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Before last year, the venerable KKDA-FM (K104) control room was way past its prime. The studio was built in an era before remotes were carried via satellite and ISDN, and Tom Joyner created his morning show there and jetted to Chicago for the afternoon drive. Still embedded in the old cabinetry, were the boxes filled with sand to dampen vibration to the turntables. Vinyl records gave way to tape carts, which were replaced by CDs. And just a few years ago, computer playback replaced both.
What was remarkable is that this on-air studio survived all of the sweeping changes in technology and still sounded reasonably good. But the accommodations were well worn. Equipment that was not even imagined in the 1980s had to find a home in locations that were less than ideal. The flow of on-air talent was obstructed by the layout. People were cramped and scattered. Space was not used efficiently. It was a place you had to struggle to make work leaving little opportunity to be creative and entertain.
The time had come to abandon the classic U-shaped cabinetry and start completely from scratch. The challenge was that the new studio had to be in the same location as the previous, which could not be enlarged. To utilize the space to the fullest, some of the major specifications were:
The space has to be adaptable to many varied scenarios without any physical reconfiguration. (From one person to the full morning show with operator, producer and guests.)
All on-air participants had to see each other without looking around obstacles.
Include a permanent home for keyboards, mice and controllers with easy access.
Provide space for seated/standing visitors and live performers.
Address acoustic considerations.
Must have a unique look and feel.
Control room design
The existing room dimensions were measured, including windows, doors, HVAC, electrical and cable access points. A two-dimensional plan of the available area was drawn to scale using Microsoft Visio. Multiple copies of the layout were printed and then the fun began by sketching possibilities. It became apparent that a very unconventional solution was called for.
On-air talent has unobstructed views. This arrangement provides for plenty of space in the left side of the room for guests and performers to stand or sit. Behind the console was room for one or two people side by side. The on-air guests are seated in front of the console in a 180-degree arc.
LCD displays are everywhere. What is the ideal location? It is accepted (and sometimes necessary) to have a monitor right in your face. You can still see the other people, sort of, from the nose on up, but communication is impeded and everyone starts looking like a “Kilroy was here” doodle. The solution turned out to be very simple: Stack the displays vertically on each side of the console, one directly at eye level, one just below and one just above.
To accomplish this, a lightweight stage lighting truss spanning from floor to roof joist was placed on each side of the console. A slightly arched horizontal section bridged the two trusses just below the 2'×2' fiberglass grid ceiling. The truss structure gave the room a stylish flair and a practical place to mount the speakers, LCD monitors and other items. Visiting TV crews would also have a ready-made place to hang their lights.
This preliminary layout looked good on paper, but would it be practical and work in the real world? A three-dimensional drawing could be rendered, but it would still be viewed on a flat sheet of paper. What was desirable was a true three-dimensional model.
The solution was found using S.A.D. (scissor-aided design). It's not very high-tech, but easily accomplished. All that was required was a copy paper box lid, two colored file folders, five wood stick cotton swabs (surplus from the tape head cleaning era), paper glue and a marker. I proceeded cutting out and gluing together a scale model based on the drawing. Within a few hours, a very effective mock-up of the new studio emerged. Little did I realize, experience from making dioramas in junior high school would actually have a purpose in the real world. While being able to view this model from all angles, the on-air crew was able to better visualize working in the new studio and provide feedback for the final design. When the planning was complete, it was time to find a custom furniture builder and begin actual fabrication.
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