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The Rebuilding Spirit

The Rebuilding Spirit

May 1, 2010 12:00 PM, By John Morris, with Chris Sampson

Facility Showcase, May 2010

What began as a Catholic radio ministry in a former 1950s motel has blossomed into the driving force of Christian music in the Tampa Bay market. WBVM 90.5 FM, a.k.a. Spirit FM, owned by the Diocese of St. Petersburg, had humble beginnings when it initiated broadcasting in 1986. Much of the studio equipment was donated gear that no one else wanted. Music consisted of donated LPs and carts with worn-out pads. Volunteers came and went like the tides and it was difficult to keep staff happy with inadequate equipment. Despite these obstacles, donations came in and this Catholic radio ministry grew to the point that space became a premium: Something had to be done.

Permission from the local bishop was granted to launch a capital campaign. In short order more than $1 million was pledged to construct a new facility. Then the unforeseen happened: the largest economic tumble since the Great Depression. Gifts fell off and the plans were scrapped from constructing a stand-alone facility to building out an existing area. Although cash was still trickling in, the diocese gave the green light to move forward with the new facility. Plans were finalized in March 2009 and the first workers showed up in June. Nearly four months later, the build-out was complete: 7,000 square feet of office and studio space to accommodate the main 90.5 FM channel and two HD Radio multicast channels, plus a production room and small performance studio.

The space

Spirit FM control room

The existing space was the top floor of a recently constructed three-story facility owned by the adjacent church. It was unoccupied and constructed with the hope of leasing to a willing tenant � and Spirit FM was the perfect tenant. The building was adorned with windows around the perimeter, providing natural light and break points for offices and studios. The only downside was that the building overlooked a major artery in Tampa, FL, that created considerable traffic noise. This was a minor nuisance that could easily be remedied when construction started.

Alfonso Architects and Bollenback Builders were tapped to design and construct the facility. Both companies had worked on church projects and commercial ventures, but neither company had experience in constructing or designing a radio broadcast facility. It was refreshing that both companies were open to input and direction. They relied on Spirit FM’s Chief Engineer Chris Sampson for design and layout assistance. Sampson came with build-out experience in the Miami market while with Clear Channel.

The production room is the only studio with a sit-down console.

The floor space was basically a rectangle with large windows on the north and south ends of the building and smaller windows on the east and west walls. After numerous notepad and napkin drawings it was decided that the studios would be housed on the east wall facing the main road and downtown Tampa. The north and south ends of the building would house the staff, management and conference room. The center of the building would house the heart of the facility: electrical, mechanical and broadcast technical center (rack room).

The windows afforded a great opportunity to capitalize on the natural lighting and create an open atmosphere in the building. The architect envisioned an open office setting and keeping offices clean with store front glass in the private offices. One unique feature was that the walls separating the offices do not go to the ceiling, creating an openness to distribute lighting and HVAC. However, designs for the studios would be much different.

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The Rebuilding Spirit

May 1, 2010 12:00 PM, By John Morris, with Chris Sampson

Facility Showcase, May 2010

The studios

While the studio corridor is carpeted, the office corridor was polished for a marble effect.

Knowing the two areas of the building where sound and delivery of audio would be critical, Sampson designed studios adjacent to the tech center, making cable runs shorter and more efficient. To decrease the sound transmission, double walls were constructed between each studio with air space to attenuate the sound. Sound channel fabric and Acoustics First sound panels were strategically mounted throughout the studios to eliminate bounce. Overly acoustical doors and double-paned windows were mounted to keep the sound transmission at a minimum.

When laying out the studios, we determined it was necessary to have at least three microphone positions in each studio, and with limited space, this was tricky, but doable. Omnirax furniture got the nod to work on the project. They were able to customize the furniture based on our room dimensions, announcer positions, sound tolerances and ADA laws. Plus, we liked the variety of color options and materials to meet the aesthetics we desired. We had a number of conversations with Omnirax representatives and sent CAD drawings to the designers who built to our specifications. Once received, it took us a few days to piece everything together. You could tell that the furniture was the real deal as the weight of it going up three flights of stairs put even the strongest to the test. One counter top was damaged in shipping and Omnirax replaced it immediately with no hassles.


