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Greater Media Detroit goes State-of-the-art

Greater Media Detroit goes State-of-the-art

Mar 1, 2004 12:00 PM, By Michael Kernen

The consolidation of radio stations in markets such as Detroit has no doubt exposed many shortcomings and inefficiencies of facilities. Many studio buildings were designed to house an AM/FM combo or a stand-alone station’s studios, but not multiple radio stations. This is the challenge that faced Greater Media in the Detroit market. Having started with an AM and an FM station in the market and later owning three FM signals, the need for a modern and efficient space was never more evident.

Greater Media is a company that emphasizes quality. The Detroit stations are all among the top ranks in their demographic and are all fully staffed and aggressively positioned. We needed a facility capable of supporting the stations’ needs while staying fully aligned with their aspirations and philosophy.

In 001, the 12 acres owned by Greater Media just north of the Detroit city limit was home to a 1,000-foot tower, three structures supporting the radio studios, a multi-tenant transmitter building and a C-band satellite uplink facility known as Greater Starlink. With Starlink’s business in sharp decline the decision was made to close the facility. To make way for a new state-of-the-art radio facility that would house all three of the Greater Media Detroit stations, it would be necessary to remove the Starlink dishes � three of which were larger than 100 feet in diameter � grade the property and raze the existing building. This alone was a formidable undertaking, but an added obstacle was the extensive protective berm that surrounded the south end of the satellite installation. Standing more than 40 feet high and several hundred feet long, this was one huge dirt mound. The logical thing to do would be to bulldoze the entire mass into the center of the site where the elevation was actually eight feet to 10 feet below grade, but this area was to be the location of the main building, which required a stable soil base. The analysis of the berm revealed that it was mostly organic soils, which cannot be used under construction because of their tendency to shrink.

Over the course of six months the berm was razed by trucking more than 500 double-bottom semis of the soil to a landfill and filling the below-grade areas with more than 200 truckloads full of engineered fill. A constant parade of trucks made trips between the site and the landfill until the site was level. The only thing left standing was a 120-foot tower that would be used for STL dishes and other light equipment.

Getting started

At a May 2001 groundbreaking ceremony, the company announced its plan to combine the three stations into one facility. Plans were laid for a 38,000 square foot, two-story building that would occupy the recently leveled Starlink property on the southeast side of Royal Oak Township, MI. The structure, consisting of a steel superstructure with concrete floors and a metal-decked rubberized roof, allows for the eventual expansion necessary to house four stations should Greater Media acquire one. The build-out was expected to take one year.

For architecture and engineering, Greater Media turned to trusted talent used on prior Philadelphia and Boston consolidation projects. Paul Elia of Philadelphia’s Hellyer, Berman, Lewis were the architects and Clive Samuels of Princeton, NJ, provided the electrical and mechanical engineering. Other principal participants were the project manager, E&L Construction of Flint, MI; and the local architectural firm Brown Teefey of Bloomfield Hills, MI. Acoustical engineering was provided by Kevin Miller of Miller, Beam, and Paganelli in Mc Lean, VA, and studio integration was provided by Radio Systems. Milford Smith, Greater Media vice president of radio engineering, and I managed the project from Greater Media’s perspective.

Step inside

The facility is built with a hub-and-spoke arrangement that gives each station its own wing. This helps preserve each station’s creative core and individual identity. The wings meet in the center hub room, which is a large multi-purpose area capable of supporting meetings, multi-media presentations, live in-house performances or just lunch. Other specific features of the building include a workout room with showers and lockers, a single-bay garage with a 12-foot door that allows us to maintain the group’s fleet, even those vehicles with masts, and a scissor lift to offload large trucks. Twelve studios and a technical operations center (TOC) all with access flooring are provided for the technical core of the operation.

Studios, programming, promotions and engineering occupy the first floor; sales and administrative offices are on the second. Three conference rooms, all with multi-media capabilities, are on the second floor. A high-tech board room with a 35-foot table at its center and a kitchen pantry to its rear offers space for high-level meetings and presentations. High-style fabric walls and cork floors make for elegant surroundings in many common areas. Granite tops and stainless-steel appliances grace the first and second floor kitchen areas.

