Build it once and build it right

The passing of the Telecommunications Act in early 1996 saw radio stations merging at the speed of light. Mom and Pop operations quickly gave way to larger, corporate entities, many of which were charged with finding the most efficient way for their expanded operations to function as one.

Functional space is only a small part of an efficient facility design.
The first step in achieving this efficiency is to relocate all the radio stations owned by a single company to one central location. Determining a suitable location is easier said than done. Station managers and engineers have to consider a new set of organizational and logistical issues. Simply finding a new building suitable to accommodate the operation of several radio stations with different formats can pose its own unique challenges.

A perfect fit

The ideal building to house a broadcast facility is a single-story warehouse-type structure. A one-level building allows for greater interaction between departments. With multiple floors, functions are broken up, tending to impede the flow of business. Also, with on-air studios on the main floor, no sound can penetrate the booth from below, eliminating one direction by which studios can be disturbed.

The high ceilings in warehouses are also beneficial for acoustical reasons. A greater floor-to-floor distance simplifies the task of installing the station's required infrastructure. Air conditioning, ductwork and other utilities are notorious for introducing studio noise. Elevated ceilings provide ample space for mechanical needs and minimize the undesired effect they can create.

Once a building is chosen and acquired, new logistical issues become apparent. Departmental interaction, power requirements and room layouts move to the forefront. Many companies are just now beginning to address such issues. An architect will most certainly bring such considerations to the attention of station personnel during the design process. However, giving consideration to these things ahead of time can save time and money when working with a design specialist and will enhance the end result.

In a multistation cluster, the lobby can be a high traffic area. It must be designed to accomodate prize winners, staff and guests.
The topics that define an architectural construction project are scope, cost and schedule. The scope is the extent of construction and can be highly specialized for a radio facility. Determining scope involves understanding the organizational, mechanical, electrical, acoustical, and aesthetic needs of the project. A designer will first gather the statistical information such as the number of employees, workstations and studios that will be needed. This information is used to determine the typical size of each area and will become the foundation to begin the process of designing and organizing the facility.


The primary design issue for any radio station is the organization of the programmatic elements in a way that promotes efficient operation. The architect must understand how the facility is intended to function and what the important relationships are between stations, departments, staff and support.

At a basic level, the management of all consolidated radio facilities must make a choice on whether to emphasize the individuality of the stations, emphasize the larger company entity, or something in between. Does the past culture of a premiere station warrant separate areas within the building so that it may maintain a complete sense of identity?

On one of our projects, a general manager had four stations moving into one building. The GM wanted each station to perform individually and to appear as though each was an independent entity. The prevailing consolidated approach, however, is to combine manpower and integrate people into departments that reach across station boundaries, allowing free idea exchange. For example, grouping the account executives for several stations can promote additional services through the exchange of leads. As always, complete integration can lead to staffing efficiencies. In many cases one traffic or accounting department can provide the services for many stations. Management of a consolidated radio facility has the opportunity through design to create a greater sense of community that can lead to a better and more profitable product.

A rack room is a functional necessity, but it can also be a showcase within the facility.
The interaction of departments will help to determine the layout of operations, but layout will also affect the atmosphere of the facility. If traffic and sales have a relationship, their proximity becomes important. If continuity constantly deals with production, then their adjacencies need to be maintained. If administration deals with accounting, then they need to be located accordingly. The promotion staff is generally the link between sales and programming.

The necessity of all these departmental relationships must be weighed against the physical constraints of the building. This can be particularly challenging when dealing with a facility spread out on several floors, and in some cases the building itself can strongly influence layout. At the five-floor offices of Clear Channel's Denver facility, the final solution required the division of the programming and production departments, with FM on the third floor and AM on the fourth floor.

Finally, personal preference can affect the location of departments. Many general managers prefer to be near the department with which they are more oriented. Some, on the other hand, may feel more comfortable away from day-to-day operations in an effort not to show favoritism.

The type of work performed often influences the intradepartment organization. Accounting staffs have very structured jobs, and their office spaces tend to be ordered and direct. Spaces, however, can be designed to bolster camaraderie between staff at stations that were formerly competitors. At Clear Channel's Denver facility, the general managers were intrigued by a concept used in advertising agencies that often had wide-open spaces where employees could hang out, have meetings and brainstorm in bigger groups. A living room was designed with sofas and oversized chairs arranged around television and video equipment. The area was designed as a fun and informal environment for the programming staff to interact and develop creative material for the on-air personalities.

