Dial Global: A National Move

August 1, 2011

Dial Global Technical upgrades to meet network growth

"It looks like we're gonna need a bigger boat." In the fast-paced world of radio broadcasting we have all been through the experience where our facilities no longer meet the programming requirements of the business. Just like local radio studios, national radio networks also have to meet the ever-increasing needs for technical facilities.

Dial Global has undergone tremendous growth in the past three years. The acquisition of Waitt Radio Networks and Jones Radio Networks in 2008 drove the needs to develop a technical infrastructure to support the most advanced technology in network radio today.

The project involved the relocation of Waitt's Omaha infrastructure to Denver and creating a nationwide infrastructure that can support the needs of the network programming experts and the stations. Unlike a typical station cluster upgrade, these facilities impact thousands of affiliates and service interruptions are intolerable. This project was completed without any loss of airtime, which was the direct result of a coordinated plan utilizing the talents of our entire technical staff, vendors and executives.

Space design, materials and color selection were all coordinated by an interior designer. Photo by Richard Douglas, Windimagery.

Space design, materials and color selection were all coordinated by an interior designer. Photo by Richard Douglas, Windimagery.

Moving to the mountains

We chose a centralized hub-and-spoke architecture for the overall network plan with the Network Operations Center in Denver. We also overlapped a distributed network topology for our redundancy employing other facilities to ensure the network provides unparalleled reliability in the event of an outage condition in the hub. For example our Valencia, CA, network facility can take over uplink operations in the event of a disaster situation in Denver or even in the situation where maintenance may have a potential impact to affiliates.

The Denver facilities were upgraded with 11 new studios and a significant expansion of the older Network Operations Center; control center and rack room.

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Dial Global Technical upgrades to meet network growth

The project was multi-faceted, including:

  • Real estate space expansion in Denver
  • Architect selection
  • Needs analysis and space design
  • Power, generator and UPS upgrade
  • Studio and network operations center design
  • Temporary studios
  • Satellite consolidation
  • Affiliate migration
  • Head end relocation
  • Staffing and coordination of cut over

    Offset walls with a complimentary carpet pattern make the space visually stimulating.

    Offset walls with a complimentary carpet pattern make the space visually stimulating.

    Closing the Omaha facility

    The project had its beginnings in the summer of 2009 when we analyzed the best location in which to expand and consolidate. Once Denver was selected, discussions with our landlord began to pick up the option on a few adjacent suites to the ones we already occupied. The lease was revised and space secured in early 2010.

    Next was the need to hire an architect/designer. We decided to stay local to Denver in our search primarily due to local architects having expertise with local building departments and ordinances and also for their familiarity with local engineering firms and general contractors. We went through interviews with a number of firms. We found pricing to be competitive, but design ideas to vary widely. The firm we ultimately selected (RM Design) matched with our way of thinking and presented a resume of a number of other previous projects that we really liked. They also demonstrated ability to work cooperatively with the highly technical nature of the project and understand the differences from a standard office type project.

    With our design firm on board, we began working on planning of the space. We worked with our programming department to get a sense of exactly how many studios we needed. That, coupled with our need to expand our centralized technical center "rack room" to house additional head end equipment, it quickly became apparent that our existing power service was inadequate to handle the needs of the expansion.

    An Onan 750kW generator was installed to provide auxiliary power to Dial Global's network operations center.

    An Onan 750kW generator was installed to provide auxiliary power to Dial Global's network operations center.

    The available utility power proved completely inadequate for the needs of the project. The service to the building was near capacity and needed to be upgraded. In our first approach to this, we attempted to design a system with a second transformer provided by the power utility so we wouldn't need to interrupt power to our current operation. After much back and forth with the utility, we lost the battle for the second transformer and ended up increasing the size of the existing one. That forced us to redesign the power distribution inside the building and required temporary use of our existing generator during overnight hours for several days to update the wiring and install the larger transformer. The time it took for us to sort this out with the utility and acquiesce to their refusal to cooperate required a complete redesign setting us back on our timeline. We had been hoping to be done and moved by the end of 2010, but that didn't happen.

