New Hampshire Public Radio

May 1, 2009


Twice the space and an open road to future expansion

Dan Colgan broadcasts the first show from the new studios of NHPR.

Dan Colgan broadcasts the first show from the new studios of NHPR.

Every station move or rebuild project is set into motion because of some fundamental need. Sometimes the equipment has fulfilled its useful lifespan. Sometimes a format change makes the facility inefficient. Sometimes simply more room is needed. For , it was all of the above.

In the spring 2001, NHPR had been in a facility that was only 10 years old. When it was built in 1991, the network was producing a classical music format, and the sit-down studios and analog routing served the needs adequately. But after a format change in 2001 to a news/talk format, it was quickly realized that the music-centric facility had severe limitations. It was just not going to meet the long-term business and programming needs.

The first step: Conduct a needs assessment study. NHPR worked with its board of directors to plan what was desired and how it would be funded. The realization that the North Main Street facility was not ready to serve NHPR's future needs was a primary point. The plans were set into motion for a facility upgrade.

NHPR now distributes programming to six full-power stations and six translators in the state. While all the transmitter facilities carry the same programming, the ability to distribute different material to different sites was a desired option. Likewise, as the stations adopt HD Radio, providing various multicast streams was a consideration. Flexible routing was also a checklist item.

Like any station, being off the air is an unacceptable circumstance, so multiple levels of redundancy were built into the plan. Finally, additional space was needed to accommodate the growth of the network.

A new building

Once the needs were determined, the process of finding a new location began. It didn't take long to find one. An office condominium on Pillsbury Street was looking for tenants. This was almost a new building in some ways, even though the previous owner — Blue Cross Blue Shield — had moved out in 1990. The building sat vacant for many years because of asbestos building materials within.

(Left to right) Bob Smith and Mark Bisbee, Technet; Dan Colgan, Scott McPherson and Michael Saffell, NHPR.

(Left to right) Bob Smith and Mark Bisbee, Technet; Dan Colgan, Scott McPherson and Michael Saffell, NHPR.

In 2003 and 2004 a developer worked with the city remove the asbestos and prepare the building for new tenants. NHPR then began raising money for its relocation project, and in spring 2006 purchased the sixth floor (top floor) of the building. But NHPR wasn't ready to begin building. It would be two more years before that would happen.

Plans were further refined while funds were being raised. In April 2008, NHPR issued a request for construction bids. By May, the bids were received and the station selected North Branch Construction. On June 2, 2008, the initial construction began.



Twice the space and an open road to future expansion

Advantages and challenges

The blocks on the walls and ceiling are to support the acoustic treatments that will be applied.

The blocks on the walls and ceiling are to support the acoustic treatments that will be applied.

The plan was to have the new facility ready for its first broadcast on Dec. 31, 2008. NHPR had already worked with Russ Berger Design Group (RBDG) on the layout of the studio core in the new 20,000-square-foot space (about twice the size of the previous facility). The general architect, C.N. Carley and Associates, took the RBDG plans and designed the office and operations space around it.

One advantage to the new location is that is it about 2.5 miles from the main transmitter site for WEVO. The tower can be seen from the new studios. This was good news for the station, because that STL hop would be a single-hop. The previous studio location required a double-hop STL.

Studio B just as the final installation is nearly completed.

Studio B just as the final installation is nearly completed.

One challenge with the new facility was presented by the city zoning board. NHPR planned to install its satellite uplink/downlink antenna and a small tower for STL and other antennas on the roof. The city wanted the rooftop items to be concealed from view. A compromise was made by erecting a 20' x 40' steel enclosure around three sides of the antenna farm and HVAC cooling tower. The open side allows the needed line of site for the antennas.

Inside the empty shell sixth floor space, there were some additional challenges. The elevator lobby and restroom areas were fixed positions, but they were not difficult to incorporate in the design. The top-floor location, however, required some fire codes to be observed for roof protection. There was also some roof drainage plumbing that had to be left in place. RBDG and NHPR planned to build the studio core on a floating, elevated base. Wiring could be run in the 6” floor space underneath. HVAC would run above the floating ceiling. Despite these challenges, the studios have sufficient headroom, although it is tight in the space above the studios.

Studio core

As the plans for the facility were being drawn, it's important to note that the studio core was designed first, and then the offices were designed around that. You probably know of a station that was designed with the owner's or GM's office first, then sales, then some programming, and then finally a few closets for studios. This was not the case at NHPR. The studios — the area where the network's valuable product is created — came first. Even so, the offices are still comfortable and practical.

Installing the STL dishes on the roof

Installing the STL dishes on the roof

One advantage of locating the studio core in the center of the facility is that it reinforces the focal point of the operation. Even those staff members not directly involved with on-air operations feel attached to the prime purpose. No matter where you are, a studio is nearby.

The studio core is comprised of six control rooms (four smaller and two larger). The larger control rooms have studios attached to them. In addition, a small studio is available for voice tracking.