The organization of the support spaces plays a critical role in the efficiency of any operation. An important logistical issue for radio conglomerations is increased traffic in the lobby. For one station, the solution to help control the flow of people was to create separate entrances based on function. One entrance was dedicated for loyal listeners to come and pick up prizes; one was dedicated for staff entry, and the third for guests and visitors. This configuration allowed a central group of receptionists and operators to manage all three areas while keeping the reception area from becoming too congested with clients, staff, and listeners.

Mechanical, electrical acoustic and aesthetic elements are all important in creating a studio space that meets both form and function demands.
Consolidation can allow for special support spaces that were previously not feasible for facilities. In San Diego, a separate performance studio with a 10'x12' stage was constructed for visiting artists to perform live, complete with seating for up to 25 contest winners. The stage was assembled and dismantled as needed, so the rooms could be used for different functions. This space becomes possible because the cost of the leased space and its construction is shared by all the stations and is more likely to be used with many stations around.

One of the central support spaces of any radio station is the rack room. Consolidation has made these equipment and computer rooms increase in size extensively. When the Clear Channel Denver office combined its three AM and four FM stations into one building, the equipment requirements, including a new audio storage and playback system, necessitated a larger rack room - with 51 racks. (For a look at the Clear Channel Denver facility, see the December 2000 issue of BE Radio.)

Ideally it's more efficient to have all the racks in one room. This simplifies the power and temperature needs. It also creates a natural facility hub for equipment and technical personnel. When placed nearer the studios, wire and cable runs can be reduced, which saves money and time.

At the Clear Channel Denver facility, it wasn't possible to put all the rack components in one centrally located room. As an alternative, one large rack room was installed in the basement with a vertical connection made to the studios above. Smaller, mini rack rooms were positioned close to the on-air studios on higher floors.

Overall, there is no strategy that works for everyone. The process is very much a give and take between the functional goals of management, the restrictions of the building, individual preference, and potential economic savings.


As perhaps the single most important room in a radio station, the rack room poses its own unique set of mechanical and electrical issues. It is imperative that some measures are taken to protect the equipment during a power or mechanical system failure, power surges and any other unwanted event.

Heat loads from the equipment can be significant. The ideal temperature for computer equipment is 68 degrees to 70 degrees. Major deviations can be disastrous. Redundant cooling systems are often employed to provide automatic backup. A further benefit of one large rack room is that 100% redundancy is easier (and less costly) to achieve than it is for smaller, divided rack rooms. A group of studios can have a similar redundant system so that the failure of one piece of mechanical equipment is localized to affect only a few studios.

One consideration that many engineers and station managers don't often think about in a rack room is flooding from water pipes and sprinkler systems. With mechanical piping, it's typically just a matter of routing water lines to avoid the rack rooms, but sprinkler systems are sometimes unavoidable. One cost-effective solution is a dry pipe or pre-action sprinkler system in which the pipes don't fill up with water until there is a perceived problem and then don't discharge or spray until it's unquestionably a fire danger.


Probably the biggest fear of any station engineer is losing power - a concern heightened by last summer's rolling brownouts in California. Designers have begun implementing a combination of uninterrupted power supplies (UPS) and backup generators. The UPS will maintain the power source during the few minutes it takes for the generator to get up and running. A UPS also filters the power and maintains a consistent level.

While the entire facility may not be fed by generator power, it is important to identify the key equipment areas that must have emergency power available. The rack room and studios are the obvious choices. Air conditioning, technical workspaces, traffic and accounting computers, and lighting are areas often overlooked.


Limiting or even eliminating background noise is a major design consideration for any broadcast facility. Studios should be designed to achieve an ambient noise criterion of NC 20 to NC 25. The construction of studio walls, ceilings and floors are often specialized to prevent the transfer of undesired noise to the studios.

Airborne sound transmission is prevented through separation, mass, and absorption. Walls are constructed like a box within a box. Inside drywall and metal studs are separated from the outside drywall and metal studs by ¨ö" air space so that sound vibration will not pass through the wall. In most cases, mass is achieved through the use of five or six layers of ¨ý" drywall. All the layers are taped, and joints are staggered. Partitions are filled with 3lb/ft3 heavy-duty glass or mineral fiber insulation for absorption.

