Digital Success Story at WRBS(FM)

The two and a half years spent working out the details that would culminate in the complete digital conversion of the studio complex at WRBS(FM) in Baltimore could serve as a blueprint for other stations headed for this goal.
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WRBS Studio InventoryAir:

Klotz Vadis DC-12 Digital Console with:

(3) Audio Mainframes interconnected by Ethernet and Fiber Optics

(3) 32 Port GPI Interfaces

BE AudioVault with 340 GB of storage and 3 workstations

Mirrored servers running under Windows NT4

Stores/forwards over 140 satellite programs each week

Radio Systems Studio Hub

(6) Hubs

(4) Patch Bays

(1) Distribution Amp

(115) CAT 45 connections throughout platform

(3) EV RE27D microphones

(3) EV RE20 microphones

(2) Symetrix 528E Voice Processor

(1) Symetrix 628 Digital Voice Processor

(1) Comrex Matrix ISDN/POTS codec

(1) Musicam USA CDQ Prima 220 ISDN codec

(1) Telos TWOx12 Digital Telephone Hybrid

(2) Tascam CD-450 CD players

(2) Tascam 122 MKIII cassette decks

(2) Panasonic SV3800 DAT Recorder

(1) 360 Systems Short/cut

(1) 360 Systems Instant Replay

(1) Sony MDS E-11 MiniDisc Deck

(2) JBL LSR Studio Monitors

(2) JBL Control One low level monitors

(1) Crown D-75 Amplifier

(1) Denon TU380RD Receiver

(1) Eventide DB500 Digital Delay

(1) Wegener Unity 4000 Digital Satellite Receiver

(2) Viewsonic VG150 LCD flat monitors

(1) Gentner silence sensor

(3) Cybex Switchview and Longlines KVM Switches

Production:

(1) Auditronics 200 Console

(1) BE AudioVault workstation

(3) EV RE20 microphones

(2) Tascam CD-450 CD players

(2) Tascam 122 MKIII cassette decks

(2) Panasonic SV4100 DAT machines

(1) 360 Systems Short/cut

(1) 360 Systems Instant Replay

(1) Roland DM-800 Digital workstation

(2) Cybex Switchview and Longlines KVM switches

(1) Viewsonic VG150 LCD flat monitor

The station has a Newsbooth almost identical in equipment to the Production studio.A Major-Market Christian Station Takes the Digital Path

(click thumbnail)The WRBS Control Room is seen here from the guest position.
The two and a half years spent working out the details that would culminate in the complete digital conversion of the studio complex at WRBS(FM) in Baltimore could serve as a blueprint for other stations headed for this goal.

To be sure, the path was not always clear or evident.

According to Station Manager Steve Lawhon, the conversion was more challenging because WRBS chose to change everything from the walls out, including a redesign of the main studio. The goal was to bring the facility to the leading edge of technology for the ease and efficiency of its operators, and to recreate a plant that would make the WRBS air sound more consistent and efficient.

"We have over 30 different organizations that provide audio to us," he said. "That equals hundreds of different sources that find their way into our audio chain. We’re not just leasing time. Our programming becomes an extension of us and we work in partnership with our program suppliers to achieve that.

(click thumbnail)Control Room Left Side
"Of course, programming is about the tools and the people behind the tools. With this project, our Chief Engineer, Peter Allen, has done a lot of very good work to give us new tools."

Inspiring studios

WRBS is a 50 kW station operating in Baltimore at 95.1 MHz, with translators in Camden/Dover, Del.; Salisbury, Md., and Hanover, Pa. Listeners can also hear it at www.wrbs.com

The station, owned by Peter & John Radio Fellowship Inc. since 1964, plays inspirational and contemporary Christian music and programs.

Allen said he performed the previous studio rebuild more than 15 years ago, before the need for CD players and studio computers. Since then, the station has acquired a number of digital audio devices for the air chain and production studios.

"We needed a control room that had, at its heart, a hard-drive-based digital audio ‘store and forward’ system that could tie it all together. We found that solution in the Broadcast Electronics AudioVault."

Allen said the first problem he ran into was that the digital on-air boards were boasting more than they could deliver.

"We kept hearing promises about hardware. They turned out to be nothing more than vaporware, until we came across Klotz Digital, which delivered more than we were looking for. In addition to having the right stuff in their digital boards, they had refined the art of audio routing in their consoles."

