The Studio Shuffle

January 1, 2009


As a system integrator, the designs I see for new and remodeled radio stations are as varied as the towns in which they exist. Most have the typical situation: A station is bought or sold, consolidation in a market, the need for more studios, or as was the case at Sandusky Radio, just time to get rid of 20-year-old equipment and décor.

The new AM control room in use

The new AM control room in use

The stations had outgrown their outdated Tempe, AZ, facilities and wanted state-of-the-art studios for their AM talk station, AM 1060 The Fan, and their FM rock station, KUPD.

The chief engineer, Clayton Creekmore, already had a good idea of most of the equipment he wanted to use when he called me. By the time I arrived for a site survey at the facility near Phoenix, Creekmore, with help from Doug Tharp at SCMS, had compiled a preliminary equipment list. At that time, we discussed their needs in detail and finalized the list.

The KUPD air studio.

The KUPD air studio.

Creekmore and contract engineer Steve Blodgett had already built a studio (a future FM production room) that was being used as the FM air studio so that the former studio could be remodeled. This included gobbling up an old production room and moving two walls to make the existing TOC larger and the new FM studio spacious enough to accommodate a large morning show and musical guests that frequent the area.

Because we were remodeling most of the rooms, this project needed to be completed in three phases, so that no staff was displaced during construction. Philadelphia-based Studio Technology was hired to build custom furniture, and all the logistics were worked out to get everything to the building in Tempe, but to install in two separate time frames.

The starting point

The first step was to turn a small equipment closet into a temporary production room. We borrowed a small Mackie mixer from the promotion department, added a couple mic pre-amplifiers, an RE-20 mic on a bolt-on mic stand, an old Neumann dynamic on a boom mic stand and an Internet computer loaded with Cool Edit Pro. The new Tannoy R6 monitors were stacked on used cinder blocks we found in the side yard of the building (very college dorm). With the old RCS unit removed from the former production room, the little studio was open for business.

Then it was on to the rack room. After bolting the racks and ladder rack together, we loaded the Wheatstone E-Sat rack cages, installed the pre-made DB-25 cables and punched the tails to Krone blocks located on the back wall. Pacific Mobile Recorders prepared the cables prior to installation. The Telos Zephyrs, Comrex Access, Comrex POTS codecs, plus the satellite receivers were moved from the control rooms to a central location in the TOC. This equipment was now available to be shared studio-to-studio.

The rack room has a place for everything, and everything is in its place.

The rack room has a place for everything, and everything is in its place.



Setting up the infrastructure

All the audio trunk lines between the studios and TOC were pulled using stranded, shielded CAT-5e. This cable allowed us to run both analog and digital audio, without the need for 110ohm cable. We ran 12 pairs of CAT-3 for the telephones, (12) CAT-5e for network, and then (10) stranded, shielded CAT-5e, (40 pairs) to each room. There were also tielines between the AM talk studio and AM control room and talk studio and AM production that could be used as a backup control room. Even though there was a router, we still ran tielines. All the stranded CAT-5e was terminated to Krone blocks.

The RCS computers for all studios were to be installed in the TOC to eliminate the fan noise in the control rooms. We put 30' tails on the new Whirlwind XLR panels, installed the rack panels in the rear of a TOC rack, and brought the tails out to the Krone blocks on the back wall. This was used to manage the XLR pigtails from the RCS computers. We then cross-connected the audio for the RCS to the local control rooms via the tielines. Gefen EXP-5500 extenders were used for the monitors and keyboards.

Studio time

After all this preliminary work, the AM production studio was the first permanent studio to be completed. It would act as a temporary AM control room while that room was being built. The Studio Technology crew arrived onsite to install the furniture for that room. Upon their arrival, we laid out the console (Wheatstone E6), mic stands and headphone jacks. We decided not to use equipment turrets on top of the countertops, as Creekmore was looking for a sleek, clean look to the studios, so all of the equipment had to be installed in racks underneath.

A neat rack is an easy-to-access rack.

A neat rack is an easy-to-access rack.

While Studio Technology was working in the AM production room, Creekmore and I set up two E6 surfaces on card tables in the TOC, linked them with the E-Sat cages and got the network up and talking.

Once we knew everything was working together, the daunting task of naming all the sources and destinations (ins and outs) on the E6 system began. I started with a generic input list and made each studio the same as much as possible. (i.e. mics1-4, CD 1, CD 2, RCS, phone, etc.) Same for the outputs. Program A output was always on the first output card in the cage, then control room, headphone, and so on.

