New York’s WNYC-AM attracts just under a half-million listeners per week, making it the highest-rated public radio station in the country. The station carries the usual mix of National Public Radio’s syndicated shows, like Morning Edition and All Things Considered, but its homegrown show, New York & Company, is one of the city’s most popular with highbrow publicists.
New York’s WNYC-AM attracts just under a half-million listeners per
week, making it the highest-rated public radio station in the country.
The station carries the usual mix of National Public Radio’s syndicated
shows, like Morning Edition and All Things Considered, but its homegrown
show, New York & Company, is one of the city’s most popular with
The program is broadcast throughout the Empire State and beyond to New
Jersey and Connecticut. It can also be heard, along with archives of
previous shows, on the station’s Web site.
The lunch-time talk series is on air from noon until 2 pm, which is
obviously not a good time to interrupt its executive producer Melissa
Eagan, who oversees the proceedings.
Eagan works closely with the legendary host, Leonard Lopate, currently
celebrating 15 years on the show. Eagan says the team spends hours
researching each guest to augment Lopate’s already extensive knowledge
of the arts scene. ’The show is encyclopedic and esoteric. It is all
over the map,’ she adds.
An eclectic guest list
Studio guests come from a mix of backgrounds - the worlds of books,
music, theater, art, film and sometimes politics. Guests tend to fall
into two categories, the famous (John Updike, PD James) and the obscure
(a group of middle-aged English women who posed nude for a calendar to
raise money for charity). In May, the show aired an interview with Dr.
James Watson, the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA. But it isn’t
all high culture: record producer Sam Phillips, who helped create the
Elvis Presley phenomenon, was also booked this month.
This willingness to look at edgy and unusual topics means that the scope
for publicists is pretty wide. Eagan even says that she’ll listen to
pitches on unknown first-time writers. But she inserts a caveat: ’People
shouldn’t send anything too trendy. We don’t do Black History Month,
because we have black authors all year round. We don’t want to typecast
New York & Company is broadcast live, though Eagan says the show will
tape interviews if it means the difference between gaining and losing a
good guest. The show also experiments with remote broadcasting from
locations such as the Brooklyn Academy of Music. But there are many
perils of working live. ’It is always hazardous. We are at the mercy of
New York traffic,’ says Eagan, who recalls that news anchor Dan Rather,
rather than be late, once ran to the studio after his taxi got stuck in
The only policy about offering your guests to other shows is that New
York & Company can’t accommodate anyone who’s already appeared on Brian
Lehrer’s On the Line, the preceding program.
New York & Company also has an international following. Salman Rushdie
selected the show as his first radio interview last year, and the
program was scheduled to air an interview with cast members of the Royal
Shakespeare Company last week.
Musician Randy Newman brought his piano to the studio to perform a
review of his music life. But at the top of Eagan’s favorite-guest list
is Robert Duvall, whom Eagan describes as ’astonishing. He is one of our
finest actors and to have the chance to meet someone of that caliber is
The station is based in the Municipal Building at the foot of the
Brooklyn Bridge, and the staff has a scenic view of the Hudson River. It
is an inspiring diversion for the team, which is usually buried
knee-deep in books.
Eagan joined WNYC in 1983 after a stint freelance writing for special
interest publications. She readily admits she had no knowledge of the
actual production process and that she learned on the job. As executive
producer of the show, however, Eagan appears no less enthusiastic about
her job than she must have been on the day she joined. ’It feels like
I’ve been here forever, but then every day is different,’ says the
native New Yorker.
Eagan searches out some material for the show, but she admits most of
the guests are booked as a result of PR pitches. She offers a range of
encouraging tips. ’If it doesn’t sound right for the show, I will always
give the publicist the benefit of the doubt,’ she says, reminding
publicists that follow-up calls are always important. ’We receive a
book, then people don’t call me on it. Or they call too early and then I
forget about it.’
Paul Bogaards, executive director of publicity at Knopf, has just placed
Michael Ondaatje, the author of The English Patient, on the show. ’If
authors are making an in-store appearance, readers will often say, ’I
heard you on New York & Company.’ It has great impact, especially with
the demographic we are trying to hit,’ he explains.
The pitching process
Bogaards says he talks to both Eagan and Lopate about upcoming guests
and adds that it helps if novelists have a good story about how their
books came about or interesting life experiences.
’It is the premiere cultural talk show in New York, and pitching is a
fairly simple process,’ says Graham Leggat, director of communications
at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. ’They do film, fine arts and
literature. They do go outside the box. But don’t pitch them people who
Eagan advises PR pros representing authors to always send the book and
then give her some time to read it. But she advises pros to back up
their suggestions with reviews once the book has been published: ’People
don’t fax reviews. We prefer being deluged with material.’
While Eagan says she wants people to fax her, she is also in contact via
the show’s e-mail address, firstname.lastname@example.org. The executive producer
plans the show two weeks in advance and has usually booked all the
week’s guests one week before broadcast.
The Web site (www.wnyc.org) carries a number of sections that help
publicists get to know the show. The message board, named ’Lopate’s
Place,’ contains fiery responses to recent interviews, among other
comments, while a section called ’Reading Room’ houses the first chapter
of new books. Previous interviews are also archived at the site.
While the title of the show is New York & Company, the team has a
worldly outlook and does not discriminate on the basis of geography.
New York & Company
The Municipal Building
1 Center Street
New York, NY 10007
Tel: (212) 669 8460
Fax: (212) 553 0621
Executive producer: Melissa Eagan
Associate producer: Emily Hoffman
Assistant producer: Laura Wilson.