An Upgrade Path for the Future

In the summer of 2002, a facility consolidation came to the Chicago market of Clear Channel communications. The facilities for the six stations (WLIT-FM, WNUA-FM, WKSC-FM, WVAZ-FM, WGCI-FM and WGCI-AM) were spread around five locations in the downtown area of Chicago. Several of the facilities were rather long in the tooth, and two of the three had their studio leases due to expire.

With this in mind, a search began for a suitable location that could house the six stations plus a seventh future station (WRLL-AM 1690), which has since been brought online. In addition, space was needed for the Entertainment, Premiere, Katz Media and Hispanic divisions of Clear Channel. The total square footage required was figured to be at least 75,000. Several properties were considered and rejected by the corporate team that handles real estate for Clear Channel before a lease was signed for the 27th and 28th floors of the building at 233 North Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago.

All the studios have low equipment sight lines for better interactivity. Some monitors are mounted on booms to place them in better viewing positions.

The studios use similar room layouts. Shown here are the air studios for WRLL (top) and WLIT.

One portion of the rack room is visible through this window from the hallway, which makes an impressive stop on a facility tour.

A typical voice-tracking studio has the basic necessary equipment.

The technical operations center houses many racks. Shown here are the routing engines for the Klotz system (top), the servers for the Prophet automation system (middle) and the streaming servers and in-house cable system (bottom).

The view looking west from the 27th floor is impressive.

This space was formerly occupied by an Internet hosting service that died a quick death when the dot-com bubble burst. The defunct company left the space with a large debt owed and an office infrastructure just waiting for another high-tech client. We decided to proceed. The 27th floor was the former technical operations center, and all the IT, telephone, HVAC and electrical distribution was in place and originating from that floor. As it turned out, extensive modifications were required on 27, such as adding the studio complex, but the 28th floor remained mostly intact because it was already developed as office space.

The studio facilities are designed around the pod concept, with each station having an air studio (12'x18'), a main production room (12'x18'), a voice tracking room (10'x12') and a fourth room (10'x12') that serves as an auxiliary production room, a voice-track room or a jock-prep area. A shared performance studio (12'x18') complete with Steinway piano replaces the main production room of one of the stations, and a shared talk studio replaces the main production room of another. All together there are 28 studios. A 3,300 square-foot, centrally located technical operations center (TOC) houses the common facilities for all studios, plus the IT infrastructure, an engineering lab, studio related mechanicals and the engineering offices.

Selection of the technical equipment began concurrently with selection of the office location. Outside of the hard drive-based delivery system selection (the Pro-phet Nexgen), local engineering management was given a major say in the other parts of the facility infrastructure. It was decided early on that the facility would need to meet several criteria:

  • All-digital as much as was practical
  • Based on a router concept
  • Expandable
  • Flexible
  • Easy for the talent to use
  • Cost effective

Several manufacturers were approached and asked to submit a unified solution that would meet our criteria. After careful consideration, one system stood out above all the rest for us: the Vadis by Klotz Digital. Once initial reservations of having a console managed by a PC running a Microsoft OS were answered to the satisfaction of all, we saw the possibilities of a software-defined facility.

Because several facility leases were due to expire, a fixed timetable was a major consideration. As much construction as possible was handled by third parties. The general contractor was Turner Construction of Chicago, the studio furniture was designed and built by Harris, the Vadis wiring and system integration was handled by a Klotz contractor Joe Corollo, the Prophet Nexgen wiring was handled by Prophet Systems Innovations and the miles of CAT-5E and fiber were installed by the local IBEW union contractors. Daily supervision of the project was handled by Bob Fukuda, market director of engineering, who dedicated a year and a half to the cause. The balance of the Chicago engineering staff was busy maintaining the five existing facilities, and helping out with construction where possible. Enough of the facility was completed by November 2002 so the first station, WLIT-FM, was able to move in as it launched a 24-hour Christmas music format. A month later WVAZ-FM followed and the remaining stations went live at four-week intervals after that. By mid-summer 2003 all the stations had moved in.

Items of note
  1. There is totally integrated AES and analog routing with the Vadis system. All wiring was pulled as 110ohm AES cable and CAT-5E. Termination for the AES cable is the Krone block system, and for the CAT-5 cable, 110 blocks and RJ-45 connectors. Touchscreen-based GUI are used throughout the TOC for monitoring and metering purposes.

  2. Integration of mass caller choked lines into a PRI delivery to the Telos 2101 studio phone system. After years of saying it could not be done, the local phone company said yes, and a special protocol was developed to allow just that.

  3. Jock skimming direct to CD. A bank of eight Tascam CD recorders, located in a semi-public area of the TOC, allow the jocks to burn a CD track every time they open a microphone. Blank CDs are now cheaper than cassettes. Everybody has a way of playing them back at home or in the car. An added benefit is that as far as the PDs are concerned, jocks cannot cheat on air checks and re-record a bad break like they could with a cassette.

  4. The local cable TV company wanted $50 per drop per month for basic cable service. Instead, we installed a bank of DSS receivers that feed another bank of cable TV modulators purchased on the surplus market for $25 each. So for a fraction of the monthly cost, anyone in the facility can have in-house cable, complete with our own "public" access channel.

Wright is a senior studio engineer for the Clear Channel stations in Chicago.

Equipment List

Adobe Audition
Air Tools 6100 profanity delay
Aphex Compellor
ATI modular Sys10K
Audio Metrics DA
Audion Labs Voxpro
Burk ARC-16
Comrex Matrix
Crown D-150 monitor amps
JBL Control 5 monitors
Crown D-45 monitor amps
Denon DN-M991R minidisc
Denon 961FA CD players
EAScriber Pro
Electro-voice RE27
Eventide Ultra Harmonizer
Gepco 110ohm AES cable
Hafler TRM6.1 monitors
Harris Intraplex T1 STL/TSL/WAN
Harris custom furniture
Henry Matchbox
ICOM PCR-1000 PC-based scanner
Sound Tube FP633 focused speaker
JBL 4412 monitors
Klotz Vadis routing system
Marti CR10
Middle Atlantic equipment racks
Moseley PCL 606
O.C. White mic booms
Omnia FM processor
Omnimount speaker mounts
Optimod 8100 processor
Pro Tools
Prophet NexGen
Radio Systems B.O.B.
Rolls RS79B tuners
Sage Endec
Shure KSM32 mics
Starguide III
Tascam 112MKII
Tascam CDRW-2000
Tascam DA-40 DAT
Telos 2101 phone system
Telos Delta 100 hybrid
Telos Zephyr
Telos Zephyr Extreme

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