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Complete control

Complete control

Sep 1, 2006 12:00 PM, By Chriss Scherer, editor

The host position in the large talk studio faces the in-studio engineer position and the main control room.

The production control room.

Air America Radio is a national, progressive-entertainment, talk radio network that launched in March 2004. The network is known for its outspoken personalities including Al Franken, Jerry Springer, Randi Rhodes and Mike Malloy. And while some listeners may take issue with the views and opinions of the show hosts, the New York radio facility is based on a solid operating platform.

When Air America Radio launched it used a small facility with one studio for the talent and the board operators and one studio for the show producer. While this facility worked, space was tight and the equipment did not meet the reliability needs of the network. In addition, the lease on the space was due to expire in about a year. The work began to relocate.

While planning the new facility, several priorities were established at the beginning. The equipment had to be reliable; Network outages were unacceptable. The facility had to meet the ergonomic needs of the staff � there needed to be more than one studio to accommodate the programming needs.

A site was selected and the work began in July 2005. The clock was running to vacate the old facility, and Juan Diaz, then vice president of engineering, had to keep a tight schedule. It took two months to build and relocate the facility, which went live on Sept. 15, 2005, but the transition was not without a few obstacles.

The work begins

The overall facility layout was conceived by Diaz. He took the ideas to Chad Phielen at Roscor who developed drawings. A centralized audio routing and mixing system was planned, and Sierra Automated Systems was chosen to supply Rubicon surfaces and a 32KD router.

Roscor also designed and built the custom furniture, created the prewiring assemblies and provided the on-site integration services.

The facility houses three live talk radio networks. They are the Air America Radio main channel, the Air America Radio syndication network and the feed for Greenstone Media. All of the programs carried on these networks originate from the New York studios or from various satellite studios around the country. The network programming is delivered to radio affiliates and XM via satellite by Westwood One. A T1 line with ISDN backup delivers the audio to the WW1 uplink. The Internet feeds for Real Networks, Windows Media and MP3 are fed from encoders at the studio to Shoutcast for distribution. Up until Sept. 1, Air America also fed WLIB New York directly via a T1 with ISDN backup and provided a feed with local commercials and IDs.

Studio overview

The main control room, also called mission control, is the largest studio and is centered around the largest Rubicon audio control surface manufactured to date. The 40-slot console features a built-in telephone system control, intercom, talkback, studio-to-airchain routing and delay control. The four producer positions, each with SAS turrets for talkback, monitoring and live-to-air mic control, look in to the two adjoining talk studios.

Talk studio A, the larger of the two talk studios, has a 24-slot Rubicon surface, which is used when AAR originates several live talk shows at the same time or when the intimacy of talent and board op in the same space is appropriate. Talk studio B is the smaller studio and it is equipped with a small Mackie mixer.

The news studio is used to provide on-the-hour news, while a third control room is used for production. The production studio houses a 16-slot Rubicon console.

The Rubicon surfaces share audio sources and destinations through a network of the SAS 32KD router and several Rio frames. This centralized routing system allows any source to be called to any input of any control surface. As many as four airchains are used at any given time, although more outputs are available. To ensure that the wrong words are never aired, each control surface airchain feeds a profanity delay. The flexible audio routing presented a challenge to the facility to ensure that the control and status of each delay unit was provided and displayed to the appropriate talent, producer and board-op position. SAS designed a logic system to analyze which airchain is being fed from each surface, and then route the appropriate status and control to the proper positions.

As a backup for audio routing, each studio has two 25-pair trunk cables that run to the rack room, with patch bays inserted around the router. The goal of equipment reliability has been achieved, and the backup routing has not been needed for any emergency use yet. The patch bays have been used for planned maintenance on the router system for system updates and additions.

Construction challenges

Any construction in New York has to face challenges, and this project was no exception. At the beginning it was understood that the studio building, having been built in the 1920’s, was considered a landmark. As such, nothing could be done to the building’s exterior, and nothing could be added that was visible from the street or from adjoining buildings. This prevented AAR from installing a generator at the site. Instead, a 150kW UPS was installed. The UPS can support the facility for 10 hours. To accommodate the weight of this unit, the fourth floor that AAR occupies in the eight-story building had to be reinforced.

In case of a long power outage, AAR has a contract with a company to deliver a drive-up generator in less than three hours if it is needed. Power lines from the transfer switch were routed to the street level to connect to the temporary generator. In addition, all the necessary permits were secured to allow the generator to be parked on the street, and to allow AAR to move any vehicles that might be in the way.

Another difficulty was encountered after the project began. The original architect had limited experience in business design and none in studio design. As the limitations were discovered, a new architect, Jensen Design Associates, was brought in to complete the project. The project was already on a tight schedule, and several days were lost when some walls and a door had to be relocated.

Now that the facility is complete, the staff has the room it needs to operate comfortably and the equipment reliability to provide uninterrupted programming. Like many facilities today, the focus has turned from audio routing to data routing, and the SAS routing system fills this need well. The IT staff at AAR, Director of IT Michael Borges and IT Support Tech Gonzalo Londono, are charged with the responsibility to maintain this part of the operation.

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Thanks to Juan Diaz, formerly of Air America Radio, Roy Pressman of Pressman Engineering and Technology, and Howard Mullinack of SAS for assistance in preparing this article.

Equipment List

360 Systems Instant Replay
Aphex 320-A
Bitree Bantum 32
Broadcast Tools SRC-8 III, SS16.4, SS4.1 III, SS4.2
CDQ Prima 220
Circuit Werks AC-12
Comrex Matrix
Crown D45
Electro-Voice RE27ND
Eventide Eclipse
Fostex 6301
Gefen Extendit 1500R
Henry Engineering Matchbox HD, Superelay, Twinmatch
Mackie DFX-12
Moseley Starlink SL9003T1
O.C. White mic booms
Radio Systems CT 2002
Rane ME30B
RDL Labs Summing Amp
Roscor interface panels
SAS 32KD, Rio, Rubicon, TP-M
Sony MDR-7506
Symetrix 528E
Tascam 112-MKII, CD-450, LA-112, LA-450, MD-350
Telos 2101, 2×12, Zephyr Xstream
Wireready Controlready