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A Climate for ChangeA hot new radio facility in the desert
"You need to get out of here!" This familiar phrase was uttered all too frequently by just about anyone visiting our old facility in Tucson, AZ. After more than 30 years in a facility originally designed to house only KTKT, and remodeled once to accommodate KLPX in the early 1980s, it was time for a move. Actually, it was time for a move about 10 years ago. In that 10 years, two more stations were added (KFMA and KCMT) as well as two temporary trailers to hold the additional sales staff. Including the trailers, the old facility covered less than 7,000 square feet, including 1,000 square feet for the transmitter room, which was the original building built in the 1950s.
The air studios have similar layouts, and both use the trussing for a cable conduit and accessory mounting.
The catwalk built above the studios provides easy cable access.
The Lindy blocks are used to terminate all the inter-studio wiring. The lower photo shows the in-studio wiring closet in KFMA.
The subcounter for the computer keyboards can be clearly seen in this shot of Studio A.
A look inside the rack room.
After months of searching for the perfect building, General Manager Steve Groesbeck found the perfect site. In July of 2002 Lotus negotiated the purchase of a plot of land in an industrial park just off I-10 near the Santa Cruz river and less than two miles from the old studios. By September I completed the space plan and submitted it to our architect.
The new facility would house about 12,000 square feet of new offices and studios. While not overly spacious, it would be adequate for roomy studios, offices for station management, individual account executives, programming, promotions and engineering. After building several dozen studios I was conscious of all the oversights and omissions from past projects.Designed for change
My biggest concern was to try and not design anything that would limit future growth and change. I couldn't do much about the size of the building, but I could make sure that we had enough studios for any possible format change or new addition. Keeping in mind past changes to the studio, wiring is always a concern. I hate trying to cram more wire into already congested conduit runs. Even worse is having to pull up computer flooring to add a new cable only to find that furniture is in the way and that dust, spilled drinks and grime make it completely unpleasant and frustrating. I was tired of having to wash fiberglass insulation out of my eyes every time I had to move a ceiling tile to add another cable run. Because of these irritants, I designed a catwalk above the studio area. Attached to the side of the catwalk is a Wiremold 12-inch-wide aluminum wire-way.
The walls of the studios are covered with 1" fabric-covered Owens Corning Fiberglass Sound Soak that is adjacent to a natural-finished birch chair rail and 24" of matching birch-finish, Formica wainscoting that continues to the baseboard. Hidden behind two doors in each studio is the central wiring closet where the console and all signals are terminated. Four-foot long 4" straight conduit runs pop up through the hard double-drywall ceiling and land near the catwalk wire-way. Suspended 18" below the hard ceiling is a fiberglass tiled acoustic T-bar ceiling.
Inter-studio wiring is comprised of 4,000' of 16-pair Gepco 5596GFC series extra low-loss 110ohm AES-3 digital audio cable, which is terminated in each studio and in our master control rack room with custom connection panels that were designed by Lindy Williams, Lotus' corporate director of engineering. My initial reaction to this system was less optimistic, because using these termination panels would require additional labor and expense to install when compared to the traditional punch-block method. However, once in place they actually offer greater flexibility and allow for faster troubleshooting, patching and easier labeling.
All furniture was custom built by Mager Systems of Phoenix. I'm not a fan of the typical boxy, removable side-paneled studio furniture. Instead, I prefer a more open design with minimal furniture touching the floor. Wiring is typically designed to route via a D-ring path attached to the underside of the solid-surface countertop where easy access is helpful yet hidden. Each of the five control rooms (one was built for a future station) has its furniture placed in the center of the room.
Figuring out the cable path into the furniture without buried conduit runs, computer flooring or floor chases was a challenge. Initially, I planned to have two 4" conduit runs dropping from the suspended ceiling to the countertops, one on each side of the console. Instead, I took an idea from a hair salon that had stage truss around the ceilings above the cutting stations with track lighting attached. I searched and found a supplier in Los Angeles that had triangular trussing with 2" diameter tubular legs. These hollow legs provided enough internal space to run the cable into the furniture. While the truss method did not provide as much cable space as the conduit, the truss introduced an unusual radio-tower look as an architectural design element. The trusses also provided a unique structure to hang loudspeakers and flat-screen computer monitors. To get the cable from the closets to the trusses we installed 8" D-rings every 16" to plywood strips glued and screwed to the hard ceiling. This would be the only place where ceiling tiles would ever have to be removed to add cable.
