WRTI of Philadelphia

November 1, 2004

It's a familiar story. The studios were too small. The equipment was 20 years out of date. The staff was forced to share their desks and small offices, and schedule studio time to avoid conflict. The confined employees had begun snapping at each other in their enclosed, windowless environment. All this was going on in the City of Brotherly Love at the classical/jazz station WRTI. This flagship station of the Temple University Public Radio Network in Philadelphia desperately needed to move out of the building it had occupied for more than three decades.

Philadelphia is home to Temple University, founded in 1884 and chartered as Temple College in 1888. Temple has become the 36th largest university in the United States; more than 34,000 students attend this comprehensive public research university. And like most universities, Temple houses a pubic radio station, WRTI, which features National Public Radio and classical and jazz programs.

WRTI was formed during the Golden Age of Radio in 1948 as a campus-only carrier current station on 640 AM. The Philadelphia Inquirer and local FM radio station WFIL donated $25,000 to build and outfit WRTI with “ultra-modern studios” in the basement of Thomas Hall, one of the oldest buildings on campus. Its call letters stood for Radio Teaching Institute, and was to be used as a professional training ground for students aspiring to become radio broadcasters. Along with the latest popular records, the university planned to broadcast faculty information and educational programs to the students over the airwaves.

It quickly became popular with students and faculty, and in 1953 it became a licensed FM station operating at 10W on 90.1. The new transmitter was situated on the 12th floor of Conwell Hall, and the tower was installed on the roof at a height of 125 feet. Among its programs, the playlist included dramas, book reviews written by instructors from the English Department, and live performances by soloists from the Music School. By this time, 200 students studied radio broadcasting on WRTI, which was used as a laboratory for those taking communications courses. Also that year, WRTI started carrying Owl football games, beginning with the Owls-Scranton Royal game on Oct. 24. Five years later the station increased its power to 790W, making it the most powerful university station in the area.

The main air studio is built around Wheatstone G5/20 control surfaces. Photo by Tom Crane Photography, courtesy of Burt Hill Kosar Rittelmann Associates.

Underwriting sales manager Rick Torpey and undergrad student assistant Jillian Kepton review copy in a production studio. Photo by Joseph V. Labolito.

With enough space and hardware for a host and six guests, the interview studio is used daily in the new facility. Photo by Joseph V. Labolito.

Executive Director Dave Conant broadcasts a Classical morning air shift in WRTI's main studio. Photo by Joseph V. Labolito.

Jill Pasternak on the air at WRTI, the flagship station of Temple University Public Radio's network. Photo by Joseph V. Labolito.

In 1968, WRTI was moved from the basement of Thomas Hall to the new Annenberg Hall, in what was supposed to be the beginning of a new era for the station. This new space for WRTI included four studios equipped with RCA equipment: a BC-7A stereo audio console, two tape recorders, five cart machines and two turntables. The production studio used a BC-19 stereo audio console; two tape recorders, two cart machines and two turntables. One studio contained an Allan electric organ, and the other had a Steinway baby grand piano. There were four offices for traffic, continuity and personnel; and a separate newsroom with a UPI teletype machine. The new station was to be run by a professional paid staff and student volunteers, and operate 365 days a year. It would serve the entire Philadelphia community, and no longer operate solely as a training lab for future broadcasters. It also introduced an all-jazz format.

By 1970, WRTI was the number-one jazz station in Philadelphia. That year an anonymous donor bought the station a new 5kW transmitter and antenna, and the antenna was relocated to a tower site in Roxborough in 1972. During the 1980s Temple University Public Radio added five repeater stations and six translators, extending its coverage into central and northeastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. In 1989 the station increased its power to 50,000W, a class B station.

Natural growth

During the Reagan years, WRTI outgrew its 4,000 square feet of space in Annenberg Hall. This area included an air studio, two small production rooms, a news booth and a tiny wiring closet stuffed with equipment. Size wasn't the only issue; high ambient noise plagued the studios, and old underground cabling introduced noise and intermittent hum to the signals passing through them. The HVAC was poorly regulated, static electricity caused erratic operation in the studio equipment, and there was no backup power source.

These problems went on for years, and as early as 1990, management began making plans to move out. Over the course of the decade, station personnel explored potential locations around campus. They presented several proposals to the university administration, but nothing could ever be decided. Finally, after the turn of the century, definite plans were made. Construction of a new building would begin in 2002 in which WRTI would occupy the entire third floor. This was the new Entertainment and Community Education Center, the ECEC.

The architecture firm of Timothy Haas and Associates was selected by the University to design the ECEC building shell. Burt Hill Kosar Rittelmann Associates was chosen by WRTI for the interior design due to its prior experience with National Public Radio's facility. Construction of the ECEC began November 2002, and by the following November, wiring and equipment installation was under way. Chief Engineer Jeff DePolo installed the equipment with the help of Mike DePolo, WRTI's Operating Manager Tobias Poole and electricians from M. Gitlin Company. The furniture was created by Studio Technology and installed by Vince Fiola and his team.

The studio walls are built of multiple-layer sheetrock and soundproofing to try to achieve the best acoustical isolation. The windows are ¾” sound-rated laminate glass, and acoustical tiles are installed on the walls. There are no wall penetrations between studios, and ceiling tiles are heavily insulated. The HVAC system puts out low airflow noise, sound locks are installed on the main studios and low-noise PCs are used throughout.

