Parked behind a wide floor-to-ceiling window on the second floor
of a new $20 million building on Manhattan’s once wild and
wooly “Alphabet City,” the Lower Eastside Girls Club’s new WGRL
Internet broadcast studio is helping to revitalize radio’s role in
young people’s lives.
In a move designed to empower, inspire and educate young women to
achieve their creative potential, LESGC co-founder Lyn Pentecost and a
diverse group of community, grassroots and financial supporters created the
LESGC in 1996.
Pentecost and her associates built a unique and formidable organization. In
the process they not only raised consciousness, they also raised the funds for a
sustainably built 12-story mixed usage building at 101 Avenue D in the heart of
NYC’s storied Lower East Side. They broke ground for the project in 2010 and
completed construction in 2013.
|The studio’s control room. Credit: Cheryl Fleming
Featuring an array of educational options — ranging from a digital photography/computer graphics/3D-printing lab, to hands-on BioBus labs, small
business training and incubator space (commercial kitchen, bakery, gift shop,
cafe) and a 64-seat planetarium — the LESGC stretches across three floors and
30,000 square feet.
Incongruously capping this eclectic assemblage of educational and career
training options for low-income teens is a classic Airstream Trailer, circa 1958.
Far from ornamental, the Airstream houses a professional-level streaming,
recording and teaching studio. A pet project of TV editor/musician/LESGC Director of Technology Dave Pentecost, the trailer was purchased by the
Pentecosts as a sidecar to their upstate New York cabin in the Adirondack
Mountains. When the LESGC building became a reality, they decided
their Airstream could serve a better purpose in the community as a sound
studio, and they brought it to Manhattan.
TRAILER MEETS BIG CITY
I’d met Dave years earlier and was pleased to reconnect with him in
2010 when he called with one of the most unusual project requests we’ve
ever had. Was it possible, he wanted to know, to create a viable recording
studio within the confines of a 140-square-foot Airstream Trailer?
The obvious answer is yes, although the geometry, the equipment selection
and the acoustic considerations did present us with significant design
The Walters Storyk Design Group has been around for more than 45
years. We’ve designed TV, broadcast and music recording studios all over
the world in such disparate environments as a basement (Electric Lady),
a duplex penthouse (Jungle City) and a warehouse building (Circo Beat
Studios), but we’d never been asked to build a broadcast studio in an
|A recording session in the studio.
As a visiting professor of acoustics and studio design for the Berklee
College of Music and other schools, I have an abiding interest in educating
young people. Dave Pentecost’s compelling challenge was an opportunity
to help create a useful studio with the potential to turn a new generation of
bright young women into creative broadcasters. This need was particularly
important because, strangely enough, New York City has few, if any, distaff
alternatives to the city’s various Boys Club organizations.
Bringing the Airstream to New York and hoisting it into its new home
on the second floor of a 12-story construction site was a project in itself.
Once the Airstream was
gutted down to its aerodynamic
shell, WSDG Project Manager
Matt Ballos and I began working
with our design team to maximize
the interior and develop
an acoustic treatment program
that would ready the studio and
its compact control room for 5.1
surround recording and mixing
assignments. We also compiled a
gear wish list that would facilitate
the planned studio’s missions,
including recording, mixing,
streaming and instructing.
The Airstream studio comprises
a live room for recording and broadcasts and a control room to
produce and mix programming for the club’s new WGRL Internet station.
It is also used to create sound tracks for student videos and for the LESGC
Planetarium’s educational presentations.
Capable of accommodating up to three students and an instructor in
the control room plus four additional artists/interview subjects in the
front booth area, the Airstream, visible from the street, resides in the
second floor’s stage-equipped community room, which also serves as a
combination classroom and performance venue.
