Top Technologists Discuss Studio Design

By Marguerite Clark | View PDF Version

Radio World spoke to leading technologists from private and public broadcasters regarding what it takes to design and build an efficient, cost-effective radio studio. Those who replied to the questions below include Mirosław Ostrowski, technical director, Radio Wrocław in Poland; Gerry Pyne, general manager, Queensland Remote Aboriginal Media (QRAM), Australia; Gary Kline, owner and CEO, Kline Consulting Group, United States; Frédéric Bourgeais, technical director of Alouette, France; and Eugenio La Teana, head of Research & Development at RTL 102.5, Italy.

Radio World: What should the modern studio have?

Mirosław Ostrowski: There are many important questions to consider before building a studio. For example, what is the main purpose of the studio; will the studio be connected or separated from control room; how many audio sources are necessary; will listeners be broadcast live; how many mics do you need in the studio/control room; how many mix-minus feeds will you need to man- age telephone hybrid/hybrids, OB vans, outside trans- mission links, inter-studio connections; do you plan to stream audio/video signals; should the intercom system to be in touch with the central control room and other studios; is signaling (red, green, yellow, blue lamps) required; where will the PCs be located? And of course, what’s the budget for the project?

Gerry Pyne: A modern studio should have a workspace designed to meet the workflow needs of the organization for which it serves. This will vary according to the type of use the studio will get, and in today’s industry there tends to be more production and voice tracking style activities and less live on-air work done in studios. Good lighting and acoustics are key. Of equal importance is the overall experience the studio provides for staff and guests. General layout needs to take into account good ergonomics, and increasingly we need to consider visual attributes such as sight lines between the operator and people sitting as various positions around the studio. Video/web cameras continue to play an increasing role in the modern radio / production studio. The equipment no longer needs to be a dominant feature of the console desk furniture, and this leaves more scope for imaginative design and room to layout documents and other things during studio sessions.

Gary Kline: It should have unparalleled capability to send and receive every form of modern media known today as well as be ready for the future. Skype, FB live, streaming, terrestrial, YouTube, Twitter, POTS, SIP, mobile device APP, iTunes, etc. The modern studio should be ready to accommodate written (i.e.; text, WhatsApp) or any audio/video method of communication that today’s audience uses often to interact. For sure, the modern studio should have cameras and easy-to-use integration to operate them. If it takes more than a few seconds to get a Skype guest on the air, then that is too long. There should also be an excellent social media aggregation tool in the studio with direct tie-in to, again, Skype, FB, Twitter, POTS, etc. One main command center to monitor and control all forms of communication. You should have many mix-minus busses and they should be automatic so every one local or remote and hear and speak to one another flawlessly.

Frédéric Bourgeais: For Alouette it is about the perfect mix between the two worlds: analog and digital. Analog because it gives us a clear, warm sound. Digital because music is all digitized today.

Eugenio La Teana: We believe multiplatform and cross media distribution are a distinctive part of our station identity. Therefore the studio has to be designed and equipped in order to properly allow and ease our multi-faceted distribution strategy. RTL 102.5 pioneered the visual radio experience many years ago in Europe, and
we are continuously developing our visual concept, so
the studio has to be flexible, in order to suit our evolving needs. The essence of the radio is being “live,” so the studio must be capable of instantaneously adapting to anything that happens: our studio is a large room, with cinema-grade video projectors picturing each studio wall with images capable to enrich the message we deliver. In the case of breaking news, we can immediately have graphics, archive material and any live video feed from the internet available for projection to the studio walls, surrounding the news presenters and giving the audience the capability to both understand how the situation is evolving, as well as to point out specific details on the “screens.”

Radio World: How should it be designed?

Ostrowski: Technical directors should listen carefully to the future users of the equipment and follow up with them during the design process. Ergonomics is very important. Everything should be within reach. Sound is the most important thing in the studio and in radio. It is therefore imperative that there are no “noisy” devices like computers or fans nearby. They should be installed behind the studio walls but as close as possible to shorten cable connections. For the connection of PC keyboards, screens and mouse devices, use KVM extenders to send all the signals via one Ethernet cable or fiber. To save space, it’s useful to use a keyboard switch for the control of four or more PCs. Tablets can also serve as a small mixing console, and the clock, loudness meter or intercom are just one click away. We use the DHD touch- screen module. In addition, studio furniture should combine aesthetics and functionality, cables should be easily accessible and special attention should be paid to the glass window separating the studio and control room. It shouldn’t be mounted vertically for acoustical reasons and it’s better to tilt the glass so dust doesn’t accumulate, while considering the reflection of light, which could impede visual communication between the studio talent and the sound engineer.

Pyne: The studio should be designed with a primary focus on the user experience rather than past practice
of featuring a large and complex looking console at the center of the room. Technology advancements have opened up new frontiers previously not possible in studio design and today’s studio can be a far more inviting environment for workers and guests. Flexibility in design is also increased through the flexibility that new technology brings to the industry. Studios no longer need to consider space for a range of traditional items from the past such as CD players, reel to reels, cart machines, turntables, etc. This can all vanish into the digital realm in a modern studio design.

Kline: It should be designed with the highest standards in quality and engineering practice. This should include acoustics inside the room, acoustics between rooms, lighting (especially for visual radio), ergonomics including low-profile mics and low-profile computer monitors, and well-planned layout with plenty of room for talent and guests. Don’t forget about clocks, monitors and other interior design choices. In fact, hire an interior designer if your budget permits. You can build a studio that looks so much different and cooler than the old standard four walls with sound panels and a few track lights overhead — today’s modern studio should incorporate much more. Look at ESPN or the BBC or TV5. When you show your studio on TV (or someone’s computer or phone screen) it should look really cool and well integrated into the frame. Stand out from the rest. There are some amazing radio studios doing this today. Capital Radio in London and Nash Radio in Nashville are a couple of examples.

Bourgeais: Our station is situated near the Atlantic coast so we designed our studios like a beautiful, wooden ship, with some nice curves and maple and cherry wood. This provides quite the atmosphere and generally very good acoustics, which is very important. Our goal is to provide a warm welcome to our guests and that they feel comfortable when broadcasting live from our studios and working with our team.

La Teana: Radio is basically “live,” and can tell the listeners about facts in the very moment things are happening, but it is also “alive,” with people at the core of it. Therefore our studio is a large open space: the main desk for the presenters stays in the center of the studio. At the back, we have the desk for the news presenters and the technical room is inside the studio, with nothing in the middle: We believe the visual and, in general, any non-verbal interaction between the on air talents and news reporters, as well as between the presenters and studio engineers, can enrich the overall message our station delivers to our listeners. We chose to remove all the chairs: Presenters stand in front of the mics, they are free to move and walk across the studio. Our voice reflects the movements of our body, so this way our presenters, being free to move and “gesticulate” as if they were talking to their friends (Italians love to gesticulate, you know), can deliver a richer message through their voice. In addition, through our visual feed, their movements and their look, enrich the listening experience.

Radio World: What are your “go-to” choices for equipment?
Ostrowski: There are many great, cost-effective products out there. It’s important to test certain products in the context of one’s studio because it needs to fit into the feel and tradition of that particular station and also be accepted by station staff. Sometimes you have to make compromises because a product may fill most but not all requirements. Most stations are on a tight budget but you should be prepared to pay the necessary amount for essential gear, such as a console, which you’ll be using for many years. As a public radio station, we are obligated to follow regulations when purchasing gear. It’s not always easy to provide a detailed description of our requirements to our superiors without stating the brand names, etc.

Pyne: Our policy is to transition to an all IP digital network, so any time we upgrade a studio or build a new facility we only look at IP solutions. In the Black Star Network we have made the choice of basing systems on the Wheatstone/Wheatnet platform. This extends to accessories and other equipment and where possible we will use Wheatnet-compatible equipment as a first choice and fall back to AES67-compliant equipment. Having a network where every piece of equipment can be configured to communicate over the wire to every other item is very desirable and allows for a highly flexible and resilient system. In our case it is also important to use equipment that can be remotely monitored via SNMP and web GUI. Our network playout system is based on RCS Zetta, GSelector and Aquira, and these products all integrate well with each other and with the Wheatnet platform.

Kline: That depends on the purpose for the studio (on-air, production, video, voiceover booth, newsroom, etc.). Generally, though, I always go for an AoIP console with
a fully IP-based workflow and infrastructure. No punch blocks, very few XLRs, and loads of redundancy and backups. For phones today, always SIP/VOIP with excellent call screening software and — as stated above — tie in to a central social media platform for total control. I always work with trusted vendors and manufacturers who have taken care of me in the past and who I know will be there if there are problems, questions or very tight deadlines.

Bourgeais: We look for quality and reliability when purchasing gear. We are not here to reinvent the job, but to find the right products for our station.