Twice the space and an open road to future expansion

Installing the STL dishes on the roof

Installing the STL dishes on the roof

A larger multipurpose studio is available for live performances or producing a show with a live audience. An audience of up to 70 can be accommodated here. This works well for a town-hall meeting or membership drives. The multipurpose room is also wired for video.

A technical operations center, engineering shop and IT work area round out the space. The racks in the TOC were integrated into the cooling system to provide a constant airflow for the equipment.

Peeking inside the TOC

Peeking inside the TOC

As mentioned before, the studio core is built on a 6” raised floor, which is built from two layers of plywood sandwiching three layers of sheet rock. This solid mass is then supported on rubber blocks to isolate it from the building floor. The studio walls are then built onto this foundation.

Near the studios is a newsroom that houses about 20 people. NHPR produces two daily talk shows and regular new inserts, and the desks in the newsroom are arranged into team groups.

Redundancy

Hoisting the satellite dish to the roof<br>
  <em>Photo by Scott McPherson</em>

Hoisting the satellite dish to the roof
Photo by Scott McPherson

Redundancy was an important consideration for the project. The entire facility is supported by a 150kW generator supplemented by a 35kVA UPS. The UPS will power the facility for about eight minutes at full load. Equipment loads are also distributed among the power system to minimize an outage. Even the HVAC system for the sixth floor has a backup system in case of an extended power outage.

The redundancy plan is also applied to the audio network. The SAS 32KD with two frames is the heart of the routing system. Audio sources and destinations are distributed between the two frames to reduce the chance of an audio failure if one frame were to fail. The built-in nature of the audio router provides many options to distribute audio as needed to route around a problem. While all the transmitters carry the same programming, this routing flexibility allows NHPR to deliver any source to any transmitter as it may need.

Even the STLs have redundancy. The satellite system is the primary STL for all the transmitters located around the state. These are all backed up by Moseley Starlink SL9003Q systems. As a tertiary backup, the station uses the Comrex Access or Matrix.

Future-ready

While the new facility has some changes, such as stand-up furniture instead of sit-down and an integrated routing system, other aspects are familiar. The Comrex STAC was chosen for on-air phones because the staff had been using a Gentner TS612 previously. The STAC operates similarly, which simplified training on at least one piece of equipment.



Twice the space and an open road to future expansion

<p>Installation of the satellite dish<br>
  <em>Photo by Scott McPherson</em></p>

Installation of the satellite dish
Photo by Scott McPherson

There is one corner of the sixth floor space that was left unfinished. This area of about 2,000 square feet is part of the plan to accommodate future needs. Its exact purpose has yet to be planned, but possibilities include new media, alternative programming streams, partnership with TV stations, or possibly subletting it to another tenant. The facility was built to be future-ready. This space allows for that.

Although the timeline for the construction project was to be on the air from the new facility by Dec. 31, 2008, in an almost unheard of turn of events, NHPR originated its first broadcast from the facility at 2 p.m. on Dec. 15. NHPR credits the efforts of Technet Systems Group, the system integrator, for staying ahead of schedule. Once the on-air operation was in place, the office and administration moved in on Dec. 19. These four days allowed the network to address any on-air problems before the office staff moved in.

Word of Mouth host Virginia Prescott primes for the first show from the new facility.

Word of Mouth host Virginia Prescott primes for the first show from the new facility.

And while the project progressed like clockwork, the final days were not without some frustration. The move on Dec. 15 was three days after a major ice storm passed through the area. Several of the transmitter sites were still on emergency power. Still, the on-air transfer went well. But even on Dec. 19 as the staff moved in, a snow storm passed through.

One added benefit to the new facility is that it has inspired the air talent to improve their games. The new facility is a modern technology showcase. Some members of the air staff have commented that they feel they have to live up to the look and feel of the new space, and this is reflected in their on-air performances.

NHPR planned a campaign to raise $6.5 million, which was met in March 2009.


Thanks to Scott McPherson, assistant general manager, and Michael Saffell, director of engineering, at NHPR for their assistance in preparing this article.


More images and a floor plan are posted on the next page

Equipment List

SAS 32KD, consoles

Vorsis M1 mic processors

Comrex STAC

E-V RE-20

Sony 7506 headphones

Broadcast Electronics Audio Vault

Avocent 5010 KVM

Studio Technology furniture

Genelec 8030, 8040

Harris World Feed Panels

Yellowtec Mika

Heil Sound mic mounts

Middle Atlantic racks

Signal Transport wiring interface boxes for customized connector access

Moseley SL9003Q



Twice the space and an open road to future expansion

NHPR Floor plan and additional images

NHPR floor plan

NHPR floor plan
Click to view PDF

Another shot preparing for acoustical treatments

Another shot preparing for acoustical treatments

Installation of the satellite dish

Installation of the satellite dish


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