Martha Quinn's RadioBu

September 1, 2008


Having a custom-built personal studio was once a luxury that on-air radio talent could not experience. With the move toward computer-based digital recording technologies, more and more on-air talent are finding that owning their own personal studio is now within reach.

One such talent is former MTV VJ and current Sirius Satellite on-air personality, Martha Quinn. She and her husband, show engineer and former Fuzztone member Jordan Tarlow, were looking for a space to handle all the production work for her show, Martha Quinn Presents, that simultaneously would allow them to keep their own hours as opposed to renting studio space in Santa Monica. Jordan and Martha contacted my firm, Russ Berger Design Group, to design their own personal radio and post production studio in Malibu, CA, which they eventually dubbed RadioBu.

Bearing in mind that Martha Quinn Presents offers listeners a mix of music from the 80s along with interviews and performances by artists from that era, we anticipated a few design challenges involved in creating the new studio space to serve all these applications. For instance, it would need to be able to accommodate in-studio interviews as well as ones via ISDN, in-studio performances, and voice-overs. For Jordan's purposes, the space had to accommodate music production and his composition work for TV commercials and film trailers. We combined our knowledge of the design and operational needs of a typical broadcast production studio with some of the techniques used when designing smaller personal recording studios.

Since Martha's program is pre-recorded, transmission equipment did not factor into the design of RadioBu. However, the existing layout of the new space was not conducive to accommodating studio functions and their support spaces. As a result, changes needed to be made. A small storage area was built at one end of the structure and an entry vestibule at the other end, to tie it together with the traffic flow of the rest of the space. The bathroom and pantry were updated to better accommodate show guests and clients.

With this layout, we were able to make some of the rooms serve a dual purpose. The entry vestibule doubles as a separately conditioned equipment and machine room area, dedicating more of the larger room area to the studio where Martha and Jordan now spend most of their time. The completed 1,100 square-foot facility features a main control room, a large glass recording booth, a machine room, kitchenette, bathroom and lounge. In the control room, we allotted ample space for live interviews and performances, as well as recording musicians. Jordan can easily monitor the show at the console while the group is performing to the side. The control room area is also large enough to accommodate a custom broadcast table for multiple-guest, in-studio interviews.

We employed several different acoustical techniques to ensure recordings would not be affected by outside noise. The shell of the space was beefed up to improve sound transmission loss to and provide adequate isolation from neighboring areas. Field fabricated acoustical treatments were used for their superior control over sound propagation in the room and for their clean look. We used a combination of Part Science Space Arrays and Space Couplers to distribute and diffuse energy throughout the mix position and improve surround imaging. Due to the acoustical constraints of the existing structure's low ceilings, we deployed a Part Science Space Coupler cloud to improve the performance of absorptive ceiling material and to tame low-frequency energy at the mix position.



As its namesake implies, another element that played into the design of RadioBu was the gorgeous Malibu weather. Since it's beautiful most of the year, everyone agreed it would be great to work in the rooms with the doors open. Not wanting to compromise room isolation, we decided to utilize space planning to achieve our goal. The entryways at each side of the studio and control room areas act as sound traps when the doors are left open. It also allows the cross breezes to cool the occupants and inspire creative efforts. The outdoors was further incorporated into the space by employing glass doors and numerous punched openings to flood the control room, studio and both entries with natural light.

When it came to selecting equipment for the space, Jordan made the decisions. Since he would be using everything for his work on Martha's show as well as his own commercial composition work, he decided on a 32-channel Digidesign Icon D-Control ES with 48 channels of IO for in/out, Aviom Pro 16 monitor mixing system, API and Valve front end, a rack of vintage Eventide Clockworks, Sony DRE-S777 Convolution Reverb, Precision Kinetics surround monitoring with PK Ubertones, Genelec 1031s, and Yamaha NS10 monitors, as well as an ISDN setup from Telos. With the ISDN setup, Jordan is able to conduct remote interviews and performances with the Sirius studio in New York City and other studios across the country.

For live performances and composition projects, Jordan also incorporates his large collection of vintage microphones (Neumann, AKG, Shure, and EV), vintage guitars, synths, amps, drums and recording equipment. A 92" acoustically transparent screen with a Sony 1080p projector was installed for Jordan's commercial work. The addition of the Precision Kinetics custom surround monitoring solution, crafted to match the studio's production needs, has made RadioBu the first studio in Malibu to offer 7.1 monitoring.

An isolation booth sits to the right of the mixing console.

An isolation booth sits to the right of the mixing console.

Though we usually do not get involved with the actual selection process of the equipment installed, our designs always include detailed information regarding speaker placement, console location, projection screen, projector location and wire management. We worked directly with Jordan on the placement of moveable racks, specific to the equipment he owns, to avoid generating unwanted reflection paths. All in-room racks were specified to be less than 3' tall and were typically located on either side of the workstations for easy access.

The resulting space has been a huge success for Martha and Jordan, meeting each of their individual studio needs. In fact, RadioBu recently hosted its first in-studio performance with Curt Smith and the other Tears for Fears members. Because the band was able to be in the same space as Jordan, it was easy for him to monitor the performance while simultaneously giving them their cues.

There will always be design challenges to overcome with each and every new project we take on. For RadioBu, we believe we met these challenges while incorporating Martha and Jordan's specific needs into the design of their new creative space while also reflecting their lifestyle.


Russ Berger is President of Russ Berger Design Group, a design and consulting firm, based in Addison, TX.



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