La Teana: We don’t have a “must.” First we develop our vision for a specific improvement or completely new design. Then we look for equipment capable of turning our vision into reality. Sometimes, we are unable to find the right product to fit our needs from manufacturers of radio broadcast gear, so we also search for products outside the radio realm, for example by looking toward the cinema industry. What really matters though is our ability to successfully implement our vision. The equipment follows the concept, so we don’t have “mandatory” or “forbidden” choices. We have to turn ideas and projects into reality, so nobody cares if we need to design and create a “new device” which was not previously available. One thing is certain however, we always opt for professional- grade equipment.

Radio World: Where do you start? At the console and work from there?
Ostrowski: We first define our requirements. In a digital world, there are various philosophies about how to construct and manage audio consoles. If you already have one and can configure it, then it won’t be easy to change it for something new. For us, we prefer to let our talented engineers manage the digital consoles we already have. We are sticking to our DHD boards. We broadcast three 24/7 channels and need to reconfigure the mixing consoles quite often following the changes and requirements in the program itself and sometimes in the way our talents or DJs run their shows. Before making a decision about the console you have to know how it should cooperate with the rest — playout systems, signaling, intercoms, other studios, OB vans, telephone hybrids, mics, PCs, headphones and video systems. Today’s consoles are flexible and configurable, but they sometimes use different technologies (AoIP, Dante, AES/EBU, MADI, etc.). Protocols such as Ember+ facilitate communication between different devices and it’s important to be sure that the console can interoperate easily with your other studio gear.

Pyne: We always start by looking at the required workflows for the studio. From there we work and design the hardware to match rather than allow the technology to determine the overall design and workflow.

Kline: Typically, yes. But it really depends on the size of the facility that’s being built and what the purpose is. I think it might be more accurate to say I always start with a customer needs analysis and then work from there. I know that I am going to use an AoIP console so it’s more a matter of what size and model will go in each room. How many inputs/outputs are needed overall in the plant and what special needs are required. For example, will the facility be running a sports network with many feeds or will it be internationally focused with different music beds fed to different locations? And if so, are there copyright issues and do I need to plan for that. Or perhaps, there will be live broadcast video and radio coming from the same room — so that may require some thought before you get to console selection. No matter what though, it’s going to be IP, and everything I purchase will support that somehow.

Bourgeais: It depends on one’s budget. But for us the mixing desk is fundamental. Therefore, we start from there and build the infrastructure around that. Generally, we have the same mixing desk in every studio, each with different options.

La Teana: Unlike TV, radio can’t rely on a different studio for each show. Typically, in radio a single studio has to fit all the possible genres and kinds of programs being produced. So we start from the center of the studio. Radio has to be at the heart of everything, so the desk for the on-air talents stays in the middle of the studio. The rest, including technical equipment, stays around the core of radio, so along the walls of the studio.

Radio World: How do you handle room and acoustics design?
Ostrowski: The goal is to get the best sound possible for a radio program so good acoustics are necessary. I suggest employing an experienced company to handle your studio acoustics. It’s more expensive but your listeners and your staff will appreciate a good audio atmosphere. If you have a very limited budget then there may be no question of acoustics. What I would suggest in a case like that is to use low-sensitivity, but still good, dynamic mics, such as the Shure SM7, and speak into them from a close range.

A modern studio should have unparalleled capability to send and receive every form of modern media known today as well as be ready for the future. - Gary Kline

That solution is not ideal however, particularly with guests or when you have a few people in the studio. If at all possible, consider acoustics in the design. Also, don’t forget about acoustical isolation and check for holes in your studio walls. And remember, noise can be transferred by floors and sneak through windows. You could “wall up” the window, but the best, albeit expensive solution is to build the studio as a box in the box. Some larger broadcasters do this for their most important studios. This type of setup is particularly useful for control rooms and studios, which are being used for sound recording purposes.

Pyne: This will depend on the location and design of the environment the studio is being built. Main considerations come down to the protection of the studio from outside noise intrusion and mechanical noise through building structure, flooring, ceilings etc. and then the internal treatment that ensures the right “vocal sound” is achieved. Other considerations include air conditioning and equipment noise within the studio.

Kline: It’s a multi-person and multi-stage process. For starters, I work with the client to determine required STC/ noise ratings and evaluate cost versus benefit. In a perfect world, we would build to Abbey Road standards, but how many stations need that, or can afford it? Some can. Many can’t. So, everything starts with a spec on acoustic requirements. Then, I work with an architect to design those acoustics into the room(s). Over the years I have developed construction standards, which are my baseline for any studio build. I usually then hire an acoustical engineer (I have a few go to professionals I have worked with before) and then review the drawings for any tweaks. I’ve even been known to hire an acoustician to bring in test equipment to measure vibrations and natural resonance frequencies in base building construction before finalizing the design. We also choose (together) things like studio doors with specific sound ratings, ceiling material, floor construction (floating in certain cases), sound panels, etc. In this process we also review the chosen elements for look and feel so that the studio colors, fabrics and other elements remain congruent. The GC or construction supervisor is also part of the process so no one is left out. This is especially true as you evaluate costs versus benefits (as mentioned before).

Bourgeais: We use ABSO, a specialized acoustic company based in Paris.

La Teana: Room design must provide the highest flexibility. We decided to go minimal as regards furniture and chose to not install “fixed” furniture but to get the maximum in terms of visual impact using video projectors to give the walls a different look, depending on programs being broadcast. This lets us immediately change the shape and the look of the studio, or even of a single part of it. We outsource acoustic design, and we supervise their activities.

Radio World: Who handles the installation?

Ostrowski: In general, for the installation of equipment in the studio and the back room, we carry out most of the installations ourselves. This allows us to know the configuration in its deepest details. We also know the habits of our station staff and the expectations of our editorial staff. Fortunately, we have some really good engineers in house who are curious, capable and willing to implement the newest technologies for us. When it comes to complicated installations such as that of virtual disk arrays, virtual platforms for servers or data backup systems or multi-modular production and playout systems, we use outside resources with highly specialized engineers. This is also a way for our engineers to accumu- late more knowledge so they can manage the systems after the installation is complete. Often times, training courses are needed to run the ICT infrastructure, which evolve incredibly quickly. We are on air 24/7 so there is no room for issues. I would say, that it is imperative to have experienced engineering staff under a radio broad- caster’s roof if possible.

Pyne: In our network this is generally handled internally.

Kline: Installation of equipment is usually a mix of the local engineer, local contract engineers/integrators and possibly engineers from within the same company but from another market. I only work with people I trust and usually bring in subject matter experts for various aspects of the installation. For example, I may bring in IT gurus to help with router and firewall programming, broadcast IT gurus for AoIP setup and design, video experts for visual radio, etc.

IP technology has touched virtually every part of our studio design criteria. - Gerry Pyne

I can’t stress enough how important it is to have excellent IT staff working on the project, before, during, and after. Bad IT design will lead to problems — sometimes in the future at the worst time and can be confusing to solve. Most everything in a modern studio is IP based so it must be done well and done efficiently. Different IT experts have different opinions sometimes about how something should be handled (VLANs, PORT assignments, etc.). There may not be one single way to do something but there are bad designs and implementation — avoid it. We’ve all been there — walked into a plant where we started shaking our heads.

Bourgeais: Our in-house technicians manage this for our station.

La Teana: We design the overall installation plan, then we often work with third-party professionals to get the job done.

Radio World: Do you invest in staff training?
Ostrowski: Yes. When possible, our engineers visit manufacturers’ premises to learn more about their products and participate in training courses. This is especially necessary for the more complex equipment like mixing consoles, which need the user to configure everything. For less complicated gear, we depend on user manuals for the most part, or contact the manufacturer in the case of a specific issue. Our station also provides English- language courses for our employees. This helps them to understand documentation, which is usually in English, and also makes people, especially the older and more experienced ones, more open to contacts with the outside world.

Pyne: Staff training is very important to us and we do invest in external training provision for new systems and equipment wherever possible.

Kline: Some. It depends on the skill level of the staff, in addition to other factors. If a new automation system is part of the install, which nobody has seen before, then definitely, yes. If visual radio (video) is a new addition to the studio then the answer is yes. New phone system with lots of new buttons? Yes. In some cases, I have built a single temporary studio with all the new gear at the old facility so staff can train and work out any possible issues before the move to the new facility or studio.

Bourgeais: Not very much. But that’s just because our staff is always so busy. We do however take the time to attend major exhibitions in the United States and Europe to be sure we keep up with the latest trends and technologies.

