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WOON explores the science of getting small
Facility Showcase, Oct 2009
Downtown, we had an imperfect 950MHz STL path to the transmitter that lacked appropriate fresnel clearance during the summer, so we used it as an auxiliary path. Our primary path was a balanced and equalized broadcast audio loop. It was expensive but reliable. Our new location would be farther away, behind a hill and had no hope at all of an RF path. Worse, our legacy telco company really wanted to get out of the M-20 leased audio circuit business. They didn't want to move our STL audio loop to the new studio location. So I spent about two weeks testing STL-over-IP systems. I looked into three manufacturers and tested two. Both failed in my case.
I keep hearing that this is the way of the future and I wanted to embrace the technology. But even though New England has the fastest and most reliable broadband Internet service of any place in the country except the mid-Atlantic, the packet loss simply couldn't be overcome, even though we were using the same Internet backbone. I worked with the factory reps and techs to rectify the problems of dropped audio and other artifacts, including a $55 telephone call to Ireland one night for setup help, to no avail.
My advice for anyone looking into this method is to take the time and trouble to ask for an evaluation unit. They work well in some places but not in all places. Try before you buy. After a really convincing sob story to the telco, it relented and agreed to move the line and continue service.
In addition to the radio station and offices, we also had to move our live Internet streaming TV and production operations as well. In converting a kitchen into the main studio, for instance, a major concern was sight lines for the cameras and lights. We have a daily morning show that needs to have a minimum of five people sitting around the table talking and each voice needed a dedicated camera. We used two 3/4" finished sheets of plywood (4'×8'), glued and screwed them together, and made a big countertop table for all to sit. It works and looks great, is less microphonic than laminated tables, and is standing up remarkably well to the day-to-day abuse any main studio surface will get.
What went wrong
Like any project, some things just don't go according to plan. I already noted that we completely remodeled the interior without touching any structural walls. When we started, the previous owner provided a set of blueprints for the house. We quickly found out that the blueprints did not accurately show everything, including the path of the chimney through the walls from the basement. We found the correct path the hard way.
We also had to modify the plan for a 5' studio window. As a wall was taken down we found a hidden rear door that was not shown on the plans. The planned 5' window is now 3' wide.
We wanted a low maintenance floor in the main studio, so we chose VCT self-adhesive flooring squares. This was a bad idea. We ended up carpeting over it for acoustic reasons.
Placing the equipment racks in the basement directly below the studio was a good idea, but not good enough. The cable runs were really short. But what we didn't know was that most inexpensive keyboard, video and mouse extenders (to the automation playout computer) caused erratic operation. We had to go with one of the $200 models, which thwarted our cost-saving plans.
All in all, I'm proud to say we pulled of the entire project in less than three months, and I was able to do it with the assistance of three part-time engineers.
Richards is president, general manager and chief engineer of WOON, Woonsocket, RI.
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