The production studio is a scaled-down version of the other studios.

The production studio is a scaled-down version of the other studios.

Once all the source gear in the studios was wired, it was time to start configuring the E6 control surfaces. I had spent a lot of time with the air staff learning just what they do and how they do it. I knew it was going to be a big change when they got in the studio with a surface instead of a standard console. Since the E6 control surface is essentially a router, every source and destination was available in every control room, but this was way too overwhelming, plus it opened up possibilities for potential problems in dialing up the wrong source or destination. We limited the source visibility on each surface to only those sources needed by the respective stations.



Once the AM production room was finished and tested, it was time to train the AM staff to get them comfortable in their new home. Even though this was a temporary studio for them, the equipment in their new future studio would be the same.

Because the next rooms to be demolished were the existing AM control room and AM talk studio, the AM staff was left without a talk studio. Programming scheduled remote broadcasts for all local talk shows so they wouldn't need a studio during construction of this area. One of the hosts originated shows from various locations including his home (via Comrex) and even the sales staff kitchen on the second floor of the building.

At this point, I left while the construction crew completed the two rooms. The crew from Studio Technology and I returned to begin the second round of furniture and studio installation, which was much like the AM production room. It should be noted here that when Studio Technology installs its custom furniture, I make sure I'm there with them. Together we plan the placement of the consoles, mic stands, headphone jacks, etc. as well as the Krone block placement inside the cabinets, and they do the cutting and drilling of their cabinets so everything is finished perfectly.

And finally, Phase 3

The KUPD-FM control room was much the same as the AM control room, but everything was on a larger scale, including the control surface mainframe (20 input), several microphones, and the room itself. The KUPD morning show is a live call-in show, along with music, while the rest of the day is a typical FM rock format with calls taken offline. We were able to configure the Wheatstone E6 to accommodate both types of shows by programming events: a snapshot of the console, one for the morning show and a second one for the rest of the day. This included program buses, mix minus assignments, and aux sends used for their remote broadcasts. In addition, we built salvos (router presets) for the different remote gear the AM and FM studios shared.

The KUPD morning show in the new studio.

The KUPD morning show in the new studio.

Once the FM staff was moved into their new showcase studio, the previously remodeled FM production room that had housed the FM air staff during construction was converted back to a production room, which required resetting the source visibilities on the Wheatstone D75 six-channel router section, along with a few cross-connect changes.

Construction and scheduling being what it is, during installation of all these studios, an electrical crew was installing all new electrical in the remodeled and new rooms, as well as a new master UPS and new generator. Of course, we were tripping over one another but both crews managed to get their jobs done.

After the studios were completed, we measured the finished walls for Sound Soak, which added the final touches to the acoustics of each studio.



A project this large requires many heads and hands, including Kelly Parker (Wheatstone), Darrin Paley (Wheatstone), David Clark (TC Perfect), and contract engineer Steve Blodgett who was there for the entire three-month project. Also, VNC software which is proving invaluable as a tool in providing continuing customer support to Sandusky Radio.


Equipment list

Alesis RA 500
Behringer HA8000
Comrex Access, Matrix, Stac-12
Electro-Voice RE-20
Focusrite Voice Master Pro
Fostex CD master recorder
Gepco wire and cable
Harris World Feed Panel
Marantz flash recorder
Middle Atlantic MRK-4031
Neutrik connectors
Pacific Mobile Recorders PMR-100 speaker hanger kit
RCS Master Control
SCMS equipment dealer
Studio Technology furniture
Tannoy R6
Tascam CD player
Telos Zephyr Xstream
Unicom stranded shielded CAT-5e
Wheatstone E-net 8, Evolution 6, Evolution satellite cages
Yellowtec Mika


Hibbard is president of Pacific Mobile Recorders, a studio design and systems integrator, Sacramento, CA.

More Photos of Sandusky Radio

The furniture is in place, and the first equipment to be installed are the speakers, control surface and mic booms.

The furniture is in place, and the first equipment to be installed are the speakers, control surface and mic booms.

The custom speaker mounts being installed before the drop ceiling is completed.

The custom speaker mounts being installed before the drop ceiling is completed.

A closer look at the custom speaker mount.

A closer look at the custom speaker mount.


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