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Digital Magic in Music City
Being involved in the building of a true showcase facility is an opportunity that few engineers ever realize in their careers. In early 2003, Cumulus Media purchased two radio stations (WWTN-FM and WSM-FM) from Gaylord Entertainment to add to the existing Cumulus Nashville cluster of WRQQ-FM, WQQK-FM and WNPL-FM. This created the need to incorporate the new stations into the existing group as quickly and efficiently as possible. The company decided to completely rebuild the facility, using the latest technology to accommodate the various needs of the stations involved and build Nashville's top radio facility. The result is a facility that revolves around Wheatstone's Bridge Router and G series consoles, where any source is available in any studio.
This is Music City, USA, where live music plays a big part of each of the stations in the cluster, so a live performance/TV studio was incorporated as part of the overall design.
With the facility's needs identified, the process of making it happen presented a challenge. The existing cluster was located in a 27,000 square-foot, two-floor facility. The entire first floor was used for the three studios, production rooms, management offices and sales bullpen. The second floor was empty and had previously housed Billboard magazine. Because the building was occupied, the challenge was to move the sales and management teams into temporary off-site locations while ensuring they had e-mail, fax, phone, traffic and Internet access. Once the staff was moved, the second floor was demolished and new studios for all the stations were built. Then the station on-air operations were moved upstairs so demolition of the first floor could begin.
Once this was completed, the two new properties were relocated to the new building and the sales and management teams returned. In the meantime, satellite dishes were moved, STL paths were established, IT was planned and the engineering staff tended to the day-to-day engineering duties. Sounds simple, right?
The rooms are laid out in pods of two studios with a room in between, an office for the program director and a show-prep space for the talent. The rooms between the studios are used for a talk-talent room, a phone screening room and a DJ mix room, depending on the formats of the surrounding stations. A fully-functioning news room, four production studios, a rack room and a large live performance studio were also built.
The rack room is 400-square-feet with storefront windows consisting of 19 Middle Atlantic racks that house the processing, microwave, satellite and phone equipment as well as the CPUs for the Scott Studios automation system, editing and Internet access for all of the studios. We use Avocent for KVM extension. In a unique situation, the Avaya IP Office phone system will break out all of the BRIs and POTS lines for the studios' Telos 2×12 phone systems. PRIs feed the Avaya and the Avaya outputs 80 BRI circuits for complete digital connectivity to the studios. These BRIs feed all studio telco audio as well as all the ISDN codecs. This system is separate, but networked to the master Avaya system for office use. By using a PRI/BRI/IP approach to communications we can effectively change the number of lines allocated to studios as needed without ordering new lines from the phone company. The IP capability of the system allows us a great deal of flexibility, such as providing a phone set at a remote to answer the request lines with an Internet connection.
A large work area and the chief engineer's office are located in the rack room as well. The punch blocks are made by Krone. Audio cable to the studios is Gepco 24-pair AES-3 cable (552624GSC). Audio cabling between the racks is Belden Brilliance 1800B AES-3. Two 24-pair CAT-5 cables run the logic between the rack room and each of the studios. For voice and data, there are 12 CAT-5 cables run to each studio from a Hellermann Tyton color-coded patch field. However, almost all of the studio audio is routed through fiber.
Local source equipment, such as mics and CD players, connect to a Wheatstone Bridge satellite cage in each studio. Each cage connects to the rack room via fiber. This eliminates large quantities of trunk cable and further shields the studios from grounding and surge issues. We used six-strand multi-mode fiber. Coaxial cables are extended to each studio via a patch bay in one of the racks for cable/satellite TV, Internet and security cameras.
The consoles and routing system are furnished by Wheatstone. The on-air and production studios use G-5 digital consoles, and the Performance Studio has a D-9 digital 32-channel console with multiple buses. All of the consoles are connected via fiber and CAT-5 and are on their own network administrated via software by a dedicated PC in the rack.
The routing system is a Wheatstone Bridge router that provides the capability to route any source to any destination in the facility including the Performance Studio. This allows us to route the Performance Studio feed to any station at any time.
The Performance Studio is designed for live artist performances, TV simulcasts of our talk programming, and it serves as a studio for recording jingles.
With our Nashville location, there are plenty of country music artists that are glad to come in and perform. Because of this, we wanted to build something that was the right fit for that community. The room is equipped with Whirlwind patch panels for instrument direct input, video and data. There are three panels located in separate locations inside the studio. All patch jacks are routed through a digital patch bay in the studio control room.
All of the studios and production rooms are equipped with Scott Studios Automation. Voice tracking for any station can be done from every room so there shouldn't be any waiting time to voice track, which eliminates the frequent congestion of a voice-track room that hinders other clusters.
Meet the team
All of the wiring integration was handled by Studioworks Broadcast Design Group of Portland, OR. Voice and Data integration was completed by Skyline Communications of Indianapolis. The building construction was supervised by R.C. Matthews Construction and Pan-American Electric of Nashville. The architectural design was by KPS of Atlanta. The studio furniture was built by European Cabinetry of Atlanta. Gary Kline, CSRE CBNT, Cumulus corporate director of engineering, oversaw the corporate interests and real estate matters.
It is amazing — even magical — how the entire project just seemed to come together so quickly, especially toward the end of the project. Strict adherence to timelines and a team effort ensured that construction and technical crews were not in each other's way. No crew had to wait on an-other to complete its respective tasks. Now, a beautiful new state-of-the-art facility is home to many delighted Cumulus employees.
Pennington is regional engineering director for the Cumulus stations in Mobile and Athens, AL; Pensacola and Ft. Walton Beach, FL; and Nashville. Goodman is market chief engineer for Cumulus-Nashville.
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