Many common areas feature overhead speakers with multi-zone, multi-station capability. By using wall controls, each of these spaces can listen to a variety of sources including each station’s program audio, and in the case of the hub room, audio from the plasma TV or the front projection TV with its 8-foot motorized screen. Other multimedia features include several Bose speakers in the conference, hub and board rooms and the ability to connect a computer or playback DVD video.

The physical facilities are protected by a number of backup and secondary systems. Electrical power is backed by a 175kVA UPS with a 1,000kVA CAT diesel electric plant behind it. This enormous generator can power the entire studio building as well as all three stations’ transmitter facilities without load shedding. With the UPS and generator, technical loads transition to emergency power without interruption. A fuel storage capacity of 4,000 gallons covers extended outages.

Heating, ventilation and air conditioning is provided by five rooftop systems; four of which are the size of a semi trailer. Technical areas are serviced by completely redundant systems with full humidification and automatic failover. Office spaces are serviced by individual high capacity systems. Each zone has can be heated even if the rest of the building requires cooling. This is thanks to individual duct-mounted hydronic reheat coils. Hot water is pumped as needed to each zone through a maze of pipes and valves that course through-out the building. The whole system is monitored and controlled by a Johnson Controls building management system that places comfort as its top priority.

To properly supply the fire suppression systems, 30,000 gallons of water has to be stored and available at all times. The Greater Media Detroit facility parking lot hides a tank the size of a semi truck at the bottom of a 30-foot hole excavated in the clay. A transfer pipe leads to a 28-foot deep well in the mechanical space, on top of which sits a pump capable of emptying all 30,000 gallons in just one hour. This pump is tied to the emergency generator via a completely separate feeder and transfer switch.

Security is provided by proximity cards on sensitive areas and at the main gates and entrances. Photos are printed on the cards as well as the employees name and department. Cameras are trained on certain areas and the employee lot and are recorded nonstop by a digital hard drive security recorder. Other security is accomplished by employing multiple levels of keying in the Sergeant locking system.

A digital extreme

Greater Media Detroit is building possibly the most digital facility in the nation. Except for microphones, analog sources are almost non-existent. The entire facility is built around the Klotz Vadis platform that enables routing and source control completely in the digital domain. At the center of this platform is a unique fiber optic transmission system that carries 64 channels of audio per fiber. Consoles are simply control surfaces that command the Vadis 880 card frames via their private IPX network. Another unique feature is the fiber links to the transmitter building on the opposite side of the property. Klotz Vadis 880 frames are located in the transmitter rooms where they manage the concentration of RPU and foldback sources to fiber and the distribution of digital audio to the audio processors. Because WRIF’s primary facilities are at a local TV station, the Klotz frame’s AES output is routed to an Intraplex digital STL and to WRIF’s backup transmitter that is collocated with the main WMGC transmitters.

Also showcased in the facility is a massive Audio Vault system with enough storage to maintain each station’s commercial and music inventory. Each transmitter site has an Audio Vault server that serves as a worst-case backup should audio fail from the studio site. This server can provide music and commercial content from the current days logs. This server serves too as an off-site repository for each stations ultra-valuable inventory.

The studios are built with custom furniture from Studio Technology in Philadelphia and feature maple veneers and Corian surfaces. Corian was chosen over granite because it can be worked with standard wood working tools � essential in a radio studio that may need to undergo upgrade and modifications during its service lifetime.

Several construction techniques were used to soundproof the studio rooms. Common walls are doubled up and use two layers of drywall on each side. Window walls have a store front system that layers bullet resistant glazing over the traditional thermo pane glass. As it turns out, this is not enough to deaden the noise from the traffic on the nearby road. Two more layers of glass will be added in the future to further attenuate the ultra-low frequency noise.

