Presto! Digitalization!

In 1962, WCBS-AM, New York, built its Blackrock facilities in mid-town Manhattan; a facility that would serve the station for nearly 40 years. During that time, the station grew and the best efforts were made to keep the facility up to date with the station's needs. When incremental changes are made to a facility, an unfortunate consequence is that the changes are typically based on short-term needs and do not work well with long-term plans. After 38 years, the WCBS-AM studios were ready for a major upgrade. The biggest challenge was to take the 38 years of facility operation and rebuild it in only six months.

Changing from old-style analog to nearly completely digital can be an operational challenge, but the reward is worth the effort.

CBS owns and operates its broadcast center at 57th Street and 6th Avenue, only a few blocks from the Blackrock site. It made sense to move the AM station to the broadcast center where it would reside with its sister companies CBS Television and Westwood One Radio Networks. The 8th and 9th floors of one section of the building were available. The plans were set into motion.

Radio Systems served as the project's system integrator, providing wiring design services. During the planning phases, WCBS visited Radio Systems' offices several times to finalize plans and make the final decision to install the Klotz consoles, an approach suggested by Radio Systems. The original plan was to use a separate router and digital console approach that would be integrated later. The main advantage to this decision is that mix-minus settings could be created and stored for instant recall. With this on-the-fly mix minus creation, it is not necessary for station personnel to call a station engineer to set up a feed each time.

Seeing double

The studios occupy the 8th floor and consist of two production studios with a shared voice-over booth, four edit suites, two on-air control rooms, a news area with 12 workstations and a producer's position, and master control.

Having two on-air control rooms is not a typical practice, but because of the 24-hour news format, having the second studio allows each studio to be maintained without any on-air interruption or air staff inconvenience. The two rooms also allow each shift to set up in the studio before going on the air. This second purpose, while deemed desirable during the planning stages, is not used on a regular basis. Nonetheless, the capability exists when needed.

The two on-air control rooms are mirror images of each other. The rooms have dual, equal-size control consoles. Because most of the air shifts have dual anchors, it was important for each anchor to have some level of control over audio sources. The equal treatment also requires both anchors to be familiar with the console and studio operations, so if one anchor is absent, the other anchor is still in complete control of the control room. The dual arrangement also maintains an equal status between the anchors and does not place a physical hierarchy within the room.

Studio 8A, the second of the two control rooms, is setup for dual-anchor use.

Typically, both anchors set their consoles the same, but because of the routing design of the Klotz system, each console could have a completely different arrangement. There are three computer monitors above the console. Two of them display information from the Prophet Systems NextGen automation system. One shows the commercial line-up and the other shows the news actualities. The third screen is for the office network and typically is used to access the Internet.

The all-news format relies on a great number of outside sources such as traffic helicopters, traffic contributors and live actualities. Nearly every outside source requires its own mix-minus return feed. Creating this multitude of mix-minuses with a stand-alone analog console would have required a great deal of time and equipment. Changing the unique settings of these return feeds for each possible studio or workstations location would have made the task impossible. The router design of the Klotz Vadis allows these return feeds to be created once without intervention from the operator or engineering staff when a different use is needed.

The production studios also mirror each other, with the voice-over booth sitting between them on one corner. The editing suites are smaller rooms with basic program recording and editing functions. These suites also have the only analog consoles in the facility. This was done because these rooms typically do not require a large number of audio sources to be available. The most frequent use of these suites is to edit and assemble new elements of program features that have several interview pieces or require substantial editing.

Two production rooms, also in a mirrored configuration, share a voice-over booth.

The news workstations are used to gather news and make it available for on-air delivery. This includes writing the script, assembling any audio elements and saving the audio elements to the on-air system. The on-air scripts are read from paper. Each anchor has a printer at his position.

The edit suites, rooms 8F through 8I, have analog consoles with selectors for the sources on the Klotz router.

In the center of the news area sits a producer and associate producer. These people oversee the overall on-air operation and ensure that all the required elements are available and ready to go.

The station's main conference room is located next to the newsroom. There is a large window facing into the newsroom, where a clear view of the air studios is available. This allows the conference room to be used as a green room for guests and their entourage to prepare for and observe the interview. Tie lines also allow the conference room to be patched into the audio system for use as a large interview or performance space.

The rack room efficiently occupies the floor space at one end of the facility. The second row of racks houses the computer-based equipment.

Moving in

The studios were completed and operational in October 2000. The station's occupancy was immediate upon the facility's completion. Because of this, the shakedown period took place over the first few months of operations. Not only did the air staff transition to a new facility, they also moved into the digital age overnight. The change from carts and reel-to-reel recorders to digital consoles and automation was a difficult transition for some. Once the new methods and systems were learned, the staff embraced use of the new systems and found it hard to believe how operations were handled in the old facility.

CAT5 wiring is run throughout the facility with the Radio Systems Studio Hub system. Radio Systems was also the system integrator for the project.

While the Klotz consoles are the center of the facility's operation, the backbone is the Radio Systems Studio Hub wiring system. All the studio interconnects are CAT5 wire. The StudioHub installation at WCBS is the largest terrestrial radio station installation to date. Many StudioHub components were also custom built for WCBS, and Klotz wrote custom software routines to accommodate the installation.

Stations continue to embrace digital technology to take advantage of its flexibility. For WCBS, the digital plan will allow the station to upgrade and grow without fear of becoming trapped in antiquated surroundings. The choice to go digital was not simply because it was digital, but because it should allow the station to operate in its new facilities for at least the next 40 years.

Thanks to Mark Olkowski, Barry Siegfried, Dan Lohes and Jeremy Schumacher of WCBS-AM for providing information for this article. Rack photo on page 70 courtesy of Radio Systems. All other photos by Chriss Scherer.

Equipment List

360 Systems Instant Replay
360 Systems Short Cut
Alesis Point Seven monitors
Benchmark MicroFrame audio system
Burk ARC16 remote control
Comrex Hotline POTS codecs
Crown D-75 power amps
Denon DN-961FA CD players
Digidesign ProTools DAW
Dorrough 1200 audio test set
Electro-Voice 7100 power amps
Electro-Voice RE27 microphones
Electro-Voice Sentry 100A monitors
Eventide BD500 profanity delay
Fostex 6301B powered monitors
Klotz Spherion control surfaces
Klotz Vadis audio frames
KRK 7000B monitors
Luxo mic booms
MediaTouch iMediaLogger
Middle Atlantic racks
Moseley PCL6010 STL
O.C. White mic booms
Panasonic telephone system
QEI Catlink T-1 interface
Radio Systems clock system
Radio Systems Millennium consoles
Radio Systems Studio Hub + wiring system
Studio Technology furniture
Symetrix 565E compressor
Tascam 122 Mk III cassette decks
Tascam MD-301 Mk II minidisk decks
Telos Delta 100 hybrids
Telos One hybrids
Telos Zephyr ISDN codecs
TFT EAS system
Wohler Amp 2A monitor amp

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