La Teana: Yes, but not in the conventional sense. RTL 102.5 loves to explore new territories, trying technologies and pioneering new ways of making radio. So our people are asked everyday to find the best way to find a solution to a new, unconventional requirement. Many times they can’t immediately find inspiration from within our industry, so they are obligated to start designing and sourcing from scratch. This commonly indicates a trial-and-error approach. We invest in this particular form of training on the job. Basically, our people don’t have an “everyday task.” We ask them to dig further into something they (and essentially nobody) is familiar with, and to look for the best possible resolution, also from a budget-wise point of view.

Radio World: How is IP technology affecting the radio studio?
Ostrowski: IP technology is becoming more central to radio broadcasters. I have however seen some reluctance in implementing the technology because two various worlds are trying to connect into one — IT and radio. The two different teams of specialists need closer cooperation between them. IT specialists need to move closer to the audio world and understand an essence of sound, while audio professionals should get closer to IT issues. IP brings many advantages, such as easy audio access, ubiquity and flexibility.

Pyne: IP technology has touched virtually every part of our studio design criteria. It introduces flexibility and workflow that have not been possible in previous generations of technology and it also introduces a new scale of reduced cost to the design. Studio builds are now simpler and take less time to complete and when studios are redeployed to different uses they can be reconfigured within the digital domain simply and quickly — often at the simple push of a button. IP technology has had a profound effect on all areas of the broadcasting industry.

Kline: IP has made it easier and more efficient to multi-task and create a much more exciting product on-air. The technology has also made it much simpler (and cheaper) to install gear, configure everything, and modify things in a hurry. It can also make it a little more confusing to troubleshoot a problem or trace out a workflow — no more analog wires to troubleshoot with a simple tester. You’ll need some IT knowledge and a good computer skillset (and a laptop!). But I think most engineers in radio today have all that — it’s been over a decade since things started moving to IP in radio. Hard to believe, I know. IP is not in its infancy anymore.

Bourgeais: IP technology has facilitated our lives. Five years ago we virtualized our entire premises. The technology allows us to exchange, control or remote-control gear, share songs and files. It’s very reliable for our needs.

La Teana: We’ve been implementing IP now for a decade. We started our visual experience within the analog domain, but a couple years ago, we transitioned everything to IP, including our video feeds.

Radio World: How is visual radio changing the way you design your studio?
Ostrowski: We now have two studios that feature visual radio. Each studio is equipped with an automated system with four PTZ cameras. The software controlling the camera movement and changing scenes is very nice with some artificial intelligence elements. But when it came to designing the studio, we had to predict where the cameras would be installed. It was difficult to find a com- promise between the best camera positions and ensuring they didn’t interfere with the studio’s daily normal operation. After defining the best camera positions we had to plan the routes for all cables (video, power supply, control and spare). All the cables end in a separate small equipment room where the computers are located. The room also houses the machine for video streaming, converting and recording. Now we use live video streaming to the internet and we can record any part of the program, especially when we have some famous guest or very interesting discussions or debates. Then we use the material as on-demand content on our website.

For visual radio, we use good video cameras, but without the proper lights the video wouldn’t be acceptable. - Mirosław Ostrowski

Lighting is important. We use good video cameras, but without the proper lights the video wouldn’t be acceptable. We consulted on the subject of lightning with a TV and film specialist and he advised us to use LED panels. One pair for one person in the studio — the first panel illuminates the person from the front, the second from the back. It makes the picture more natural and spatial. There is also a LCD screen to show what the streamed video looks like and it’s possible to carry out corrections. When streaming video from the radio studio you also have to consider the scenography. It’s not enough to tidy up the studio and turn the lights on. We use scenography lighting made of colorful LED tapes. It allows us to quickly change the colors and overall look of the studio.

Pyne: To cater for the increasing demand on visual features within the radio studio we need to consider a range of visual aspects within the overall design. Camera angles need to have clear sight lines to talent and this needs to mess together well with the placement of screens, mics and mic stands, seating arrangements and this all has the potential to affect the room acoustics. These things need to be well planned from the beginning. Cameras need to be positioned in a way that does not cause talent to “play to the audience” and things such as multi-angle cameras instead of multiple cameras can help with this.

Kline: It means we pay attention to the design of the room, the layout, for example. You’ll want to have great camera angles — none of this wide-shot stuff with mics in front of people’s faces. That’s a pet peeve of mine — mics covering a major portion of the frame. You want wide shots when appropriate but also intimate close-up angles. You need excellent lighting — I usually hire a lighting designer and install TV studio lighting — not
too much but enough to light up the room for HDTV. You should also think about where the video switcher will go and who will operate it. Much like you place your call screener in the room. Have plenty of flat screens for promoting that special guest’s new album or book, or to pull up a listener calling in on Skype. Make sure you have enough internet bandwidth in the facility to handle uploads or live HD streaming. Choose a great visual radio system — there are a few good ones out there. Make sure you have graphics and logos well thought out. Your system should easily incorporate those into the shot as well as Twitter and Facebook feeds and advertising. Don’t forget about monetizing the product! One more time: lighting — don’t cheap out on the lighting! If you can’t afford a designer, find someone from the local TV station or production studio and buy them lunch for some insight and advice. I pre-wire every studio I design now for camera positions, even if they aren’t a part of the initial budget.

Bourgeais: Today, we use live video mainly for coverage of our one-off live events. We like the mystery radio offers so for now there are no cameras in our studios. Audience ratings show us this method is working.

La Teana: Our studio was designed to be a visual radio studio. Everything, including lighting, walls, furniture, the fact the presenters don’t stay seated but stand in front of the mic, was designed to ensure the best possible radio listening experience and a great visual experience. Visual is a key part of our message. Today listeners can find so much attractive content to listen and watch, including on the internet. So we have to stay competitive. It’s not just a matter of offering fantastic “radio,” it is a matter of appeal. Radio has to be designed and produced in order to be successful nowadays. Various web services, including YouTube, offer audio and music content. We have to convince listeners to stay within our channels, notwithstanding the platform they choose. That’s why even a video we post on Youtube, or anywhere else, can’t only be just great “radio” — it has to be engaging in a wider sense.

Davide Moro contributed to this article.



How to Build a Video Chain for Your Radio Operation - Register Today to Learn More

Join us for our new Visual Radio Symposium held at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center on November 29 in Washington DC. If you’re in the business of radio technology, this event is for you.

We have a great agenda locked featuring top panels like How to Build a Video Chain for Your Radio Operation. In this panel, we’ll answer important questions including:

  • What hardware do you need?
  • How much should you spend?
  • Should you buy a turnkey video system?
  • Should you build a set?
  • What will you need to know about automated camera switching, mic levels, lighting, music video playout, graphics, streaming, social media integration?
  • What makes content “video friendly”?

Sign up today and gain insights from leading executives in the field from Kline Consulting Group LLC and Radio America Network. Click below to learn more about each panelist.



Gary Kline

Kline Consulting Group


Rich McFadden

VP of Operations,
Radio America Network

Busy First Day at AES and NAB New York Shows

Collocated shows provide plenty; visit to One World Trade Center broadcast transmission center

Whatever your connection to audio or video, if you could walk out of New York’s Javits Center Wednesday without finding something to catch your eye (or ear), you weren’t trying very hard. The combination of the Audio Engineering Society’s long-running New York show and the more recent evolution of the NAB New York show brought together a little something for just about anyone, all packed into two connected exhibit halls and a warren of meeting rooms downstairs.

The NAB side of the show evolved from a TV convention, so there’s still plenty of video and lighting to be seen there, but those are technologies we radio folks need to learn now, too, as we were reminded in an all-star AES session Wednesday afternoon on the latest trends in studio design.

Four walls aren’t enough anymore, because few of us are just doing “radio,” as presenters such as Telos’ Kirk Harnack, Max Media’s Daniel Hyatt and independent consultant Gary Kline reminded us. Sightlines are vitally important, Kline pointed out, not just so that your air talent and producers can all work together but also so that everything looks great on video as well as sounding great on audio. Still using incandescent lighting? The latest LED technology not only looks much better on video, Hyatt said, but also saves money on power bills. (We’ll be writing more about all of this in RW soon!)

Wednesday’s biggest event on the AES side (and the reason you’re not seeing this until Thursday morning) didn’t happen at the Javits, though. Seven miles downtown and 90 stories above lower Manhattan, veteran New York engineer John Lyons opened the doors at One World Trade Center for a presentation and tour for about 60 visiting engineers.

Most of New York’s TV broadcasters have signed on with the Durst Organization (where Lyons is VP of broadcasting) to relocate to the new 1WTC mast after spending the last 16 years transmitting from the rival Empire State Building. The first of those stations, Telemundo’s WNJU, signed on from 1WTC over the summer. It will soon have plenty of company: transmitters are now in place on the 90th floor for at least three more stations, with Fox getting ready to start building out its facility there very soon.

