Clear Channel LA brings it all together
May 1, 2004 12:00 PM, By Chriss Scherer, editor
More photos from the May Facility Showcase on Clear Channel LA.Hover your mouse over the image to stop the scrolling.
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A licensee consolidating its stations into a single facility is not a new idea. A facility consolidation offers operational efficiencies. But the decision to consolidate is a choice that requires careful attention and planning. Most studio projects are driven by one of three forces: time, budget or desired performance. In the case of Clear Channel Los Angeles, time was the driving force.
Clear Channel LA owns eight stations in the market: FMs KBIG, KHHT, KIIS, KOST and KYSR, and AMs KFI, KLAC and KXTA. Timing was what motivated this project because the KIIS and the AM station leases were due to expire in 2004. In a process that began in 2001, the site selection and subsequent studio build have taken shape, although not without a few hitches along the way.
Each studio has a similar layout.
The TOC houses 96 racks in seven rows.
The Star Lounge performance studio can accommodate a small performance for an audience, and does so with an interesting design flair.
Looking into the performance studio from the fifth floor lobby.
The eight LA stations occupied four facilities around the LA metro. KIIS and KHHT were in one facility. KYSR was by itself in a building next door to KIIS. KBIG and KOST were together in Glendale, and KLAC, KXTA and KFI were in yet another location. Arranging the final steps to move these stations without losing air time � and revenue � was going to be a challenge.
The search begins
A desirable location with central access in the metro was important, as was the ability to establish STL paths to all eight transmitter sites. After considering several possibilities, the first location viewed was the one that was finally chosen. This was not the first choice, however.
Clear Channel also owns Premier Radio networks, which has its main facility in Sherman Oaks. A building across the street from the Premier was the primary choice for the Clear Channel stations. While this location would have provided some convenience for the co-owned divisions, geographical reasons made it an impractical choice. Los Angeles is in an earthquake zone. If a seismic event were to strike the area with the two broadcast facilities, the chance of both facilities being lost was unacceptable. Instead, the location in Burbank was chosen.
The radio station complex and the Premier facility also provide backup for each other, so the distance separation improves the likelihood of at least one facility being useable after an emergency. In addition, the stations have backup facilities at two of the transmitter sites.
The Burbank location is in a media-friendly area. The NBC studios are next door, and several other broadcast and media facilities are in the area. The chosen location also provides good STL paths to each station’s transmitter site.
The radio facility occupies three floors in the building. The third floor hosts the sales, traffic and continuity departments and has the smallest floor space. The fourth floor houses the technical operations center (TOC), the AM studios and operations and the accounting department. The fifth floor is home to the FM studios and operations, and the FM administration offices.
The stations began moving into the facility one at a time. The first station to move in was KSYR at the end of January 2004. Then KIIS, KHHT, KBIG and KOST moved in during February and March. KLAC and KXTA joined the group in April, and KFI will move during May.
The order of the stations moving in was not the order of the original plan. KIIS and the AMs had leases that were nearing their end so they had higher priorities, but as often happens with any plan, adjustments had to be made along the way.
The move for KIIS was rescheduled because of the change in the morning show from Rick Dees to Ryan Seacrest. KIIS had planned to bring several analog studios for Rick Dees, but following the change, these studios were not built to the original plan. Seacrest’s show originates from the same Hollywood facility as the television show, and the audio is transmitted the main Clear Channel studios via T-1. The Seacrest studio is a self-contained operation with its own Prophet Systems automation.
KFI was last on the list to move because of the complexities of the news operation. The news prep areas, wire services and other elements in daily use must all be in working order before the station can move in.
Clear Channel contracted Harris to assist in the facility installation. In most cases, each station’s existing studio equipment was newer, so a complete studio equipment purchase was not needed. But because it had to start somewhere, the KSYR studios has the most new equipment because it was the first to move. As other stations moved, their equipment was shuttled and installed as needed.
One exception to the new equipment pool was the on-air consoles and audio router. Clear Channel already owned three Harris BMX Digital consoles. Harris supplied 28 more consoles to complete the facility. In addition, a Vistamax router was added to the audio infrastructure.
All the studios were initially designed with a common layout and theme so users could use any studio with little introduction. To add some personal touch, each studio was customized for its own needs from there. In addition, the furniture trim color was changed for each station to provide a personal identity. The chairs for each studio were matched to this trim color, which also eliminates the problem with borrowed-but-never-returned chairs.
The similar furniture designs also facilitated the furniture construction. Because a single shape was used, the countertops could be cut from the same CNC program, saving time and cost.
