headquarters of NPR in Washington has an extensive digital
infrastructure supporting three broadcast studios, 10 production
studios, six production booths, a high-end recording/events space and
a centralized technical logistics center. It includes Lawo mixing
consoles, routing matrices and I/O units as central components.
Studio 31 Control Room uses a Lawo 24-channel Sapphire control
surface. The studio, home of “Morning Edition,” “Weekend
Edition” and “All Things Considered,” has natural wood sound
diffraction panels and indirect lighting. Photos
by Bob Kovacs.
Radio World asked
Herbert Lemcke, president of Lawo North America Corp., about the
was the nature of Lawo’s role?
in 2009, NPR contacted us to discuss a small project, providing some
equipment to outfit a new studio. They were looking to test a
production environment without traditional consoles with faders and
buttons. A crystal console core with a number of touchscreens
running our VisTool software was installed to prove the viability of
this concept for NPR’s operations.
This project set the
stage for a number of others, where new workflows for the future NPR
building were prototyped and vetted.
With NPR’s move
from analog to digital, there were several challenges that emerged.
As we worked through the initial design consultations, the project
evolved from design of a single studio into the creation of a
comprehensive infrastructure that would power NPR’s entire
production operations. Together we designed an overall concept and a
plan for the installation of radio on-air mixing consoles, routing
matrices and I/O units, as well as specifying a customized equipment
knowledge transfer for management and technical staff, trained the
operators and the service teams, and ensured that we had adapted the
installations to accommodate NPR’s unique workflow requirements.
whom did you work most closely on the NPR staff?
Fox, senior director engineering; Bud Aiello, director of engineering
technology; Robert Butcher, engineering; Mitch Eaton, manager
technical systems; and Dennis Byrnes, engineering, were our major
counterparts throughout the various stages of the project. The
systems integrator on this project was HA Design Group.
the technical infrastructure of the system.
wanted to upgrade its broadcast and content production facilities,
transitioning from remaining analog and legacy technologies to a
fully digital infrastructure. The move was more than just a
facility-wide system upgrade. Newer technologies were required in
order to be more flexible and to meet the changing needs of a 24/7
broadcast recording technician at NPR, controls audio using a Lawo
Virtual Mixer panel, foreground, and iZotope audio processing
software in the Master Operations Center, adjacent to the open
newsroom. The large center screens show status of the Lawo routers,
including alarms (lower display) and signal levels (upper).
It was a dream
project for Lawo, since we specialize in providing flexible
architectures for networking audio systems designed to support a
customer’s workflow requirements. In this case, we were able to
work with the engineering and operations teams at NPR to address
their needs and concerns, providing them with a system that allowed
them to transition seamlessly into a flexible and interconnected
The final design
supported NPR’s current operational needs but also allowed for
expansion and addition of new capabilities without requiring a
retooling of the basic architecture.
concerns about ongoing maintenance and upgrades were dealt with
through a structure using two redundant Lawo Nova73 HD central audio
routers and several connected redundant I/O units. This arrangement
allows for smooth switching and servicing of I/O units and router
boards, important in a 24/7 operation.
There are three
large live production studios, five production and edit areas with
four studios each, six telephone booths and a modern and open MCR
area for quality control as well as support for the production
facilities. There is a large multipurpose production area that can
handle any challenge, ranging from concerts to large discussion
panels or various special events.
Any of these
facilities can go on air at any time, with access to all resources in
the facility including the necessary communication infrastructure.
The final design
includes a centralized, redundant routing system with two Nova73 HD
routers, 70 Nova17 routers and seven Nova 29 routers. Each router
type works with the others and supports unique work surfaces and
software, enabling creation and exchange of files between any number
and type of contributors, no matter where or how they choose to work
within the facility.
Audio signals are
distributed by the routers to the production areas by the Nova17
audio matrices. Work surfaces include three sapphire radio consoles,
20 eight-channel crystal consoles, 10 four-channel crystal consoles,
and a large-format mc²66 MKII production console to handle special
One of the unique
elements is the use of LSB’s “Virtual Studio Manager” for
centralized, network control of routers and studio configurations,
controlled in turn by a LineScheduler from DSA, which schedules and
automates program-related routings and manages a large pool of
codecs. This concept of multi-interlinked systems with overall
accessibility allowed the most efficient use of studios, control
rooms and edit booths.
there comparable Lawo installations in North America; and how does
the company, headquartered in Germany, provide tech support?
NPR’s 10,000-square-foot Tier 3+ Data Center or “codec farm,”
the majority of remote lines integrate into redundant Lawo audio
routers. This router frame is named “Little Herbie.”
done a number of similar projects, including some MCRs for the CBC in
Toronto and Montreal,that are of comparable size. That said, the NPR
facility is an exceptional case where Lawo and its partners LSB and
DSA were able to supply the majority of the linear production
technologies as well as the control and management systems that tied
it all together. It’s a very rare opportunity to build a complete
radio broadcast production facility of this scale in a brand-new
In TV broadcast,
Lawo has provided not only consoles but complete router-based
infrastructures for customers including Turner, NBC, Comcast, Fox and
MTV. Lawo’s subsidiary Lawo North America Corp. takes on project
design, project management, developing concepts and technical
structures and delivering, installing and servicing technical
equipment. The services we provide include configuration and training
for technical staff and operators. In addition to North American
headquarters in Toronto, Lawo maintains sales and support teams in
New York and Los Angeles.
For this project I
have to highlight Milo Woodhouse’s role. He is one of our most
experienced project managers and system specialists from Rastatt,
Lawo’s headquarters in Germany, who was stationed for 15 months in
Washington to support the NPR team throughout this challenging task.
He did a tremendous job, and along with the Lawo North America team,
played a crucial role in making this project a success.
more on this project see the story “Profile: Garrison Heads NPR
Tech Operations” at radioworld.com,