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Inside XM Satellite Radio: The Start of Something Big

The facility occupies 155,000 square feet of space on two floors of its building

You have seen several large radio facilities in the pages of BE, including those for Clear Channel Denver and Sirius Satellite Radio. When they were completed, those facilities were the largest radio facilities in existence in North America. As is usually the case, once a milestone is achieved, the challenge to exceed it is made. The new facilities for XM Satellite Radio are a showcase indeed, combining practical function with cutting-edge form. To top it off, this facility is now the largest radio facility in North America.

The stylish, quiet and efficient studios are a benchmark of radio high-tech.

The new facility, located in the technology corridor of Washington, DC, occupies 155,000 square feet of space on two floors of its building. In all, there are 82 studios in the facility. The building has a history of delivering information to the masses. For many years, the building at 1500 Eckington Place was the home to the printing presses for National Geographic magazine. The heritage of delivering a leading media of its day is continued with XM.

Take the tour

The satellite service-provider’s headquarters occupy two floors in the building. The third floor houses the administrative, marketing and programming departments, the satellite control team and a café. While it has become common in consolidated radio facilities to see two or three program directors, it’s a very different sight to see scores of program and music directors. Programming 100 channels requires the necessary talent to make all the programming decisions.

From program origination (top) in one of the 82 studios to enterprise control (bottom), audio and data are routed throughout the entire facility.

The second floor has 60,000 square feet of space dedicated to the broadcast and satellite operations. In this space are 14 production studios, 38 on-air studios, 24 assembly booths, four voice-over booths, one performance studio (with 2,600 square feet alone), the broadcast operations center, the network operations center, the enterprise control center and the technical operations center.

The key design elements for the facility combine the functions of routing audio, data and control information all at one time. In may ways, the facility design looks more like an IT installation than a radio installation.

The heart of the system is the Klotz Vadis platform, routed through a backbone provided by fiber opitc cable and Radio Systems’ StudioHub+ CAT5 wiring system. There are more than 200 Vadis frames, 1,650,000 feet of CAT5 cable and 630,000 feet of fiber optic cable in the facility. This network ties all the functions of the Klotz and Dalet systems together with all the other audio and data sources.

The Broadcast Operations System (BOS) keeps track of all audio sources and events being used. The foundation of this system, provided by Encoda, contains various software modules used for show scheduling, traffic scheduling, material management (to assign production duties and file names), and digital transmission control (to permit access to shows and set bit-rates for transmission). The BOS also supervises the Drake automation system that oversees the Dalet workstations.

From the beginning

The studios are all designed from a similar base. Each studio is actually an Acoustic Systems isolation booth. With so many studios being built, traditional studio construction — building a room from the ground up — did not make sense. Despite the modular approach, the studios do not feel like modular booths. This method also provided an easier means to achieve the desired noise rejection than would have been possible by building the rooms individually.

Enterprise control, which oversees the operation of the business enterprise, includes an operator’s chair that resembles Captain Kirk’s.

Each room has furniture from Studio Technology, a Klotz control surface, Dalet workstation, Denon CD players, Genelec monitors, Omni-mount speaker mounts, Tascam cassette deck, Sony DAT deck, Telos phone system, ESE and Leitch clocks and Audio Technica or Rode mics. Some studios have additional equipment for specific applications, such as a 360 Systems ShortCut, ProTools DAW or Eventide broadcast delay. There are even a few Fidelipac cart machines in use.

The technical operations center houses nearly 300 racks and supports the shared and behind-the-scenes equipment, including 120 Omnia Audio Omnia3 audio processors and 22TB (terabytes) of storage space on a storage-area network. There are multiple rows of racks; one serves the needs of the office computer network. The rest are dedicated to the studio facility.

Keeping it straight

Monitoring the 100 channels is a major task. To do this, the broadcast operations center (BOC) monitors the audio and data being sent to the satellite delivery system, which is monitored by the network operations center (NOC). The entire facility is under the supervision of the enterprise control center (ECC), which is appropriately named. It is not only the final supervisor position for the technical business enterprise, it looks like the bridge of the Enterprise, complete with Captain Kirk’s chair.

The supervisor in the captain’s chair has intercom access to every operator in the facility. The button panels on the chair’s arm select the station. A gooseneck mic picks up the supervisor’s commands. Above the chair is a parabolic speaker reflector, so any communications back to the supervisor are only heard by the supervisor without disturbing anyone in the BOC.

Above: One of the news workstations. Below: There are two satellite uplink antennas on the rooftop.

The large displays in the BOC show satellite status and audio levels at a glance. Individual control stations monitor the status of the automation systems, the audio and data control systems, and program scheduling.

In addition to the Washington facilities, XM also has studios in New York and in Nashville at the Country Music Hall of Fame. These other locations have similar designs and are fully integrated with the Capitol facility. The integration is so complete that audio files are stored in Washington and accessed remotely. The design is such that it doesn’t matter that the studios are not down the hall but are instead across several state lines.

The technical operations center is a stockpile of behind-the-scenes equipment.

Radio history is about to witness the creation of a new chapter as the satellite radio services begin commercial delivery. XM is a part of that history, and its facilities have already made radio history because of their magnitude of scale.

Facility Specifications

Audio files: 2,000,000

Audio work stations: 320

CAT5 cable: 1,650,000 feet

Computer storage space: 26 TB (terabytes)

DAW systems: 14

Digital control surfaces: 288

Equipment racks: 279

Fiber optic cable: 630,000 feet

News preparation stations: 24


Telephone lines: 192

Equipment List

  • 360 Sytems – Instant Replay
  • Acoustic Systems – Modular Studios
  • Audio Technica – AT808G, AT857QMAL
  • Broadcast Store – Mic arms
  • Encoda/DAL – Automation system
  • Dalet – Dalet 5.1 workstations, Team Newsroom
  • Denon – DN-961FA
  • ESE – ES-3242, ES-324312, ES-32445. ES-3244P2
  • Eventide – BD500-100
  • Fidelipac – CTR14, ESD10
  • Genelec – S30D, 2029B, 1091A, 1030A
  • Harris – Netboss Network Management System
  • Klotz – Vadis, DC-2 controllers
  • Leitch – Clocks
  • Northeastern Communications Concepts – Studio Planning, Acoustics, Furniture Design
  • Omnia – Omnia3
  • Omni-mount – Speaker mounts
  • PowerGold – Music Scheduling software
  • Prolite – On-Air lights
  • Radio Systems – StudioHub+
  • Rode – Mics
  • Sony – MDR-7502, MDR-7506, MDS-E11, PCM-R500, SMS-1P/B
  • Studio Technology – Studio Furniture
  • Tascam – 122 MKII
  • Technics – SL120 MKII
  • Telos – 2101