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Bonneville and Its Five-Year Studio Mission

Its tech team led its own integration project and created AoIP systems for six markets

Six markets. Twenty-two stations. One hundred studios. 

That was the daunting task facing technical leadership of Bonneville International Corp. And they planned to do the work using their own people, not an outside integrator.

The work began in 2018, continued despite a pandemic and was completed in 2023. Two of the locations involved significant downsizing, one involved a move to a new facility. All involved operational overhauls. The photos here provide just a sampling of the results.

Regional Directors of Technology Jason Ornellas and Aaron Farnham, who report to SVP of Engineering Scott Jones, wanted a certain amount of standardization. That included the selection of a Wheatstone AoIP infrastructure and RCS Zetta automation. 

But these rooms are far from boilerplate. They reflect the needs of the local air talent, the input of six local chief engineers, and the character of the local markets, including Denver, Phoenix, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, San Francisco and Seattle.

The Bonneville lobby in San Francisco opens into the KMVQ(FM) studios. Floor-to-ceiling glass gives visitors a look right into the TOC.

“Cookie-cuttering everything just wasn’t going to work,” said Farnham. “So for example in Phoenix the engineers opted for physical faders because that’s what their talent preferred, while in Seattle, we went virtual, because they were already doing it and didn’t want hardware sitting on their desk.”

The planners sought to make the feel of each room unique to the individuals who use it, right down to the fader count. “Otherwise it’s not home, it’s just a place you go to work,” he said.

Local orientation

Using the Salt Lake City cluster as a guide, each market CE evaluated his facility and workflows and designed a facility that worked for their market and talent, according to a summary published by Wheatstone.

“Components included talent stations, button panels, mic processors and scripting software, plus a number of technology brands for integrating existing codecs, camera automation and audio editors into the WheatNet-IP audio network through the ACI protocol,” it stated.

In Salt Lake City, KSL NewsRadio uses split Wheatstone LXE consoles for the host and co-host. “O.C. White low-profile mounts give us flexibility for great camera shots,” Aaron Farnham said. “Custom quad split TV and TimeMachines Corp. digital clocks help the talent get the information they need quickly.”

The engineers flew to the Wheatstone factory in North Carolina for final run-throughs and signoffs. Among the enhancements that arose from those meetings was the use of touchscreens in place of a console meter bridge. 

“We now have these three-channel LXE wedges that each have their own screen that looks like a meter bridge but are actually touchscreens,” said Farnham. 

The largest Bonneville studios use Wheatstone LXE surfaces, while others may be equipped with L Series, Sideboard or Audioarts DMX surfaces for applications such as podcasting. 

“The flexibility of the LXE console was really nice. For example, here in Salt Lake, we took one LXE tub and split it into three consoles,” he said. 

“It supports our Triple Team Traffic, where we have three traffic reporters during drive time. Each now has a three-fader console. But it’s really all a single console using the same program bus. Each person has their own three-fader chunk and their own headphone module so they can listen to their own mix, do recordings for our music stations, then go back to the talk and do their traffic report live.”

At KRSP(FM), custom logos are cut into countertop legs and backlit with led lights. Chair designs match the logo.

Each market is different. In Seattle, three on-air control rooms have physical LXE consoles, as do two podcast production rooms, along with LXEs or L-8 consoles for the two main production studios. But the five edit rooms have ReMix virtual consoles or instances of Screenbuilder software apps.

Where possible, computer servers are in another room and controlled via KVM over IP. “A separate rack room has all of my PCs, all of my automation machines, in individual racks, with dual power supplies,” Farnham said. “So you walk into the studio and that door shuts, it’s quiet — no fans, no noise, no artifacts to deal with.” 

Ornellas and Farnham can access the systems of each cluster remotely, but it is not a centralized operation. “It goes back to the Bonneville way of doing things, of live and local,” Farnham said. “That’s our mission, to support the communities that we’re in, and that means we have to be there and we have to be local.”

Most of the studios are equipped with Electro-Voice RE20 or RE27 microphones. Other notable choices include VoxPro Recorder Editors, Adobe Audition software, clocks by Time Machines and cabinetry from Omnirax.

The main production room in Salt Lake City. Genelec speakers are mounted on O.C. White monitor arms, allowing flexible placement.

Studio phones are managed with the Telos VX platform. “We have the ability to move studios around and do large call shows. It’s nice to be able to pull up a location anywhere and use the existing numbers. The flexibility of that system, nobody has been able to touch it yet.”

Bonneville also is expanding its use of video. “We’ve just standardized on HDVMixers and bought a system for every market; they have an integration with Wheatstone. So now rather than somebody pushing a button to switch cameras or leaving a camera on generic wide shots, the video automation will provide something really nice for the end user.”

Studio serving sports-formatted KIRO(AM) in Seattle.

Words to the wise

Farnham is impressed by what audio over IP can do but has advice for anyone making that transition.

“Really map it out and understand what you’re looking to do. Your core infrastructure is crucial in ensuring it will be a success,” he said.

“You cannot cheap out. It has to be programmed correctly — and segmented out from everything else, because it will destroy any network you plug it into. My IT team has taken the whole house network down, and I tell them, ‘Yeah, my AoIP system will wipe out anything you do.’ 

KIRO(FM) uses Wheatstone’s Remix instead of a physical console. “This setup gives a fast-paced newsroom lots of flexibility,” Aaron Farnham said.

“So ensure that your networking is built to the task. If you drop a switch, your network has to readdress all that multicast, and it comes out as static, which is very damaging to the product. If you let your switches go for 10 years, you’re asking for trouble. The more we push into AoIP and AES67, the more crucial it is to have that network backbone dialed in.”

The series of impressive studio jobs officially was completed in 2023. But Farnham said conversations have already begun about what’s next. 

“If you’re sitting in maintenance mode, you’re falling behind. We’re really trying to avoid being comfortable with the standard lifecycle, where we put consoles in and not touch them for 15 years. We’re going to look constantly at the technology that’s coming out and evolve where we need to.”

This story is from the ebook “New Studios That Dazzle.” Got a project you think we’d like to feature? Email us at [email protected]

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