Eye on Radio

November 1, 2008


In today's ever-changing content environment, an engineer needs to be prepared for any request that comes their way. The latest HD Radio equipment, streaming technologies, alternative content systems and the ever-evolving IP audio revolution is enough to keep any skilled engineer on their toes. So what does one do when asked to design and build a TV studio right in the middle of his radio station? Run with it. That's exactly what Cumulus Media-owned WQKC-FM did. This past September, engineer Rik Pike and I turned WQKC 93.9 The Ticket into a fully functional TV studio.

Dave Ragone and Scott Padgett are the morning hosts on 93.9 The Ticket.

Dave Ragone and Scott Padgett are the morning hosts on 93.9 The Ticket.

The Ticket is a high-energy, locally focused sports talk radio station in Louisville, KY. It is home to a fast-paced talk show hosted by nationally know athletes, Kentucky sports heroes and local celebrities Dave Ragone and Scott Padgett. Every morning Dave and Scott bring a unique take on the sports world to the Louisville and Southern Indiana airwaves. The station partnered with Cascade Media's CW network affiliate, WBKI-TV to simulcast the show on television.

From this view, this looks like any other radio studio.

From this view, this looks like any other radio studio.

The show would originate from the existing WQKC air studio. The medium-sized studio was already built around Graham Studios Radius-XP furniture in the traditional U-shaped configuration. The board operator or show producer faced the three talent microphone positions. All LCD touch-screens and monitors were mounted on Ergotron arms for ideal positioning. This type of studio layout allowed for excellent eye contact and interaction between the personalities. Because the furniture was an island design, it also provided easy access to wiring. Adding a TV show to the mix would however, prove to be a difficult task. The limited floor space did not allow for any tripods or camera mounts and four other live shows needed to broadcast daily from the studio without interrupting their workflow. A TV producer workstation needed to be constructed, and the show needed to be delivered in real-time to WBKI-TV. The engineers from both WQKC and WBKI-TV put our heads together to come up with a plan that satisfied the needs for both the radio and TV stations.



Robotic mounts

In the air studio we chose small footprint cameras with RF-controlled robotic mounts. These were installed high on walls and on top of the equipment countertop rack. Three of the cameras were used for close-up shots, however one was fitted with a wide-angle lens for a bird's-eye view of the entire studio. The robotic mounts allowed the TV producer to be the camera operator and obtain different shots without being in the studio. Full wall-to-wall graphics with station and sponsorship logos were positioned directly behind the hosts, providing a backdrop for the set that included a wall mounted 42" LCD TV. To enhance the show, LED lighting was chosen for its brightness, low power and heat requirements. It was important that all video and control cabling was out of sight and hidden from any camera shots. Standard construction cable TV-type wall plates gave the install a clean look. Quality LCD wall mounts and hidden receptacles added to the design. Finally, a smaller 19" LCD TV was installed on the side of the countertop equipment rack to provide the hosts with a preview video feed.

The four cameras are mounted out of the way and are barely noticed.

The four cameras are mounted out of the way and are barely noticed.



For the video control point, a cubicle formerly used for call screening was removed. This sat directly outside the studio and provided the space to build a complete video control center. An Omnirax Presto workstation was chosen for its small footprint, dual four-space equipment racks and countertop for video monitors. A Panasonic WJ-MX30 digital A/V mixer was chosen as the primary controller for video and camera sources. Two Lietech Xpress 12×1 video routing switchers were installed to accommodate for all of the video sources. Ikegami rackmount quad LCD screens provided individual camera preview shots. An Ashley LX 308B line-level audio mixer was used to provide the video producer with audio monitoring selections. Two standard DVD players and a Dell PC with a composite video card were used to provide additional graphics and video footage. Plenum-rated RG-59 cabling and Canare true 75 ohm BCP-C1 BNC connectors helped provide clean video signals at all connections. A Telos Switch Console with Assistant Producer software was installed at the Dell workstation and provided the call-screening needs of the station. The workspace ended up providing easy and ergonomic operation by one or two people.

The TV producer station is in the adjacent room.

The TV producer station is in the adjacent room.

Simulcasting

To deliver the video and synchronized audio to WBKI-TV, a pair of Terrawave Communications TW-400 IP-based STL transmitter/receivers were used. The Terrawave accepted a standard-definition video input, balanced stereo audio inputs and converted the media to IP. Because the STL was bi-directional, a confidence return feed was delivered back to WQKC via the TW-400 outputs. To handle the bandwidth requirements, a 10MB synchronous point-to-point fiber circuit was constructed by the local telecom company and installed with Cisco 2400 routers at each end. The signal quality was excellent and delivered in real time with extremely low-latency.

One of the difficulties of simulcasting the live show was handling local content. Each station needed to run separate local commercials, liners, news-feeds and promos. To achieve this, we treated the TV station like an affiliate. A mix-minus was set up, providing the TV station with only the program material it needed. Liners and radio-only audio elements were excluded from the mix. WQKC uses the Broadcast Software International and Cumulus developed automation system, OpX to generate relay closures that would trigger the TV stations commercial breaks.

The static camera on the back wall provides a view of the entire studio.

The static camera on the back wall provides a view of the entire studio.



The plan was to extend these closures over the STL to WBKI-TV; however, a small problem arose when we discovered there wasn't any available bandwidth to send them separately as a data channel on the Terrawave. Instead, the program audio was fed through a pair of Circuitwerkes SEN-6 Subaudible tone encoders. These would trigger the TV station breaks by placing relay closure commands to activate the subaudible tones in the automation playlists at the exact time of the radio commercial breaks. The Circuitwerkes encoders would inject the tones at low level into the program audio delivered to WBKI. At the TV station a Mueller T25-35SA subaudible tone decoder was installed to decode the tones and trigger the breaks. The result was a flawless and completely synchronized video and audio feed that met the needs of both stations.

Another view of the studio

Another view of the studio

Merging radio shows and television isn't always an easy task. The end result can be very rewarding, as it was for WQKC-FM and WBKI-TV. Delivering the functionality needed for a quality television product while not intruding on a busy radio workspace was an important aspect to the design and installation. In the end, they met the challenges and needs of the constantly evolving content environment while most importantly, keeping the listener and viewer in mind.


Robinson is the manager of engineering and IT for Cumulus Media, Indianapolis, IN and Louisville, KY.


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