Each on air studio features three Sony CD players, a Marantz DVD player and a Sony Minidisc player and recorder. We also installed the networked version of Voxpro and a traditional VCR. NEC LCD monitors are used, with 18″ units for the AudioVault and 15″ units for the Voxpro, Klotz and the Utility (Internet) PC. Featured in the on-air studios is a 20″ Philips LCD with an Extron video switcher under Klotz control. Genelec monitors provide quality sound with the 100W subwoofer mounted above the studio ceiling grid in a specially designed box. Time of day clocks are synchronized to the National Bureau of Standards by a Radio Systems GPS clock mounted in the TOC.

The production and edit studios feature Digidesign Protools editors, with a Mackie HUI control surface in production. Production Protools systems run on Apple Macintosh Power Mac G5 systems, the edit rooms make due with Power Mac G4 machines with dual 1.25GHz processors. Because the G4s are too noisy to locate within the studio environment, they are extended to the studios from the TOC via CAT-5 KVM extenders. The whole system is backed up nightly by an Apple Xserve running Retrospect.

The production and edit studios are linked to the TOC by Klotz and have access to any source in the Klotz fiber optic pool. The Audio Vault and utility computers are provided, as is a multi-purpose Philips TV that can display any video source or the utility computer.

All computers are housed in the TOC with the sole exception of the ultra-quiet Macintosh G5. This exception was made because the Protools Digi002 requires a Firewire connection, which cannot be easily extended from the TOC. The 002 is necessary in the studio to allow the impossible-to-extend MIDI connection to the HUI. Other KVM extension is handled by a four-tier Raritan Paragon system. Each mission-critical system is connected to two Paragon KVM switches in the TOC and extended to the studios via Belden CAT-5 cabling. In the event of a KVM switch failure, critical computers can be accessed by routing them through the other Paragon.

DirecTV satellite receivers are used in all the studios. The edit and on-air rooms are equipped with DirecTV Tivo receivers. A complete master antenna television system stacks DirecTV signals with standard cable TV. An in-house cable system allows internal feeds to be distributed as well as security camera video.

Telephone interfacing is handled by a Telos 2101 system mounted in the TOC. The system uses twin redundant hubs that handle the ISDN PRI circuits and one T1 is used for interconnection to the business phone system. One dual hybrid known as a studio interface handles the DSP for the caller and talent audio and drives the studio desktop and console director units.

At this point, about 80 percent of the construction is complete. Only WCSX is fully moved in, but the facility is ready to accept WMGC as soon as the staff is ready to transition. WRIF will follow in the late spring.

Kernen is chief engineer of the Greater Media stations in Detroit.

More facility photos are available in the online version of this article at

Equipment List

Apple Macintosh G4
Apple Macintosh G5
Apple X-Serve
Belden CAT-5 cable
Blonder Tongue AM-60-860
Blonder Tongue OC-16
Bose Free Space System Controller
Broadcast Electronics AudioVault
Comrex Vector
Crown D-45
Crown PowerBase
Dell PowerEDGE 350
Electro-Voice RE27N/D
Extron MSW-4SV
Gateway 935series
Geffen USB400
Genelec 1029A
Genelec 1030A
Genelec 7050A
Hafler p1000
HP ProCurve hub and switches
Hughes SD-HBH
Hughes Tivo HDHRV-2
IBM eServer xSeries300
JBL control 5
Klotz Vadis 880 consoles and router
Mackie Digital Mixer DX8
Mackie HUI
NEC 1855NX
NVision NV4000
NVision NV5500
Philips 20PF9925/17s
ProTools 001 and 002
Radio GPS Clock
Radio Systems Studio Hub
Raritan LCD monitor KBD combo
Raritan Paragon and IP reach
Raritan UST1 user station
Sage Endec
Shure SM7B
Studio Technology furniture
Sony CDP-D11
Sony CDRW-66
Sony MDS-E12
Sony PCM-R500
Sony PCM-R700
Telos 2101
Telos Profiler
Telos Zephyr