Comfort & Sound
May 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Mark Bohach
WLOH's new talk/production studio provides a comfortable setup for local show hosts and their guests.
When many people hear the term "small market radio" they get a mental image of old, worn-out equipment, shag carpet on the walls and rundown surroundings. WLOH in Lancaster, OH, defies this stereotype. In 2005, my wife, Arlene, and I purchased the station, which at that time, was losing money. Sales had slumped while operating expenses continued to rise. The station's equipment had not been updated in several years. Equipment on hand included analog reel decks, cart machines and a very tired early DOS-based automation system. At the tower, the 20-plus-year-old Harris MW-1A transmitter was operating, but had problems.
Arlene and I have always believed in community (small market) radio. Lancaster lies about 25 miles southeast of Columbus and has a population of 40,000 in a county of more than 120,000. The two commercial FM stations licensed to Lancaster have long since moved to Columbus leaving WLOH as the only commercial radio station serving our county.
I personally believe that regardless of a station's size, its equipment needs to kept up-to-date and installed properly. Listeners are going to compare WLOH with those big city stations in Columbus and if our audio isn't crisp and clean and our format well executed, listeners will quickly dismiss the station as unprofessional.
After studying the situation, we launched a news/talk format that reflected the conservative nature of Lancaster and Fairfield County, OH. A large part of the new format involved syndicated programming from several different providers. We also wanted a strong local news and sports presence and as many hours of local programming as possible. WLOH currently produces eight different local talk shows each week plus more than 60 local high school sporting events during the school year. WLOH is also home to Cleveland Indians Baseball, Columbus Blue Jackets Hockey and Ohio State University Sports.
The WLOH control studio is used to produce local sports and other live remote broadcasts. The on-air Enco workstation and other computer resources are accessed here.
We also decided it was time to build a completely new studio facility. With less than two years left on the current building lease, we began to plan our new facilities. During this time, we replaced the transmitter with a new Broadcast Electronics AM 500A. We also installed a new Orban Optimod 9200 audio processor and a Sine Systems remote control system. We also purchased enough studio equipment to keep the station on the air until the big move.
In late 2006, we were approached about a potential new studio location. A local businessman owned a former model home in the fast growing commercial area of Lancaster. While the building's exterior looked like a house, it was actually a commercial structure that met all commercial building and electrical codes. The owner wanted to develop the building into an office complex but needed to sign a long-term tenant to justify his investment. With a very attractive build-to-suit agreement worked out, WLOH agreed to become the hallmark tenant in the new Gateway Commerce Center.
New facility wish list
We had specific design objectives in mind for the new studios. We wanted a facility that, while giving the appearance of state-of-the-art technology, made our many guests and visitors feel comfortable and welcome. We wanted the studios to be easily operated with minimal training yet be powerful enough to handle top quality production and fast-paced talk shows.
The control room equipment racks contain the station's Enco workstations, and other support computers, EAS equipment, audio switchers and processing, satellite receivers and monitoring equipment.
We first evaluated all existing studio equipment and determined what would move and what would be retired. The existing control room Modulux furniture and Arrakis console were still in very good condition and would make the move. We decided to retire the production/talk studio furniture and console that had served faithfully for nearly 20 years. The same decision was made regarding the station's Marti VHF remote pickup system, which had become interference-prone and unreliable.
A major problem to overcome was how to move the station's two main satellite dishes while keeping all programming on the air. Fortunately, we had a spare dish that could be utilized during the move. We contracted with a local sign company that had the necessary cranes and equipment to move the dishes. We installed new mounting poles at the new site and on moving day, the sign company popped the dishes off their old mounts and transported them intact, keeping the elevation settings. All we needed to do was adjust the dishes to their proper azimuth settings. We had a satellite technician on hand during the move just in case something went wrong.
While construction commenced, we ordered the new equipment and studio furniture. For the new talk/production studio, I called Rod Graham at Graham Studios. I sent him a building plan showing the room dimensions and he designed a custom version of the Radius XP furniture that exactly met our needs.
For our audio storage and automation needs, we chose the Enco DAD Pro 32 system. Enco supplied all needed hardware and software. We use Enco's Gateway program to automatically back up our audio and all system files. We also use its Dropbox program to automatically transfer audio files to the DAD library. And Enco's Scheduling Wizard program automatically builds daily playlists from our Natural Log traffic system.
Our Enco manages a dozen satellite networks and their relay inputs. All network programming, including the professional and college sports broadcasts are fully automated. We also flawlessly net-catch more than 200 recordings from satellite each week using a separate eight-channel record switcher and another 100 FTP feeds each week from various services such as Metro Traffic using its Traffic Transmitter system.
The heavy brick exterior of the new studio building contributes to very quiet studios. No detail was overlooked including a newly paved parking lot and landscaping.
For production purposes, we purchased new computers and Adobe Audition for each studio and field recording. Audition has an excellent built-in effects package and has the ability to work in many audio formats. We extensively use Audition's CD ripping and file format conversion capabilities. Our production workstations and Enco system are networked together allowing LAN audio transfers between machines. All machines on the network have access to the Internet through a firewalled router. This allows for the safe use of utilities like Dimension Four for time sync and FTP audio downloads. Each studio workstation also has its own public IP address and runs PC anywhere Host software. This allows staff to remotely control and monitor any computer via the Internet.
With the retirement of the Marti RPU equipment, it was time to look at digital options. Because many of our remotes originate from fixed locations where POTS lines are available, WLOH opted for Comrex Matrix/Vector gear for our primary system. We are also experimenting with AOIP remotes. We have used a laptop computer with a wireless Internet card with Audio Compass. Initial results have been excellent. Using a rate of 48kb/s the audio quality is as good as a POTS codec and audio latency is approximately one-half second each direction. We also have a cell phone fallback option in case we encounter problems with the digital feeds.
Other new studio equipment included a new Arrakis console. We went back to Arrakis since the console we retired, an Arrakis 10,000, had never failed in 18 years of continuous service and still sounded good when we powered it down. Other new equipment included Air Tools 6100 broadcast delay, Symetrix microphone processors, E-V microphones with shock mounts and OC White booms, JBL monitor speakers and Radio Design Labs metering. We also purchased a few pieces of good used equipment such as the Broadcast Tools and Conex switchers.
Analog to digital
While designing the new facility, we needed to make some decisions on how to best implement new digital equipment while staying on budget. The in-studio audio paths are essentially analog but we utilize our LAN to move audio throughout the facility whenever possible. We wired the facility with plenty of CAT-5E cable and have the ability to easily pull CAT-6 if needed in the future.
WLOH has a beautiful new facility that also sounds great. At our ribbon cutting and open house, nearly 200 people showed up to see the new studios. In the many comments we have received since moving in, the majority of them note how the studios are beautifully decorated. We achieved our goals of a comfortable and modern facility while staying within our budget.
Adobe Audition 1.5, Audition 2.0
Air Tools 6100
Aphex 320A Compellor
Arrakis 12000, 1200, Modulux
Audio Compass software
BE AM 500 A
Broadcast Tools 1x6, DSC 32, SRC 32
Comrex Matrix, Vector
Dell computers, flat-panel monitors
Electro-Voice RE-20, 309A Enco DAD Pro 32
Graham Studios Radius Line
Harris equipment racks
JBL Control One
OC White mic booms
Orban Optimod 9200
Sine Systems ACU-1, RFC2
Bohach is co-owner and manager of WLOH, Lancaster, OH.