DAVIDSON, N.C. WDAV(FM) is a 24/7 classical music public radio station in the small college town of Davidson, N.C., serving the Charlotte metropolitan area.
My love affair with modular studio construction began in April of 1999, six months before I became WDAV’s general manager, when I attended the NAB convention in Las Vegas. Acoustic Systems had set up a small room about the size of an announce booth in a noisy exhibit hall. When I stepped inside and closed the door, every trace of sound simply vanished. It was a revelation.
(click thumbnail)WDAV celebrates its new facility with a live classical performance by pianist Jon Nakamatsu and cellist Alan Black.
A year later I was settling in at WDAV, and we were in the early stages of planning for a facility to replace the 3,000-square-foot building, made of cinderblock and sand, we had occupied since the mid-1980s. Many staff members were doubled up in offices intended for one person. Our technical facilities, which consisted of two control rooms on either side of a “studio” that had morphed into a storage room, were tiny, dark, acoustically porous and technologically obsolete.
We had tentatively settled on a place to build, a vacant lot on Davidson’s Main Street across the street from Davidson College’s main campus. Our architect: John Burgess of Burgess Design Associates in Davidson.
John knew the town well and was the perfect architect to design a building compatible with the historic character of the block. But he knew little about acoustical design and less about radio stations.
I remembered how impressed I had been with the Acoustic Systems display and called my colleague Wally Smith, who had recently used Acoustic Systems rooms in a new facility he built for NPR station WLIU(AM) in Southampton, N.Y.
Wally’s enthusiastic recommendation was too much to ignore. At his behest, I contacted Arty Ware, design consultant with Northeast Communications Concepts. Arty has vast experience designing for Acoustic Systems installations, and he soon spoke with our architect and the Davidson College team that would be supervising construction. We also consulted a local designer of conventional stick-built studios.
After interviewing both men, we thought hard about what we needed. Our criteria consisted of five completely soundproof rooms, air control, production control, a modest-sized performance studio and two small edit rooms with decent acoustics.
We needed daylight in all the rooms and we needed them to be built to these specs by crews inexperienced with experience installing this type of facility. In other words, every precaution was taken to avoid human error in the construction of these critical spaces. Oh, and did I mention the railroad tracks 50 yards from the technical wing of the building?
Given these criteria, Acoustic Systems and Northeast Communications Concepts seemed like the obvious choice. Acoustic Systems guarantees that its rooms will meet specs, and the rooms are installed in your space by a skilled crew of specialists in this type of installation. Our crew came down from Washington, where they had just finished a gigantic installation for XM Satellite Radio, and really knew their stuff.
Arty Ware played an invaluable role. Thanks to his knowledge and obvious credibility, he was able to work with our architect to bring about significant changes in the basic design of the building – changes that made the difference between a great facility and a mediocre one.
Always sensitive to our constraints, Arty successfully argued for what I would call “right-sized” rooms: large enough to do the job well, but hardly ostentatious in terms of size or finish. Construction began in January of 2002, and the Acoustic Systems rooms were installed in July.
In our case, the five Acoustic Systems rooms together weighed more than 69,000 pounds. This may sound like a lot, and indeed, the construction crew added more reinforcement to the concrete slab that underlies that wing of the building. However, because this is less than the weight that would have been required to construct to the same specs using acoustically isolated concrete slabs and stick-built walls, we actually saved on the structural reinforcing in the technical wing of the building.
We began broadcasting from WDAV’s new facility on Dec. 29, 2002. Two months later we officially dedicated the building with a live performance from our 400-square-foot performance studio featuring Van Cliburn Competition gold medallist Jon Nakamatsu and Alan Black, principal cellist of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra. We used a small amount of processing to sweeten the sound because the room was designed to be dead enough for interviews, yet live enough for classical music recording. The resulting sound exceeded our fondest hopes.
And so it continues. Our hosts and producers are thriving in these light-filled rooms, and our on-air sound has improved so much that even the casual listener can tell the difference. Meanwhile, a diesel locomotive passes several times a week, blowing its horn or the nearby crossing, and nobody knows.
Our Acoustic Systems rooms are attractive and functional, a good description of the whole facility. We won’t win any awards for design innovation, but that was not one of our goals (although if there were awards for appropriate design, I think we’d be a contender).
There has been a tendency lately for public radio stations building new facilities to hire big-name (and big-ticket) designers. The results often are strikingly beautiful. I don’t mean to suggest that these stations have made a mistake. They have chosen a course which no doubt reflects their ambitions and the depth of their pocketbooks. But for WDAV, the combination of Acoustic Systems and Northeast Communications Concepts was the perfect match for our own philosophy of striving for the highest possible quality while being the best possible stewards of the resources entrusted to us by the community.
We would do it again in a heartbeat.
For more information from Acoustic Systems, contact the company in Texas at (512)-444-1961 or visit www.acousticsystems.com.