Radio One: Gambling on Media Row
The new building first floor exterior windows have a privacy treatment that allows people inside to see out, but people on the outside cannot see in.
Monument Circle, the historic downtown landmark in Indianapolis, looks north toward a row of radio and TV stations that have chosen Meridian Street as the location to build anew or renovate their existing broadcasting studios and operations. Lanham, MD-based Radio One, which is the largest radio network targeting African Americans in the country, selected Indianapolis to invest more than $40 million to purchase four radio stations and one TV station from Emmis Communications and Hoosier Broadcasting. The stations are WTLC-FM, WTLC-AM, WHHH-FM, WYJZ-FM and WDNI-TV65.
To facilitate the acquisition, Radio One moved two stations to its existing west side facility. The search for a permanent residence began immediately. About three months later, Radio One found a three-story building with 25,000 square feet of space that offered some unique benefits. Located on Meridian Street downtown, this facility sits in the midst of the existing line of radio, TV and production/post facilities that cover nearly 10 miles of Meridian Street through the middle of the city.
The challenges associated with integrating new technology into an existing building can be difficult. Finding a jewel in a haystack was critical to Radio One's success. Leading a team of contractors, electricians and carpenters, plus seeking the perfect broadcasting location, can be the most daunting task assigned to any chief engineer.
Location, location, location
It may seem strange to leave a facility that offered low operational overhead expenses and facility maintenance, but the reasons included presence, visibility, connectivity, community and downtown convenience. Most importantly, the new location positioned Radio One in the prestigious broadcast row.
While the new location offered an established broadcast neighborhood, we had to plan for the increased RF congestion. A local frequency coordinator helped Radio One with this consideration.
Conducting multiple site evaluations of the location answered many questions that could have been easily overlooked. The evaluation checked to see if there was sufficient electric power, a need for emergency backup power, adequate HVAC and any potential compliance issues with OSHA, ADA or NEC codes or rules or local ordinances.
The new building's condition and location turned out to be a diamond. The functional requirements of the location, such as architecture, mechanical and electrical systems and fire protection satisfied the requirements for Radio One.
The project timeline called for moving the business operations, sales and promotions departments as part of the first phase in the relocation plans. It was decided to keep the current facility on the city's west side operational and use both locations until the final build-out was completed.
The previous tenant left all the CAT5 data network cabling and telephone lines in place on the second and third floors. Radio One was able to use this existing infrastructure, which saved substantial costs in labor and materials because they did not have to install it themselves.
The telephone company's demarcation point (or demarc), which was also the demarc for our ISP, is located on the fourth floor. We designated a lockable room on the third floor as the security/networking room. This secure demarc served as the operational center for the LAN, voice mail, telephone switch, CCTV security camera and network servers.
Acoustical foam wedges were hand cut into the shape and design of each station’s logo, creating a background for in-studio pictures with on-air personalities.
The crew installed a 100Mb/s switch, router and firewall, using the existing horizontal cross-connections located on the tenants' side of the building. They installed a rack with a fiber breakout box and 100Mb/s switch with wire management accessories on the second and third floors. Each of the telecommunications closets demarcation points were aligned vertically within the building's infrastructure. This made installation of the voice, data, audio, video, RF and control-lines cable-runs less labor intensive.
Two months after the lease was signed the administrative offices were complete. It was time to start the relocation process. One of the most important lessons learned was to coordinate the move with the telephone company well in advance. This is critical to having all the lines in place and operational before the move. All special service lines such as broadcast loops, ISDN and POTS lines were tested completely. We also contacted our various programming providers to be sure that the satellite, Internet and other transmission services were included on the schedule for the facility change.
While construction is underway, take time to review its progress. A well-designed floor plan is crucial to a facility's functionality. Look at the big picture for all operations, components and equipment requirements. Individually consider the pros and cons of each system's placement, specifications and accessibility. It helps to do a conceptual walk through of the facility when each wall's framework is complete. It is less expensive to make a change at this point than after the wall is finished. Visually place each key piece of technical equipment within each rack and room location, considering proper ventilation, lighting and power requirements.