Flexibility was a key design concern. Before the move, some stations did not have any audio routing beyond patch bays. Clear Channel looked at all the available choices and wanted to avoid analog wiring bundles and traditional punch block closets. By using the distributed router approach and a digital infrastructure, the amount of wire needed was reduced. In addition, the Gepco CAT-5 cable is smaller in diameter, so it occupies less space. All the CAT-5 cable originates in the TOC. The amount of CAT-5 cable used in the facility would stretch about 110 miles.
The open furniture design uses a wiring trough along the underside of the console top. Because of the digital routing, the amount of wire needed has been greatly reduced, making it easier to conceal the wiring in this trough.
Variations on a theme
Each station has an air studio and an imaging production studio, which also serves as the backup air studio. The FMs each have a commercial production studio.
KHHT and KYSR also have a syndication studio. KIIS has space for a syndication studio, an additional production studio and another support studio that were not built after the change in the morning show.
KFI has a news studio and a talk studio that looks into the control room. KXTA has a talk studio and a voice booth. KLAC has a sports studio.
A spare studio, called the farm-out studio, was built on the fourth floor for visiting stations to use when they come to LA. The fourth floor also features a news bullpen with five workstations and a sports bullpen with three workstations. The news bullpen also has two news prep studios. There are seven voice-tracking booths on the fifth floor.
The large studios are centered around the BMX Digital consoles. The news and sports workstations and news prep studios use a rack-mount VSDM from Harris. The voice-track booths use a low-profile desk-mount VSDM.
The TOC houses all the behind-the-scenes equipment including the Prophet Systems servers. The Vistamax router handles all the audio and all the control and logic signals.
While it is impossible to expect that equipment will never fail, the stations have made efforts to ensure a high on-air reliability. If a router or console goes down, the station cannot afford the lost revenue or listeners.
The Prophet Nexgen provides a mixed output of the audio feed. As a backup, each station’s mixed audio feed is sent to each console directly for use when needed. Likewise, a direct feed from the console is routed to the TOC. This protects the stations in case of a router failure. If a console fails, the Nexgen output can also be routed directly to the on-air processor. This system was used during construction in overnight maintenance sessions when the Vistamax was loaded with programming updates.
Another step taken to ensure on-air reliability was to route the telephone service feed directly to the TOC without allowing access from the common building areas. This eliminates the chance for a telephone installer to unintentionally interrupt a station line.
For power, the on-air operations are fed by a dual 96KVA UPS running in parallel. Under full load, this UPS would provide power for 10 minutes. Current usage is much less than full load. In addition, an 800A service is provided from the building generator, which has a 24-hour fuel tank.
To secure the occupancy permit, the Burbank electrical inspectors wanted all the equipment to carry UL approval. Unfortunately, not all broadcast equipment is UL approved; however, most broadcast equipment is CE approved, which is acceptable. In one case, an inspector had the station open a Prophet server to see that all the internal components were UL or CE listed.
Other zoning and approval issues were not a source of trouble for Clear Channel, likely due to the presence of other electronic media outlets in Burbank. On the roof, the STL dishes had to be painted to match the color of the building parapets to make them blend in with the building.
Clear Channel Los Angeles is now a showcase in this leading market.
Information provided by Terry Grieger, Clear Channel, and Scott Russell, Harris. Photos by Terry Grieger.
Acoustics First sound panels
Broadcast Tools 6X1 switchers
Broadcast Tools 8X1 DAS switchers
Comrex Hotline, Vector and Matrix codecs
Crown power amps & headphone amps
Denon DN-2500F dual CD players
Denon DN-2600F dual CD players
Denon DN-951FA CD players
Denon DN-961FA CD players
Digidesign Pro Tools
Digigram VX222 sound cards
Gepco/Quabbin 5100 CAT-5 cable
Hafler power amps
Harris BMX Digital consoles
Harris Smoothline furniture
Harris Vistamax router
Harris VSDM mixer
Henry Engineering Matchbox
Middle Atlantic racks
Panasonic SV-3700 DAT
Panasonic SV-3800 DAT
Panasonic SV-4100 DAT
Panduit wire management
Prophet Systems Nexgen
Sony CDR-W33 CD recorders
Sony MDS-E12 Minidisc
Sony PCM-R700 DAT
Starguide III receivers
Symetrix headphone amps
Tascam 122 MKIII cassette
Telos 2�12 phone system
Telos 2101 phone system
Telos Zephyr Xstream codecs