KCRW Unveils New Live Studio With Performance From James Blake

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Dustin Downing
James Blake

On Tuesday James Blake christened NPR-affiliate KCRW’s brand-new Annenberg Performance Studio in Santa Monica, California, serving as the first musical guest to perform at the space with a seven-song set and a conversation with station music director Jason Bentley.

“It’s a good room. The acoustics in here are great,” Blake told Bentley in the session that was also aired live on the Southern California radio station's Morning Becomes Eclectic morning program.

“I think you made a good choice,” Blake added about the station’s studio move from a basement under the cafeteria at Santa Monica College to the Annenberg Studio within the new 34,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art KCRW Media Center, which is also housed on the campus.

“That basement studio, which you may remember, was never meant to be a radio station,” said Bentley. “Big thanks for being part of this for all of us. It’s a special day as we break in our new studio here at KCRW.”

Blake’s set consisted of tracks off his latest album, Assume Form, including “Barefoot in the Park,” which features Latin breakout star Rosalía. Blake said the collaboration came about when Rosalía reached out to him and he became enamored with her debut album Los ángeles.

“Barefoot in the Park” “was the first song we made,” said Blake. “It set of tone of maybe we should make more songs together.”

The 45-minute Morning Becomes Eclectic set aired live on the radio and was streamed on Facebook Live with about 40 people watching on in-person from the mezzanine. The live audience is something KCRW plans to incorporate more of in the future with the new studio space at the company’s headquarters.

“Our goal is to make this a true community center. We want to be able to invite our audience in to be a part of it,” KCRW COO Jill Smayo tells Billboard. “There is no glass barrier between where the audience will sit during a live performance. You want to hear that there are people there enjoying it. You want to hear that applause, hear that energy.”

Smayo adds that the new studio can hold up to 140 audience members between the floor and the mezzanine, providing a larger but still intimate experience for both the artist and fans. After broadcasting for nearly 40 years from the former basement space with various staff scattered around the city in five different locations from off campus bungalows to the Santa Monica airport, the new KCRW headquarters brings the station's staff under the same roof for the first time in two decades. And it's a welcome change, says Smayo.

She adds, “There is something to say that the level of professionals that we have working here really deserve an excellent space.”