Think you know what a modern TV plant looks like? This new space might change your mind. For one thing, it’s quiet enough that Lyons was able to give a slide show about the construction right in the middle of the transmitter room — everything here is liquid-cooled and almost silent. For another, it’s all in one big room that wraps around the south side of the tower. Instead of individual transmitter spaces bursting with equipment as in the old days, each station has just a single row of equipment — a few locked racks next to today’s relatively compact transmitters. (Rohde & Schwarz is the brand of choice for most; CBS went with GatesAir, in part because of the close relationship they had with Harris in getting WCBS-TV back on the air right after 9/11.)

Combiners sit at the other end of the space, feeding VHF and UHF master antennas high above.

And as we rode back uptown toward the Javits and a late dinner, it was hard not to miss Empire, too, which was lit up in AES signature blue for the convention.

Atlanta Braves’ New SunTrust Park Utilizes DiGiCo’s S21 Digital Mixing Console

When the Atlanta Braves played their first game in their new home, SunTrust Park, on April 14 against the San Diego Padres, they were doing it in baseball’s new advanced stadium. The $622 million, 41,419-seat capacity facility’s sound is routed, around the venue and out through the Braves’ 135-station regional radio network, operated by Dickey Broadcasting Company (DBC). Gary Kline, principal at Kline Consulting Group, says baseball fans are expecting more comprehensive and immersive experiences, both at the ballpark and while listening to games on the radio.

As part of his mission to help his client, DBC, create a new radio broadcasting facility at SunTrust Park, Kilne was also tasked with getting customized audio feeds around the stadium itself. For instance, a broadcast feed had to be routed to key back-of-house areas, including the luxury suites, including the Infiniti Club area, and to other areas under the stadium’s control, such as elevators.

However, this feed would need to be stripped of the effects audio that is woven into the main broadcast feed, since those at the stadium would already be immersed in crowd sounds and baseball effects such as bat cracks. Those “sounds of the game” were being picked up by microphones strategically placed by Kline and the top-notch Braves in-house broadcast team for the main radio feed. Then, another version of that feed—essentially a mix-minus—needed to be made that would let the broadcast announcers hear the local vocal mix created on-site while mixing the radio IFB (commercials, imaging, etc.) and producer
talkback into the mix.

To best accomplish all this, Kline specified the installation of a DiGiCo S21 digital audio console. “The S21 effortlessly creates this special headphone mix for the announcers,” says Kline. “It makes sure that their vocals fed to the station do not feed back to them, as the small amount of transport latency would be disconcerting.”

“We collect uncompressed audio from a wide range of sources throughout the stadium, from the effects mics near home plate to a direct feed from the front-of-house console for the singing of the national anthem before each game,” says Kline. “We also have a standard connection to the home team TV truck, so, if we want, we can integrate their ambient and crowd feeds into our special total effects mix. The S21 is critical for this: collecting all of the audio from sources all over the stadium, then letting the operator organize it into the custom feeds needed.”

“For instance, some need the radio broadcast feed with the commercial already integrated, which means that it’s coming back from the radio studio, where they’ve inserted the commercials into the feed we had already sent them. It can get pretty complicated. Before this, they would have to use outboard mixers and summing amps; now, the S21 can handle it all, letting the operator build exactly the mixes each person needs in their headphones and headsets.”

Kline says the S21’s ability to build an array of mixes has been crucial to making SunTrust Park’s new radio broadcast infrastructure work, but that the console’s other features are just as valuable. He cites the desk’s excellent dynamics and EQ, “They’re EQing out the lows from the effects audio to keep it clear and punchy, without losing any of the tonality.”

And DiGiCo’s seamless integration with Waves processing is also being leveraged at the Park: radio A1s are able to send effects and ambience channels to the Waves servers with a DTS Neural Surround plug-in thatlets them group all of those channels separately. “That gives them a master-fader effects mix for the surround mix, for radios than can
decode the DTS Neural Surround encoded content,” he explains.

But, at the end of the day, it’s the sound that sells the S21 as much as its features and functionality. “It just sounds amazing,” says
Kline. “The separation between channels in stereo and surround is incredible and really contributes to the sense of being there for
listeners. The S21 has been a big part of making the broadcast and house audio aspects of SunTrust Park work to their maximum potential.”

Original Article:

Making a Marriage Work: Entercom+CBS Radio

BALA CYNWYD, PA. — If anyone has a playbook on how to combine technical operations of two major radio broadcast groups smoothly, John Kennedy and Paul Donovan likely will want to see it.

Kennedy, corporate director of technical operations for Entercom Communications, and Donovan, vice president of engineering for CBS Radio, are overseeing the complex integration of engineering staff and technologies pending federal approval of the marriage between Entercom and CBS Radio. The new entity will have a total of 244 stations in 47 markets with operations in 23 of the top 25 markets in the United States.

The success of the combined company, which will become the second-largest radio broadcaster in the United States based on revenue, will depend in part on the combined work of the engineering, IT and digital departments responsible for the backbone of the broadcast group’s technical operations.

The estimated $2.5 billion deal, being scrutinized by the U.S. Justice Department, could close by the end of this year, according to those familiar with the agreement. That leaves little time to plan out such a herculean effort.

It’s not clear exactly how many people in the engineering and technical staffs at the two companies will be affected, though there is some market overlap between them. Entercom has announced it is placing 14 FMs in a trust for future spinoffs.

Execution of their integration work will be scrutinized by those inside and outside the company, according to people who have been through complicated mergers.

Kennedy declined to be interviewed for this story while a CBS Radio spokesperson declined on behalf of Donovan. Given that we were unable to speak directly with them, we asked four expert outsiders, former corporate engineering executives who have been through a variety of mergers and acquisitions, to comment on what a technical game plan for such a huge merger might look like and the potential pitfalls. Respondents were Gary Kline, former VP of engineering for Cumulus; Milford Smith, longtime director of engineering for Greater Media; Bert Goldman, one-time VP of engineering for ABC Radio; and Andy Laird, former vice president and chief technology officer for Journal Broadcast Group.

RW: What are some of the first engineering management issues that come to mind when merging broadcast companies?
Kline: I typically start with the big-picture outline and then narrow things. The big picture may include departments you are not directly responsible for but somehow may touch. For example, HR systems may be on the engineer’s list because there’s interaction with IT or access in the local markets — things which engineering should be involved with but more in a support role. In the early stages of a business deal, you may not be permitted to discuss anything with the other party or their employees, even though you may know them well. Radio is a small business, especially in the engineering ranks. So in the beginning, I’d form a list of questions that the business development and legal teams can request.

Smith: Whereas it might seem like equipment, budgets, procedures and the like would be first up, I would make a case for people being the first priority. Such transactions are fraught with anxiety, fear of the unknown and insecurity on the part of all the staffs involved, technical staffs included. Good broadcast engineers are extraordinarily difficult to find and more challenging still to “lure away” in the event of an opening. Thus, it’s my opinion that the number one priority is to immediately get acquainted with the new folks suddenly joining the organization and to allay their fears and concerns going forward. It’s important, too, to make sure “your” people have any concerns addressed relative to the merged entity. These are unsettling times, and efforts made to make the situation less scary and to provide positive assurances is very much time well spent.

Laird: Both companies are very successful, so job one is do no harm!

If there is a broadcast engineering technical mandate that needs to be understood, ask: What technical procedures and records are in place at each company? How good is the physical diligence for the properties? What are the reporting structures for each technical group and how do they differ? How do the two companies differ concerning FCC related issues, representation? How do each of the companies handle expert technical work — in-house, consultants? Since one company is mostly major market and the other large and medium market, does it make sense to consolidate technical management across the combined group? Major changes take time for personnel buy in, for trust to develop. Certainly the merger improves capital purchasing leverage. How can communication among CEs be fostered for sharing best practices? The collaboration tools we have today are a great help.

RW: How is redundancy in technical operations typically handled?
Goldman: There are two kinds of redundancies.

Technical equipment redundancies is the first type. As part of the overall planning, office/studio and transmitter leases should be evaluated as to cost, lease restrictions and term. If it makes sense, and as part of the due diligence budget, any potential consolidation should be examined and budgeted. FCC allotments should be checked to see if consolidation of tower sites and/or facility upgrades should be considered. The lease terms for studio and transmitter seldom line up with the acquisition schedule, so there’s usually some period of time when operations remain separate and redundant.

Personnel redundancy is the second type. This is tough and varies considerably by company culture and overall needs. From a corporate standpoint, the corporate engineer of the company being acquired is seldom retained, at least not in the same capacity. Regarding local station staff, questions come up very soon after the merger announcement as to what the new company’s intentions are both from incumbent and by the engineers being acquired. In my experience, however, unfortunately, I’ve found that the engineering personnel are the last to be considered when companies are merging. Ultimately, upper management and imposed budgets make hard decisions necessary.

