Here’s another profile from our 2022 ebook featuring new radio studio buildouts.
In May of 2021, Midwest Family in South Bend, Ind., moved six stations — WSBT(AM), WNSN(FM), WZOC(FM), WQLQ(FM) and two analog translators carrying WQLQ’s HD Radio multicast channels — from their home of 13 years to another building.
“In total this was a buildout of offices, 10 studios and a 37-rack tech center, backed up by generator — all during a pandemic,” said Chief Engineer Bob Henning.
“This involved not only moving stations, but also an upgrade of WideOrbit automation; a change in how the signal got to the transmitters; the implementation of automated voicetracking from out of market; and the introduction and implementation of Axia technology into our plant, including running of closures over the Axia network — all while the stations were being operated from another location,” Henning said.
“It also included some rewiring at the transmitter sites, along with a complete redo of all the IP networks at the transmitter sites for security, and the creation of internal networks at the studio. It’s a good lesson on how far one can go to provide quality programming while keeping your staff safe, a real test of imagination of how to make things work successfully.”
Henning led the project with help from veteran Engineer Mike Sienicki and IT Specialist Jack Edgarton from IP Solutions. Building and HVAC plans were by Josh Johnson, senior architect at Architectural Design Consultants.
“No station was off at all during this process. I regard this as a team effort by too many to mention here. Like many people starting their day, I walked in with five things to do, and on most days I never got to any of them. At one point the entire project was shut down because everyone in the building had COVID, even though appropriate protocols were observed.”
The stations use WideOrbit version 4.0 and the Telos Axia infrastructure. “All the production and control rooms use the WideOrbit Axia driver instead of on-board sound cards.” There are three types of Axia surfaces in the plant, with the main control rooms outfitted with Axia Fusions.
Custom cabinetry is from Omnirax. Electro-Voice RE20 mics were brought over from the old location, supported by Yellowtec M!ka arms. “Everyone likes the arms that light up.”
Additional components include a Telos phone system; Comrex BRIC-Link II, Access and NX codecs; and a Moseley STL for two stations.
“We put the Paravel Systems WallTime in, too. We have it with the audio meters on the wall of each control room. Of all the neat things in the studio, those items hanging on the walls get the most attention.”
Also installed and waiting for in-person work to resume are two creative studios and a podcast talk studio. Additional key services and products were provided by Second Opinion Communications and Broadcasters General Store.
With so many people still working at home, Henning said the cluster is making maximum use of technology for remote access.
“There are more than 300 Axia inputs here, and we are still building options and inputs in for these radio stations, which include the six separate signals in the market mentioned. This project could be best described as a moving target; it is really ongoing. I never have learned so much about elevators, by the way.”
Asked about other lessons learned, Henning said, “This was not my first project of this nature, but if I had a do-over, it would be to use an integrator. Some details and the input that an integrator can provide based on his experience are worth the money. There are many pitfalls that you may avoid, especially if you haven’t done a project of this size.
“Also, use the Axia worksheet to figure out everything you want for nodes and inputs; it’s an invaluable method of doing things. Make sure your phone needs are planned out, and that the furniture person knows exactly what you need. I had a good partner with Omnirax, whom I’ve used before; they pointed out options like an outlet/USB connector in the furniture that I know will be of great use.”
Henning expressed gratitude to the employee stockholders of Midwest Family.
“They trusted me to build studios that will grow as technology moves on here in a small market. A goal from the engineering standpoint was to run the entire place from a laptop in order to make adjustments in an emergency. I am happy to say we have accomplished that, and may not have to go the station on Christmas Eve.”