Garrison enjoys leading people across treacherous terrain. He
fulfilled that ambition for many years as a climbing guide on
Yosemite’s famous rock faces El Capitan and Half Dome.
also likes leading the construction of large broadcast and IT/data
facilities, as he’s done for several large organizations including
Turner Broadcasting System.
qualities made him a perfect fit when he joined NPR in 2010 as vice
president of technology operations, distribution and broadcast
engineering — essentially, NPR’s CTO — just as the big public
radio organization was about to dig dirt for a new headquarters in
is recipient of the 2013 Radio World Excellence in Engineering Award.
Recipients represent the highest ideals of the U.S. radio broadcast
engineering profession and reflect those ideals through contributions
to the industry.
may not know his name yet because he’s relatively new to radio; but
Garrison holds one of the premier radio engineering management jobs.
heads the technical team that ensures that NPR programming gets on
the air and is distributed nationally and globally. The team must
keep 17 bureaus going and is responsible for the integrity and
technical quality of all its shows. His staff oversees NPR Satellite
Services, which handles distribution for virtually all public radio
programming in the United States; customers include American Public
Media and Public Radio International, which also produce national
public radio programming.
the department is responsible for traditional back-office IT services
at NPR including financial and development systems, email, voice and
a worldwide data network. With approximately 200 employees, it is the
second largest department at NPR, after news.
supervised the move of these technical operations to new headquarters
at 1111 North Capitol Street in Washington’s NoMa neighborhood,
including a new 55,000-square-foot newsroom, new
studios and technology and distribution centers that support iconic
programs such as “All Things Considered” and “Morning Edition.”
The move was completed this year.
and the staff that you see in the accompanying group photo were
responsible for facilitating one of the highest-profile radio
build-outs in North America. The project demanded meticulous
coordination, a vast amount of detail work and a move that had to be
planned down to the minute, even the second.
all accounts it was a successful transition; the job even was
completed earlier than scheduled, and created a showcase in the
nation’s capital for the best that public radio has to offer.
boss, NPR Chief Administrative Officer Joyce Slocum, told Radio
World, “Marty’s leadership was critical to
achieving the rare result of delivering a project of this magnitude
and complexity ahead of schedule and under budget, and to the
satisfaction of all constituencies. From production studios for our
programming, to computers and telephones for our support staff, to
the satellite system for distribution to public radio stations,
Marty’s teams worked together to ensure that everything functioned
smoothly from the first moment.”
was not Garrison’s first technical project involving aggressive
timeframes and large capital budgets. He was senior
vice president of global technical operations for Turner Broadcasting
and has held technical management leadership positions with Thomson
Reuters, British Petroleum and other companies.
many of the engineers we’ve honored, his career merges
traditional broadcast considerations with new media platforms, data
networks and IT infrastructure, exemplifying the evolving skills
needed to lead multimedia organizations.
is the second NPR recipient of our award; Michael Starling, currently
director of NPR’s Technology Research Center and NPR
received it in 2005. Last year’s recipient was Paul Brenner of
grew up in information technology. He worked for BP as an Oracle
database administrator in the early 1980s. In 1992 he built his first
data centers for Ingres Corp. in London and Dublin, his initial foray
soon hired him as director of domestic technical operations and not
long thereafter transferred him to London as VP of international
information technology, responsible for all
aspects of technology service delivery for TBS locations outside the
technical project team in front of the building after the move to
1111 North Capitol Street, NE.
They called themselves TDIG, the Technical Design and Implementation
biggest job at Turner came when he returned to this country as senior
VP of global technical operations.
was finally catching up and moving from analog to digital. “We were
getting rid of big tape devices and moving essentially to media
servers, non-linear editing.” Turner recognized this convergence
and offered him a job to keep the portfolio of broadcast
infrastructure but also merge the broadcasting engineering
infrastructure of CNN into that operation.
was the biggest challenge of my career because I didn’t really
understand broadcast video technology. I had to learn that while
winning the confidence and trust of several hundred traditional
broadcast engineers, and bring them along into the digital world.”
was a fascinating time, with digital media servers entering an
environment where most engineers didn’t even have computers on
their desks — if they had desks at all, not workbenches.
led a large consolidation of facilities in Hong Kong that involved
Warner Bros., Time Inc., Turner and CNN operations. He subsequently
ran a similar project in New York, moving multiple businesses into
the Time Warner Center on Columbus Circle. That
project required $30 million of infrastructure investments including
one of the first large-scale cross-vendor deployments of VoIP using
Cisco network components and Avaya VoIP systems. It
was a three-year job during which he commuted from Atlanta three days
Turner position, he said, “was a heckuva lotta fun, and it
positioned me so well for this job later in my career.” Later, at
Thomson Reuters in Minneapolis, he and his team of about 1,000 people
built a data center every 18 months. So projects involving large
buildings and data operations were becoming commonplace for him.
was working there when a recruiter called about the NPR project.
no mistake; the headquarters move was a team effort. Garrison talks
about the strong staff in NPR audio and distribution, engineers who
perhaps had not built a project of this scale before but had plenty
of advanced tech experience. They worked side by side with a
relatively younger IT group that hadn’t built big radio
infrastructure but whose role was critical because practically
everything in the building runs on the IT network.
