The iHeartRadio Theater Story

Studio T+L’s role in the iHeartRadio Theater story (originally the P.C. Richard & Son Theater) began in the summer of 2008 when we joined Clear Channel’s design team. The theatre was being designed for Clear Channel’s seven New York City radio stations. These stations were frequently giving away tickets to concerts of the top pop, rock, and hip-hop acts when they played New York City. Clear Channel would also rent smaller venues in the city for exclusive concerts. The only people who to receive tickets to these private events were their stations’ listeners. Doing so was expensive, and Clear Channel decided that it would be better to build a venue for their own use rather than continue to rent other spaces. Fortunately, space was available on the ground floor of the building housing their studios in Tribeca, so a 5,500 square foot theatre was planned

Our initial scope of work was to design the dimming and control, stage lighting positions, and stage lighting design for the project. As we oriented ourselves and began our work, we began to believe that the space, as then conceived, was simply too dull for private performances by top music acts. Black floor, gray walls, white backdrop…it seemed more like a black box theatre than an exciting and exclusive destination for under 250 music fans. So, we worked up a few ideas and presented them to the owner. Our ideas were:

  • Use RGB LEDs to backlight the curved ceiling panels that were originally only going to have white light behind them.
  • Replace the backdrop with a video wall that spanned the full width of the stage.
  • Embed RGB LEDs into the walls of the theatre.
  • Use the video system that would control the video wall to also control the LEDs in the ceiling and walls, surrounding the audience with color, light, and motion.

The client loved our ideas, although the project wasn’t budgeted for any of them. The client set out to find the money while we began our design work. Collaborating with the architect and acoustician we determined the placement of the luminous ceiling panels and the RGBW lighting behind them, the trusses for performance and dance hall lighting, the control booth, and other critical issues. The architect developed a series of random diagonal “slashes” in the wall into which we would embed our LEDs.

north wall led layout

LED layout in the north wall

Things were going great!

Until we learned that there simply was not room in the budget for 400 square feet of video wall. Discouraged but not beaten, we were determined to find another way to activate and animate the upstage wall. The eventual solution was to use a series of RGB LED nodes on 2” centers behind a moderately diffusing acrylic panel. The individual LED nodes were pixel mapped to a media server. The result was a low to mid-resolution video wall 40’ wide x 8’ high that generated readable images for a fraction of the cost of a purpose-built video wall, and more importantly it fit into the budget.

led layout on west wall

LED node layout on the upstage wall

testing led wall

Testing the LEDs

The media server allows artists to bring any still or motion content they want, such as projection or display artwork from their current tour or music video clips, in nearly any format. The files are quickly loaded onto the media server and are available for playback when called up by the stage lighting control console. There’s also a library of stock content, and a library of logos for all of Clear Channel’s radio stations and corporate sponsors. The LED nodes in the slashes and 12” LED sticks behind the ceiling panels are also pixel mapped to the upstage wall. As a result, they display color and motion derived from the upstage wall content so that the audience is surrounded by a single color/brightness/movement pattern.

In the first few months of operation Shakira, Katy Perry, Adam Lambert and Silver Sun Pickups all performed on the stage. In the years since nearly every significant act, from Acadia Antlers to The Wanted has given an exclusive concert to New York fans at what is now called the iHeartRadio Theater.

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