Smith: I think communication with staff is the key. There will obviously be some painful changes that will ultimately have to be made — and I can speak from personal experience! — but if humane measures are put in place as to any reductions in staff the potential pain can be considerably eased and the negative turned into at least a partial positive. For those unfortunate enough to be RIF-ed [slang for fired], there are new opportunities out there. Any severance arrangements should allow the individual impacted time to seek them out.

RW: What kind of technical issues must be laid out and managed? How are legacy networks and various brands of equipment dealt with?
Laird: Any technical issues that can put a license in jeopardy require immediate attention. Do all the stations have established procedures that are followed daily, weekly, monthly and yearly with record keeping?  Example: tower inspections, history of transmitter and antenna parameters, server back-ups, testing of back-ups, etc. How are the ongoing inspection results reported to the station manager and to corporate technical management?  Legacy technical networks and various brands of equipment within an enterprise of this size are normal. This is not necessarily a bad thing as long as proper IT structure and security is in place to protect them. The need to change is sometimes driven to get new features or because of discontinued hardware and/or software support. With the merger, station technology changes may be needed to support back office initiatives, centralized traffic, billing and IT management. Considering audio programming, will file sharing and voice tracking be expanded?

Kline: The first higher-level engineering things that come to mind are the major backend systems for each. Then there are lots of questions to be answered about HR/payroll, accounting, CRM, billing/traffic, music scheduling, streaming, etc.

Goldman: Regarding legacy networks and equipment, I advise folks not to move too quickly. If the stations are all being consolidated into a new facility, I’d wait until then to make major changes. All involved staffs should have a hand in deciding what brands of equipment are purchased. Some equipment by necessity must be the same, but many equipment items can remain specific to the needs of the individual stations or even specific people, such as preferred production equipment. When deciding on a common equipment platform, like consoles and automation, solicit input from everyone. It may not change the ultimate choice if there’s a company preference, but it may prompt some tweaks to make it more user-friendly to the newcomers on the chosen platform.

RW: There are likely culture differences between the companies. How does a manager handle operational differences?
Smith: Likely, at the outset, the right way to do things, the right way to structure the organization, management wise, and the right level of staffing is pretty much thoroughly ensconced in each organization. Before blindly imposing the right way of doing things on the acquired company, it is very wise to take a good look at how they are doing things and see what positives one might want to incorporate in the new, merged organization, and obviously any negatives that might need to be eliminated. There will certainly be changes, and a lot of them; but letting people know in advance what is being done and, more importantly, why it is being done is critical to buy-in. Without such buy-in, the transition period is doomed to be a rough one.

Laird: Consolidation of best practices in this area should be pursued. Each location should have a list of items that need inspection procedures such as fuel tanks, generators, UPS, building mechanical systems, real property issues, roofs, electrical panels, fire suppression, etc. There should be procedures specific to FCC, such as tower lights, EAS, Part 101 license renewals not associated with the station license. And what about OSHA compliance issues, noise, personal protection, physical hazards and RF exposure? Standardized reporting helps corporate engineering properly oversee technical management responsibilities. This is usually not a big issue with technical personnel, especially if they know they get support when issues arise.

RW: How much time is given to deciding who reports to whom and can you describe the process?
Goldman: Usually, the acquiring company and people associated with the acquiring company take the upper hand in the reporting process. I think it’s simply a trust issue. The corporate staff knows and trusts the local station manager, who knows and trusts the department heads. That’s why I suggest waiting for a while before making any particular staff cuts or organizational changes until more is known about the people coming into the company. Speaking for myself, I have experienced being forced to make decisions before I could properly get to know the new people I was managing. As a result I didn’t make the best choices.

RW: What little things tend to bog you down when planning a merger? From your experiences what potholes can be avoided?
Smith: Trying to focus on the minutiae right out of the box is, I believe, a mistake. That can tie you up in knots and result in noting much of consequence being accomplished.

Laird: Many potholes with technical staff can be avoided by establishing a clear path for technical communication on closing day. The first day communication package is critical for reducing those problems. If there’s a lack of information the void will be filled with bad speculation. Anticipate likely questions by starting a FAQ. Have the org chart available with contact numbers.

Goldman: The biggest potential pothole I’d say that a technical manager must keep in mind when going through a merger is that you must minimize future surprises. Corporate managers really hate surprises. Learn as much as you can as fast as you can about the technical facilities and the people managing those facilities to provide good intelligence and minimize surprises after closing.

Original Article:

Powered by NASH

Cumulus Delivers Country from Nashville.


When you think about Nashville, the first thing that comes to mind is probably music—particularly country music. In 2013, Cumulus launched the NASH brand of country music lifestyle and entertainment programming with NASH FM 94.7 in New York City as the flagship station. In 2014, the NASH brands received new headquarters as Cumulus constructed the NASH campus and studio facilities in the heart of Nashville. The NASH label encompasses a number of brands spanning various multimedia platforms including “America’s Morning Show,” “NASH Nights Live with Shawn Parr,” “American Country Countdown with Kix Brooks,” “Kickin’ It with Kix,” and others. All of these brands originate from the new campus.


Radio magazine interviewed Gary Kline, Director of Engineering for Cumulus about the new facility.

Radio: This truly is a unique facility. Tell me a little bit about some of the main design goals behind the NASH studios.

Kline: The goal was to lay the foundation for a cutting-edge broadcast and production facility to support our NASH brand globally. We intend for this property to become a campus with various production facilities located on our expansive property near downtown Nashville. We wanted the very latest and most modern technology for audio, video, and multimedia production. One of our design goals was to ensure we could distrib- ute and produce high quality HD video, and the very best audio content for broadcast, streaming, web, television, etc. All of this had to be handled in an efficient manner so that we could maximize our production capabilities while retaining the ability to reconfigure and respond to new programming requests quickly. We also incorporated space for our publishing partner, Country Weekly Magazine. They have a full editorial room as well as storage and conference areas.

Radio: Building a new facility always comes with unique challenges—I can imagine the challenges are even greater when building a facility designed for national origination of an entire family of brands. Can you tell me a bit more about some of the challenges that you faced during the design and build process?

Kline: Essentially we gutted the old Citadel facility down to the concrete floors and steel rafters. Before we could do that, however, we had to move WGFX and WKDF over to our other large broadcast facil- ity at Music Circle. WGFX is a sports/talk station with a complex format, and the flagship station for the Titans. Building new studios for them was no small task, and that had to be done before the operation could be moved. The same is true for WKDF. A lot of work had to be done at Music Circle to expand and prepare our existing TDM audio routing system to accommodate the new family members. Hats off to our excellent Nashville engineering team, which handled this large project. Another challenge (after we cleared the building of live broadcast stations) was designing the new layout, which had to accommodate both radio and television studios. We brought in an architect and interior design firm to assist us with this. The design was an iterative process with many meetings to hash things out. The challenge was not only figuring out what went where, but also thinking in terms of the future. For example, we had to make sure we had enough rooms allocated for video and audio production to handle growth over a period of years. Another example was that we installed floor conduits and cable jacks throughout the facility in case, for instance, one day we decide to rearrange the studio furniture. If you pick up the floor rug in Kix’s studio you’ll see what I mean! Oh, one other interesting challenge—one that I think we nailed…Installing multiple monitors and mics without blocking camera angles. Check out Blair’s studio.

Radio: So how long did the project take from initial concept to completion?

Kline: There really were a couple of periods of time here. It is important to note that we built the facility in different phases with Kix’s studio being Phase 1, America’s Morning Show with Blair Garner being Phase 2, and NASH Nights Live being Phase 3. We are working right now on a Phase 4 studio as we are regularly engaged in supporting our brand. That being said, I think it was July of 2012 when we first decided to begin designing the facility. It was then that we hired an interior design firm and began working on plans. We ultimately hired two different architects shortly thereafter. We used two different firms in part because we needed stamped plans, and were seeking guidance on certain construction and design elements. The next step in the process was equipment selection and studio furniture design. By January of 2013 we had a General Contractor on board with plans in hand. In March of 2013, we moved Kix into his beautiful new studio where American Country Countdown and Kickin’ it with Kix is produced. The design, planning, bidding, permitting, and demo work took longer than building the first phase. Once we had all of our ducks in a row it was full steam ahead, not unlike most studio projects. Blair’s studio went online from NASH campus around September of 2013. He broadcast his show from temporary studios at Music Circle until the new studio at the NASH campus was ready. This transition period gave us a chance to work out a lot of bugs before we moved him and his broad- cast crew over to the new studios. NASH Nights Live began broadcasting from their new Phase 3 studio in January of 2014.

