You have seen several large radio facilities in the pages of BE
Radio, including those for Clear Channel Denver and Sirius
Satellite Radio. When they were completed, those facilities were the
largest radio facilities in existence in North America. As is usually
the case, once a milestone is achieved, the challenge to exceed it is
made. The new facilities for XM Satellite Radio are a showcase indeed,
combining practical function with cutting-edge form. To top it off,
this facility is now the largest radio facility in North America.
The stylish, quiet and efficientstudios are a
benchmark of radio high-tech.
The new facility, located in the technology corridor of Washington,
DC, occupies 155,000 square feet of space on two floors of its
building. In all, there are 82 studios in the facility. The building
has a history of delivering information to the masses. For many years,
the building at 1500 Eckington Place was the home to the printing
presses for National Geographic magazine. The heritage of
delivering a leading media of its day is continued with XM.
Take the tour
The satellite service-provider's headquarters occupy two floors in
the building. The third floor houses the administrative, marketing and
programming departments, the satellite control team and a café.
While it has become common in consolidated radio facilities to see two
or three program directors, it's a very different sight to see scores
of program and music directors. Programming 100 channels requires the
necessary talent to make all the programming decisions.
From program origination (top) in one of the 82
studios to enterprise control (bottom), audio and data are routed
throughout the entire facility.
The second floor has 60,000 square feet of space dedicated to the
broadcast and satellite operations. In this space are 14 production
studios, 38 on-air studios, 24 assembly booths, four voice-over booths,
one performance studio (with 2,600 square feet alone), the broadcast
operations center, the network operations center, the enterprise
control center and the technical operations center.
The key design elements for the facility combine the functions of
routing audio, data and control information all at one time. In may
ways, the facility design looks more like an IT installation than a
The heart of the system is the Klotz Vadis platform, routed through
a backbone provided by fiber opitc cable and Radio Systems' StudioHub+
CAT5 wiring system. There are more than 200 Vadis frames, 1,650,000
feet of CAT5 cable and 630,000 feet of fiber optic cable in the
facility. This network ties all the functions of the Klotz and Dalet
systems together with all the other audio and data sources.
The Broadcast Operations System (BOS) keeps track of all audio
sources and events being used. The foundation of this system, provided
by Encoda, contains various software modules used for show scheduling,
traffic scheduling, material management (to assign production duties
and file names), and digital transmission control (to permit access to
shows and set bit-rates for transmission). The BOS also supervises the
Drake automation system that oversees the Dalet workstations.
From the beginning
The studios are all designed from a similar base. Each studio is
actually an Acoustic Systems isolation booth. With so many studios
being built, traditional studio construction — building a room
from the ground up — did not make sense. Despite the modular
approach, the studios do not feel like modular booths. This method also
provided an easier means to achieve the desired noise rejection than
would have been possible by building the rooms individually.
Enterprise control, which oversees the operation
of the business enterprise, includes an operator's chair that resembles
Each room has furniture from Studio Technology, a Klotz control
surface, Dalet workstation, Denon CD players, Genelec monitors,
Omni-mount speaker mounts, Tascam cassette deck, Sony DAT deck, Telos
phone system, ESE and Leitch clocks and Audio Technica or Rode mics.
Some studios have additional equipment for specific applications, such
as a 360 Systems ShortCut, ProTools DAW or Eventide broadcast delay.
There are even a few Fidelipac cart machines in use.
The technical operations center houses nearly 300 racks and supports
the shared and behind-the-scenes equipment, including 120 Omnia Audio
Omnia3 audio processors and 22TB (terabytes) of storage space on a
storage-area network. There are multiple rows of racks — one
serves the needs of the office computer network. The rest are dedicated
to the studio facility.
Keeping it straight
Monitoring the 100 channels is a major task. To do this, the
broadcast operations center (BOC) monitors the audio and data being
sent to the satellite delivery system, which is monitored by the
network operations center (NOC). The entire facility is under the
supervision of the enterprise control center (ECC), which is
appropriately named. It is not only the final supervisor position for
the technical business enterprise, it looks like the bridge of the
Enterprise, complete with Captain Kirk's chair.
The supervisor in the captain's chair has intercom access to every
operator in the facility. The button panels on the chair's arm select
the station. A gooseneck mic picks up the supervisor's commands. Above
the chair is a parabolic speaker reflector, so any communications back
to the supervisor are only heard by the supervisor without disturbing
anyone in the BOC.
Above: One of the news workstations. Below: There
are two satellite uplink antennas on the rooftop.
The large displays in the BOC show satellite status and audio levels
at a glance. Individual control stations monitor the status of the
automation systems, the audio and data control systems, and program
In addition to the Washington facilities, XM also has studios in New
York and in Nashville at the Country Music Hall of Fame. These other
locations have similar designs and are fully integrated with the
Capitol facility. The integration is so complete that audio files are
stored in Washington and accessed remotely. The design is such that it
doesn't matter that the studios are not down the hall but are instead
across several state lines.
The technical operations center is a stockpile of
Radio history is about to witness the creation of a new chapter as
the satellite radio services begin commercial delivery. XM is a part of
that history, and its facilities have already made radio history
because of their magnitude of scale.
Audio work stations
Computer storage space
Digital control surfaces
Fiber optic cable
News preparation stations
360 Sytems - Instant Replay
Acoustic Systems - Modular Studios
Audio Technica - AT808G, AT857QMAL
Broadcast Store - Mic arms
Encoda/DAL - Automation system
Dalet - Dalet 5.1 workstations, Team Newsroom
Denon - DN-961FA
ESE - ES-3242, ES-324312, ES-32445. ES-3244P2
Eventide - BD500-100
Fidelipac - CTR14, ESD10
Genelec - S30D, 2029B, 1091A, 1030A
Harris - Netboss Network Management System
Klotz - Vadis, DC-2 controllers
Leitch - Clocks
Northeastern Communications Concepts - Studio Planning, Acoustics,
Omnia - Omnia3
Omni-mount - Speaker mounts
PowerGold - Music Scheduling software
Prolite - On-Air lights
Radio Systems - StudioHub+
Rode - Mics
Sony - MDR-7502, MDR-7506, MDS-E11, PCM-R500, SMS-1P/B
Studio Technology - Studio Furniture
Tascam - 122 MKII
Technics - SL120 MKII
Telos - 2101