Laurel Masse, Vinnie Martucci, Mark Dziuba, Mark Rust and T. Xiques.

THURSDAY
8 p.m. ``The Clearwater Sloop Show'' with Sean Madden and guests Pat Humphries, Tom Winslow, Kim and Reggie Harris and John Herald.

FRIDAY
9 a.m. ``The Media Project'' with Alan Chartock, Channel 13 new anchor Lydia Kulbida and Times Union Managing Editor Rex Smith.

 1 p.m. The Zucchini Brothers.

SATURDAY
10 a.m. David Grover and The Big Bear Band.

 8 p.m. ``Hudson River Sampler.'' An evening of folk music with Wanda Fischer, Priscilla Herdman and Rani Arbo.

SUNDAY
3 p.m. Ken Cooper harpsichord concert


 
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