The 22’×13’ on-air studios permitted Radio One to use Wheatstone’s top of the line Preference Series furniture with rear countertops for interviewing guests.
The building's first floor underwent major demolition and construction. The ceilings were 20-feet high and covered with asbestos. The outer perimeter consisted of old offices with large picture windows connected to the ceiling structure. After careful evaluation, Radio One removed all the walls and saved the window frames to use in the new studios for a showcase view of the studios' operations.
The supporting systems
In our system design we separated the second- and third-floor HVAC and heating from the first floor. This enabled us to design and construct a completely new system for the first-floor studios and production rooms. The first-floor rooms are fed with cool air — the electronic equipment generates the necessary heat. This helps maintain the optimal room temperature (68 degrees to 72 degrees). In any installation it is important to not underestimate the cooling resources and the amount of HVAC needed to operate. Each station's geographical location will determine if this method can be applied. For Radio One it has worked well.
A power outage, the villain of any broadcast operation, was something that Radio One wanted to avoid. The company decided to install a generator capable of handling the total load of all the on-air operating equipment. In addition to the backup generator we wired the building for dedicated isolation ground circuits for all technical areas.
Into the plans
The studios and control rooms are all designed in similar three-quarter, square-shaped floor plans. All these rooms have sound-proof interiors and exteriors and are built around a center, insulated wall with air isolation on each side. A finishing wall was then added to each side. Two-inch wedged foam, an acoustical treatment material, was used to finish the sound proofing in each room. The doors are also soundproof, being made of heavy steel construction with filled centers. The drop ceiling is sound rated with a four-inch thick layer of baffling material installed above it. The hallway corridors, studios and production room lights are on 12V system. The lower voltage saves on electrical costs and reduces the amount of heat generated by the lamps. General-purpose 2×4 lighting was installed, providing ample light when needed.
Gospel station WTLC-AM captures the spirit of The Light, broadcasting live with Sunday morning worship services. This room has a direct view into a sit down live talk show room with processing and talk-back capabilities.
Developing system's diagrams, documentation, wiring schedules and standards are just part of the integration process of a new broadcast facility build. The technical equipment was placed in a centralized location near the studios and production rooms. This reduced the length of cable runs, saving expenses on materials and installation. Cable trays were mounted above the drop-ceiling panels enabling access with a step ladder. Cable trays entered and exited each room at both ends of a string of six Middle Atlantic racks, and four-inch conduit was installed to give direct overhead access to the racks. By using a combination of conduits and cable trays we avoided the need for expensive computer flooring.
Cabling for the future
One of the many challenges of building a new facility is to specify and select vendors that will fulfill your cabling needs. Because of the construction of the first floor, Radio One was limited to using mostly plenum-rated cable. We used a 12-pair AES3 plenum-rated cable. We also installed two 50-pair CAT5E cables to each studio and production room for future use. The cabling infrastructure terminated in a centralized equipment room on a 24' × 20' backboard with 68 Krone punch blocks.
The Krone blocks connectivity made the design flexible. We terminated the blocks in a straight-through concept. The left side of the block carries the output of any device, studio or production room, while the right side of the block carries the input to any device, studio or production room. A jumper was then installed from the outputs to the inputs. This established a method for signal tracing and made troubleshooting the overall system simpler.
WHHH-FM studio hosts various live programs supplemented by satellite feeds, remote pickups and other sources. An assortment of equipment is located within arm’s reach of the operator.
The fourth floor telecommunications room was the perfect location for equipment racks and had enough room to install two of them. We designated one rack for outgoing transmissions. The other rack is strictly used for incoming feeds from satellites, RPU, off-air tuners and other wireless equipment.
The location of the building was about a ¼ mile from the transmitter site. The STL signals were strong. We decided to use one Yagi STL receive antenna for three of the radio stations (WTLC-FM, WHHH-FM, WTLC-AM). A four-way 50-ohm divider was installed to feed each station's STL receiver and provide a test port for engineering.