The overall goal for the studios was to make it easy for guests and guest hosts to have eye contact with the host. We also wanted to eliminate as much of the usual clutter from the countertops. Keyboards and mice, phone editors and other playback devices all make for a busy and messy work environment.
To avoid the clutter, Mager Systems installed a secondary counter 2" below the top counter in front of the console. This gave all the wires from the keyboards and mice a place to go without being draped across the countertop. I don't like keyboard trays because they tend to jam, roll back or otherwise become a headache from an operational and a maintenance standpoint. This secondary counter seemed to be an efficient way to deal with the problem.
The other problem encountered in today's modern radio studio is what to do with all the computer workstations. We use Airforce by Tim Valley as our hard-disk automation system. Each air studio has a main playback workstation (Pilot) and a backup workstation (Co-Pilot). The Co-Pilot workstation is also the Voxpro phone editor. We chose Voxpro because it eliminates additional equipment from the counter top and because we could network it to access its files from our production rooms. Additionally, we have installed Internet-capable workstations in each control room that uses Promo Suite for reading liners, tracking contest winners and gathering news.
All of these workstations need to be maintained and we decided to keep them in the studio for a number of operational considerations. Again, Mager Systems came through with an efficient design solution comprised of a three-workstation cabinet that included slings for mounting computer cases. These slings pull out from the cabinet and swivel for easy access to the rear connections. They also provide plenty of ventilation and room for the UPSs.The inner works
The heart of each station has traditionally been the console. We insisted that the console be digital and preferred to have truly modular fader modules rather than the all-on-one motherboard design. We looked at all the available options. For budgetary reasons it looked like our modular desire would not be possible. I also wanted a central router, which I thought would also be out of the question. This all changed when I looked at the Wheatstone product line. I chose the Auditronics 220 console, which is actually an Audioarts D70 packaged in modular design. Because these were the last five consoles available, we were able to include a new Wheatstone Bridge 32×32 router, which fit neatly within my budget. In keeping with our clutter-free goal, we were able to fit a Comrex telephone module into the console and eliminate the traditional phone set on the counter.
Space was an issue in the central rack room. The floor plan shrunk once all the ADA requirements were fulfilled. Because of this, the depth of our central rack room was shortened by nearly 2', making traditional racks inconvenient to work on. Instead, I designed a rack wall, which allows plenty of room for equipment and plentiful access to it from behind.
There never seems to be enough time when it comes to moving into a new facility. One month before our scheduled move to the new facility, the old site was hit with a flood. Rather than taking our time and moving the stations when everything was ready we were forced to accelerate the move date. Because of the hurried schedule, the initial wiring was not as neat as I would have liked, but we're in the process of correcting that. The beauty of the design is that wiring changes are a breeze in this new facility.
The new building is still a work in progress with many refinements left to complete. However, it's certainly a pleasure to be working in this new building with all its flexibility, room and newness.
Garcia is chief engineer of Lotus Tucson, AZ.
Aphex Compellor compressors
Auditronics 2200 consoles
Comrex TS612 phone systems
Echo MIAMIDI audio cards
Gepco 552616 multichannel cable
Gepco D61801EZ two-channel cable
Gepco GA72416 QTY=3000' multipchannel cable
Gepco GEP-61801 STP cable
Hafler P1000 amplifiers
KRK ST-8 monitor speakers
Mager Systems custom studio furniture
Marantz PMD340 CD players
Mid Atlantic MRK4431 racks
OC White mic arms
Patriot 3.8m satellite dishes
Rolls PM-52 headphone amplifiers
Shure SM-7B mics
Soundcraft RW5656us mixer
Symetrix 528E mic processors
Tascam DA-40 DATs
Vox Pro editors
Wheatstone Bridge 2001 router
Online special: more photos of the Lotus Tucson facility.
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