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A New Type of Radio Rotation

Q-Music is putting a new spin on radio with its Ferris wheel-based studio; “De Draaiende Studio” is part endurance stunt for the presenters, part contest for listeners.

Clouseau awaits their turn in the Q-Music Draaiende Studio. Photo Courtesy of Q-Music
WIJNEGEM, Belgium — Q-Music presenters Sven Ornelis and Kürt Rogiers hosted their morning and evening drive shows for 16 days from a Ferris wheel.

From 15 March, with the “De Draaiende Studio” (The Rotating Studio) project, the duo started broadcasting their 06:00–09:00 and 16:00–18:00 “Showtime” shows live from a 32-meter-tall Ferris wheel in the parking lot of the Wijnegem Shopping Center.

The project ran together with an audience quiz, said Q-Music Spokesman Filip Teerlinck. When a listener gave a correct answer, the counter went up by €1,000 — both presenters could leave the studio when the €25,000 mark was crossed.

Friction contacts

The two Q-Music hosts remained in a 7-square-meter studio suspended from the Ferris wheel during “Showtime” hours; the rest of the time, they were housed in a container unit alongside the wheel, 6 meters above the ground.

“Although we have extensive experience with outside broadcasts, some of which in very ‘exotic’ places, ‘De Draaiende Studio’ was a first for us,” said Tim Tuboville, technical coordinator at Q-Music. “The biggest challenge was to establish reliable and safe mains supply connections and signal transmissions because the studio was moving constantly.”

Tuboville said that in Ferris wheel construction, the mains supply is provided by means of friction contacts, transferring power from the fixed structures to the moving components of the ride.

“This results in a somewhat instable power supply, which could interfere with the operation of our electrical equipment,” said Tuboville.

“A first solution was the implementation of a UPS, like those used with computer systems, to stabilize the mains current in the studio. For critical equipment, we used rechargeable batteries and inverters to supply the 220 V mains.”

Another obstacle was getting the audio signal from the moving on-air studio into the adjacent technical room for transmission to the main Q-Music studio in Vilvoorde.

Television camera

After experiments with consumer and professional Wi-Fi applications on the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz band that proved to be too unstable for quality audio signal transport, the technical team took the problem to the in-house television engineers of Q-Music parent company VMMa. “It turned out that the television station is using a Grass Valley HD wireless camera system for high-definition coverage of events, sports under all kinds of circumstances,” said Tuboville.

“And although we managed to establish wireless transport audio from point A to point B, we have never used a ‘moving target’ to retrieve wireless data from, which made the whole extra difficult — the camera system, with its three-antenna omnidirectional diversity antenna system, brought the solution.”

The use of the television camera allowed Q-Music not only to transmit the audio signal to the technical room, but also to forward image content from within the “gondola studio” to the Internet live-stream matrix.

In addition, the camera allowed two-way transport of broadcast-quality audio between the broadcast studio and the technical facilities below.

As for the telephone connections, said Tuboville, the station used TelecomFM CellRoute-AC fixed wireless access units, allowing the two hosts to use the normal analog telephone hybrids in the studio with a fixed wireless access to the GSM network.

Only thing missing

“In fact,” said Tuboville, “what we did was make a miniature of our normal mobile studio, with a tailor-made configuration consisting of a Studer OnAir 3000 digital console and the Dalet 5.1 playout system.”

According to Tuboville, the only thing missing was a direct computer link to the parent studio in Vilvoorde from where the “normal” mobile gets regular updates and music files.

“Instead,” said Tuboville, “we had to insert the new audio files or music tracks manually during the moving studio’s maintenance hours.”

For optimal signal transmission, the Q-Music technical unit was located on a platform 6 meters above the ground and close to the Ferris wheel. The radio signal was then transferred via ISDN to the Vilvoorde studio.

“The only minor technical problems we had, like replacing mains supply by batteries, had to do with the fact that we had little time to experiment on site and the fact that the wireless band in that specific neighborhood was pretty crowded — but we had calculated these initial problems in advance and they had no effect on the broadcasts themselves,” Tuboville said.

The whole technical broadcast operation was handled by the in-house Q-Music technical team, headed by Outside Projects Engineer Rudi Wynants. External partners supplied other elements like an LED video wall and show lighting.

Other gondolas

Q-Music Presenters Sven Omelis (Right) and Kürt Rogiers in the Draaiende Studio. While Ornelis and Rogiers hosted their daily five hours of radio, listeners could sit in the other gondolas in the Ferris wheel and watch the presenters and their guests.

“Every day, we invited a special guest to the small gondola studio,” said Teerlinck. Koen and Kris Wauters of top-selling Flemish band Clouseau were the first to join the two DJs in their small studio and performed tracks off their new album live, followed by stand-up comedians and artists.

On 31 March, 16 days after Ornelis and Rogiers entered the turning studio, listener Els Balcaen gave the correct answer to the last five quiz questions and won the €25,000 cash prize, allowing the two DJs to return to their normal habitat.

After Ornelis and Rogiers were released from De Draaiende Studio, Q-Music packed up the 185-metric-ton Ferris wheel, studio and support cabin and moved it to Amsterdam.

The Dutch Q-Music station set up the project in the parking lot of the AFC football stadium, giving breakfast show hosts DJ Ruud de Wild and Jeroen Kijk a spin in De Draaiende Studio.

Marc Maes is a free-lance media and music industry journalist based in Antwerp, Belgium. Contact him via e-mail at[email protected].