Radio: Who were some of the key equipment manufacturers for this project? Choosing from the variety of options out there can be a bit of a chal- lenge. Tell me a bit about the decision process for the equipment on this particular project.

Kline: The audio portion of the facility is handled by an Axia infrastructure using their xNodes for I/O. This approach allowed us maximum flexibility and scalability. We absolutely knew we wanted to build around an IP based system with super flexible GPIO and audio routing capabilities. Using Axia and their Livewire transport allowed us to take advantage of a full broadcast ecosystem. Our VX studio telephone hybrids speak natively to the Axia system, as do our many 25/7 digital delay units. Zephyr ISDN boxes used for guests and backup backhaul also speak Livewire. The automation system used throughout the plant is OP-X. It has been very reliable and speaks directly to Axia using Livewire drivers. The system has various iPad apps for remote control, which we like. APT Oslo frames handle the backhaul to our Westwood One satellite uplink in New York, with ISDN as backup. The APT units run over redundant private and public IP networks, and use Surestream technology to manage that. We also have Intraplex frames with T1 cards. Both the T1 and IP boxes use uncompressed audio. Everything in the plant is AES, and all music is PCM WAV. We literally run linear audio throughout the plant to the uplink. This is not by accident—this is a must for us. Orad provided all of the HD television graphics and switching. We worked very closely with them to integrate their software with our Axia system. For instance, in any studio, the cameras will switch automatically when someone speaks on Mic. If two people are speaking, the system is smart enough to go to a split-screen mode. Of course, you can still switch things manually, but automatic mode lets our producers, board ops, screeners, and video experts focus on other things during the show as needed. Orad is a top-notch company based in Israel. Their graphics package integrates social media such as Facebook and Twitter, which is almost a requirement now for interaction with the audience. Sony provided the PTZ HD broadcast quality cameras. Crestron provided the large video matrix and control system for the many LCD monitors in the studios and throughout the Campus. Omnirax handled all of the custom–very custom–studio furniture. Mika provided the mic and moni- tor arms. Dell and HP provided the many audio, video, storage, and archiving servers. Sadie and Adobe provided much of the editing software.

Radio: These studios are absolutely gorgeous. Attention to detail is important when designing a room with proper studio acoustics—even more so when that studio will be used for video as well. Who did you use for the architectural and studio design?

Kline: Anderson Design handled our interior finishes, consulted on overall layout, and was an integral team member working across all disciplines. For example, studio furniture placement had to be carefully coordinated with regular furniture locations, backdrops, and lighting angles. Kathy Anderson’s firm has handled many major projects for both residential and commercial clients, some very famous folks I can’t mention. Ever been backstage at the Grand Ole Opry? That’s her work. West Construction also contributed to the architecture design, and handled all non-equipment construction. Clair Systems (Clair Brothers) handled most of our lighting and video design and integration. Da- vid Holland at Omnirax, as always, was invaluable with studio furniture design as well as giving advice on line of sight and overall layout. There is much more to studio furniture design than choosing a color and size—When you add TV cameras it gets even crazier. Cumulus engineers from around the country drove and flew to Nashville to wire, build, and configure all of the broadcast gear. It was a team effort.

Radio: I see a few very cool features that stand out to me, including a guitar neck shaped countertop leg in the NASH Nights studio. Tell me a bit about some of the more “unique” features of the facility. Is there anything in particular that you really want to highlight?

Kline: I think the automatic camera switching based on who is speaking is amazing. Our graphics package for video is excellent and very social media friendly. The lighting control can be handled manually using sophisticated lighting controllers, or via our Crestron lighting package. For example, Kix can walk into his room and convert the entire lighting scene to video interview mode by pushing one button. If he hits another button, all the lights return to normal. We provide title and artist data from all playout systems via a special data path to the uplink, and pass that data to the affiliates of our live programs. Blair’s morning show studio is also a live audience performance space. We can accommodate about 17 people in a very comfortable and intimate environment for ei- ther watching the show, or band performances. The entire studio set can be disconnected (via pre-made cable harnesses) and wheeled off the stage. We have an entirely separate digital mixing console and Clair Brothers designed sound system for these events. The band mixer feeds the Axia system for broadcast use. We have a full Creston matrix for video switching. This al- lows monitors in the lobby, green room, studios, wherever, to be remotely set to show a number of different feeds. We can display the TV feed from a studio in one spot while showing CNN somewhere else. A great example of this is in the green room; Artists can hang out and see what’s going on in the studio before they are interviewed. Oh, and we installed a Sonic Ice ma- chine—The real deal. If you want those little pieces of ice, come by. We’ve got them. We have two green rooms: one of them for artists who visit, and the other for the air talent. Did I mention the full basketball court?

Radio: A number of engineers tend to look back at a new facility build and say, “I wish I had done that differently.” You have obviously been involved in a number of facility builds and have learned from those projects, but are there any things that you would change now that the NASH project is complete?

Kline: Yes, and I am changing it. We need a larger generator and UPS system than was there before when Citadel used the property for radio broadcasting only. Work is in progress to upgrade both of these things.

Radio: Thanks for your time, Gary.

Kix Confidential

Man of many talents Kix Brooks moves into his comfortable new studio space for American Country Countdown and keeps his solo career rolling.


Kix Brooks looks quite comfortable in his new studio, seated behind a large trunk-shaped wooden desk where he is tapping on the keys of his Apple notebook. Located in the still-under-construction Cumulus Radio offices in the Rutledge Hill area just south of downtown Nashville, the singer and American Country Countdown host’s new space is warm and inviting, bathed in earthy tones, leather and eye-catching cowboy artifacts. It’s the kind of place you might like to kick off your boots, pour a scotch and settle in for an engaging chat with one of your buddies. Which is exactly what Kix, who has hosted the long-running countdown show for seven years, had in mind when he took over the program from radio legend Bob Kingsley. “Radio studios in general have somewhat of a dentist office attitude. [A] lot of Formica and that’s kind of it,” he says. “Having done a lot of interviews as an artist in those environments, it’s just chilly in general. So I was determined with my first studio to create a living room/cowboy vibe, where people walk in and drop [their] shoulders a little bit.” Maybe it’s that casual, conversational atmosphere that helped Kix win the CMA’s National Broadcast Personality of the Year Award in 2009 and 2011, which he considers a “great honor,” knowing his radio peers voted for him to win.

Kix’s method is merely to make his guests — many of whom are friends and tourmates from his days in Brooks & Dunn—feel comfortable when they visit. “We always sit down and just start talking about family or kids or whatever,” he explains. “I’m always rolling tape. The last thing they always say when we’re done is, ‘When are we gonna start?’” he says with a hearty laugh. “I’m like, ‘We’re done!’ I always tell them, ‘If you say anything that you’re not comfortable with, just give me a call if it comes into mind and don’t worry about that.’  As a result I’ve got a lot of really candid conversations that are special.” Kix admits that when he took over hosting duties in 2006 with the blessing of previous host Bob Kingsley, he had a lot to learn. ABC sent him to ESPN’s interviewing school, where he picked up some important tricks and methods for talking to his guests. Even still, he says, those early days were a bit touch-and- go. “I just cringe at the thought of even how bad it was when I got started. I didn’t even recognize my own voice on the radio!” he says, shaking his head. “And I was doing everything wrong, everything you can think of—every bad way of speaking, so much nervous energy that it was just out of control.

But they stuck with me and I really worked at it, listened to myself a lot, airchecked constantly. I’ve gotten better, and I’ve still got a long way to go but I want to be good at this.” Asked if that’s strange for him, listening back to himself on the radio, Kix says pretty much always. “It’s not unlike singing, when you hear yourself sing in the studio,” he muses. “You think you really killed a take singing and you listen to it and go, ‘Ugh.’” He lets out a laugh, adding a mock-disgusted “‘Gotta do it again.’” The way Kix sees it, the key is just paying attention to his guests and letting the conversation go where it will. “The most important thing about it all is just learning how to listen,” he states, recalling an experience from interviewing school. “You watch so many interviews, and people just had questions on a page and they weren’t listening to what the person was trying to tell them. It’s helped me because I love to talk,” he pauses, laugh- ing at his own expense, “so it’s helped me to sit back and shut up a little bit and to take in what an artist is trying to say and what they’re trying to tell me. Then I may have some questions that are totally different than what I intended to ask originally.”

