Bob and Tom make big plans
When we completed building the WFBQ-FM control room in July 1994, we thought that the space would provide more than enough room for the Bob & Tom Show, the station's morning show. At 325 square feet, it was a huge room. It was at least as big or bigger than most on-air studios at the time. But when the morning show was syndicated one year later, it didn't take long for Bob Kevoian, Tom Griswold, Kristi Lee and Chick McGee to use all the space we gave them — and more. Ten years and more than 150 affiliates later, we look at the next generation Bob & Tom Show studio. It's brand new and immense, but no one has the guts to say it will be big enough.
The performance studio regularly hosts musical guests. The performance studio control room can also handle some light production duties when necessary.
The production studio prepares show elements and the promos for the station affiliates.
Besides news and sports audio cuts, this news/network production room is used for the “Best of” shows and daily one-hour "Bob and Tom Extra" shows.
This isn't just an on-air studio, it's a broadcast suite. An additional 5,000 square-foot wing was added to the Clear Channel Radio facility in Indianapolis. Dedicated exclusively to the Bob & Tom Show, the space is comprised of six offices, three news and production rooms, live music performance and mix rooms, a green room for show guests, a central computer server room, an electrical distribution room and the on-air studio.
Design of the new facility began in early 2003. One issue we faced was that the show desperately wanted its own studio. In sharing a studio with Clear Channel's WFBQ-FM, items like headphones, CDs and novelties sent in by listeners would sometimes be moved or lost over time. The obvious solution was to put the Bob & Tom Show in its own network studio, but we just didn't have the floor space available for that kind of move. Our problems were solved when local management decided to add additional space to our existing building to provide the much-needed office and cubicle capacity for the general staff. We decided to include the new Bob & Tom Show area as a separate part of the building. It would have its own secured entry points and would be able to operate independently of the rest of the facility.
As we began the design process, we gathered as much input as possible from the show team and kept them in the loop as the design and construction progressed. While some of their suggestions were offered more for their own amusement and were less than useful (such as a retractable roof and a stripper pole in the middle of the air studio), we were able to incorporate some of their ideas and preferences into the final design. As with many broadcasters, the members of the Bob & Tom Show are creatures of habit. Moving them from the studio in which they had been working for more than 10 years was going to be a challenge for everyone, but we were determined to make the transition as smooth as possible by keeping the show involved and updated as the project went along.
The primary concern in designing the new control room was to fix the problems that existed in the old studio. Measuring nearly 570 square feet, the new studio easily solves the problems of lack of space found in the old studio. We also reduced the amount of wasted counter space in the old room where the layout was basically a circle with the four show members each spread out around it. A crawl space was built underneath to let us get in to install wiring interconnect blocks. Two guest positions were set side-by-side for the near constant stream of comedians, celebrities and show regulars, but there was little extra space if one of the guests played a guitar or if there was an electronic keyboard setup on the counter. For all of our new studios, we asked Harris to design and build the broadcast furniture using its Smoothline custom furniture. In the air studio, we splurged a little and added a solid-surface countertop. Aside from the aesthetic value, Corian is much more durable than a standard Formica-type top, plus minor scratches that inevitably appear in a broadcast studio can be easily removed.
The Harris furniture designers took our many badly drawn design ideas, written and verbal notes, and the room design specifications, and were able to come up with a spectacular furniture package that met virtually all of our needs. The design is roughly in the shape of a hexagon with the back corner open. This fits the shape of the room nicely as we designed all the studios with non-parallel walls for acoustic purposes. To improve on the old furniture design, we added four guest positions (instead of the two we had) for a total of eight microphones. There is plenty of walking space around the outside of the furniture, and the middle of the hexagon is completely open, which allows us to put the cable access panels and conduits inside the back of the furniture where they won't be seen. This design also provides lots of open space to work without interfering with the show members and guests. As an interesting aside, Harris says the Bob & Tom Show air studio furniture package is the largest single piece of furniture it has ever built.
