Clear Channel Chicago Upgrades Audio Network

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Multiple studios receive an audio network upgrade

The Pivot Room is an auxiliary studio, but it's outfitted the same as the main seven studios.

The Pivot Room is an auxiliary studio, but it's outfitted the same as the main seven studios.

Clear Channel Chicago operates seven stations in the nation's third largest market, consolidating five FMs and two AMs into a single facility. The facility is nearing the conclusion of a studio integration project that radically upgrades the networked audio system, minimizing infrastructure and simplifying the workflow.

The consolidated operation comprises two floors of a large building at 233 N. Michigan Ave. in the Loop neighborhood of downtown Chicago. On-air and production resides on the 27th floor, with the sales and business operation located one floor above. Each floor encompasses 37,500 square feet.

WKSC main production has a layout similar to the other production studios.

WKSC main production has a layout similar to the other production studios.

The root of the upgrade involves a transition from a serviceable but outdated networked audio system to a Harris VistaMax platform. At press time, 21 of the 28 studios have migrated to the new system, with the final rooms on schedule for an early spring transition.

The original layout of the facility was designed in the tradition of pods, with localized studio clusters representing each station. Depending on the operation, each station has three or four studios per cluster -- one on-air control room and a mix of production and voice track studios to suit the operation. The facility also has two independent on-air studios and one multi-purpose studio on the 27th floor, and a performance space/studio on the 28th floor. Every studio ties to the VistaMax network.

Voice Track Studio 4 has a Vistamax console at its center.

Voice Track Studio 4 has a Vistamax console at its center.

On the main floor, urban stations WGCI-FM, WVAZ-FM and WGRB-AM are located in the north hall, with the remaining four stations (WKSC-FM, WLIT-FM, WNUA-FM and LMA station WVON-AM) situated in the south hall. A large technical operations center (TOC) separates the two halls, housing all of the racks and infrastructure equipment that powers the studio operation.

Technical core

The motivating influence behind the rebuild was based on problems with the existing networked audio system. Issues with spare parts and technical support aside, the architecture made little sense in the modern studio environment. An audio frame was required in each studio, and every component pertinent to the local operation was wired to that frame.

A dedicated server was required for each control surface, further expanding the footprint. Ultimately, the central electronics absorbed five full equipment racks in the TOC -- an enormous amount of real estate by today's standards. The VistaMax system, even with additional headroom, reduces the footprint to a single rack, clearing four racks for other purposes. One has since been repopulated with new equipment, but the total infrastructure has been reduced from 77 to 74 racks.

A newly constructed wall in the TOC centralizes the wiring blocks for VistaMax. Audio systems are wired to Krone blocks, with optos and relays wired to standard Telco 66 punch blocks. Harnesses built into the VistaMax frame support direct wiring from the blocks, eliminating the X21 connectors required for the previous system.

Existing multimode fiber to each studio was replaced with 25-pair CAT-5 wiring. The re-use of existing analog trunks for redundant signal transport ensures there is no single point of failure from TOC to the studios.

The general on-air signal flow begins with the RCS NexGen system; the system's audio server sends the program audio to the Krone blocks and into VistaMax. From there, the signals move on to the processing racks, filled with Omnia-6eXi (FM) and Omnia-5eXi (AM) units for analog and HD Radio signal processing. Harris Intraplex STL HD provide audio transport over T1 links to multiple transmission points around the city, including the John Hancock Center and the Willis Tower among other sites.

-- continued on page 2

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