One Becomes Two at WETA

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How do you fit a square peg into a round hole? Well, OK, the peg isn't actually square, it's more of a rectangle. And the hole isn't exactly round, it's a three section wrap-around shape.


This was the case at WETA-FM in Arlington, VA. The air control studio had an 18-fader Studer OnAir 2000 console with audio running through it almost constantly for the last 14 years. There are only a handful of times when audio was not run from this room -- when incredibly high winds threatened to break windows; two or three times for electrical work (new transformer, panel tighten down, etc); and a few times for emergency maintenance. Otherwise, it's been a workhorse, getting audio to the transmitter 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Thanks to a modular design and redundant power supplies, even maintenance was minimally intrusive to the day-to-day operations of the room. Some parts had been replaced through the years, like faders, screens, buttons, input modules and output modules, but others parts such as the main board had seen 14 years' worth of electricity flowing through every capacitor, resistor, and integrated circuit. Intermittent errors and random audio dropouts combined with the fact that replacement parts are very difficult to find made replacing the console a simple decision.

Budgets are tight these days, and therefore options were extremely limited -- as in, almost no budget. Fortunately we had one extremely over-equipped edit room containing a 16-fader Axia Element console and all the associated Axia nodes. An assessment of the equipment needed in air control, plus an inventory of available Axia equipment, equaled a quick decision to use an Axia system to replace the Studer.

One of the more expensive items in any buildout is the studio furniture, and this is where we had to get creative. In most cases, the furniture is built for the console, and WETA was no exception. The existing furniture was built for the Studer, which has three sections angled to one another so the operator sits at the center, and has faders wrap around to his left and right. The Axia Element, however, is a large rectangle. We could have just put the Element where the Studer had been, but in doing so would have made things awkward for the operator, and lost valuable counter space for keyboards, monitors, etc.

The solution? Build the console to fit the furniture. The Element was in a 24-position frame -- four 4-fader modules, a monitor/navigation module, a production module, a SmartSwitch module, and a blank filler panel. Axia sells smaller frames that can be connected together, but budget prevented us from buying two smaller frames to rehouse the modules. So instead, we took the existing 24-position frame, covered it with blue painters tape, and had a machine shop cut it in half for about $100. This resulted in two 12-position frames, each missing an end panel. And as luck would have it, these two frames were just a bit smaller than each angled side of the Studer.





As additional Element end panels were not readily available, an alternative needed to be found. Since the existing studio furniture uses hardwood edge trim, cherry end panels were custom made for all four ends of the consoles. These were drilled appropriately for screws, and coated in polyurethane.

With the console complete, the audio and GPIO nodes are ready to be installed. We chose a week for the conversion, except there was not a week to be had. Production schedules and deadlines were such that the conversion needed to take place over a single weekend, and the room needed to back on the air Monday morning.

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