Spirit FM Tech Room with racks and servers

The broadcast tech center houses six Middle Atlantic equipment racks containing the audio servers for the main 90.5 channel, plus two additional HD Radio channels, 90.5 HD2 The Light, and HD3, El Fuego. The Light format is softer music and talk, while El Fuego is Catholic radio in Spanish. Due to the heat radiation from the equipment, we chose to go with two independent HVAC units, one for the offices and the other for the tech center and studios. Daiken High Efficiency VRV AC units were installed over the more traditional AC technologies. These VRV units allow compressor speed to vary with the heat load so the system only consumes the power necessary to match the load. When the heat load decreases the system automatically decreases the power supply frequency and uses less energy. The net effect has been that despite doubling our square footage and increasing our technical facilities by 1/3, our cooling costs have not risen.

In the old facility we had good luck with the Harris Impulse console, and chose Harris again, but this time stepping up to the NetWave consoles. Each studio was equipped with a networked console, running through an Envoy router housed in the tech room, thus eliminating the need for multiple cable runs and simplifying the cabling infrastructure. Two 25-pair CAT-5 cables were run to each room for phones and future considerations.

Flexibility is integral to the design of our new facility and is one of the main reasons we built it around the Harris Envoy system. With the aid of Broadcast Tools passive switchers each program chain can be fed by either a live studio, an audio server, an Envoy routed source or a designated backup studio. Any room can service any program chain or just act as an associated network studio.

With technology moving away from CD and more to digital storage and delivery, a change in our backup audio delivery was in order. After nearly 20 years of being a Denon CD facility, we migrated to the Tascam CD players, thus eliminating the jewel cases and freeing up space. Anyone need several thousand Denon jewel cases?

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The Rebuilding Spirit

May 1, 2010 12:00 PM, By John Morris, with Chris Sampson

Facility Showcase, May 2010

With no freight elevator to the 3rd floor, building material was loaded by stairwell or crane.

Tampa Bay is the lightning capital of the United States. Add in power outages and brown outs also commonplace in the south Tampa area, we wanted to be prepared for anything. We invested in whole building surge protection and an extensive lighting protection system designed by Allsouth Lightning Protection of Tampa. Although the cost was significant, we believe in the long run program disruption and equipment failure could be even more costly if we were not adequately protected. In addition, we were able to replace our ever-growing profusion of small UPS brick type units; we stepped up to a Tripp-Lite 20kVA UPS, allowing us enough power to keep the studios and tech room running long enough to bring our new Kohler 50kW generator up to speed.

Being a user of the Nexgen Automation System, it was a very easy migration from one building to the next. We backed up the files off our 10-year-old 20GB file server and loaded the data onto a new Dell Poweredge 500G server that was already running at the new building. Then once the studios were operational, we began training the talent on the equipment at the new location. The actual cut-over occurred on Oct. 10, 2009.

Hiccups? The Tripp-Lite product stumbled out of the gate two weeks after putting it online. As of this writing, it is working again and back online. If I had to do it over again, I would have spent the extra money for a different manufacturer’s product. Also, invest in solid, up-to-date virus protection for the computers. In this day and age, files can be imported without anyone knowing until it’s too late.

With the current economic climate and rapid changes in the way we communicate, there are many uncertainties for radio and broadcasting in general. However, Spirit FM is prepared for the future of HD Radio, networking and any other new technology that tops the horizon.

Equipment list

Acoustics First sound panels
Adobe Audition
Broadcast Tools SS4.1III
Burk ARC-16
Cisco 2950
Comrex BRIC-Link
Dell servers, workstations and monitors
EV RE-20
Harris Envoy, NetWave, VistaMax, World Feed panels
Herman Miller Aeron chairs
Inovonics INO 531
Kohler 50kW generator
Middle Atlantic equipment racks
Moseley Starlink SL 9003 T-1
Omnirax studio furniture
Overly acoustic doors
Polk Audio in-ceiling monitors
RCS NexGen Digital
Symetrix 528e
Tascam CD-OU1
Telos Nx12, Zephyr Xstream
Tripp-Lite 20kVA UPS
Yamaha HSM-8

John Morris is general manager of Spirit FM, Tampa. Chris Sampson is chief engineer and operations manager for Spirit FM, Tampa.

Contributor Pro-File: John Morris

This month: John Morris; General Manager; WBVM-FM; Tampa, FL…

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