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    Dial Global Technical upgrades to meet network growth

    Satellite transmission equipment in the racks of Dial Global's Denver Network Operations Center.

    Satellite transmission equipment in the racks of Dial Global's Denver Network Operations Center.

    We finished the relocation of Omaha to Denver by the hard deadline of January 2011 by building temporary studios to utilize during the project design and construction phases. Under the pressure of a lease conclusion, announcers and management were able to vacate the previous location. We were also able to relocate the Omaha head end to Denver, providing our patented STORQ technology from the new centralized Network Operations Center.

    With this relocation we were also able to combine our STORQ technology into our main carrier, which is used for our Wegener delivery platform. We also took the opportunity to upgrade our central audio router to the latest version of firmware. SAS has added new features into the 32KD router that offers silence alarms and audio processing. The addition of TCP/IP relay routing will make switching our automation systems to air much easier as well.

    A team effort

    Concurrent with the space planning and mechanical design, our engineering department came together as a single team for the project. Geographical diversity didn't stop the open exchange of ideas from flowing from every division of the organization. We decided to expand on our existing digital infrastructure working in cooperation with the vendor, SAS Audio. This coupled with furniture and other ergonomic input from our program directors finalized our technical plan, allowing us to move forward with budgeting and finally executive approval.

    Wire management racks were used for Ethernet and digital audio cross connects.

    Wire management racks were used for Ethernet and digital audio cross connects.

    A key challenge we were able to meet without sophisticated digital infrastructure was the use of a single studio design to operate with multiple production and on-air software packages for our different products. Rather than a simple "we use automation brand X" we had to accommodate several systems in the same studios. This complex equation was easily met by a talented amalgam of several company's technical associates combined into a single unified division of Dial Global.

    The process took time as we worked with the mechanical design engineers to ensure adequate cooling was available for every area of the company. The first pass of the design by the mechanical engineers was excessive, but we were able to cooperatively reach a compromise that met the needs of equipment cooling, talent comfort and financial responsibility.

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    Dial Global Technical upgrades to meet network growth

    We finally had a design and the process of selecting a contractor was now at hand. We obtained bids from four contractors and used the "bid leveling" process to help narrow the selection. We took each bid and compared pricing "line by line" for carpet, drywall and other specific items. Asking questions why prices were higher in some areas and lower in others was invaluable in not only keeping costs under control, but also to gain insight into their competence in each discipline. By interviewing each group as to their specific costs and justifications, we were able to reach a final selection in Swinerton Builders in December 2010.

    Studio floorplan - click to enlarge

    Studio floorplan (click to enlarge)

    Construction began in January 2011 and took five months. This included the coordination with the utility companies and other complex maneuvers necessary with construction around a live network distributing programming to thousands of radio stations.

    At the beginning of June, the project moved forward with the full force of the entire Dial Global engineering staff. We assembled "tag teams" to the project, attacking each facet of the build out with the most experienced talent available. This project management approach truly made the expansion a "Global" (pardon the pun) affair rather than a single facility project.

    One interesting design aspect involves the studio placement, which is obvious on the overall floor plan. To break up long, plain hallways, Dial Global worked with Rochelle Manhart Design, who skewed the studios slightly compared to the other spaces. The canted walls approach makes the hallways much more visually appealing.

    Completion of the project occurred at the beginning of July with our program directors occupying beautiful new office spaces as well as new studios and the supporting technical infrastructure.

    Equipment List

    Adobe Audition 3
    Amco racks
    Belden wire and cable
    Dell Precision workstations
    Electro-Voice RE-20, RE-27
    Krone blocks
    Omnirax furniture
    Onan 750kW generator
    Powerware 480kVA UPS
    Raritan Dominion KX II
    SAS 32KD, Rubicon SL
    Symetrix Airtools 2x
    Tannoy Reveal 601A
    Tascam CD01 Upro
    Telos VX
    Yellowtec Mika

    Trautmann is EVP Technology and Wiler is SVP Broadcast Engineering and Network Operations Division at Dial Global.

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