It’s certainly a craft, like songwriting or playing guitar, that requires practice to master. And Kix, who is still touring and working hard on his post-Brooks & Dunn solo career (see sidebar) as well as being part owner in the Arrington Vineyards winery, has his hands in a lot of pies, so it’s sometimes very difficult. “I’m really jealous of radio personalities who get to do it every day, because Nice digs! The control room is where Lonnie Napier (inset above left) makes all the right cuts. I do a weekly countdown show,” he admits. “I still have my job as a record- ing artist, and I still tour and do other things. I realize when I sit back in that chair that I gotta get my legs back under me. I really respect the people that are great at radio and it really makes me want to be better at it.” It might be stressful, if Kix didn’t love doing it all so much. “Everything I’m doing right now, I’m doing be- cause it’s fun for me,” he says. “I wake up in the morning and just smile at all the stuff I’m gonna get to do every day. I pop that calendar open and it’s a full schedule, but I’m like, ‘OK, OK.’ It’s all good stuff.” With that, he returns back to his desk, looking comfortable as ever as he bangs out another e-mail.

Introducing Levi’s Lounge

Unzipped Staff | Levi Strauss & Co. March 25, 2016

Whether you’re rocking out to your favorite indie group at your local bar or swaying to Springsteen at an arena, Levi’s® is often the uniform of choice for fans and bands alike.
The Levi’s® brand is at its best when it’s at the center of culture. And now it’s set to hit center stage.
Enter the Levi’s® Lounge, a performance space just a few blocks from the Levi Strauss & Co. San Francisco headquarters. The space is brought to you by our own iconic brand and Cumulus Media, a leader in the radio broadcasting industry.
“As the original jeans brand, we stand for authentic self-expression, and music is our means of celebrating that and driving cultural relevance,” Levi’s® CMO Jen Sey said. “It’s a natural fit for Levi’s® because artists with original and authentic voices — from Bruce Springsteen to The Ramones, Kurt Cobain to Classixx, Debbie Harry to Haim — choose to wear Levi’s®. The Levi’s® Lounge gives us yet another opportunity to showcase and partner with musicians with original voices.”

The lounge has an authentic Levi’s® brand feel, with mood lighting, dark denim walls, comfortable lounge furniture and photographs of iconic artists and athletes in classic Levi’s® attire. It will provide an intimate branded space to host exclusive events and private concert experiences for listeners of the local Cumulus radio stations over the next few months.
The Levi’s® Lounge officially opened its doors on Thursday with an intimate performance by legendary rockers Cheap Trick as they prepare for the April 1 release of Bang Zoom Crazy… Hello, their 17th studio album, to be followed one week later by their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Other confirmed acts include Pete Yorn (April 16) and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros (June 11).
Follow @LEVIS to catch all the highlights.

Five Questions: Gary Kline

Gary Kline is senior vice president of engineering for Cumulus Media Inc. He is been intimately involved with the enormous growthof the group owner over the last several years. He took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to provide detailed answers to Five Questions.

TechBytes: Who are you and how did you get to where you are today?
Gary Kline: I’m a guy who grew up in New York City and was always fascinated by radio. I loved listening to radio programs from other states late at night and fell in love with the medium. Growing up listening to New York City radio in the ’70s and ’80s was what shaped my future and set me on radio career that continues today. That “hobby” and fascination led to making my own 8-track and cassette tapes pretending to be a DJ by the time I was 10. I still have a collection of 45s in my garage from those sessions.

By 13 I had my ham license and was playing with my first computer. By 17 I was applying for an internship at NBC/30 Rock in radio promotions department (I got it). By 18 I was hired as an engineer there and readying to go to college for a degree in business. I helped pay my way through school by being an on-air talent and ultimately becoming a radio engineer in the Midwest. By 21 I was working at ABC Radio News in Manhattan, which just a few years ago, I was reunited with when Cumulus purchased Citadel. It was heartwarming to work again with some of the folks I had known for so many years.

My entire career has been centered around radio, mostly engineering or engineering management but I have also been on-air, in general management, and programming. I started with Cumulus almost 16 years ago as a contractor/consultant and worked my way up the ladder, as they say. I am very driven, very much in love with our business, and never stopped wanting to learn more, do more, and improve upon the way we do things.

Things have changed since touching my first piece of tape on the 9th floor at 30 Rock and that’s required a constant process to stay ahead of the game — both from a technology and management standpoint. Transmitters and studios are just one mode of transmission these days. Streaming, video, web, satellite, etc. are all integral parts of the job. If I had stayed focused on just a few things I know I wouldn’t have the job I have today.

TechBytes: How has the broadcast engineering plant and practice changed since you started?
Kline: Well, as I was just saying in my response to the previous question, things have changed, a better word might be expanded, quite a bit. To be fair, some principles of broadcast engineering have remained the same. We generally have studios which feed transmitters which feed radios. But the gear we use, the method in which it is all connected, and the various transmission methods have changed dramatically. Almost all plants are digital or have some form of digital in them. Playback origination is almost entirely digital in nature. Audio routing and connectivity is going towards an IP based plant more and more every day.

At Cumulus our standard studio design calls for AOIP in every buildout. Transmitters are highly technical now with footprints way smaller than we could imagine — think 10 kW boxes in just a few rack spaces. Audio processing is so far advanced from what it was 30, 20, 10, even just five years ago. Engineers typically handle way more than they did before. That now includes, streaming, Web, sophisticated and integral IT support, video, complex live remotes, etc. When I started we used Martis for remotes. Today we use iPhones and 4G. We didn’t even have cellphones when I started.

Engineering overall has transitioned to more of a media engineering job. We manage media plants. We just completed a complete studio and facility buildout in downtown San Francisco. We’ve described our rack room there as a “data center” that passes audio.

TechBytes: Cumulus has been in acquisition mode over the last few years. Tell us about trying to get the disparate elements onto the same Cumulus engineering page.
Kline: This could be an article all on its own. I think the short answer is that we have strong systems in place. We have systems for management, for purchase approvals both operating and CapEx, for engineering management (i.e. a strong regional engineering team), for engineering standards, for vendor selection and interaction, etc. I would also say that we’ve done a number of acquisitions over the years both small/medium and large and have experience with what needs to happen: everything from back office to engineering, legal, diligence, etc. Good systems and back office structure goes a long way. We have standardized billing and CRM systems as well as music scheduling, automation, and HR applications. Couple that with strong engineering processes and the disparate elements come together.

Some things happen on Day One and others take more time. I am very respectful, in our engineering world, of the systems and methods another engineer may have put in place. If we acquire a cluster that’s had the same engineer for many years and he or she has their way of doing things, to the extent we can learn from them and tap into their knowledge, I am all for it. I and my team have learned an awful lot over the years by walking into rack rooms and studios and transmitters sites across the country. There’s lots of great innovation and creativity out there. We have high standards at Cumulus but that doesn’t mean everything must go. I think the combination of working standards and a seasoned plan of action along with a case by case review of the engineering in a particular market is what gets everyone on the same page.

TechBytes: Does Cumulus management provide enough resources for the engineering plant/do you have strong influence with corporate managers?
Kline: I report directly to Lew Dickey, our CEO. There is no red tape. There is no mid-level management. We roll our sleeves up every day and get down to work. I work hand-in-hand with the senior managers on the corporate team and I think it is fair to say we have a high degree of trust amongst each other as well as respect. There is a lot of responsibility that comes with sitting in this chair and there is equally a lot of responsibility in their respective chairs. I understand what our sales and revenue team as well as programming department must go through each day and I know how important it is to them that all of our signals operate at 100% every minute of every day. That includes not only our over-the-air signals but our streaming and satellite services under our Westwood One group.

I am based in Atlanta and, while I travel often, am here a few days each week. Every Friday I meet with the finance team. Every Monday I meet with the entire corporate programming department and go over any technical issues from their point of view listening to reports from every single station in the company. There are very few reported issues each week fortunately but this is an example of how we all work together.

You asked about strong influence. I think of it as strong relationships. If I need something done, I get it done with the help of my peers. And when someone needs something from me or my team, I am there for them. We communicate often, sometimes several times a day, to ensure things run smoothly and folks in the field get answers and the help they need. It is a constant process that requires focus every day of the week. The resources to get the job done are there. In this new economy, the key is to be creative and smart.

TechBytes: Where does Cumulus recruit its engineering talent from? Does Cumulus have any programs for the recruitment and training of young engineers?
Kline: Well, as everyone reading this knows, it is very hard to find unemployed top-notch engineering talent. They are not just sitting around. It takes effort and great networking. Luckily, I have engineers spread all over the country. Through that network we know of a lot of people and a lot of people know us. There’s also a strong pool of IT and tech-savvy prospects out there that we tap into when and where appropriate. You know the saying: “You should always be recruiting, even if you have no opening.” I am always recruiting. So are my team members. We have our eyes open all the time.

We also believe in promoting from within. We train constantly and have filled positions internally when possible. We’ve trained a number of our engineers on everything from RF maintenance to digital studio installs to network routing design. RF, digital, analog, Cisco, automation, desktop support, AOIP, live mixing, etc. We’ve kept the rental companies and airlines busy the past few years moving engineers around from one project to another for hands on learning as well.

