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Radio Aalsmeer Modernizes On Air Studio

Community radio station moves to all-digital infrastructure with Lawo Crystal console and RƎLAY software solution

Lennart Bader is CEO of RadioPush.co and Dancefoundation.comNiels Tenhagen is creative technologist at nielstenhagen.nl.

AALSMEER, Netherlands — Aalsmeer, a city in The Netherlands, is situated about 13 kilometers south of Amsterdam, has a population of roughly 32,000 people. It is famous for or being home to the largest flower auction in the world, with more than 20 million flowers sold every day — so big that the whole of Vatican City could easily fit inside!

Lennart Bader and Niels Tenhagen show off the new Lawo Crystal mixing console at Radio Aalsmeer.

Founded in 1991, Radio Aalsmeer is the community radio station for the municipality of Aalsmeer. Over 80 volunteers run the station, producing approximately 60 hours of live radio every week. As you might imagine, programming is diverse and popular and, according to the latest audience research carried out by an independent constultance firm, the station is the fifth most listened to in the community.

THE STUDIO

The studio site itself has history, being located inside a building that originally housed a flower auction; it later became the birthplace of commercial television in The Netherlands, and is now an event center.

A simplified system drawing of Radio Aalsmeer studio.

With its spacious open layout, Radio Aalsmeer’s studio is prominently on display and visible to visitors. When moving to this location in 2013, station staff put much effort into creating a clever design with custom furniture and logo wallpaper. The old mixing console, a Dateq BCS70, had already been in operation for over 10 years at that time. In 2018 the tech team decided it was time for a big update, and a move to an all-digital infrastructure.

We make up the tech team and launched our respective careers based on our volunteer work at the station.

When we started looking for a new mixing console we visited trade shows like IBC and quickly decided that the Lawo Crystal was our favorite. We love the clean design and high-quality engineering. Literally every knob and button can be programmed, which triggered our inner nerds.

There are of course cheaper options available, but we felt the Lawo Crystal offered the best value for the money in our quest to further professionalize the station. Although money is always an issue, working with really limited budgets forces you to be very creative, and creativity sparks ingenuity. This project became a true passion for both Niels and myself.

NINE MONTHS

Thanks to donations from the charity funds of both Rabobank and Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, we were able to raise the money necessary for the project. For the main studio mixer, Radio Aalsmeer purchased a 16-fader Crystal console and a Compact Engine with expansion boards to accommodate both analog and digital audio.

We decided to do everything by ourselves and learn from the experience.  The project took almost nine months to complete, but started at a slow pace. We learned to program the console by just using it and following the manuals. Since we were not in a hurry, our initial thoughts on solutions improved as we spent more time and pitched ideas back-and-forth to each other.

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We both have a strong eye for detail, so everything has to be as perfect as possible. The footprint of the previous console was much bigger than the new Crystal, so the team designed a piece of furniture to place on of the desk to cover the now-empty hole. The console is tightly integrated, and the new furniture houses three computer screens on an angle.

The Radio Aalsmeer crew at home in their new studio.

The construction budget didn’t cover the Lawo GPIO expansion to the Crystal console. Fortunately, Lawo employs open standards throughout its product lines, so we went devised an open-source Ember+ solution based on a Raspberry Pi mini-computer, which powers a switchboard via DMX.

The Lawo RƎLAY Virtual Patch Bay handles system routing at Radio Aalsmeer.

Our software is written in NodeJS and uses the Ember+ protocol to communicate with the Crystal. The unit powers the mic tally lights, and also the LED strip that has been integrated into the new furniture piece. The strip lights red when a mic is open, flashes blue when a phone call is incoming, and turns green when there’s somebody at the door.

We are probably the only station with an Ember+ powered doorbell!

Radio Aalsmeer features a color-coded studio alert system driven by Ember+.

IP CONNECTION

To interface with the studio network, all the playout and studio computers run Lawo RƎLAY VSC Virtual Sound Card software. VSC allows the PCs to send routable AES67 streams directly to the Ravenna AoIP network. The station’s switching matrix uses another RƎLAY product, VPB Virtual Patch Bay.

We use Thimeo Stereo Tool for audio processing, and are now able to route signals as desired to and from various source and outputs. VPB has turned out to be super versatile, and even allowed us to add additional analog in- and outputs for various uses — to monitor the on air signal via a tuner, for example.

We are fond of Stereo Tool’s capabilities. Affordable and powerful, Stereo Tool software provides all the audio-shaping tools found in dedicated hardware, but virtualized and running in a PC environment. Radio Aalsmeer employs it not only to shape the station’s over-the-air signal, but also to pre-process the program feed prior to encoding with Icecast for live web streaming and for on-demand online listening

The station’s transmitter is also connected to the AoIP network. Located in the same building 500 meters distant from the studios, IP proved an efficient way of getting final programming from studio to air.

We are extremely proud of what we’ve achieved. It has turned out both very functional and beautiful. Our colleagues are in awe when they first see it. They all love the new studio!

Change is always tough but it literally only takes about 10 minutes to explain the new Lawo setup. After that, it’s just a matter of getting used to a new layout. With these up-to-date mixing and software solutions, Radio Aalsmeer is now future proof — and with a studio like this, that future will be a bright one.

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