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Radio Martí Project Wraps Up

Radio Martí is putting the finishing touches on a two-year, $1.5-million studio renovation and digital upgrade project in Miami.

(click thumbnail)Racks hold SAS routers and controls, digital patchbays, ISDN and Comrex Hotline equipment and the PCs for Studios A and B.Radio Martí is putting the finishing touches on a two-year, $1.5-million studio renovation and digital upgrade project in Miami.

I got a taste of the project when SAS sent me a news item about their routing products being used there. So I thought I’d look into it a bit more and see what other technical decisions the staff had made.

Funded by the U.S. government to air programming to listeners in Cuba, Radio Martí went on the air in 1985. Five years later, the government added TV Martí and the operation became known as The Office of Cuba Broadcasting. The operations moved from Washington to Miami in 1998.
Gear ListThe following new broadcast equipment is part of the Radio Martí upgrade.

BSI Wave Station/Wave Cart and Stinger

Cygnet DVD/RAM Jukebox

Denon 961FA CD Players (10)

Denon DNM991R MiniDisc Recorders (8)

Gentner DH30 Digital Hybrids (34)

Harris Pacific Airwave Audio Consoles (9)

Harris Pacific PR&E BMX 30 Digital Audio Console

Microboards CD Duplicator

SAS-32000 Audio Routing Switchers (2)

SAS-64000 Audio Routing Switcher

SAS upgraded Windows controller software for switchers, including switcher in Marathon, Fla.

Syntrillium Cool Edit

Related infrastructure:

Blackbox Port Replicators

Brocade Fiber Switch

Ciprico Fiber Storage Area Network

Dell PCs

Powersync Replication Software

Various Flat Screen and Touch-Screen Monitors
Broadcasts are from a medium-wave transmitter in Marathon, Fla., operating at 100 kW during the day and 50 kW at night on 1180 AM. Radio Martí also broadcasts on a dozen shortwave frequencies, four simultaneously, from Greenville, N.C., and Delano, Calif.

Thomas Warden is OCB’s chief of radio technical operations. He told me that among the major hardware choices, his facility team selected Harris Pacific consoles, BSI automation and audio products, and Syntrillium Cool Edit software. Turnkey services were provided by Innovative Technologies Inc.

The heart of the operation, he said, is the SAS 64000 audio routing switcher, augmented by two SAS 32000s. The system can handle combined digital and analog audio. Hard controls and soft-panel controls on PC workstations offer access to router functions. The SAS-64000 is used for primary audio routing, including control rooms, studios, desktop workstations, office monitors and the technical operations center. One SAS-32000 can generate 10 simultaneous mix-minus audio paths for telephone and remote/field operations. The second SAS-32000 is the intercom/IFB system for technical locations, headphone positions, telephone hybrids and remote/field location. Warden gave more details about the facility in response to my questions:

(click thumbnail)Tom Warden is seated at the technician’s position in Studio A. BSI WaveCart runs on the left, Stinger on the right.
RW: What was the scope of the project?

Warden: The scope was primarily to upgrade our on-air and production studio operations. This included some physical space modifications and the addition of a news booth situated between the primary and secondary air studios, and the renovation/upgrade of nine mini/combo production studios.

Master Control was included to house the routers and remote the PC CPUs from the studio areas for noise and heat considerations. We had already evolved significantly into the digital realm with the implementation of Cool Edit Pro, Wave Station and Wave Cart audio software programs.

Because it was necessary to renovate existing studio space, we were mostly concerned with accomplishing this project without disrupting our normal operations. Radio Martí broadcasts on medium- and shortwave frequencies, so any improvement in signal quality that would be gained through digital was incidental to improving the efficiency of our operation.

RW: Who managed the project on staff? Who did the install and wiring?

Warden: In addition to myself, other OCB employees involved in the project were Patrick Folts, the overall project manager handling coordination and contracting; Hector Ortiz, chief of computer services, who coordinated computer/networking issues; and Terry Blankenship, our telecommunications manager, who dealt with telephone and broadcast circuits issues.

The physical space modifications were contracted to Electronic Site Services from Colorado Springs, Colo. The studio design and installation was performed by Innovative Technologies Inc. from Chantilly, Va.

ITI subcontracted the furniture construction to Interpretive Woodwork and Design Inc. in Manassas, Va.

With the exception of the network switches and servers and just a few other minor items, this was primarily a turnkey project handled by ITI.

RW: How long did it take?

Warden: In order to keep operations running, this was a leapfrog process.

While ESS was making the space modifications on the first studio, ITI completed the upgrades to the nine mini/combo studios. This included new Harris Pacific AirWave digital audio consoles and new networked DAWs running Cool Edit software.

The actual construction and installation of any given area went quite fast, generally four to six weeks. Renovation of the main production studio, the final phase of the overall project, is expected to be complete by March or April.

From start to finish, the entire project duration will be just about two years exactly.

(click thumbnail)The Studio B producer position overlooks the technician’s position. Note the live view of Studio A talent on the PC monitor.
RW: What special considerations did you have? Any unusual aspects to the project?

Warden: Our News and Programs departments presented us with unique requirements as regards the telephone mix-minus, headphones and IFB system.

Rather than stacking callers, it would be required to put up to six telephone calls, two remote sites and ISDN/Hotline feeds on the air simultaneously for panel discussions.

This is where the two SAS 32000s come in. The mix-minuses can travel to wherever they are required via the switcher. The talent has the capability of selecting any source available from the switcher to their headphones.

A pre-selected “Salvo” position on the switcher control will return all headphones to a default setting. Full duplex IFB is available to talent positions, telephone hybrids, two remote locations and technical areas.

PCs with Internet, news wires, replicated views of the Wave Cart information from the technician’s PC and television access was required at all talent and producer positions.

RW: For digital audio systems, what special considerations did this involve or solve? How big is your audio storage capacity?

Warden: The two most important considerations were reliability and to adhere to the “KISS” principle as much as possible.

(click thumbnail)Racks hold SAS routers and controls, digital patchbays, ISDN and Comrex Hotline equipment and the PCs for Studios A and B.
There are some very elaborate – meaning complicated or expensive – digital audio systems on the market, and we’ve tested most. We settled on Cool Edit, Wave Station and Wave Cart because these products provided the necessary tools to very cost-effectively meet the requirements of the project.

In addition to the technical areas, there are DAWs at virtually every desktop for news, programming and supervisory personnel. We created our own in-house audio file management system that has served us well. We couldn’t see where our operation would benefit by changing to another system at this time.

Server audio storage capacity is currently 0.6 Terabyte plus 1 Terabyte on a DVD jukebox. Logging and long-term archiving of programs is on compact disc.

RW: Is this an all-digital facility?

Warden: We are still somewhat of an A/D hybrid facility.

Audio retrieval and archiving is done via desktop PCs over the LAN using fiber-optic cable. The SAS 64000 provides the capability of both analog and digital switching in one mainframe. Existing analog wiring between the switcher and studios will continue to be used for the few remaining analog devices.

Digital cabling is implemented within the studio confines and between the switcher and the studios.