(click thumbnail)Control Room Console View
Allen said the Vadis DC-12 turned out to be the best interface, providing a platform to bring together the varied components of the control room.

The DC-12 can be programmed so each operator can customize his or her control surface. Allen was discovering the power of the digital format.

"When I first saw the Klotz Vadis DC-12 console, most of the buttons were unmarked. I asked, ‘What do these buttons do?’ They answered, ‘What do you want them to do?’ Here was a totally programmable, routable digital audio console with following logic and tallies and it got me hooked."

Originally, Allen said, the staff was looking for a 36-to-48-channel console, and trying to figure out how to make it fit in the studio.

"With the Vadis DC-12, we found the fully routable 12-channel console could do it all, and at a better price. So now, when we go from morning drive to midday programming, one push of a button reconfigures the board in less than a second. And, at any time, any input can be assigned to any fader in less than 3 seconds. It took less than 10 minutes to show our operators how to run it."

Around the hub

Allen says he chose Radio Systems StudioHub equipment, which uses computer-style RJ45 connectors and shielded CAT-5 cables to provide interconnectivity between the control room, news booth and production studios. WRBS integrated six hubs, four patchbays, a distribution amp and seven self-powered headphone amps into the new system.

(click thumbnail)Chief Engineer Peter Allen, seated, worked with Contract Engineer Jerry Davis on the project.
"Using the shielded CAT-5 patchcords with prefabbed dongles to connect the equipment to the Klotz frames was simple," he said. "Each hub and patchbay are equipped with both RJ45 connectors and 110 punch blocks for easy connection."

Allen also installed a fiber-optic link between the Vadis Frames in the AudioVault room and equipment room, saving more copper.

Another advantage to waiting a few years for the technology to mature was that flat-panel monitors became affordable. Allen likes them because they take up less space and generate less heat and noise.

Devices that do generate heat and noise have been sequestered into a specially-equipped computer room utilizing Cybex Longlines and Switchview controls to keep the CPUs and frames clean and cool.

The station’s music, satellite programs, commercials and promos are stored in the AudioVault as uncompressed files.

While he admits it takes longer to transfer files on the fully mirrored and backed-up servers, Allen states, "Most of our programs come to us already compressed via satellite. With the cost of hard drives declining, it makes sense to avoid additional compression and the resulting cascading algorithms that can make digital sound bad."

He also said the audio is carefully loaded at consistent levels.

(click thumbnail)Studio Drawing by Francis Manzella Design Ltd.
Ample backup

"Ninety percent of recorded audio is now played from the AudioVault drives. We use very little tape except as backup and for the few programs that still come to us on DAT and cassette."

Allen said that, although PC-driven systems can be fragile, he’s only seen a few small problems.

"If the console were to crash, it would stay on in the same configuration as it went down and play the entire time. A reboot takes less than a minute. An AudioVault reboot can take 5 to 8 minutes, and for that eventuality we have more than enough material stored in our 360 Systems Instant Replays.

"And to keep us going during an outage, all gear in the station is backed up with uninterruptible power supply and generator power."

Allen said Fran Manzella of Francis Manzella Design Limited designed "a great-looking control room that also functions as a full-featured talk studio. We took what was going to be the adjacent talk studio and turned it into an equipment room/producers office, which also cut down on clutter, noise and heat in the control room.

"Then it was up to Vince Fiola’s Studio Technology to build and install the studio furniture. Well, he not only met our delivery date on budget, but even added some of his own nice touches. The materials and craftsmanship are really first class."

While time was saved running fewer wires, the layout and programming phases made up for it.

"After we had placed our orders, we found that XM Satellite Radio was also utilizing Klotz, StudioHub and Studio Technology to build their Washington, D.C., studios, and we drew on their expertise to get it all assembled."

In the end, Allen said, the station has exceeded its expectations.

"We were able to tweak and fine-tune the entire studio to the unique needs of a major-market Christian radio station."

The proof is on the air, according to Station Manager Lawhon.

"The audio is more consistent. I can hardly notice any difference in any frequency response in what I hear now. Given the number of different sources, that’s quite impressive."

Ty Ford’s audio equipment reviews and V/O sound files can be accessed atwww.jagunet.com/~tford

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