about herding cats,” Garrison joked. “It was about getting
everyone to row in the same direction at the same time, and winning
the confidence of some very seasoned engineering professionals, and
giving confidence to a traditional technology organization that they
could pull this off.”
of the move had to be planned very closely. “What gave me the most
worry was not building this facility. It was moving a 7x24 radio
production operation and a 7x24 distribution system with no down
the new building was under construction a few blocks away, the tech
team built a duplicate of NPR’s distribution system, the
infrastructure that distributes public radio content for producers
and stations, including multiple dishes and antennas on the roof.
staff built the new system first in a building next to the old
headquarters at 635 Massachusetts Avenue. They tested the system for
months. When the tech core of the new site at 1111 North Capitol was
ready, they timed its disassembly, moved it and rebuilt the
distribution system, then tested it again.
Scope of the Job
A brief description of the technical infrastructure involved in the NPR move.
Audio — Broadcast engineering’s side of NPR’s building project comprised the build and installation of three broadcast studios, 10 production studios, six production booths, a high-end recording/events space and a centralized technical logistics center. Using digital technologies provided by Lawo North America, facilities are connected via a fiber network that runs on NPR’s corporate network, and protected by multiple secure VLans to a secure centralized Technical Core. Two redundant core audio routers are the Lawo HD73 HDs with controlling software provided by VSM. Besides basic audio routing functionally, software is configured to automatically restore NPR core programming to member stations with three separate backup audio sources after 12 seconds of silence is detected from the primary source. Audio peripherals include Genelec monitors, Neumann U87 microphones, Tascam CD players and NPR’s own asset management System NewsFlex, integrated with audio recording and playback software from DAVID Systems. HA Design Group was the systems integrator. Studio design and architectural services were provided by Bloomfield & Associates. Shen Milsom & Wilke provided acoustical design services. Studio furniture was designed by Bloomfield & Associates and constructed by Studio Technology.
Distribution — The Public Radio Satellite System, managed by NPR, outfitted all of the system’s 400-plus interconnected stations with new IDC SFX 4104 satellite receivers. As part of the buildout of the PRSS’ Network Operations Center in the headquarters building, engineers installed an upgraded audio routing system utilizing Axia routing technology. The Axia switch incorporates a design that can accommodate 2,025 destinations and 1,012 sources. System monitoring was enhanced using Evertz Microsystems products to manage a video-display wall. The wall uses Ethernet packets and other proprietary MIBS to display readings on encoders, modulators and encapsulators, RF equipment and other carrier measurement tools.
IT — NPR installed an Avaya Aura PBX in the new building in Washington. The Aura platform offers a hybrid solution. Studio and production facilities are populated with TDM phones to provide a higher call quality and greater reliability. A large percentage of NPR audio is still transported using legacy technology such as analog and ISDN BRI. All TDM gateways have redundant power and processors. Staff phones are provided as part of an IP-based solution; they are deployed in one of two configurations. The general population has a Cat-6 that supplies both phone and data; staff that edit audio have separate data feeds for computer and data. Likewise, trunking is a hybrid. NPR uses a mix of traditional T1 PRI, analog loop start and SIP trunking. For the production data network, NPR built an all-Cisco network using the Cisco Nexus series, with FabricPath technology.
12:59:10 p.m. on April 1, we pulled the trigger and seamlessly
starting broadcasting all public radio in the United States out of
1111 without a hitch,” Garrison recalled. The feeling? “Goosebumps.
We were all in the NOC — the CEO, a lot of people.”
and support groups such as finance, accounting and legal were moved
over; studio shows transitioned on a staggered schedule to minimize
this being radio, something unexpected could be, well, expected.
the search for the Boston Marathon bombing suspects reached its
climax, the production team handling coverage was working at 1111 but
the “Morning Edition” operation was still in its old location. On
Friday April 19 — the day Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was
found hiding in the boat — “Morning Edition” host David Greene
got in his car and drove over to the new studio location while Steve
Inskeep continued on the air. Inskeep came over later. Thus the
most-listened-to radio news program in the country could continue its
expanded coverage of this national story without an audible hitch.
total building cost was around $243 million, of which $31 million
involved the technical aspects. The project came in slightly under
budget and was delivered three months ahead of schedule. NPR saved a
lot of money by limiting the cost of dual occupancy.
is a native of northern California. He has a Bachelor
of Science in earth sciences from the University of California, Santa
Cruz. He doesn’t rock climb anymore but he’s
an avid cyclist at age 57. He resides with his wife Vanessa in
now worked on at least nine big-scale technology infrastructure
projects in Washington, Hong Kong, London, Atlanta and New York,
Garrison believes such jobs require skill and tenacity, to work with
the aggressive timescales and pressures of a live
broadcast environment. Sometimes decisions need to be made quickly
dealing with unions, with technology decisions, with taking risks,
with planning moves. It’s fascinating stuff. I love this job. I
love the company. I love building organizations, or transforming
organizations. And I just happen to love doing these buildings.”
57, also enjoys the satisfaction that his teams feel, especially the
less experienced ones. “I have some grey hairs [but] I try to
describe to these younger employees how they’ll feel when they walk
by that building a few years from now and say, ‘I was part of
on this or any story. Email