Built before the birth of radio, the historic home of a public radio pioneer now has a cutting-edge core: This summer, Louisville Public Media completed a $7 million infrastructure upgrade and put a fresh face on their storied station.
|LPM’s music library does double duty as its green room.
In 1950, the mayor of Louisville Kentucky and the director of the Louisville Free Public Library launched the city’s first public radio outlet, 89.3 WFPL, as a single 10-watt FM station. The launch predated the first National Public Radio broadcast by 20 years and the Public Broadcasting Act by 17 years.
In 1993, the station made history by becoming the first public broadcasting entity to have three stations under the same management. Their current lineup includes 89.3 WFPL News, 91.9 WFPK triple-A/indie and 90.5 WUOL, the city’s only classical music radio station.
In 2008, the organization changed its name from the Public Radio Partnership to Louisville Public Media, and in 2013, LPM launched the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.
LPM moved to its current home in 2000. Though the exterior of the building has endured for more than 200 years, this was the second interior renovation the building has undergone since LPM relocated to the site.
The first renovation happened after a fire broke out in the building immediately prior to LPM’s scheduled move, gutting the interior. All that remained was the charred shell of what was once the Louisville Electric Company.
In fact, the front of the building is still adorned with hundreds of light sockets, according to Luckett & Farley Senior Architect Paul Sirek, who served as the project architect for the building’s most recent renovation.
|Edit Room A (WFPL news) features a Wheatstone sideboard, the Equator D5s and the Telos V-set 6.
“Once you start seeing [the light sockets], you’re like, ‘holy cow,’” Sirek says.
The station is situated only a few blocks from the historic main street of the city and only steps away from an old theater. Sirek, whose office at Luckett and Farley is only two blocks from LPM, knows the area well.
“Then you look down to The Palace,” he says, “and on the marquee they have a hundred or so lights — you know, the old historic marquee — and you’re just like, man, this whole street must have just been alive.”
Sirek was excited about the opportunity to redesign the station. “LPM holds a special place in the heart of those living and working in Louisville,” he said. “That in and of itself made our involvement in the project special.”
REDESIGN AND REORGANIZATION
LPM Chief Technology Officer Charles Spivey contracted Luckett & Farley to do a complete redesign and renovation of the facility. Spivey, Technical Operations Manager Russell Wells, Production Assistants Brad Yost and Robert Johnson and other members of the staff helped with ideas for the design.
|Technical Operations Manager Russell Wells poses for a “selfie” in the master control room.
Their vision included new offices upstairs, an expanded newsroom, a larger lobby, an updated performance studio, a new music library, new equipment and updated studios. LPM has three on-air studios, one flexible talk studio, three full-feature production studios, three edit bays and two voice booths.
Work began on the renovation in mid-2016 with a reorganization of the second and third floor spaces “to create a more open office environment,” Sirek says.
Sirek designed a music library that actually resembles a traditional library. He says they considered using moving shelves, but LPM wanted a dual-purpose space, that could function as both a music library and a green room for performers and on-air guests. LPM has a huge library of records and CDs, and they wanted to showcase them.
“That’s kind of a cool space for bands to come in and be warming up and be like, ‘hey, look at this cool music that Louisville Public Media has,’” he said.
He gave a “refresh” to the existing performance studio and expanded the lobby to accommodate event hosting and audience queuing for live performances. To make room for the lobby, they had to consolidate and relocate the existing equipment room with the systems on the air.
“We had some hiccups with that, but I think that, overall, we ended up where we needed to be,” Sirek says. “Part of what saved us was that we were replacing all of the equipment, so while some dust did get into the existing equipment, it was never an excessive amount that took the stations down,” he said.
|WFPK Studio 1 with Wheatstone LX-24 and VX drop-in and ENCO DAD.
The studio renovations were done last, beginning in March 2017, and the final rooms were complete and online by mid-June. Sirek changed the layout of a couple of the studios.
“We took one studio completely offline as a studio space, and we turned it into a smaller performance studio for WUOL,” Sirek said. “In the past, they had set up in the studio to do live on air stuff, and the space just wasn’t really conducive to that. So we took one studio and made it into a smaller performance studio for those kind of events.”
The studio furniture was supplied by Vince Fiola at Studio Technology and installed by another local company, Chapel-Romanoff Technologies.
CRT Project Foreman Doug Rigsbee says that the project went smoothly, but working around LPM’s schedule presented a challenge. Because they had to maintain continual operations during the build, Sirek scheduled the studio renovations in pairs, taking one production studio and one live studio down together for about two weeks at a time in what he calls a “leap-frog,” designed to maintain continuity of operations. They had to work evenings and weekends to meet deadlines.
Rigsbee directed the removal of the existing analog broadcast system, as well as the installation of new equipment and network infrastructure, an in-house background music system and conference room AV systems.
|The performance studio control room features a Midas M32 and Equator D5 monitor speakers.
CRT Engineer Mark Cohea worked with Wheatstone Sales Engineer Phil Owens to create design documents for the project.
LPM was already running Wheatstone D500 consoles in the studios, some of the first of that series to go into operation, according to Owens. “I believe they had serial numbers 3, 4, 5 and 6.”
They stayed with Wheatstone, in part because of familiarity of operation and ease of transition for the operators.
Wells told them, “It’s like a rental car.” When you first get in “some things are a little different, but you know how to drive it. Don’t worry about what’s under the hood.”
They upgraded to a Wheatstone Blade-3 network with 37 blades accommodating 192 digital and 148 analog inputs and outputs. The new system utilizes LX24 consoles in the air studios and in one production room. The other two production rooms use L12 boards. The talk studio has an L8 board, and the edit bays are using Sideboards. Wells kept the legacy Denon 635 CD players for the classical station because he needed a unit with the ability to program track order. That studio uses CDs during locally hosted programming. He installed a Stanton C.402 CD player in the WFPK studio. The VOIP phone system is a Telos VX, and the air studios have drop-in hybrids designed for the Wheatstone consoles. They also have one Telos Zephyr ISDN codec, one Comrex Access and six Barix Instreamers, two per station, for streaming. The final system Blade-3 AES output is sample rate converted from 44.1 khz to 48 khz prior to transmission.
|Kathi Lincoln in the WFPL studio. Custom furniture by Studio Technology.
LPM runs a dedicated fiber loop for all three stations to an STL transmit point, at the top of a building about a block south of the station, for microwave radio shots to their transmitter site on top of Floyds Knobs in Indiana. The STLs are tried and true Moseley PCL 6000s. The three main transmitters, upgraded in 2015, are all Nautels: A GV15 for News; a GV10 for Classical; and a GV3.5 for the AAA station. They have one legacy Harris transmitter that they use as a single backup for the three mains.
The old system included an SAS 64000 routing system interconnected through a punch down wall, and an ENCO automation system that was running on Windows XP. LPM upgraded the automation to ENCO DAD.
However, because LPM does not have an engineer on staff, once the installation was complete, the task of configuring the new system fell to Russell Wells.
“I had to rewrite every command cut to control Wheatstone,” he said. He had very little programming experience before the upgrade, so he relied heavily on help from Wheatstone.
Wells was the board operator when WFPL went live for their first pledge drive after the upgrade. Everything went smoothly, but he wanted to be there to witness the start of this new chapter in the annals of Louisville radio history.
Sirek, a sustaining member, was surely listening.
“They are always on my radio. I listen to them all the time,” Sirek said. And he’s hopeful that the lights on LPM’s historic facade will come back on someday. “I’d love to see it lit back up.”
Judy Bandstra is a broadcast engineer with nearly 20 years of experience in radio and TV.