â€œThe most distinctive thing about the Chelsea is the non-uniformity of it, the difference between every room and every other room; and the general wackiness of the furnishings and art.â€
-Producer of WNYCâ€™s Fishko Files, Sara Fishko
Hi, this is Aaron Henkin, curator of the NPR Station Showcase with PRX.Â Each week on this podcast I feature an outstanding radio story from one of the hundreds of NPR stations around the country. And this week, weâ€™re heading to the Big Apple, where WNYC has been broadcasting a vibrant and sound-rich series of cultural stories by producer Sara Fishko. The series is aptly titled â€˜WNYCâ€™s Fishko Files,â€™ and this week weâ€™re spotlighting a segment that looks at the history of New York Cityâ€™s Chelsea Hotel. With some well-written narration, and the help of a treasure trove of archival sounds, Fishko makes the walls of this venerable cultural icon come alive in a very dynamic and unexpected way. Hereâ€™s a short Q & A with Sara about the projectâ€¦
Tell us a bit about your radio background and how â€˜WNYCâ€™s Fishko Filesâ€™ came into beingâ€¦
I came to WNYC as a music host but found my interests becoming broader after a while. At WNYC’s invitation I began to produce ‘Morning Edition’ pieces on music, art and culture — and gradually a position was created for a full-time producer. I jumped in, and the series ‘Fishko Files’ was born.
In this story about the Chelsea Hotel, some great writing at the outset gets us pretty immediately immersed in the history of the place — the â€œif these walls could talkâ€ premise is a really excellent device to make this story quite rich in audio. I wonder if you could tell us about what drew you to this hotel in the first place, and how you decided on the structure of this radio pieceâ€¦
Credit where credit is due: The inspiration for the ‘Chelsea Hotel’ piece was a blurb for a tour of the hotel, listed in the catalogue of the 92nd Street YM-YWHA here in New York. They were the ones who originally framed it as “If these walls could talk,” I believe — it sounded like a perfect radio cue to me — and then I took it another step to ‘dance or sing’ etc. etc. The piece first ran with a throw to the ‘Y’ tour.
Thereâ€™s a pretty astounding array of archival audio in this story (from quite disparate sources, I imagine). How did you go about finding it all?
WNYC is fortunate to have it’s own archivist, Andy Lanset, who helped me find a number of the archival pieces, some of them out of our own WNYC archives (Copland, Miller etc.); I also took audio from film documentaries and old LP’s (Pollock, Thomas etc.).
I really like the idea that thereâ€™s something about the architecture of the hotel that has made such it an inspirational place for creative peopleâ€¦ I wonder what it was about the layout of the place and its rooms that made the biggest impression on you.
The most distinctive thing about the Chelsea is the non-uniformity of it, the difference between every room and every other room; and the general wackiness of the furnishings and art. It has a wonderful, random quality that you have to love, especially in our Era of the Interchangeable Mall.
The longtime Chelsea Hotel staff members that we meet in the story have a great institutional memory about the place — I wonder if they shared any anecdotes with you that were particularly surprising or that made you think about the place in a new wayâ€¦
My favorite anecdotes were the ones about Virgil Thomson. I loved hearing about qualities in Thomson that only his hotel-manager would know, such as his love for that hotel apartment, his finesse with a hot-plate, his party guest-lists etc. etc. It did make me think about hotel life and, given the right circumstances, how richly it is possible to live it.
â€¦producer of WNYCâ€™s Fishko Files, Sara Fishko. You can hear more stories from WNYCâ€™s Fishko Files online at The Public Radio Exchange, where radio-makers from around the world share their work. Write your own reviews and help decide what ends up on the radio at www.prx.org.