Building the New Guild

June 1, 2008

Outside the Paley Center for Media.
Photo by Norman McGrath

Outside the Paley Center for Media. Photo by Norman McGrath

Anyone who loves pre-recorded entertainment will appreciate a visit to the world of broadcasting from yesterday and today at the Paley Center for Media.

More than 140,000 programs are available at the Paley Center. Visitors daily tune into radio broadcasts from the 1920s, watch news from the 1950s, and view classic television that spans from The Honeymooners to The Simpsons. Educational programs that explore and celebrate the creativity and innovations of those who shaped media can be experienced in the Paley Center's theaters and screening rooms.

In 1975 broadcast pioneer and CBS mogul William S. Paley founded the Museum of Broadcasting at 1 East 53rd St. in Manhattan. His intention was to collect and preserve historic broadcast programming that reflected American culture and make it accessible to the public. Programs were chosen that demonstrated artistic achievement, social impact or historical significance. The name changed to the Museum of Television and Radio in 1990 and the institute moved to 25 West 52nd St. In 2007 it became the Paley Center for Media to reflect the ongoing changes in the media landscape. The collection has since continued to expand and the center has grown into a cultural destination.


The Paley Center is located inside a 16-story building in midtown Manhattan and is a one-stop shopping experience for everything broadcast-related. Educational shows and classic TV are presented in the Mark Goodson Theater on the second floor, the Annenberg Foundation Screening and Education Room, and two smaller screening rooms. To keep things fresh, the productions change daily. There may be compilations like Funny Women of Television or episodes of The Muppet Show, The Simpsons and the Carol Burnett Show. Historic footage, such as the Frost/Nixon interviews also regularly appear on the screens.

Ian Larkin engineering a session at the Ralph Guild Studio.

Ian Larkin engineering a session at the Ralph Guild Studio.

Live bands perform in the Concourse Theater on the lower level in front of an audience of 200. Some events are recorded, and Web surfers can view them on Yahoo TV and the Paley Center homepage. The Goodson Theater seats 90 and is ideal for small shows. WFAN's Mike and the Mad Dog afternoon sports show broadcast live from the Goodson Theater in December, 2007. The extra space was needed for television cameras.

On the fifth floor is the Ralph Guild Radio Listening Room. In here, visitors wearing private headsets can hear audio clips and radio programs. Selector boxes are used to choose from five programmed channels featuring different series that highlight the diverse themes of the collection. A Toast to Dean Martin, Salute to Sonheim and Black Radio: Telling It Like It Was are three of the many programs that can currently be heard.

In 1992 a unique radio studio was built inside the Ralph Guild Listening Room. It was funded by award-winning radio veteran and then Chairman of the Board Ralph C. Guild. Visiting broadcasters now had the ability to conduct remote broadcasts and out-of-town interviews from the Center via ISDN. Since then, the studio has played host to music groups, U.S. presidents and hundreds of radio personalities. Some are regular clients, but many are one-time-only events.

New equipment

The Ralph Guild Studio at the Paley Center for Media provides the necessary facilities for in-house production and program origination for visiting radio stations.

The Ralph Guild Studio at the Paley Center for Media provides the necessary facilities for in-house production and program origination for visiting radio stations.

The studio was a resounding success. But a decade later, the early-1990s equipment was worn out. Technology had changed. With new equipment, the studio could better serve the radio stations that relied on it for broadcasting. And maybe sound a whole lot better, too.

All the old stuff had to go: the mixing console, Tascam DA-30 DAT machine, and Telos One and Zephyr. Making things worse, the mic picked up the room's air conditioning noise. Sound insulation for the ceiling was needed. Some of the building's exhaust fans were old or inadequate and had to be replaced.

In 2007 plans were enacted to redesign the equipment layout and improve sound quality without knocking down any walls. Doug Warner, Paley Center director of engineering, took the helm as project manager. Daking Plus donated the audio equipment and chipped in to help.

The process took only three months and installation was a breeze. That August, the ribbon was cut on the rebuilt Ralph Guild Radio Studio. The doors were open to radio hosts from across the region and around the world.

The standard L furniture configuration with a rear countertop provides easy access to all the equipment.

The standard L furniture configuration with a rear countertop provides easy access to all the equipment.

Staff and visitors find the new furniture comfortable and the equipment easy to use. The real magic, though, is created behind the scenes. The goal was to bring the studio up to date given the needs of the Paley Center. A new Sierra Automated Systems Rubicon SL-16 audio console takes the place of the old board. RJ-21 and CAT 5 cables are terminated on SAS/Krone blocks, which made installation easy. Because SAS does not offer a mic preamp for that console, a Daking Mic-Pre IV preamp has been integrated into the system. It takes just one rack-space and delivers four channels of high-performance, Class A preamplification. Geoff Daking and David Thibodeau of Daking Plus arranged for the Rubicon's RS-485 protocol, MIDI and USB to digitally control the Mic-Pre IV. The front panel of the Rubicon console easily loads any of the Mic-Pre IV settings with a simple click of a button.

Four Heil Sound PR 40 dynamic broadcast microphones surround the interview table. Each mic uses a Heil Sound microphone stand, because its footprint is smaller. The producer uses a Heil Sound mic, and another is at the console for self-engineered broadcasts. The PR 40 was chosen for its flat frequency response and articulation with a midrange rise at 5kHz.

The previous world panels were incapable of handling the different audio formats available today. Using Studio Hub products, four new interface panels were built. Analog sends and receives are available in XLR, RCA, ¼", and ⅛" as well as S/PDIF and AES. All analog signals are balanced and level-matched. The S/PDIF signals are converted to and from AES3. Now the studio can easily accommodate the many different types of professionals that visit the Paley Center.

The output signal is sent into a Telos Zephyr Xstream codec for ISDN transmission to networks like Air America, National Public Radio, and on radio stations from as far away as California and Washington State.

Audio editing

Audio is edited in the Ralph Guild Studio using Digidesign Pro Tools. A Heil PR 40 mic and stand, Telos phone hybrids, CD players and 360 Systems Digicart machines have also been installed.

New York City is one of the country's two locations for the Paley Center for Media. The other is on the West Coast. In Beverly Hills, at 465 Beverly Drive, near Rodeo Drive is the Los Angeles branch of the Paley Center. It opened in 1996 in the new Leonard H. Goldenson building, and features a duplicate of the collection found in New York. The building is two stories high and has a screening room and art gallery, the Bud Yorkin Balcony encircling the second floor, Stanley E. Hubbard Library and adjacent Console Center, John H. Mitchell Theater, Ahmanson Radio Listening Room, and just like its New York cousin, the Ralph Guild Radio Studio. There are plans to upgrade this studio and outfit it with video equipment and move it streetside with a window facing the sidewalk.

At a time when radio has gone corporate and television has turned to reality, the Paley Center for Media will be there to remind us that radio and television will always be an American art form, and thus deserves preservation.

Equipment List

Sierra Automated Systems Rubicon SL-16
360 Systems Digicart
Daking Mic-Pre IV
Denon DN-C680
Digidesign Pro Tools
Genelec 8030A
Heil Sound PR 40
Krone blocks
Radio Sytem Studio Hub+
Rane PEQ 55
Tascam DA-30, 122 MKII
TC Electronic M-One XL
Telos 2×12, One, Zephyr Xstream

Singer is a freelance writer and former radio engineer based in Cincinnati.

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