The Death of Radio Row

“They were not killed, but they were the first victims of the World Trade Center”                 

When the proposal to move the WTC from the East Side to the Lower West side became public in 1962, the shop owners at Radio Row could possibly not imagine what lay ahead of them. Radio Row was not merely business for the shop merchants who owned stores, it was their livelihoods – for some, generations of a past stretching back to the 1920s – and the WTC took that away from these small businessmen and their families.

One of the advantages that Tobin and the Rockefellers took into consideration when moving the location to West Side was that there were no residential buildings there, and therefore less people would be affected. They were wrong. Over 30,000 people who worked in more than 1000 offices and raised a yearly revenue of $300 million, were destroyed (Glantz and Lipton). Radio Row’s spirit as a hub for hundreds of commercial enterprises, however, would remain long lasting well into the future as Rockefeller envisioned a “Lower Manhattan as a world center of international commerce, finance and maritime trade.”

The Battle of Radio Row


Oscar Nadel, came from a family of Eastern European Jews and lived in the Lower East Side. He opened his first shop, “Oscars Radio Shop”, in 1925, a year before TV was invented. He was  known as the king of Cortlandt Street and the whole area of Radio Row meant everything to him. He refused to give in to the political powers behind the WTC and there was no way he would allow his shop to be demolished. The Port Authority planned to raze the whole area especially Washington, West Broadway, Fulton, Dey, Cortlandt and Greenwich street, and that meant the end of Radio Row. Therefore, to oppose this proposal, Nadel with the other merchants formed a Downtown West Small Business Survival Committee, which stood up to Tobin for its rights (Steinhardt).

The Committee staged several protests and championed slogans such as:


The protests gained much media attention. Nadel believed that the Port Authority had no right to evacuate businessmen for a real estate project and he was willing to go to any extent for his rights. In 1962, Tobin offered Nadel a spot for a radio shop in the World Trade Center, but Nadel turned the offer down. He wanted Radio Row, not the World Trade Center. On April 4, 1963 the court decided the Port Authority had the right to evacuate merchants from the area since the World Trade Center was intended for public purposes. On March 26, 1966, the wrecking ball arrived. The Port Authority (PA) offered each business a settlement of $3,000 (Pitzke). Nadel had lost and that was the end of Radio Row.