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Wednesday, May 25, 2022

A Change of Heart for Old ‘Tonight Show’ Studios

How times have changed. The historic Studio 1 at the former NBC Studios where Johnny Carson cracked jokes for decades has recently featured the pop music of Katy Perry, the shaking hips of Shakira and the singing of R&B artist Janelle Monae. They’ve all performed at what is now called the iHeartRadio Theatre, a live venue run by the online offshoot of Clear Channel, the large radio network based in San Antonio, Texas. The 500-seat Burbank theater opened in October with a record release party featuring Perry, and other performances hosted by Clear Channel radio personalities, including Ryan Seacrest. Clear Channel opened its first iHeartRadio theater in New York in 2009, one year after it launched iHeartRadio in 2008 as an online and mobile device radio network supporting its 800 Clear Channel stations and another 700 stations, including talk radio and those broadcast from college campuses. Listeners can stream the stations or create their own network of content they pick and have recommended. It has used the New York theater to build its brand and about 200 events have taken place there since it opened with a performance by punk band Green Day. Performances there and in Burbank are broadcast over the iHeartRadio network. iHeart also hosts a music festival and this year, for the first time, an awards show to be broadcast live May 1 from the Shrine Auditorium on NBC. “As the iHeartRadio theater took off in New York, it made sense to take it across the country and across the Clear Channel cluster,” said Darren Pfeffer, executive vice president of music and entertainment marketing. West Coast expansion iHeart had looked for about two years for an L.A. theater space to capitalize on the number of performers who come through the city. It settled on the venue in the NBC studio complex, which owner Worthe Real Estate Group has since renamed Burbank Studios given the networks departure. The location worked to the media company’s advantage as it’s next door to the Pinnacle office building that houses a cluster of Clear Channel stations, including KIIS-FM (102.7), KOST-FM (103.5), and KYSR-FM (98.7). The plan is for the Burbank theater to host two to four shows a month. “An artist can do a radio interview at one of the stations and then walk across the street to do a performance,” Pfeffer said. “As we get into the touring season, the calendar gets filled pretty quick.” iHeartRadio leased 20,000 square feet of what had been the old “Tonight Show” set for 10 years. It also made a substantial investment to transform the space, though Pfeffer declined to give a figure how much was spent. A published report in sister publication Los Angeles Business Journal had a price tag of $10 million for the improvements. “iHeart came in right after Jay (Leno) left and they’ve been a great tenant,” said Jeff Worthe, principal of Worthe Group in Santa Monica, which also owns the Pinnacle building. The infrastructure improvements in Burbank mirror what was done in New York to provide complete production services on site. In addition, the stage features state-of-the-art sound and lighting, ultra-high resolution cameras and audio suites where engineers can do live show mixing, Pfeffer said. The space can host other events, such as film screenings and rehearsals, but is primarily for established and up-and-coming artists to promote new music in a smaller setting before taking to the road at larger venues. The theater’s shows can be attended only through radio contests on Clear Channel stations. “It is a live experience extended to an audio experience as we will make the content available to the genre stations through the network,” Pfeffer said. Burbank Mayor Emily Gabel-Luddy said the theater is a boost for the area. It not only fills the empty space at Burbank Studios but also brings business to eating and drinking establishments within easy walking and driving distance of the theater. “There’s a younger crowd for iHeart and that’s where Burbank is headed,” she said.

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