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Evolving Best Practices for Studio Construction and Remodeling

AES Show session on how to get the best out of your radio studio

The 143rd Audio Engineering Society Convention starts next week in New York. Here’s a preview of a session that will be of interest to radio broadcasters attending. Additional show coverage can be found in the Related Articles box below.

Wednesday, Oct. 18, 4–5:45 p.m.

Kirk Harnack, Telos Alliance; Owner, South Seas Broadcasting Corp.,
Pago Pago, American Samoa

Anthony Gervasi, Former Senior Vice President Engineering & Technology, Nassau Broadcasting Partners
Daniel Hyatt, Director of Engineering & IT, Max Media Denver; Principal Owner, DK Global Sourcing
Gary Kline, Kline Consulting Group LLC, Atlanta
Jason Ornellas, CBS Radio Sacramento, Sacramento, Calif.
Christopher Tobin, Newark Public Radio, Newark, N.J.

Kirk Harnack

Radio World: The broadcast studio is the heart of the radio station yet it is often the last thing to be kept current, why is that?
Kirk Harnack: Since broadcasters began using audio over IP networks for infrastructure about 12 years ago, many would say that it’s now the AoIP network that is the “heart of the radio station.” With networked media and control, a studio can be turned up in any room inside the building — or even out of the broadcast facility. Nowadays, the traditional studio is more important as a gathering place for interviews or live music than as a technical room, central to the operation.

That said, given the brisk pace of AoIP console sales for the past decade, we’re seeing an overwhelming number of studios that are, indeed, up to date. My own stations — all 10 of them — have AoIP-based studios using equipment from one to 10 years old. And all of it still fully supported by the manufacturer.

RW: Redoing facilities is often a budget- and time-consuming endeavor. Is there any benchmark on when commitment moves from “plan on” to “consider” to “must”?
Harnack: Largely this decision comes down to the waning flexibility of older equipment. In a “console-centric” radio station, one depends upon an aging audio console to work 24/7. When the options or flexibility desired by station operations exceeds the flexibility of the audio console, then it’s certainly time to look at the newer options.

For example, a traditional control room may not have the flexibility to serve as a morning show studio for Station A, then do production work all day, then be a night show studio for Station B. Sure, older gear can be fitted with relays and custom Bud boxes, as we made and installed so frequently in the 1980s and ’90s.

However, moving to a networked AoIP infrastructure suddenly opens up myriad options for using equipment and rooms efficiently and on-demand.

This serendipitous nature of AoIP flexibility is often not seen when a purchase decision is made. However, most broadcasters are quick to discover the flexibility they’ve installed and begin using it creatively to save time, money and trouble.

RW: How have the technologies of the broadcast studio and adjacent facility changed over the last decade?
Harnack: In a phrase: audio over IP. Using commercial off the shelf (COTS) rugged IP network gear, as well as specific AoIP studio equipment, broadcasters are pretty quickly moving to an AoIP world.

RW: Does that change require a refitting of the facilities or can a station continue on and still remain competitive?
Harnack: One terrific feature of moving to an AoIP infrastructure is that you can do this one step at a time. Begin with one control room and an audio node in the rack room. You’ll start to see the benefits.

Then, replace another studio, and another. Soon you’ll have all your rack room gear on the AoIP network. As an example, when you want to install an audio logger, just buy some software and install it on a PC that’s connected to the same AoIP network. Now you can log a dozen or more channels if you like — to an inexpensive PC — and have secure remote access to it.

RW: As much of the technology involved with the studio has become computer-/IP-oriented, is it possible that future studio/facility upgrades can be modular, replacing a few things such as cable and routers rather than old-fashioned tearing out of walls and rebuilding studio sound isolation?
Harnack: We’ll always need acoustically appropriate spaces for audio production. That said, yes! And the new equipment tends to cost less — perhaps a lot less — than the equipment it replaces.

We’ve watched several broadcasters do wholesale remodeling jobs in which the sheer weight of the old wiring they removed was far greater than the weight of the equipment they installed — and all connected with a few dozen Cat-5e cables.

While we don’t think of broadcast equipment and infrastructure in terms of weight or mass, it is interesting to consider this to see how amazing the AoIP paradigm really is.

RW: Does old-fashioned acoustical concerns such as sound isolation, background noise, dampening reflections still exist?
Harnack: Absolutely — if you care about your local audio. I will point out that while excellent mic technique along with today’s intelligent audio processing can hide and overcome some poor acoustic spaces, best practice is still to provide enough isolation and dampening.

Acoustically bouncy rooms create a level of reverberation that can be annoying to listeners. Also, consider that low-bitrate audio coding will not perform as well with extra, undesirable noise in the audio. A clean and dry audio presentation is best for listeners and for our current technology in audio coding.

RW: You’ve assembled an impressive panel, tell us about them.
Harnack: Each of the presenters — Tony Gervasi, Gary Kline, Daniel Hyatt, Jason Ornellas and Chris Tobin —have extensive experience in building and remodeling broadcast studios. Tony and Gary are particularly expert in the use of materials and installation techniques to get the desired acoustic effect along with human factors — “creature comforts.”

Daniel and Jason have extra experience with good lighting and staying within a tight budget. Actually, each of these panelists knows how to get a huge bang for the buck.

Chris Tobin’s experience is largely major market. He knows which design factors are critical for a market No. 1 studio space and where money can be saved, too. Plus, Chris’ experience with a variety of recording mics lends to his outlook on acoustics.

RW: Show attendees are pressed for time. Briefly, why do they need to check your session out?
Harnack: If you put a price tag on this group of professionals, you’re looking at over $2,000 per hour for the collective advice being presented. An hour, or a bit more, invested in this session will help assure any engineer’s success in the next studio project.