Bonneville Goes Digital in St. Louis
May 1, 2005 12:00 PM, By Marshall Rice
In October 2000, Bonneville Inter-national had a major problem with its four newly acquired radio stations in St. Louis. The four stations were in two widely separated locations, and the leases were coming due for each location. A search began immediately for a new location to consolidate the facilities. We were looking for a building to merge the four stations, but with enough space to allow acquisition of a fifth or sixth station. After lengthy lease negotiations with different developers and rental agents, a building location was chosen. The race was on to complete the building before the current leases expired.
What is tilt-up construction?
Tilt-up construction uses concrete panels that are poured on the job site. This eliminates the time to manufacture and ship the panels. The set panels are then set in place and tilted up into place.
Bonneville was fortunate to find a developer who was willing to modify a proposed retail building to accommodate a radio facility on the second floor. We had a spacious and efficient 26,000 square-foot space to work with. The building is located in an upscale office and retail complex in a suburban setting. This was an exciting project to be part of because we had all of seven months to break ground and move in, plus construction would occur through the fall and winter months. To meet this schedule the project was handled as a design-build, which means that the building was constructed throughout the design process. This process requires a great deal of flexibility in the initial phases of the project. The building itself is a tilt-up, but used a new and unique technique of imbedding brick in the face of the poured concrete walls, allowing the speed of construction and strength of a tilt-up, yet giving the appearance of an all-brick structure to match the finish of the retail and office park in which we are located.
The imaging production studio enjoys the same clean sightlines as the air studios.
Looking down studio row. Each studio has a custom-made, hand-blown glass on-air light fixture, which is a common topic of conversation for station visitors.
The receptionist has a secure area to greet station visitors.
News studios are positioned between two air studios so that the room can be easily shared.
The attacks of 9/11 occurred during the design. In light of the changing social environment we decided to incorporate some extra security measures to ensure the safety of our staff. The most significant change was to secure the receptionist within a bullet-resistant area from which she can greet visitors and, either allow them through to a reception area or transact business through a window similar to that in a bank. Although at first we thought this might be a little impersonal or imposing it has worked out well. Our receptionist can screen visitors before she allows them to enter and she feels safe and secure when dealing with them. From her seat the receptionist can monitor all of the entrances and exits as well as all stairwells through a video security system.
After entering the reception area, access to the rest of the facility is through another set of secure doors, which further controls access to the suite. As you enter the facility the first look is down a long hallway we call Studio Row. All of the on-air studios, news and production rooms are along this hallway. The air studios are along the south side of the hallway, which provides each one with a large window facing the main street. Each pair of air studios shares a news studio that is between them. Along the other side of the hallway are the three production and three imaging studios. Outside each studio is a custom designed, hand-blown glass on-air light fixture. These fixtures attract a lot of attention especially from tour groups when an announcer opens a mic. Halfway down this hallway is a corridor that leads to the technical operations center (TOC). The TOC is heart of the facility and houses the hub of the routing system, telephone interfaces, audio processing, streaming servers, audio servers and enterprise servers. Large windows looking into the TOC accentuate the technical aspects of the facility. The first row of racks is on display. The most important criteria for equipment placement, especially in the first row, were the number of blinking lights on the equipment faces. Further down Studio Row is the sales area. We used an open floor plan with lots of windows in the surrounding offices to let in light and give a spacious feeling. Continuing around the suite brings you to the program and promotions area. Through here you return to the reception area, like a big figure eight.
Bonneville insisted on building a state-of-the-art facility that would incorporate the latest technology available. To that end we chose the Klotz routing platform and consoles for the facility. The power and flexibility afforded by a digital platform allowed us to simplify installation, which saved a significant amount in infrastructure wiring and minimized cable and labor costs. By using an integrated digital platform we can share resources such as telephone codecs and incoming audio feeds. The Klotz system automatically builds a mix-minus for each feed, which is controlled from the studios. The console can be configured to match the needs of each announcer and has proven reliable and easy to learn and use. The announcers, who work modern A/C, country, smooth jazz and adult standards formats, all adjusted to using the new equipment quickly.
One of the first things visitors in the studios notice is the number of flat-panel monitors at each announcer's position. The announcers are surrounded by flat screens supplying them with Internet, news, console levels, clock, phone recorder, automation system information and automation control. We designed the air studios to match each other and each is similarly equipped. In the case of a major failure any air studio can be quickly changed for another, any of the other studios can be changed into a backup air studio, or the audio automation can be directly routed to the processing bypassing the studios entirely. The digital routing platform makes these changes quick and relatively easy.
Contractor: Murray Company
Architect: Tri Architekts
Dealer: RF Specialties of Missouri
The biggest challenge in building the facility was integrating all the new digital equipment. At the time much of the ancillary equipment, STLs, telephone interfaces, phone recorders, exciters, audio processing and automation systems, though digital, were not ready for prime time. Features that were standard on the analog products were not functional or not included in the digital product, audio card drivers were in beta, and some equipment was just not as reliable as the analog counterpart. However, the manufacturers were quick with upgrades and modifications to address these issues and the problems were resolved and the products were made fully functional.
Another major challenge was local building inspectors who had never seen the type of low-level audio cabling and fiber optics used in this facility. It took many meetings with the city planners, inspectors and contractors involved to resolve these issues to everyone's satisfaction.
An interesting feature of our main conference room is the ability to use it as a performance studio. One corner of the room looks into a production room where we can mix a live band. The conference table folds up and rolls out of the way to allow more room. A great amenity provided by the office park where the studios are located is the use of a 144-seat auditorium. A fiber optic run between the office buildings provides an audio link to and from the auditorium. We feature live performances from major artists there and can broadcast them live or record them for later broadcast. Some artists we have presented include Kenny Chesney, Rascal Flatts, Josh Kelley, Steve Oliver and Jeff Lorber.
We are preparing to celebrate our third year in the facility. We are pleased with the building and the equipment has all settled in well. Maintaining close relationships with the suppliers and manufacturers was imperative throughout the installation and break-in period and are important to maintain. The flexibility and ease of use of the digital consoles and related equipment are greatly appreciated by the air staff. The design and layout of this facility is a source of pride for the rest of the staff. We often invite outside organizations to hold their meetings in our conference rooms. Clients are delighted to come in for recording sessions and tours are always welcome.
Rice is the engineering director for Bonneville International's St. Louis Radio Group. Photographs by William E. Mathis, Mathis Jones Communications.
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