FALLS CHURCH, Va. — New World Radio spent the better part of two decades operating from a studio in a residential neighborhood in a suburban Washington neighborhood. The spreading residential development of Northern Virginia finally reached our former home, forcing us to relocate.
As a broadcaster, the opportunity to relocate provides a fresh look at every facility operation, including technology. We identified studio systems as one area especially ripe for upgrades, choosing a GatesAir networked audio solution following a lengthy evaluation period of several vendors.
Our new space for WUST(AM) takes up much of the second floor of an office building on the other side of town. With the freedom to redesign the rented space, we strategized layouts for three dual-use on-air and production studios and a master control center that would make the best use of the WUST workflow. As a specialty, multilingual broadcaster, New World Radio produces on-air content by guest broadcasters, most of whom have little to no professional experience. We wanted to equip the studios with intuitive consoles that balanced modern features with a quick learning curve.
Similarly, we wanted the enhanced operational efficiencies that digital audio networking provides, from more collaborative environments to reduced technical infrastructure. In cooperation with a regional GatesAir representative, our leading equipment supplier, SCMS, offered a detailed demonstration of the GatesAir VistaMax studio networking solution, including comprehensive drawings of how the complete architecture came together. This, along with several key differentiators and a competitive price point, put GatesAir over the top.
The three dual-use studios feature Oasis 12-channel consoles. Our previous console upgrade in 1998 transitioned WUST from old-school rotary consoles to slide fader consoles — a change that created a massive learning curve for many producers, causing serious headaches. The transition to Oasis has been much smoother, while incorporating more modern digital features and the advantages of studio networking.
The Oasis allows me to keep things simple. Producers turn a channel on, a fader up, select Program 1, and they are on the air. The consoles accommodate multiple inputs, most of which are computer-based equipment along with a couple of CD players, microphones and an on-air phone system. A GatesAir World Feed Panel provides a single interface for multiple inputs and outputs of various formats if additional sources are required.
One of my favorite Oasis features is the ability to plug a laptop into the USB port and configure the console. A detailed—yet straightforward—visual of the console layout is provided onscreen, with the ability to change channel configurations, move the dual mix/minus channels and achieve other on-air and production needs without difficulty. Additionally, the mix/minus feature eliminates the need to create a mix/minus feed of my own, automatically delivering an output for the mix/minus bus.
The NetWave 16-channel console design for master control is more advanced, giving our professional in-house operators a more expansive, feature-rich console to manage and bring feeds to air. It does not have the same slick configuration options as the Oasis and requires some more manual attention. Still, it was simple to set-up and offered an easy learning curve for our full- and part-time staff.
The big benefit of networking these systems via VistaMax is the ability to share or recall sources at any connected location. For New World Radio, this usually means easy audio routing from Oasis consoles to the NetWave; and also routing other sources into the VistaMax network, such as Internet-delivered programs, phone system audio and content from remote producers. VistaMax provides additional routing flexibility through source selectors, allowing us to route individual mics that master control operators can call to air as needed.
The reduction in infrastructure extends from in-studio space-saving to overall cabling and wiring. I handle studio systems integration as part of my role at New World Radio. VistaMax reduces the old-school routing method with 10 tons of wiring to Cat-5 and Cat-6 network cables. The transition from audio to network cabling makes integration far simpler to install and maintain.
Resiliency is perhaps the biggest differentiating factor of VistaMax. The architecture allows us to home-run single studios to a separate audio switcher in our TOC, keeping the consoles on the air if the network is taken down for any reason. This essentially means we have a networked studio environment that can also stand alone.
Nothing is perfect in the broadcast world. We have required some assistance with VistaMax software, though GatesAir technicians have been quick to deliver results. I also put my woodworking skills to work, making some modifications to the rear of consoles to better accommodate wiring connections. However, every transition of this scope will have challenges, and ours have been minimal.
This is crucial given the unique attributes of our operation. Every show at New World Radio has its own purposes, and the environment is akin to running multiple small radio stations given the many program producers on site. GatesAir has made the transition to a networked studio environment very simple.
For more information, contact Bill Betts at GatesAir in Ohio at (513) 459-3678 or visit www.gatesair.com.