Up on the roof
The location of the building solved many potentials problems that can occur when relocating towers and antennas for STL and RPU radio signal paths. This building has three flat rooftops. A wall ladder gave easy access to each layer of the rooftop. Five non-penetrating mounts with custom 10×10 galvanized design brackets were installed on the lower and upper sections of the rooftop. Two of the mounts are used for 3.0m satellite dish antennas. The other mounts are used for Yagi, Para-flector and Mini-flector STL antennas. A 1.2m dish was installed to receive Metro Traffic news information. We also installed a broadband 25MHz to 1,300MHz antenna for receiving off-air signals and to serve as a backup RPU antenna. Radio One did not have to construct any towers at the new studio location.
The designated transmission room, located on the fourth floor, had a direct path and access to the roof for cabling. All the cabling is run through a three-inch conduit into a junction box that splits to feed two additional conduit runs for the upper and lower non-penetrating mounts for all dishes and antennas.
The rear of the building faces the transmitter sites for WTLC-FM and WHHH-FM. Our RPU receivers were also installed into these transmitter sites. We faced a challenge in establishing a link to WYJZ-FM, whose transmitter was now farther north from the new building's location.
Sixty-eight Krone punch blocks were mounted on a backboard and served as cross-connects to the Wheatstone router, the studios and production rooms.
We decided to install a digital, four-channel STL system for the STL to WYJZ. The signal was sent to the transmitter site for WTLC-FM and then relayed to the WYJZ transmitter to cover the 27-mile path. The WTLC-AM STL path did not change. The new building's location to the transmitter was almost in direct line-of-sight from the old studio location.
The Scott Studios SS32 was put onto a discrete network, allowing all on-air control rooms to access the main server in the centralized equipment room with touch-screen operations. Because the equipment room to studio cable runs exceeded 150', we installed Cybrex Longview transceivers. Wheatstone A5000 audio consoles are supported by Wheatstone Preference control room furniture. The console layout was established after numerous meetings with the air personalities. The extra time and planning that were put into exact equipment placement in the turret and racks will reduce the complaints of inconvenient equipment operation. It also helps to minimize acrobatic contortion by the operators to reach equipment.
The centralized equipment room houses the Wheatstone Bridge 2001. The studios are wired with a Wiremax Studio Interface System.
The Wheatstone A5000 audio consoles are tied to the Wheatstone Bridge 2001 digital audio network router. The main studio program outputs feed the STL equipment directly. Radio One bypassed the router to ensure that an unlikely equipment failure would not take a station off the air. The digital audio router's ability to route any signal anywhere gave us the flexibility to change studios at the push of a button, a feature that saved us time wiring and provides greater flexibility in facility operations. The console's multiple output buses (PGM, AUD, AUX, UTIL, MXM) were assigned based on each station's programming requirements. In addition to the 96×112 routing system, each studio was equipped with a 5×4 line selector that essentially created a mini-router for input selection to several recording and playback devices.
Cut-over or cut-off
There are many factors that loom over the head of an engineer about to move a station. The uncertainties encountered — interference, hits, pops, distortion, intermodulation — can make a person shake in his shoes. Thorough planning for the final cut over is critical when it involves multiple radio stations. Radio One's goal to complete the cut over with a minimum amount of off-air time was important. We coordinated our move using existing ISDN lines at the old studios in conjunction with newly installed ISDN lines at the transmitter sites. Radio One was set to make the cut over starting at midnight on a Friday. We moved each station at eight- to 16-hour intervals to allow time to troubleshoot any unexpected failures or problems and check audio and RF signal levels.
Showcase picture windows are installed in all on-air studios to allow visitors to look into the studios.
A lesson learned is to have enough key engineering personnel assigned at each critical point of the station's cut over locations: studios, STL and transmitter sites. The crew used cellphones to stay in constant communication throughout the process.
For audio distribution, Radio One chose the Wheatstone Bridge 2001 Digital Network router with redundant power supplies.
After a station's cut over is done, success can only be judged after a six-month period. The system has to stabilize and the station engineer's responsibilities are just beginning.
Radio One made the right move by finding the right location first.
Wheatstone Bridge 2001 router
Middle Atlantic equipment racks
PR&E LS-5 line switcher
Orban Optimod 8400 processor
Pass is a broadcast consulting engineer based in Indianapolis.
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