NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — The magic of radio has never been as magical as these past many weeks navigating the coronavirus crisis.
At WCBS Newsradio 880, news that used to be delivered from a million dollar studio on Manhattan’s Lower West Side now emanates from a basement, spare bedrooms, a home office, and even a closet.
COVID-19 has chased just about everyone out of the nation's biggest city and while some news staffers have to work from the Manhattan studios to keep the news flowing, most of the work in collecting and distributing the news on 880 is coming from remote locations across the New York Metropolitan area.
Long time morning news Anchor Wayne Cabot flips on the light in a darkened home office just after 4 in the morning to begin preparing news copy that will make up his daily Morning News Roundup broadcast that takes air live at 6 a.m.
Cabot, who was one of the first 880 news anchors to work from home, connected to the New York studio by a piece of equipment that allows a broadcast quality newscast over the home internet connection. But Cabot is not alone.
News Anchor Paul Murnane now handles midday duties from his home setup in Fairfield County, Connecticut. He regularly ends his weather reports with a temperature check, “at the Murnanes in Connecticut."
His biggest worry is that a delivery man ringing the doorbell will set off a chorus of barks from the family's two dogs. So far. So good.
News Anchor Kevin Rincon is anchoring news from his apartment building in Jersey City, a setup that allows him a view of New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty in all her grandeur.
News anchoring is just one of the regular 880 duties now being handled remote.
And then there is writer Martin Untrojb, connected to the newsroom from his apartment in Queens by a remote desktop system that allows him to operate as if he were in Manhattan. His technical set up includes 2 iPads to monitor local TV and 880’s live broadcast.
“On my computer I have Tweetdeck open, Slack, Messenger, and tabs on all the major papers and networks that could be useful, like CNBC, as we head closer to the open on Wall Street," he said.
Martin and others also stay connected on a newsroom chat that they can use when they are tied into remote desk tops “to coordinate who is doing what, and making sure we are on top of everything.”
For Reporters like Peter Haskell, working remotely is nothing new. He spends most of his days connected to the newsroom by computer and phone. But covering the coronavirus story in a safe way has dramatically changed the way reporters in the field work. Given the need for social distancing, much of our reporting is done over the phone.
“Fortunately I’m able to conduct phone interviews, record audio feeds from public officials and otherwise do my job," Haskell said.
The tough part for Peter is having to do some of this work out of the home where his two pre-teen boys make it a challenge.
Reporter Steve Burns says the social distancing rules really changed the job of reporting. Two weeks ago he was covering New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio’s daily news briefings sitting at an acceptable six-plus feet away from his colleagues in City Hall’s Blue Room.
He remembers there was “a conscious effort among us to keep our distance in what would otherwise be a situation where we're on top of each other."Today Steve does all of his reporting remote via online stream or phone interviews. It’s the only way to be safe in this environment. Steve has always worked from his Manhattan apartment editing “from the comfort of my living room couch." He also records where he can find the best acoustics “the bedroom closet."
So with all this remote work going on, what’s happening in the WCBS 880 Hudson Square Broadcast space?
Anchor Steve Scott is one of those who has regularly worked out of the studio to deliver the news. As they say – someone has to do it, and Steve, Michael Wallace, Lynda Lopez and others have continued to come in to handle their shifts in a near-deserted newsroom.
Steve calls the 880 newsroom “a pretty lonely place these days."
A handful of colleagues on the inside are supporting the bulk of the work on the outside.
Steve Scott says, “In some ways, I think this has brought us even closer together as friends and colleagues. I’m really proud of our team."