radio programming was once a staple part of radio entertainment. This
style of radio carries the listener into the story through a sonic
canvas to create the mental imagery. GAP Digital, a recording facility
in the Chicago suburb of Wheaton, thrives on creating long-form radio
dramas and talking books for radio. The facility recently underwent a
complete redesign and rebuild to make the most efficient use of its
space and take advantage of newer equipment choices and their
The 3,000 square-foot facility houses three unique control rooms,
two studios, a central machine room, and client lounge and support
areas. The three control rooms are designed for very different
applications, as the designs show.
The two-story building has a history in radio. The previous tenant
operated a radio production facility. When the owner decided to sell
the building, he wanted it to remain a recording facility, and Todd
Busteed, owner and chief engineer of GAP Digital, was eager to continue
The existing facilities worked, but they were not the best they
could be for their desired use. GAP called on Walters-Storyk Design
Group for help. WSDG was chosen because of the company's reputation and
its attention to a facility's aesthetics. Then the work of determining
GAP's needs and evaluating the physical space began.
GAP Digital president Todd Busteed at
work in Control Room A
When a complete redesign is proposed, it is common for the designer
to step in and begin from scratch. A fresh start removes the
constraints that may be a result of designing something based on the
way it's always done. GAP Digital began at this point. But after
determining the limiting factors, such as door and entry locations, and
structural pillar positions, it was realized that the existing layout
was nearly the best it could have been. Nothing was taken for granted
with the old design. With a few modifications from the old design, the
new plans were set.
While the layout proved workable, everything else went. The entire
space was stripped to bare concrete and steel. The studio space is in
the basement area of the building. This space has concrete foundations
that are one foot thick. While this mass and its partially underground
location were an asset to the facility's immunity to outside sound, one
additional step was taken to eliminate any unwanted sound or vibration
of the outside world from getting in. All live spaces were floated,
mechanically separating them from the rest of the building. The main
concern was the Union Pacific rail line that passes within 96 feet of
the facility. Now that the construction is complete, the trains run on
time, but they are never heard or felt within the GAP studios.
The facility's attention to aesthetics
helps make performers more at ease and fosters creativity.
In business since 1980, GAP Digital has created scores of radio
dramas, including programs based on classic stories such as Victor
Hugo's Les Miserables, C. S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia,
and George Eliot's Silas Marner. The facility is currently
producing 144 half-hour episodes of a drama series titled Left
Behind, which is based on the best-selling book series of the same
name. Left Behind is being broadcast on more than 700 radio
A view of the rooms
One design goal was to create a functional space, while providing a
stage for the performers. Because of their lively sound, the old
studios required the radio drama performers to be separated by gobos.
This created small spaces where the performers were restricted and
sometimes were not free to interact or express themselves fully. Even
though radio dramas are being produced, there is a level of physical
interaction and expression that accompanies any performance.
The three control rooms all serve specific purposes. Control Room A
looks into the performance studio. Control Room B looks into the foley
and radio drama studio. Control Room C is a composition studio where
original music scores and tracks are created.
GAP Digital in action.
During the facility reconstruction, GAP's business had to continue
uninterrupted. This required some temporary accommodations to be
created and moved during the process. Control Rooms A and C were the
first to be completed.
Control Room A and its studio are the primary tracking rooms in the
facility. In addition to the actor VO sessions, music and walla (or
crowd backgrounds) are recorded here. The control room is also set up
to support audio for video production. For viewing ease, the 44 inch
plasma screen can be lowered to a position squarely in front of the
console. The control room itself is basically symmetrical, allowing an
accurate listening environment for the producer and engineer. The back
of the room is designed to accommodate guests.
While it is behind the surround monitors, the staff has been
surprised at how guests still get a sense of the surround field. Also
found in the back of the room is the first major break from symmetry in
the room. Designer John Storyk wanted to apply flair and personality in
this less acoustically critical space. This was accomplished
dramatically with a curved, built-in couch.
Control Room B and its studio occupy a smaller space. The approach
used in designing this control room and studio was more like that of a
film post-production facility than a traditional radio facility. The
studio can comfortably hold about six people at one time. The studio
also doubles as a foley stage and custom sound design studio for the
radio dramas and has a closet in which to house the equipment needed
for this function. With so many possible sound effects needed for any
production, it is not practical to purchase a sound effects library to
cover all the needs. Most of the sounds are custom created for their
To accommodate these functions, the back wall opens, revealing
storage for every conceivable type of material and device, including
various fabrics, switches, latches and knobs, for the creation of
custom sounds. The floor design incorporates covered pits containing
sand, gravel, leaves, concrete, and other surfaces used in the process
of walking foley.
Most of the audio tracking is done from Studio A, primarily because
it is a larger space, and it is better suited for performance use.
Studio A can accommodate about 15 performers.
Variation on radio
Traditional radio drama, the foundation on which GAP Digital has
built the dramatic audio production style, typically captured
everything live. The complexity of the newer format necessitates the
use of automation. For this, GAP Digital chose Sony's DMX-R100
The entire facility occupies just 3,000
square feet of space.
Each studio has input panels that feed each control room, so any
studio can house performers for any control room. In addition, the Sony
console is capable of routing audio sources from the rack room, so
there are limitless possibilities of distributing audio resources
throughout the facility.
As GAP's business grows, there are plans to occupy the upstairs
portion of the building. The additional 3,000 square feet is currently
being used for traditional office space, but when it is converted, it
will undoubtedly add a new dimension to GAP's business.
First two photos by Dave DeJong, Chicago.
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