Two are better than one
One of the more unusual aspects of the Bob & Tom Show is that the hosts use two broadcast consoles. Bob runs the main console that mixes the mics for Chick, Kristi and the four guests as well as his own. Tom has his own smaller console and plays most of the pre-recorded parody songs, wacky bits and flashback segments of previous shows. In this control room we chose the Harris Pacific BMX Digital 30 for Bob's main console. For Tom, we installed the sleek Radio Mixer Digital (RMXD) 12-input console. The two RMXD consoles we installed were the first two production units Harris released. The output of Tom's RMXD 12 feeds an input on Bob's BMXD 30, but both of them can turn that input module on or off as needed. Both of these consoles interface directly with the facility's Sierra Automated Systems audio router and the Prophet Systems Nexgen Broadcast Automation system, helping to make the installation straightforward. Harris engineers also did a great job of redesigning the headphone distribution system so that show producer Dean Metcalf could talk to the room (through an external speaker) or into individual headphones from his adjoining studio.
The layout of the studios surrounds the control room with the news room, producer's room and the performance studio. All these rooms have unobstructed sight lines into the control room. This allows any of the show members to visually communicate with Metcalf or a band that is playing in the performance room. The news and producer rooms also are furnished with furniture from Harris, and Metcalf's room is also equipped with a Harris Pacific analog Radiomixer, Audicy digital editor and miscellaneous processing and recording equipment. He also has a desktop controller extension from the facility-wide Telos 2101 phone system. Broadcaster's General Store provided the audio equipment throughout the facility.
One of the recurring problems we had in the old studio was the number of musical guests we had on the show. When a band would come in, fitting three to five musicians with their guitars, amps and sometimes a full drum kit into the limited space was nearly impossible. It was uncomfortable for the band and it was difficult to set up because there were only a few minutes in each local commercial break when the band could move equipment and sound-check. All these problems have been eliminated with the construction of the performance studio. This is a moderately sized studio (about 21 × 15 feet) designed specifically for live music production.
The adjoining mix-down room has a 24-channel Mackie 24/8 mixer, Furman HA6 headphone amp system, and basic processing and effects equipment. The performance studio is adjacent to an outside entrance at the top of a loading ramp to ease the load-in and out process for the bands. By not having to move any equipment into the control room, the bands can set up, perform a sound check and rehearse at their leisure without bothering the flow of the on-air broadcast. Restrooms and the guest green room are just outside the performance room, so food and beverages are conveniently located nearby for band members and crew.
To handle the heavy production requirements of a nationally syndicated show there is also a dedicated production studio located just down the hall from the main studio. This room is built around the second Harris Pacific Radiomixer Digital console in the facility. This one is the 20-input version. While there are two guest positions designed into this production studio, one of the advantages to having an on-air studio that is only used for the live morning show broadcast is that the show members can stay right where they are after the show and voice their production elements for affiliates. This helps to keep a consistent sound between the live and produced elements of the show at the affiliate end, which is difficult to do when voice work is done in multiple studios.
From an engineering point of view, I have always had a problem with spending a lot of time and money designing and building a studio that has good acoustic properties only to have the air staff and program directors come in and hang posters, dry erase boards, CD racks and other items. Obviously, there is a need for some of these things, but the negative effect they have on the sound of the room is dramatic. To alleviate this problem as much as possible, we hung acoustic sound panels on the studio walls. Each panel measures 2' × 4' and are one or two inches thick. The placement of the panels in each studio was determined by a computer program based on the design of the room and furniture locations. In addition to dramatically reducing sound reflection from the walls, the panels have the added benefit of taking up wall space so some of those posters and bulletin boards can't be installed. We also had the Bob & Tom Show logo printed on the panels, which not only adds some identity to the rooms, but also looks good on camera when a TV crew shoots the show.
While I know you can never say never, I think I can safely say this will be the last new studio that Bob and Tom Show will need. Without a doubt, this construction project was badly needed, but it also has provided them with plenty of room for themselves and their staff, all the necessary equipment and accessories, and a solid technical foundation on which to continue the growth of their network.
Fenstermaker is the chief engineer of the Bob & Tom Show and the Clear Channel stations in Indianapolis: WFBQ-FM, WRZX-FM and WNDE-AM.
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