Reviving NASCAR Radio

August 1, 2008

In 1988 I received a call from Performance Racing Network's new manager, Doug Rice. He wanted me to take a look at the equipment PRN had at the time. I found a mixer with bad inputs, a reel-to-reel tape recorder that tended to drag, two cart machines, and an old footlocker full of equipment in various states of repair.

Studio 1, across the glass from control room 1, uses the rich wood and bright colors to welcome visitors to the facility.

Control room 1 also serves as the technical operations center.

Control room 2 is a mirror image of control room 1.

Control room 2 counter with producer's turret.

Like the control rooms, production room 1 and production room 2 are mirror images of each other.

In those days PRN only broadcast the NASCAR races at Lowes Motor Speedway, so its technical needs were relatively small. The engineer at that time, Bill Files, had very limited resources. He did the best with what he had, often home brewing headphone amps and other devices that either weren't available commercially or considered too expensive.

Under Rice's leadership, PRN has grown tremendously through the years. In 1993, PRN added a weekly call-in talk show, hosted by 1972 NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion Benny Parsons, who passed away in 2007. That show was produced in the Lowes Motor Speedway's 7th floor conference room using equipment we had to set up every Monday. In 1996, a small studio was built, and additional shows were added. A small production studio was added in 2000.

Today PRN produces four weekly talk shows, a daily four-minute news program and a two-hour NASCAR-themed country music program. PRN also broadcasts the NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series races at the six other tracks owned by parent company Speedway Motorsports (SMI).

Make a move

By 2006, PRN needed additional studio space. At first the plan was to move into an existing office space, utilizing as much of the original structure as possible. As the project progressed, it became clear the existing space was going to need a good bit of work. The CEO of SMI, O. Bruton Smith, placed the project in the hands of Jim Guess with SMI Development. The architectural firm AI Design Group was brought in to completely redesign the space.

Architect Ron Culpepper had vast experience designing space that required excellent acoustics. Ron was able to layout rooms that met PRN's need for two studios, two control rooms and two production rooms within the amount of space allowed. He was also able to build in acoustic treatments that made the studios sound much better than the old one, and Culpepper pulled off the magic within our budget.

With the floor plan in place, it was time to purchase furniture and equipment. After looking over different console systems and consulting with a number of studio integrators, PRN chose Sierra Automated Systems for consoles and RAM Systems as the integrator.

The SAS system is a versatile router that allows for audio devices to be shared among all the studios. Talkback and intercom functions are built into the system, it is also easily expandable for future needs.

RAM Systems was able to completely integrate design, installation and construction of control room furniture. Owner Ron Mitchell along with his team, Dave Dybas, Bob Larson, Bill Ryan and Rich Anderson were onsite for the installation.

Different but the same

Control rooms one and two are virtually identical, as are production one and two. Each has an SAS Rubicon SL console and a Rio Link. Because of space limitations, control room one is also the technical operation center (TOC) where the SAS 32KD routing switcher is located. All the Rio Links connect back to the 32KD.

The ability to produce multiple live shows at the same time was a necessity. Each control room has two Telos Xstreams ISDN codecs. One is a program line, fed by an Eventide BD600 delay and a DBX 1066 compressor/limiter. We connect to ABC Satellite Services in New York, which distributes our programming. The other Xstream is for occasional remote feeds.

Each room has a Telos Twox12 phone system equipped with ISDN capability. Each mic is fed through a DBX mic processor. The 360 Systems Digicart E is used for commercial and sound bite playback. Adobe Audition is used with each computer for audio editing and production.

The studios have five mic positions. Electro Voice RE-27 microphones were the preferred choice, along with Mika mic arms with an on-air indicator. Each position has the ability to talk back to the producer in the control room. Computer monitors are set up so the host and guests can both see the Telos Assistant Producer call screening system. The host also has access to the Internet at his position to retrieve quick updates.

The production rooms also have Telos Xstreams. Telos phone interfaces from the old studio are being used in each production room. The TOC includes a Comrex Matrix with both POTS and ISDN capability as well as a Tieline Commander with IP connectivity. An ESE master clock provides time code to slave clocks in each studio.

The new PRN studios were built with the future in mind. As the network adds additional programming, the platform of the SAS System will allow for expandability as needed.

The transition to the new studio has not been without its challenges, but fortunately, those have been minor. The improvement in the sound of the studios and the versatility of the equipment has made the transition well worthwhile. That old footlocker that held the equipment back in 1988 is nowhere to be found.

Equipment List

360 Systems Digicart E
Adobe Audition 3.0
Comrex Matrix
DBX 1066, 286A
Dorrough 1200
E-V RE-27N/D
Eventide BD600
Fostex 6301B, RM-2
Henry Engineering Matchbox HD
RAM SPC2000, furniture
SAS Riolink, Rubicon, 32KD
Tannoy Reveal 6
Tascam DV-D01U, MD-350, 322
Telos Zephyr Xstream, 2101, Assistant Producer
Tieline Commander
Yellowtec Mika

Hamrick is a contract engineer in Mooresville, NC.

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