The building structural system, columns, beams, and floors can also transmit sound into the studios. This can be relieved through the use of flexible connections. Walls can be placed on neoprene pads or laid in a bed of sealant to prevent the transfer of vibrations from the floor to the partition. Transfer of vibration from above is avoided by using resilient clips to attach the top of partitions to the roof or floor above.

Designers will attempt to minimize the number of openings in walls for electrical wiring, outlets, sprinkler systems and mechanical ductwork. The more holes in the drywall, the more opportunity there is for noise to find its way into the rooms. Each item that penetrates the partition, pipe or ductwork, needs to be isolated and carefully caulked so as not to transfer sound to the partitions. Drywall ceilings suspended with spring isolators and floors floating on neoprene pads can further protect the studios from building noise. Everything is sealed and caulked to create an airtight space.

Noise created by mechanical systems for heating, ventilation, and cooling (HVAC) needs to be carefully controlled. Air handling units with low noise levels need to be selected and located as far from the sensitive studios as possible. Ductwork should be insulated and contain 90 degree bends to deaden both the sound emanating from the air handler and other background noise that might enter the ductwork. Duct silencers can be used to further prevent noise from the units reaching the studios. The velocity at which the air travels within the ductwork also needs to be carefully controlled, and should not exceed 300 feet per minute at the diffusers.

Aesthetics design

The interior design of a facility is not the most critical element to the function of a business, but it does represent the culture and image of the organization and provides the first impression to visitors and potential clients.

The image of the facility generally represents the attitudes of the clients. Some organizations tend to be more conservative, suggesting dark wood, bronze finishes and traditional moldings. Others may opt for a more progressive atmosphere with vibrant colors, stainless steel fixtures and patterned glass. Either way, it's important that there is fluidity in the design instead of a hodgepodge of themes.

Ambiance has also proven to affect work efficiency. A sea of gray-toned cubicles tends to feel oppressive. A good example of opposing philosophies on designing work areas can be found in sales. Some managers view the sales area as a place where potential clients can be brought to make a strong impression. Others feel that sales functions are best performed outside the office. The challenge is then to strike a balance between a purely aesthetic space and a purely functional space.

Generating excitement in a room that houses not much more than a mass of cubicles can take a certain amount of effort and care. Creative use of shape, color and texture can emphasize design and produce dramatic results. At Clear Channel Salt Lake City, six skylights were used to provide natural light, with drywall soffits in the ceiling to accentuate the skylights. Angled walls running through the center of the space were painted deep burgundy and highlighted with an orange ceiling to break up the visual monotony of the office workstations.

Sometimes the local culture and attitudes can provide a direction for the interior image. In Denver, the design emphasized an earthy theme to reflect the culture of the city: the outdoors, the mountains and nature. In San Diego, cooler colors such as blues and greens were used to represent a beachcomber aesthetic. Overall, the interior design decisions are at the discretion of the architect and client. The only steadfast rule is to maintain some flexibility to allow for change at a later date.

Once the needs and desires of the station are understood, the schematic plans are developed, and the mechanical and electrical engineering criteria are established, the architect uses this information to estimate the cost of construction for the project based on historical dollars per square foot data. The station still has to consider project costs outside of construction such as site acquisition, office equipment, phone systems, computer equipment, broadcast equipment, wiring, furniture and leasing fees. The estimate and the station's budget are compared to determine whether any adjustments to the proposed scope are necessary. Once the architectural drawings are completed, the general contractor or builder will determine the actual cost to the station.

The designer is responsible for gaining an understanding of his client to come up with the best solution to meet the station's needs, taking into consideration the extent of the project, the available funds and the required time frame. However, the more thought a station manager gives to the station's best interests, the more successful the end result will be.

A good first step for the station manager and engineer is to visit several locations that have already built new facilities and get an idea of what they like and don't like. Determine what should be different, and consult with a good design firm to take those thoughts and put them together on paper in an organized way.

Brent Fasbinder is an associate with the Lawrence Group Architects, St. Louis.
Photo credits (in order of appearance):
1,, 2, 3: John Robledo
4: James West
5: Scott Frances

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