I am on the national board of the SBE and believe strongly in their education programs and certification processes. I think that what Larry Wilkins (a former Cumulus engineer) is doing with the ABA [Alabama Broadcasters Association Engineering Academy] is magnificent. In fact, our newest engineering hire in Atlanta is attending class there as I write this — another promotion from within and from our promotions/remote department. We’ll turn him into a great staff engineer and hopefully someday, a great chief engineer.

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Cumulus Media Settles In at New NTOC

Company focuses the design of its new 10,000-square-foot facility entirely on the needs of distribution

Scott Fybush | Jan 12, 2015

Brian Wilson, Greg Monti and Bob Mack, from left, are shown in front of the rack room at the Cumulus/Westwood One TOC in Purchase, N.Y.PURCHASE, N.Y. — You can’t see it amidst the neat wiring and gleaming surfaces of Cumulus Media Networks/Westwood One’s new network technical operations center north of New York City, but there is plenty of history underlying the facility that’s celebrating its first anniversary.

When Cumulus moved to its new home in an office park in Purchase, Westchester County, it closed out almost 30 years of network operations in ABC’s historic facility at 125 West End Avenue on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. By 2011, a series of ownership changes — first Citadel’s purchase of ABC Radio from Disney and then Cumulus’ acquisition of Citadel — had turned the former ABC Radio technical operations center into the New York hub for Cumulus. The aging plant and Cumulus’ status as a tenant in a Disney/ABC-owned building made relocation a priority.

“It was fairly obvious we needed a new plant that switched audio over IP,” says Bob Mack, vice president of engineering. “What did take a lot of time was figuring out where to build it.”

Master Control Operator Angel Bourdon is in the new Purchase network technical operations center. Even in a city with as much commercial real estate as New York, Mack says it was surprisingly challenging to find space that met all of Cumulus’ specialized needs: access to multiple fiber providers, southern sightlines for satellite reception and 24/7 cooling and power supply. To meet union requirements, the new master control had to be within a 25-mile radius of the old West End Avenue plant.

“A lot of places met most of those objectives, but not all of them,” said Mack, recalling what turned out to be several months of visits to more than 40 buildings scattered through all five boroughs of New York City, northern New Jersey, Long Island and Westchester County. Among their stops, the quest took the team out to the Lodi, N.J., transmitter site of WABC(AM), where Cumulus inherited space that had been used to store and maintain ABC Sports remote trucks — and where field-strength meters showed several volts’ worth of RF field strength from the nearby 50 kW transmitter.

Gary Kline, Cumulus’ vice president of engineering and information technology, sent Mack and Greg Monti, senior VP of operations and engineering, out to examine data centers in hopes of finding the right combination of fiber, cooling and power. That ended up leading to undesirable rent structures — “data centers charge by the watt, not by the square foot,” Monti notes — but it did get the Cumulus team on the right path to the site they needed.

“You want to find the promised land, you follow the fiber,” Mack says. That thread of glass led up to the I-287 corridor across Westchester County, 20 miles north of the city, where multiple fiber providers all converge to link New England to New York City and points beyond.

“We have better connectivity here than we had at West End Avenue,” Monti says of the Purchase location, which is served by six fiber providers.

Look, Ma, (almost) no wires! Each codec connects to the router with a single Cat-6 cable. This is a far cry from the nest of wiring found in the previous NTOC.MOVING ON

Unlike the old ABC space, which put the network master control at the center of a floor filled with studios and the ABC Radio newsroom, Cumulus was able to focus the design of its new 10,000-square-foot facility entirely on distribution. Visitors enter into a hallway alongside a wall of windows looking into the rack room that makes up the heart of the facility. In Manhattan, master control operators worked right in the rack room, scurrying back and forth among the racks to check on incoming feeds, dial up ISDN connections and move patches around in bays. But times have changed: Now that codecs and satellite receivers can all be controlled remotely by IP and patch bays are a thing of the past, Cumulus Corporate Engineer Michael Gay was able to separate the control room from the rack room. Operators in Purchase enjoy outside light from a wall of windows behind them; in front of the Omnirax furniture that fills the control room, another wall of windows looks across a hallway into the rack room.

When it came time to decide how to fill the rack room, one decision was easy: Mack and Monti say there was no question the new facility would continue to use the Harris (now Imagine Communications) automation that had been at the heart of the old Manhattan plant, where it was originally installed under the McCurdy brand name in the 1980s. In Westchester, the Harris Series D automation serves as the ringmaster to control systems that may be more familiar to a typical radio station: Axia’s Livewire audio over IP system transports audio around the plant through a Cisco 4510 router. Netia automation stores and plays out audio, and Telos, Comrex and Harris Intraplex IP and ISDN codecs bring in live audio from the dozens of providers who distribute their programming through this facility. (Instead of trying to get new telco-based ISDN service, which is becoming more challenging, the plant uses T1s through Adtran modules to generate its own ISDN service.)

Behind the racks, Radio Systems’ StudioHub connections tie everything together through 48-jack panels of Cat-6 connections back to the router. “You never have to pull a wire,” Mack boasts of a plant designed so that analog audio never travels more than seven feet before hitting a digital node. Axia’s iPorts extend connectivity to locations outside the building, including Cumulus Media Networks’ production center in Dallas, which can also serve as a backup network TOC in an emergency. Dallas is one of two uplink points; it and the main uplink in nearby Stamford, Conn., are both fed directly by fiber from Purchase. There’s a 750 kVA generator serving the building, and more than six hours of UPS capacity before the generator even needs to kick in.

Brian Wilson, senior director of technical operations, highlighted the capabilities of the AoIP system. For instance, with the ability to switch 200 audio buses, “we need silence sensing,” Wilson says. “You’ve got one guy in master control, and we need to be able to pinpoint where there’s a problem.” In Manhattan, that meant a forest of hardware-based silence sensors all wired back to warning lights in master control. In Purchase, it’s done virtually through Axia, which creates its own software-based silence sensors.

Wilson and the Cumulus team studied the workflow at West End Avenue to determine how to lay out the new master control in Purchase, with an eye toward providing as much control as possible to operators without ever having to leave their desk.

Greg Monti and Bob Mack look at the codecs that deliver programming from outside producers to the Purchase network technical operations center.TOP CREW

It’s an experience Wilson and his management colleagues got to take on firsthand as construction was underway. After the site search wrapped up in the summer of 2012, a year passed while the space was readied for occupancy and equipment was purchased. Cumulus went on a crash course in the summer of 2013 to build out its new plant, bringing in six to eight engineers at a time from local Cumulus stations as far away as Dallas, Houston and Reno to work in shifts alongside vendors and a systems integrator to get everything in place and wired up.

“We had a whole crew of the best and brightest chief engineers Cumulus had to offer,” Mack says. “Everyone was given a plan and told, ‘Do it,’ and that’s when the cardboard started to fly.”

By September of 2013, the first services were beginning to originate from Purchase, but Cumulus needed to continue to staff the Manhattan master control as well. So while the regular master control staff did their jobs in New York, it was up to Mack, Monti and Wilson to keep up a 24/7 rotation among themselves to oversee the new facility in Purchase.

Wilson says it was a valuable experience to be back in the operator’s chair where he’d spent his first 15 years with ABC. “As systems change, there’s nothing like sitting in the seat, answering the phones, to evaluate the workflow.”


Courtesy of Bob Mack, here are the “main equipment pillars” for the Purchase network technical operations center:

• Process and control automation: Imagine Communications (Harris) D-Series automation
• Audio and GPIO switching: Axia Audio
• Audio content management and storage: Netia
• ASI transport: Evertz
• Satellite Distribution: XDS
• Servers: Dell
• Switches: Cisco
• Backhaul equipment, importing audio and control from other locations: Axia iPort, Telos xStream and Z/IP, Comrex Access, APT Oslo WorldNet IP, Harris IP100, Harris Intraplex, CCS Suprima

Wilson, Monti and Mack spent more than two months on full-time master control duty at Purchase, all while working to move more services from Manhattan to Westchester. By December 2013, the last of Cumulus’ clients had been relocated, the West End Avenue facility was closed down and the master control operators were settling into their new home in Purchase — just in time for another big change.

Its merger with Westwood One means more than just a new sign on the door outside the Purchase NTOC. Inside, the services Westwood One had been offering on its IDC satellite system, including CBS Radio News, were transitioned to the Cumulus XDS system, though the existing Westwood/CBS TOC also remained in place in the CBS Broadcast Center in Manhattan. But, it should be noted, that at the start of 2015, Westwood One will begin distributing Westwood One News, a customized news service powered by CNN, cutting the last of its ties with the ABC network that was once the cornerstone of the operation.

Scott Fybush is a long-time contributor to Radio World.

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