ANTWERP, Belgium — On June 1, Antwerp-based local, independent radio station Radio Minerva went on air from a new studio, marking its entry in the digital domain.
“After 37 years we’re proud to enter a new chapter. Going digital was not obvious and required a heavy investment,” said Radio Minerva founder and station director Frank Boekhoff.
“Thanks to many volunteers, the new on-air studio puts Radio Minerva on the cutting edge of new technology, in line with our nine-year broadcast license.”
Radio Minerva began broadcasting in 1982, offering a specific musical format of hard-to-find oldies tracks, evergreens, crooners and hits from yesteryear. Today, the station holds the second spot in the over-55 age bracket, enjoying an audience share of 12.7% in Antwerp, according to the IPradio, CIM ratings March 2018–Feb. 2019.
Radio Minerva’s nonprofit organization counts over 5,000 contributing members. The plan to renovate the station’s studio and transmission chain was already included in Radio Minerva’s application for a new broadcast license in 2017, explicitly stating its intention to switch to a digital on-air set-up.
“The analog studio was no longer reliable, and our BCS broadcast console, despite several upgrades and refurbishments, was worn out,” continued Boekhoff. “We also wanted to expand the current 16-fader setup with extra faders, but that wasn’t possible with the current configuration.”
With a volunteer on-air staff ranging from the age of 51 to 85, the key issue of the new configuration had to be its usability. Boekhoff wanted to avoid seeing the station’s senior presenters walk away because of technical headaches.
Last November the station transferred its broadcast studio to temporary quarters, allowing the staff to concentrate on the refurbishment of the new on-air studio, while maintaining the normal programming on 98 MHz FM.
The station’s army of unpaid workers completely stripped Radio Minerva’s riverside studio and started redecorating and painting the building. They renewed all of the mains, network and audio cabling with dedicated color function codes in a clear structure. The introduction of AES digital audio also resulted in fewer cables. They also revamped the ceiling insulation and put LED lighting in place.
“We added new equipment and a new equipment room within the physical boundaries of our building,” said Boekhoff.
After a thorough product comparison of three brands of digital on-air consoles, Radio Minerva selected a DHD 52/SX console, in combination with an MX-core.
“We compared the systems, their user-friendliness, reliability, the distributor’s support and maintenance and options for future expansion,” said Patrick Thijs, Radio Minerva studio engineer.
“The DHD mixing desk came out best. We opted for a 16-fader 52/SX type, which we expanded with an extra four-fader module. We also selected an MX core for budgetary reasons — the more powerful DHD 52/MX console came out quite expensive. Distributor Amptec suggested that we configure an MX core for the SX console.” Thijs added that the 20-fader layout also met the station’s initial requirements to manage the different audio sources.
With a unique musical genre like Radio Minerva, the use of vintage vinyl records required the implementation of high-quality Technics SL 1200 turntables (connected to the DHD by means of a Sonifex RB-PA2 dual-stereo RIAA phone amplifier) and a Tascam MD-301 MkII MiniDisc player in the configuration.
“In the process of the rebuilding of our studio, we prioritized the requirement that the studio had to be backward compatible, with the ability to play different formats like the almost-obsolete MiniDisc, or vinyl,” said Boekhoff.
“In the early days of the station, the bulk of the audio was played from vinyl. From data we supplied to the artists’ rights association, SABAM, we learned that, today only about 70% of our playlist is recognized by the association’s software, meaning some of the tracks are very rare. The remainder of our repertoire is made up of vintage recordings, special tracks and hard-to-find vinyl. Today, however, we are seeing more DJs transfer these tracks to USB.”
Radio Minerva decided to continue using its Carmen Server radio automation software developed in house by Thijs for music scheduling, and Traktor F1 controller pad from Native Instruments for commercials.
The station equipped the on-air presenter desk with three Denon DN-500 USB players and three Denon DN-700C CD players, digitally connected via AES to the DHD core.
“Because of the poor readability of the ‘remaining time’ display on the Denon players, we decided to develop a prototype display with a micro-PC gathering data from the players and displaying them in big characters,” added Thijs.
“To facilitate the use of headphones when playing audio from a laptop, we put in place an extra patch panel with a laptop connection and a soundcard routed to the DHD console with two channels for monitoring the input signal.” The extra patch panel also features a standard output connection for TV crews when filming in the studio.
“The big advantage with this DHD setup is that we can add extra sources via snapshots, no need to change plugs,” continued Thijs. “And, even more important, with more than 40 DJs and presenters, we have an accessible working spot, offering all faders and controls — all other features like microphone settings, user profiles are locked.”
In the weeks prior to the launch of the new on-air studio, all of the Radio Minerva presenters were invited to participate in “hands-on” training sessions with the new gear.
A pair of KRK Rokit RP8 G3 active studio monitors and a Telos Hx1 telephone hybrid completed the new setup, with one Neumann TLM 103 and four Røde NT1 mics as standard, expandable with three Shure SM58 mics for presentations and concerts in the studio. The fanless, noise-free air-cooled DHD core was placed in the on-air studio, saving money on buying CAT-6 cables since fewer were required.
All of the production and editing computers were linked in a Dante network. Thijs and Boekhoff emphasized that also here budget and reliability were key in the choice for Dante, with the stability of the protocol and the lower cost of extra drivers playing a role.
With two new DEVA DB8008 silence monitors, one in the equipment room and one at the transmitter site, Radio Minerva safegu
arded its output continuity. In case of mains problems, three Eaton PX5 UPS devices of 3000 VA each guarantee 90 minutes of power supply.
“The DHD’s on-air signal is channeled via AES to the DEVA monitor and a BW Broadcast Ariane Encore audio leveler. The digital output is then routed to an Omnia One processor from where the MPX output is connected with a studio-to-transmitter link. A DEVA SmartGen 5.0 RDS encoder completes the chain. At present we only add RDS data during the station’s night programs,” said Thijs.
“The Omnia One’s low-latency output is divided into
three signals by means of a Sonifex RB-DA6G distribution amplifier. One signal is rerouted to the DHD console for full monitoring with audio processing, a second signal goes to a Telos ProStreamer for our internet streaming, and a third signal is serving the monitoring in the equipment room.”
Radio Minerva’s signal is transmitted via a digital transmission system studio-to-transmitter link to the station’s BW Broadcast TX2500 v2 transmitter on top of the Antwerp Crown
Plaza hotel. This guarantees optimal coverage of the greater Antwerp area.
The new studios were inaugurated on June 1, when Radio Minerva invited personalities and presenters to visit the new on-air landscape.
“I’m happy that our new radio studio is up-to-date and future proof,” concluded Frank Boekhoff. “Thanks to the work of our many volunteers, we have been able to keep the budget within limits — otherwise this project would have not been possible.”