Though compact, the Airstream control room is 5.1 surround sound-ready
and features an array of professional gear that includes an Avid
C/24 mixing console, Genelec Speakers, outboard processing technology
from Manley, API, Neve, Universal Audio, SSL, etc., and microphones
from Neumann, Royer, Shure and Sennheiser.
|Two LESGC members interview
John Storyk at the opening event.
This serious, professional-level studio provides LESGC members with
a real-world, hands-on recording experience and full capability to compose,
produce, record and mix an entire music or streaming production
from A to Z.
Since its official opening
in December, WGRL
has produced, recorded
and streamed hundreds of
interviews, performances and
remote programs that run the
content gamut from covering
a politically inspired art
event in the Andaz Hotel on
New York’s Fifth Avenue to
sharing a dim sum meal at
Joe’s Shanghai Restaurant in
Chinatown, and an interview
with two activists from The
Grail, a nongovernmental
organization focused on
promoting women’s rights, health, education and international
In November, the LESGC
hosted “Girls Making Waves,” a
music and technology conference,
in partnership with the
Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls.
The free event included 40 girls
ages 11–18 and featured workshops
on coding technology,
radio production, beat-making
and sound design. The camp
also presented a panel of women from the fields of
music and technology.
The Lower Eastside Girls Club and Willie Mae
Rock Camp are partnering on a 10-month sound
design program, “Making Waves: The Science of
Sound,” that teaches girls about digital sound design,
multimedia production and diverse careers in
music technology. Girls also have the opportunity
to meet professional women at the forefront of new
technologies in the music industry.
|Here is the interior of the recording booth.
For samples of WGRL programming visit
Lyn Pentecost reports that Odetta Hartman
and Kiya Vega, the women who teach the LESGC
WGRL Radio and Beats by Girls classes, are making
real progress with the studio.
Although they’re still teaching themselves to
take full advantage of the technology, and while
their creative programming is still “getting off the
ground,” the instructors are deeply impressed with
the level of enthusiasm from the girls and young
women, aged 8–23, with whom they’ve been working.
LESGC members are proving themselves adept
and industrious young broadcasters.
According to Pentecost, their “funky” Airstream
has been graced by visits from some pretty cool
supporters and well-wishers. Since the studio was
completed, they’ve welcomed a number of artists,
including former Sex Pistol bass guitarist Glen Mat-lock
and recording star Regina Spektor, who came
by to say “hi” and drop a few beats with the girls
who are learning Ableton Push Controller. Actress
Heather Graham, TV personality Tyra Banks, DJ/performer Donna D’Cruz and Tommy Boy Records
founder Tom Silverman have toured the building
and the Airstream. Tom Petty sent the LESGC a few
guitars, and the girls have also had the opportunity
to sing and record with Moby, Joan Baez and Roseanne
Cash in the on-site planetarium.
LESGC instructors are teaching the girls how to
do professional interviews, and this summer they
will be ready to launch a weekly series of podcasts.
UNIQUE FEATURE SET
|The recording workshop classroom and performance stage.
Drawing on her undergraduate degrees in architecture
and design from the Cooper Union, where
she studied under John Hejduk, and from her two
years as an apprentice to architect Paolo Soleri,
Pentecost took the design lead on the Girls Club
project, working with the architects of record.
As a result, The Lower Eastside Girls Club has
features not before seen in a youth center. In addition
to the full-dome planetarium and Airstream
studio, the building showcases a dramatic interior
proscenium staircase in the academic center;
artist-commissioned art bathrooms; an art-filled
café adjacent to a courtyard with a Kiki Smith
fountain; high ceilings, maximum natural light, a
sedum green roof; and strategic use of whimsical
neon to send a welcoming message in a low-income
community where most architectural design
WSDG was pleased to be involved with the
LESGC Airstream Studio project. It may not be entirely
coincidental that we are currently engaged in
two contrasting public radio station upgrade projects
on the West Coast. Whether in an Airstream
Trailer or a brand new state-of-the-art broadcast
complex, radio stations remain an important aspect
of the WSDG Active Project list.