The third floor of the ECEC building has given WRTI the breathing room it so sorely needed with 13,200 square feet of available space. The 50+ year-old station now consists of a TOC, 10 studios and control rooms, 19 offices, a conference room and a 400 square-foot music library with a capacity of 70,000 CDs and 9,000 albums.

A modern facility

A key feature in the new facility is the live-performance studio and adjoining high-end multi-track control room. The studio is designed for live classical and jazz performances and contains an 800 square-foot hardwood floor. In the studio, live-to-air mixes and multi-track recording is done on an Automated Processes (API) Legacy series console, which includes 960 patch points for total flexibility in interconnecting the console, auxiliary equipment and 160 audio tie-lines. Multitrack recordings can be made to both Protools on a Power Mac G5 and Tascam DA-78HRs independent of, or in conjunction with, the API console. This arrangement allows operators to run digital multi-track recording sessions while creating live-to-air mixes on the API.

Instead of going with typical consoles for the other studios, the engineering team chose the Wheatstone Bridge router system with G5 control surfaces. A stand-alone Wheatstone D5000 digital console was brought over from the old facility to serve as the console in the backup air studio in case of router failure. Wheatstone Bridge router cages were installed in the primary air studio and the interview control room, and two in the TOC. The remaining studios were slaved off these cages, helping reduce the amount of cable runs. All inputs and outputs between the Wheatstone components were done with four-pair CAT-6 Ethernet cabling.

Twenty-five-pair CAT-5 cables carry AES3 digital audio separate of the Wheatstone Bridge network. The audio plant uses AES3 digital interconnects, except for the analog console, cassette decks and mic processors. Analog audio carried on snake AES3 digital cable will be replaced with digital as the old analog equipment is eventually phased out. Telephone, ISDN, control circuits and other miscellaneous circuits are carried on 25-pair CAT-5e. Finally, a 12-strand multimode fiber line from the TOC runs to each studio. Wires are laid out on cable trays run down all corridors at the same height as the drop ceiling, providing easy access and a visually appealing layout.

No major problems were experienced during the build-out, and by February 2004 the administrative staff moved in. By late February the project was finished under budget, and on March 1, WRTI went live. Board operators quickly adapted to the new Wheatstone control surfaces, which have performed well since installation. The staff's energy has risen to new levels, contributing to the much-improved sound quality of the station.

A new equipment room and antenna tower for microwave STL has been located on the roof of Wachman Hall, the tallest building on campus. Fiber optic lines take the signal from the station to this hub using SAS Riolinks units, which provide 32 channels of bidirectional audio. Equipment is remotely monitored by a Burk GSC3000, and it all operates with its own 10KVA Powerware UPS. A network of Moseley Starlinks and DSP6000 STLs distribute program audio to the six transmitter sites, along with redundant Starlinks, ISDN and analog RF STL backups. Burk GSC3000, VRC2000 dial-up remote controls and a Burk ARC-16 with RF links are used to control the stations in the network.

The new WRTI facility is part of an expansion program that began when Temple University Public Radio Network added the repeater stations in the 1980s. Just recently, Temple received construction permits for eight additional translator stations in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, and an additional 13 translators and another class A facility are still pending with the Commission. The installation of new IBOC transmitters has begun, and within the next two years, all six stations in the network will be broadcasting digital. The few remaining analog STL feeds are being replaced with Starlinks, with five additional STL/ICR relays being added next year to complete the distribution network.

With its new facility, WRTI looks forward to reaching out to the Philadelphia community, bringing live and recorded performances to the network listeners. And not only can the production department efficiently serve the station, it can now offer its services to organizations outside station walls. And the new studios enable the station to train students for the real world of radio, allowing them to operate the latest state-of-the-art equipment, which is exactly why WRTI was created in the first place. Although the station now uses modern digital equipment and computer networks instead of tube-powered consoles and ancient turntables, its basic mission is the same as it was so long ago in 1948: to train future broadcasters and serve Temple University and the community of Philadelphia.

Singer is a freelance writer and former radio engineer in Cincinnati.

Thanks to Jeff DePolo, broadcast and communications consultant, for technicals details in this article.

Equipment list

Adobe Audition
Aphex 320A Compellor
Belar Wizard
Broadcast Tools 16x1
Burk ARC-16
Burk GSC3000
Clark Wire panels and plates
Crown D-45
Dalet Plus Radio Suite
Denon DN-780R cassette
Denon DN-C680
Digidesign Protools
Dorrough 1200
Dorrough RW-100 and 280-D
Electro-Voice RE-20, RE-50
ESE master clock
Genelec 2029A
Hafler power amps
Henry Engineering Superelay
JBL 4412, Control 5
LEA surge arrestors
Moseley PCL 6030
Moseley SL9003Q
Neumann TLM 103
Neutrik connectors
O.C. White mic booms
Omnia Toolvox
Orban 8200
Orban 8400
Shure SM7B mics
Sony MDS-E12 Minidisc
Sony PCM-R500 DAT
Symetrix 528E
Tannoy Reveal
Telos 2101
Telos Zephy Xstream
Ward Beck ABB-1
Wheatstone Bridge router and controllers
Wheatstone Bridge
Wheatstone G5/20 consoles
Wheatstone G5/8 consoles
Z-systems Z8.8
Primary dealer: SCMS

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