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Ring of Fire debuts a new talk facility
The battle of the radio talk shows continues as new liberal-oriented hosts go on-air to combat the well-established conservative personalities. One show, Ring of Fire, co-hosted by Mike Papantonio and Bobby Kennedy Jr. and carried by the Air America Radio Network, will be produced in Pensacola, FL. Mike Papantonio is an attorney and senior partner at Levin, Papantonio, Thomas, Mitchell, Echsner, and Proctor, P.A. who has tried some of the most significant civil damage cases in North America and is the author or co-author of several best-selling books, including In Search of Atticus Finch. Bobby Kennedy Jr. has earned the reputation as one of America's most eminent and tenacious environmental, social and political advocates.
The venue for production of Ring of Fire did not exist when the idea for the show was conceived almost six months ago, but in late December, Papantonio allocated space for the studio within the building that houses his law offices. Because Papantonio and his staff are novices to the details of broadcasting, they sought outside expertise to create the new studio, and that's when I came in. Bobby Likis Car Clinic, which now airs from the studio I built inside my 15,000-square-foot automotive service facility, has been running for more than 17 years. Car Clinic programming is currently syndicated on 296 radio stations nationwide, the Internet, Sirius Satellite Radio, the American Forces Radio Network and television. This blend of national-quality experience and local availability made me the go-to guy for talk-show facilities. In early January, Papantonio retained me to design and contract construction of the studio, as well as to equip it with state-of-the-art broadcast technology.
The finished product substantially evolved from the original concept because I felt it was essential that Papantonio and Kennedy had whatever facility they might need to produce their current program and to poise them for the future.
My goal was to build a studio that all would be proud to claim. The crews were encouraged daily to listen and provide feedback as to how to finish the project as fast as possible — and with all the specifics desired. Personally, I wanted the studio to impress the media. I believe this was accomplished.
Constructed from Lyptus hardwood, a hybrid hardwood species, the talk studio furniture maintains low sight lines for a clean layout.
The control room oversees the talk studio, and was designed to maximize its flexibility in a limited area.
The Host Desk has been renamed Buddha because everyone rubs it when first entering the room.
The chair rail is actually a drop-down door that conceals the cable routing trough.
The remote kit sees regular use when the show takes to the road.
My first call was to Rudy Agus, a broadcast engineer with whom I have collaborated with on several past projects. Agus specified and arranged for the purchase of all the necessary equipment, but when it came to furniture, we were temporarily stymied. Personalities of the stature of Ring of Fire's hosts demand and deserve a more sophisticated level of atmosphere and ambience than standard off-the-shelf offerings from most broadcast furniture manufacturers. Agus suggested that I speak with Balsys Wood Arts, a relative newcomer in the broadcast furniture field, but owned by people with a long and successful history in broadcasting as well as in the design and construction of fine wood cabinetry. The unique marriage of broadcast experience and master craftsmanship proved to be a superb combination.
This project was analogous to automotive service. Car owners think tune-ups can fix anything because they don't understand how sophisticated today's vehicles are, and certainly don't know the right questions to ask. This project began by asking myself, "What if I were building a replacement studio for myself?" I used this criterion throughout the project.
The first challenge was to create a radio, TV and Internet streaming facility for two attorneys who only wanted to produce a one-hour taped weekly radio show, which can be done with practically no equipment and little room. It's well known that there are a few radio talk hosts who work out of their homes.
The second challenge was turning a small office and adjacent hallway into a studio and a control room. Rocky Barnes, the firm's investigator, provided whatever support was needed to complete the job, including knocking out walls, adding dedicated HVAC systems, electrical boxes, wiring, doors, divider glass and a host of other building modifications. All the while, Barnes had to be sure he didn't take too much of the firm's office space.
While the project progressed, there were law-office personnel working four feet away from the construction areas from day one. No doubt they were happy to see the project finally come to an end.
Richard Christine of Acousti Engineering Company of Florida was the building contractor. He scheduled his crews to work when business hours were over whenever noise might be involved. This was a huge challenge, but necessary because the studio is adjacent to an accounting firm.
Christine consistently under promised and over delivered, but it was his carpenter, Rick Sibley, who could do anything with wood that was responsible for building the working model of my third challenge.
The third hurdle and most challenging environmental issue to deal with was a way to conceal all the wires in the studio. Remembering that this is a fifth-floor clerical office with concrete floors and drop ceilings.
Because the existing site had no provisions or clearance for conduits, I designed and had built a novel concept for wire management between rooms. On the right wall of the studio, we installed a hollow chair rail with drop-down doors for 25 pair CAT-5 house cables and other wiring. On the left, we completed the perimeter of the room by balancing the look with corresponding standard rail. The wood for both these rails also came from Balsys, ensuring that all hardwoods within the room would match in color, grain and finish. This feature not only simplified the installation, but also accommodates future upgrades and expansion.
From the initial call to Balsys, which launched an incredible exchange of concepts and an education on the pros and cons of various materials, to the ultimate evolution into a remarkable collaboration, the professionals at Balsys were a joy. Larry and Eric Lamoray, each an artisan in different facets of the business, soon became more than just vendors; they transformed our preliminary look-and-feel requirements into spectacular, functional designs that would fit into limited spaces and at the same time would have dynamite visual appeal.
The host desk itself was the result of several conversations and design reviews. Initially, I wanted to place twin 17" LCD screens on the host's desk, but someone suggested that they should be hidden. After some discussions, we decided that placing the monitors behind a glass panel would be too much to ask. Instead, I designed a hood, which was later named the dashboard.
Because there was the need for the director to be inside the studio, a desk with two screens, a computer and a headphone jack was installed. The host has equal access and controllability of the director's computer.
Balsys delivered and set up the furniture, complete with all internal prewiring mounted and tested to streamline Agus' task of installing the equipment. (It was fortunate that Balsys had requested precise measurements of each door and hallway from building entrance to studio locations, as the last doorway offered only ¼" clearance.) Each piece of furniture was assembled, leveled and polished, and then both studio rooms entirely cleaned prior to the official unveiling. The smile on Papantonio's face was worth all of the work and extra hours spent attending to the finer details that many may overlook on such projects.
In addition to the studio installation, a remote rack was assembled to allow co-host Bobby Kennedy to join Papantonio via POTS or ISDN using Tieline Communicators. A Zephyr Xstream is used to send the program audio to New York. The final step is an Airtools profanity delay.
The result is a showcase facility that we can be justifiably proud of and that is a testament to the quality of workmanship of all of the companies that cooperated in the construction.
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Likis is the president of the Car Clinic Network (CarClinicNetwork.com), Pensacola, FL.
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