Paul DeAngelo, a Bayonne movie maker, actor, and entrepreneur with a hand in nearly every aspect of the performing arts, moved cautiously through the dark interior of WWOR studios in Secaucus on June 5, holding his smart phone ahead of him as a flashlight.
He and several partners had signed a deal that gave them possession of the contents left behind after the Fox Network sold the facility to Hartz Mountain in September last year.
“We bought everything inside the walls,” he said.
The sale included everything from light fixtures to other items that DeAngelo said he could resell later if the new studio he planned to outfit in Harrison couldn’t use them. You felt like you were walking through the belly of a whale, wires dripping down, insulation everywhere, and in places, leaks from the roof leaving puddles on the floor.
With demolition of the former studio days away, DeAngelo’s tour of the facility was partly to evaluate the logistics of moving the contents.
But he and the demolition crew were stunned by what Fox had left behind.
“I was shocked to see everything left here,” said Frank Incarnato of Viking Demolition, the Rutherford-based company hired to gut the building.
With the electricity already off in many of the two or three dozen rooms, DeAngelo, Incarnato, and a Bayonne music producer named “Magic” stepped carefully through the narrow hallways and production rooms, some still filled with video and sound mixing boards, hundreds of TV cameras, computer consoles, and other items.
“We’ve moved a lot into the main studio,” Incarnato said. “But there is a lot to move.”
A techno windfall
While most viewers would be familiar with the largest of the news studios with its news desk and backdrop screens, the facility also had a number of smaller studios, including a quick edit studio, another designed to accommodate an audience, and studios dedicated to mixing sound.
One storeroom, Incarnato said, was entirely filled with cameras by Sony, Panasonic, RCA, and others, complete with spare parts and owner’s manuals.
While most of the equipment is relatively up to date, some things such as the roomful of expandable files, including floor rollers – worth a fortune when installed – are largely junk.
“A portable computer hard drive can store everything that was in this room,” Incarnato said.
As DeAngelo moved through room after room, looking everything over, perhaps the saddest portion of the building was the front lobby and the glassed-in reception desk, all empty, streaked with sunlight filled with falling dust and a sense of abandonment.
Plans that went awry
New Jersey lured WWOR across the Hudson River in early 1984 with the expectation that the so-called “Superstation” would provide better coverage of New Jersey, especially northern Jersey, where most people get their TV news from New York-based stations.
For a time, WWOR was expected to serve as the foundation of a much larger media center. One Hartz official envisioned it as Burbank East.
In 1997, MSNBC launched its 24-hour cable news channel and Internet service nearby, joining the existing CNBC and the studios for WXTV Channel 41, the New York affiliate of the Spanish-language network Univision, and the corporate offices of WPIX, to form what was slated to become Harmon Studio City.
At the time, Hartz Mountain Industries planned to create up to 5 million square feet of space for television and film production, related uses and multimedia businesses, by recycling old warehouses and developing new buildings.
But over the next decade, MSNBC, WPIX, and WXTV relocated out of Secaucus and New Jersey.
Once WWOR became a Fox-owned television station, the company shut down its entire New Jersey-based news operation in 2013, laying off staff. Some employees were absorbed into the company’s Fox 5 affiliate, WNYW-TV, in New York City.
While the station for a time managed to host a variety of relatively popular offerings such as “The Joe Franklin Show,” it never lived up to the expectation to provide the state with its own coverage. This was particularly true after Fox Network purchased WWOR.
This lack of coverage drew the wrath of U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, who unsuccessfully attempted to block the renewal of the station’s license in 2018. Though the building is scheduled to be gutted, Menendez is still calling for the Fox broadcast license to be revoked.
In September 2018, Hartz Mountain purchased the property for just over $4 million with the intention of redeveloping the site for use as its new corporate headquarters.
Demolition of the interior is expected to take about six weeks before the building is converted to office space. The existing Hartz offices will be relocated from their current location in the Harmon Meadow section of Secaucus.
For viewers of Fox News, the main studio would have been familiar, although the news desk had been removed from the platform, and many of the items stored in other rooms had been put into piles, categorized for eventual transport to storage facilities elsewhere.
“We’re lining things up by category,” Incarnato said.
But it was a massive chore.
In most of the vast building, the group had to weave through dark corridors holding their smart phones to provide light.
DeAngelo, who has moved some of the equipment to storage in Jersey City, already has plans for the equipment he purchased. Most of it will be used to equip a new studio one of his associates is building in Harrison.
“It will be the biggest studio on the East Coast,” he said, as he led the way through the winding passages, ducking under dangling wires, stepping over debris that lined the hallways.
Many of the rooms are still filled with gear, as if ready to go on the air, waiting for someone to switch on the power again.
For updates on this and other stories check hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Al Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org