Behind the scenes at CNBC’s

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Michael Abramowitz

When the stock market closes, the day’s just starting for CNBC’s “Business Center.” We’ve got an exclusive look behind the scenes of this history-making show that broadcasts live from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

It’s 5:45 p.m. at the New York Stock Exchange. After a daylong frenzy of activity, the exhausted traders have left their trading posts to go home. The cleaning crew is sweeping up a mountain-sized pile of trash. Meanwhile, another kind of crew — that of CNBC’s “Business Center” — starts moving their makeshift studio into place. With two hours to get everything ready, there’s little room for error.

But it’s just another day at a show that made history in August 1999 by becoming the first full-length program to broadcast from the floor of the exchange.

“What makes this so incredibly historical … is throughout the ’80s, this was virtually impossible,” says Alan Chernoff, a CNBC reporter. “The exchange didn’t want us on the floor.”

Changes in attitudes

In 1995, CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo became the first television personality to report live from the floor during the trading day. Those hectic, pinball-style reports opened the door for CNBC to host a live one-hour show from the trading floor.

But how did CNBC get the green light when in years past, the answer was always no? The NYSE’s top management decided that broadcasts from the floor of the exchange were a great way to open the market up for the individual investor.

“Chairman [Richard] Grasso wants to open markets to people and bring Wall Street closer to Main Street,” explains Kimberly Williams, NYSE spokeswoman. “What better way to do that than a news program?”

CNBC couldn’t be happier with Grasso’s open-door policy.

“Before 1995, it was difficult to report from the exchange,” adds Chernoff. “When we started to do live reports from the floor of the exchange, it was a big deal. This is another big deal.”

That’s one heck of an erector set

CNBC anchor Sue Herera gives high praise to the production staff. She says that it “amazes her” how quickly the crew gets the set ready for broadcast.

Once the show is done at 7:30 p.m., the whole stage is broken down, so that the next day the traders have nothing blocking their paths.

“We have a great group of people … everyone gets along very well,” Herera says. “It’s exceptional that everyone gets along so well, especially in broadcasting.”

The financial kitchen

But why broadcast from the exchange, where any number of catastrophes can happen, from a lack of set-up time to reporters getting stuck in Manhattan traffic? Why not the comfort of the studio?

“As Bill Bolster, the president of our company would say, ‘If you’re going to do a kitchen show, you do it from the kitchen,’ ” explains Martine Charles, CNBC spokeswoman. “If you’re doing a financial show, you do it from the floor of the stock exchange to get the final word.

“It’s truly the center of the financial world.”

Also, by having a presence on the NYSE trading floor, the doors have slowly opened for traders to whisper information “off the record” to CNBC staff. Bob Pisani, a CNBC reporter, says that most of the stories he reports on are spoken without attribution because the brokerages don’t want their traders talking to the press.

“To develop the trust of the traders is the hardest thing to do,” he says. “I’ve been down here for over three-and-a-half years, and just now are they comfortable talking to me. I’m always looking … to find out what people on the trading floor are talking about and what’s on their mind.”

So with some television-style smoke and mirrors, and several off-the-record sources, CNBC pulls off another history-making show without a glitch. Less than 24 hours later, the television merry-go-round will start all over again.

Just another day of making history on Wall Street.