Clear Channel, Gadsden: Small Market, Big Presence

August 1, 2013


Clear Channel owns two stations in Gadsden, AL, which is about 60 miles northeast of Birmingham. These stations, WAAX-AM and WGMZ-FM, have an established presence in the community. And while this is one of the smallest markets for Clear Channel, it was still important to build a quality facility that served the stations'' needs reliably and affordably.

WAAX control room

The new studio operation for the stations is actually not a new building. In the late 1990s, Clear Channel bought a building in downtown Gadsden and moved the stations out of the studio building that is collocated with the AM transmitter. The downtown operation worked well for 15 years, but like any facility, the time had come to update the equipment.

As costs were considered, Bob Newberry, market chief for the Birmingham, Tuscaloosa and Gadsden stations, wanted to build a studio facility that would ensure reliable and hopefully flexible service to the stations. With an eye to keeping costs under control, an idea was hatched: If the downtown studio building was sold, the money could fund the studio project. The facility at the transmitter was still there, and the building was in good shape.

The downtown studio building was listed for sale. With the real estate market making its slow come back, it took 1.5 years for the realtor to find a buyer. Once a buyer stepped forward, the plans kicked in. This began in June 2012.

Inside the rack room, looking at the computers and servers from the left.

Inside the rack room, looking at the computers and servers from the left.


The building sale arrangements were finalized in August 2012. Work on the transmitter site building began in October and was completed in November. he stations moved in the middle of December 2012.

Having sat mostly vacant for 15 years, the transmitter site building needed some attention. The HVAC was replaced, and the entire building was painted inside and out. 15 years of basic groundskeeping was given a landscaper''s touch. A studio generator was brought in, a Liebert UPS was installed and the building electrical system was rewired. Then the attention could turn to the studios and offices.

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At the center

At the heart of the operation are Logitek JetStreamMini audio-over-IP router frames. There are six frames n the facility: Three in the technical operations center and one in each of the three studios. The two air studios also have Logitek ROC consoles, while production has a Logitek Pilot console. The AoIP system ties directly to the RCS NexGen automation system and the X-Digital Systems XDS satellite receivers.

In the rack room: RF equipment

In the rack room: RF equipment


While Gadsden is a small market, installing an AoIP system still made sense because of the scalability and routing flexibility. The reduction of wiring alone was appealing to Newberry, but being able to dynamically create IFB and mix-minus feeds, accept satellite triggers directly without wiring scads of relays, and making changes remotely have provided the stations with greater operational flexibility than they had before. There''s no more need to run down the hall to flip a switch to change a feed.

Newberry also notes that most of the configuration changes, when they are needed, can be performed remotely. He and his staff take care of the three operations that stretch across 120 miles. Remote access saves time and money, and lets the Gadsden staff avoid the frustration of waiting for someone to drive in from Birmingham.

production studio

The production studio


Newberry notes that the JetStream interface to the XDS satellite receivers is a tremendous time saver. Rather than taking the relay outputs from the receiver, the cue port data is fed to the JetStream. he NexGen automation and JetStream know which show is on the air and which triggers to engage to go to break, to play an ID or joiner and rejoin. The old method of installing several audio switchers and creating diode steering matrices are now a memory for Newberry.

For studio furniture, Newberry chose Designcraft, which also built the studio furniture for the Birmingham studios several years ago. The furniture was built in Michigan, broken down, shipped and reassembled on-site.

WGMZ air studio

The WGMZ air studio


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In the offices, most of the existing office furniture was reused. New office chairs were part of the new purchases.

The Gadsden studios are connected to the Birmingham facility via 6Mb/s MPLS. This link provides Gadsden with SIP phone service and access to the Clear Channel WAN. A Barix IP link provides an audio connection to share files between the two facilities. With the engineering office in Birmingham, this connection also provides flexible control of the remote systems in Gadsden via the IP link. Birmingham is also connected to Tuscaloosa via a T1. With the Asterisk IP phone system installed throughout the facilities'' joined IP networks, all calls are routed internally and without long distance charges.

Total wiring to the three studios consists of eight CAT-5e cables per studio. This handles all IP audio streams, automation PC, Internet PC and telephone lines. One CAT-5 is all that is required to have all networked audio sources available in each studio.

A closer look at the WGMZ air studio.

A closer look at the WGMZ air studio.


Some studio equipment was reused from the previous facility, such as the E-V RE-20 mics. Newberry bought some new equipment, including new O.C. White mic booms, Symetrix 528E processors, JBL Control One speakers and Behringer power amps.

While he has never need it, Newberry added some insurance to his studio plan. In a worst-case scenario, he wanted to be able to quickly connect a studio directly to the input of that station''s STL. He uses SAS 16000 routers as his analog backup in case the need ever arises. The system has been tested and is ready to go, but Newberry doubts he''ll ever need to use it.

building exterior

The unassuming building exterior.


The Clear Channel Gadsden operation shows that even a small market can benefit from an audio-over-IP infrastructure. The system is scalable, and it more importantly it provides the routing flexibility to accommodate quick changes as well as the remote access when needed.


Equipment List

Alesis power amp
Aphex Headpod 4
Audioscience BOB1024
Asterisk VoIP phone system
ATS Acoustics acoustic panels
Barix Exstreamer
Comrex Vector
Designcraft furniture
E-V RE-20
JBL Control One
Liebert UPS
Logitek JetStream Mini, ROC, Pilot
Middle Atlantic racks
O.C. White booms
RCS NexGen
SAS 16000
Symetrix 528E
Telos 1x6
Tieline G5 Communicator


Photos by Bob Newberry.



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