Folk Alley: On the Road Again


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WKSU's Folk Alley Express provides Web and broadcast audio production support to folk music on the beaten path.

Supports for the vehicle's rear drop-down tailgate allow it to serve as a stage for three- to four-person folk music groups.

Supports for the vehicle's rear drop-down tailgate allow it to serve as a stage for three- to four-person folk music groups.


With the help of Malcolm Lanning at Custom Mobile Products in Cleveland, the garage was converted to a two-position studio that includes an audio operations position on one side and a video operations position on the other side. The studio has equipment racks and storage cabinetry for audio and video production electronics, microphones, cameras, cable reels, stands and lots of other peripheral equipment that will all eventually be carried on board as future funding permits. One entire cabinet houses the vehicle's sophisticated mobile communications system. Cable pass-through access holes were created in each side of the body and through the roof for easy routing of cabling from the studio to one or more on-site performance venues as well as to the roof for a future rooftop video shoot platform and Internet uplink dish. Because the rear wall tailgate drops down, a typically rear-mounted ladder for roof access was not an option. Therefore, a 24" × 24" hole was cut into the ceiling of the studio, which is also the floor deck for the queen size bedroom above. An equally sized hatch was cut into the roof and perfectly aligned with the studio ceiling hole for easy pass through of materials to the roof deck from either the studio or the bedroom deck. Two removable panels were manufactured for placement in the studio ceiling pass-through hole - one an open grate to allow for additional air conditioning flow into the studio and the other a solid panel for support of additional bedroom deck weight when required. Standing on the bedroom deck allows for easy and safe access to the roof through the hatch.

WKSU staff inspect the garage area on delivery day. The garage, intended to haul motorcycles, ATVs, golf carts, etc., was made into the studio.

WKSU staff inspect the garage area on delivery day. The garage, intended to haul motorcycles, ATVs, golf carts, etc., was made into the studio.


An adjustable hand-cranked four-jack stand arrangement with two metal edge-to-edge connecting horizontal members serves as support for the tailgate in a flat and level position for use as a performance stage. A custom fabricated set of metal steps attaches to the tailgate to allow for easy on/off stage access. When not in use, the tailgate remains in its up position to form the rear wall of the studio.

An on-board 5.5kW generator provides electrical power when the vehicle is not connected to commercial (shore) power. To provide uninterrupted power, a 2.5kW inverter was added to the studio along with two additional deep cycle batteries for extended run time. The studio's electrical power distribution system is configured so that it can be fed from an independent generator or other power source in the future if and when required.

The studio allows for flexible setups such as this one that was used at the Newport Folk Festival to record the festival acts as well as provide audio for various live streaming destinations.

The studio allows for flexible setups such as this one that was used at the Newport Folk Festival to record the festival acts as well as provide audio for various live streaming destinations. Photo by Chris Wallis.


Getting equipped

For audio equipment, a Digidesign Model 003 using Pro Tools LE provides the audio mixing tool when connected to Presonus DigiMAX LT eight-channel preamps tied to a Roland S1608 16x8 digital snake system for stage-to-studio audio transport. Being locally based, Audio-Technica has always been a generous supporter of WKSU and Folk Alley. A full complement of Audio-Technica microphones ride onboard, including AE-5400 stage mics, AE-5100 and PRO-35 instrument mics, and AT-875R shotguns. All of this is complemented by WKSU's locker of Neumann and AKG vintage microphones, along with cable reels and many other odds and ends. A NewTek TriCaster/Camplex cable video system is expected to be added to the Express when budget permits. In the meantime, Internet quality video is shot and edited using a variety of video recording devices. All equipment is portable so as to perform double duty when relocated to any of WKSU's nine studios that can support the Folk Alley operations. It also sometimes is put into use at smaller venues that do not permit placement of the Folk Alley Express because of its physical size and weight.

Because of the nature of a mobile studio combined with our FolkAlley.com Internet-based programming, reliable connectivity is a high priority. A moving vehicle presents significant obstacles for maintaining the reliable cellular access and data services required on long trips. While designing the Folk Alley Express' connectivity and network infrastructure, WKSU LAN Administrators Chuck Poulton and Dan Kuznicki made the decision to use both Verizon and AT&T for data services. Both carriers have advantages and disadvantages, but generally speaking one or both will have coverage in any given area. In addition, each carrier utilizes a different base technology. That ensures each carrier will never be a roaming partner with the other and therefore the Express will not be reliant on a single carrier for service at any given time.

The pfSense on the embedded m1n1wall Netgate routing hardware enables the system to intelligently load balance and fail-over both cellular data connections. A Level One WBR-3800 and a Cradlepoint CTR350 gateway are used to maintain the 3G/PPP cellular connections so the router can manage the IP connections natively. In addition to the onboard cellular data services, interfaces have been added to the load-balancer allowing utilization of local high-speed Internet connectivity when available.

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