Hubbard Broadcasting: KSTP(FM)

December 9, 2014


History

The Hubbard family has a long history in Midwest broadcasting dating back to the 1920s, when the call letters KSTP were heard on the air for the first time in the Twin Cities. Hubbard was a pioneer in many broadcasting technologies, including a purchase of one of the first television cameras available from RCA in 1939, the start of what would ultimately become KSTP(TV). The company also was instrumental in launching direct-to-home satellite television service when it started United States Satellite Broadcasting in 1981, then later merged that operation with DirecTV in 1999.

Stations

KSTP(AM), KSTP(FM) and KSTP(TV) remain fixtures in the Twin Cities market, and indeed around the region. KSTP(AM) features a sports talk format, while KSTP(FM) broadcasts adult contemporary music. The group of stations in the Twin Cities market also includes another FM station, KTMY, carrying a second talk format, which is branded as myTalk 107.1. Hubbard also distributes a selection of programming via satellite syndication through its Hubbard Radio Network.

Main control room and talk studio

Time for an upgrade

The radio studios at Hubbard''s historic St. Paul headquarters have been updated many times over the years, most recently with PR&E consoles in many of the studios and an Sierra Automated Systems 64,000 crosspoint router at the core. STL was handled via Intraplex frames and T1 lines out to the transmitter site. This equipment was state-of-the-art for its day (and very reliable) but it was time to upgrade once again and join the audio over IP era.

Director of Engineering for Hubbard Broadcasting''s radio group Jon Blomstrand recently completed a comprehensive overhaul of the air studios for KSTP(FM), along with Mike Weber and Paul Black from the Hubbard Radio Engineering staff.

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LED annunciator tower

Rack room with existing analog equipment and new "Blades"

It''s the console that counts

Once the decision was made to proceed with the upgrade, the first phase in the project was finding a control surface that the operators would be comfortable with. The air staff represents various levels of technical skill and experience, so it was important to find something that looked and felt as close to a “traditional” broadcast console as possible. This would simplify training and ease the transition between their existing equipment and the remodeled studios. The station has a very active morning show and afternoon drive, so it was important to choose equipment and plan studio transitions carefully prior to starting the remodel.

After spending a considerable amount of time looking at options for broadcast consoles on the floor at the NAB Show, the station programming and engineering staff chose the Wheatstone LX24. The ability to change between studios and reconfigure the surface with a single button press was a key feature. Talent stations were specified as part of the design to allow control of the system from each mic position.

A Henry Engineering "Multiport" panel allows quick access to audio and network I/O

Construction

From start to finish, the project was done primarily with in-house resources. One big advantage of a large radio and TV group such as Hubbard with extensive physical plant facilities is that they are able to do in house what normally would be contracted out, such as electrical work and physical construction. This saved a considerable amount of time and money.

The new studios are bright and appealing, with large LCD monitors on the walls displaying station branding and features. Edge-lit LED on-air signs outside of each studio also feature the station''s branding. Since the morning show actually occupies multiple studios, sight lines were critical. Large, well-placed windows between studios allow the team members to see one another. There is a primary control room and talk studio with multiple host and guest mic positions, a second control room with room for a producer and a dedicated call screener position. Additional LCD monitors on the wall opposite talent mic positions allow them to see the automation system and monitor playback of elements during the show.

WheatNet switch and Blades in the rack room provide an AoIP STL

The furniture was constructed locally. The main control room and talk studio is a “sit-down” configuration while the other studio''s furniture can be adjusted with motorized actuators for either stand-up or sit-down operation. Microphone and LCD arms are from Mika. Another feature integrated with the mic and LCD arms is a small LED light tower to indicate various alerts. Support equipment for each studio that does not require frequent operator interaction is placed in racks built into the furniture that are readily accessible, yet out of the way.

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Racks for equipment that does not require immediate operator access are tucked out of the way, integrated with the furniture

Challenges

One common challenge in studios is the number of keyboards and mice that are inevitably required between automation, show prep PCs, phone editors and other systems.

The engineering staff''s first approach to this was to use wireless keyboards everywhere (some with integrated trackpads) to cut down on the clutter, but they quickly discovered that only so many wireless devices can coexist in a small area. As a result, some systems ended up using wired keyboards and mice, while others used wireless.

Another challenge was the integration of the existing analog studios and audio routing with the new IP environment. Wheatstone Blades were used as a bridge between the existing analog infrastructure and the AoIP network. There are still a number of punch blocks in the rack room to allow for interconnects as well.

The production studio looks directly into the main studio. Furniture can be adjusted for either stand-up or sit-down operation.

STL Upgrades

Moving to AoIP allowed a major upgrade in the STL system for the radio stations as well. The transmitters of KSTP(TV) and KSTP(FM) are collocated. Since the television station operates a microwave STL system with a considerable amount of available bandwidth, it was relatively simple to add the WheatNet traffic to the link and use that same path for both radio and TV. The existing Intraplex frames and T1 links remain in place as backup.

An LCD monitor an LED on-air sign outside one of the studios display station branding.

While KSTP(FM) was the first station to receive a studio upgrade, the other stations are slated to receive upgrades soon. The installation of WheatNet will make this process somewhat easier as different parts of the facility can be linked directly over the network without discrete tielines.

With the foundation of a new audio over IP network in place, Hubbard will be in a good position to continue its heritage of broadcast technology innovation for many years to come.

Have you done a studio, RF or other project recently? Tell us about it. Email stoven@nbmedia.com.


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