Universal Studios Orlando
Oct 1, 2002 12:00 PM, By Chriss Scherer, editor
When designing or renovating a facility, attention is primarily paid to the facility's function. Generally, the desire to create a visually appealing space is a secondary priority. When a company's prime business is the visual attraction, form and function share equal importance. Such is the case with Universal Studios Orlando, which recently rebuilt the radio studios in its central Florida theme park.
The radio studios occupy a small space next to the Brown Derby Hat Shop on Rodeo Drive, not far from the entrance to the Universal Studios theme park. At first glance, the building facade blends with the surrounding decor and could be easily overlooked as you walk down the street. Once inside, however, the decor speaks for itself.
The room decor already carried a futuristic, high-tech look. The new studio equipment complements this existing design.
There are five rooms for the studios. Visitors are first welcomed into a green room with couches and a kitchenette. This area helps visiting stations feel at home during their visit. It also allows the station to handle large groups of people that visit the studio. From the green room, a short hallway leads visitors to the remaining four rooms: two on-air studios, a rack room and an office.
It's not the most expansive space, but it offers plenty of room for this operation.
The two studios have been given themes from famous Universal movies. The smaller studio pays tribute to one of Universal's biggest stars, the shark from the movie Jaws. The larger studio is a tribute to the futuristic movie villain from the movie Terminator 2.
While not critical to the regular operation, the treatment from the ceiling in both rooms is unlike any other interior decoration.
In the T-2 studio, a long metallic shaft curves downward with the head of the T-1000 Terminator at the end. This can be positioned to face anywhere in the room so that operators can have a captive audience or a sentinel. On the walls are back-lit schematics of the 800 series Terminator.
The Jaws studio has a recreated scene of a female swimmer about to be attacked by the great white shark. What's unique is that the swimmer and shark are above you, as if you were underwater. The detail of the frothing and bubbling saltwater around the aquatic, life-size figures is interesting. The only thing missing is the Florida license plate in the shark's mouth.
The Jaws studio sees more use as a production studio than an air studio. Despite this fundamental shift in focus, it is well-suited for use on air and for interviews.
The studios were built in 1993 by Pacific Recorders and Engineering. While only small changes have been made throughout the nine years of faithful service, Universal felt that the time was right to perform a complete upgrade. Now that the renovation is complete, the overall form of the studios has not changed much from the original design, but the technology behind the equipment certainly has.
The radio studio engineers were pleased with the work that PR&E did originally. Over the years, Universal worked with Harris on equipment upgrades as well. When Universal decided to renovate the studios, the radio staff turned to the same people for help. Now that PR&E is a part of Harris, the decision was simplified.
Replace or retain?
The new facilities are a combination of existing and new equipment. Most of the regularly used equipment has been replaced with digital counterparts to provide a digital foundation. Still, some analog sources exist.
The new equipment selections were based on feedback from Harris' systems division. Universal dictated the function and specified operation while Harris developed the form. The studios themes did not change, but Universal did update the room d�cor. The result is a mix of technology and theme park.
One major design goal was to reduce visual clutter in the studios. The previous layout had a cart machine overbridge. This placed the cart machines in a convenient location for the operator, but sometimes it got in the way of looking at guests. In addition, carts have lost their dominant position as an audio source. A video screen can display most of what an operator would need to see in significantly less space.
Equipment removed from the studios is still in working order. One possible plan is to build satellite studios in the Islands of Adventure park using the extra equipment.
The entire facility is designed for digital audio. The trunk cables between rooms are CAT-5 cable.
Gepco supplied a cable made to CAT-5 specs in a traditional mic-cable configuration. This provides flexibility and durability for any exposed cable runs.
One unique element is the guest headphone controls. The guest panels have a linear fader next to the mic cough button. This is a level control, but not for the mic. It is the headphone level control for the headphones. Using the same materials as the console, custom fabrication of parts was eliminated. The panels also naturally match the console.
A CAT-5 cable connects the panels to the console and headphone distribution system. This new system does not rely on the headphone level control to dissipate excess power as heat. Instead, the level control varies the signal at the headphone distribution box, minimizing wasted power.
The monitors in the T-2 studio are hung from the ceiling. As part of the attention to clearer sight lines, these monitors, Hafler TRM-6 active monitors, are considerably smaller than the monitors they replaced. To enhance the sound from their diminutive appearance, a subwoofer was placed on the floor under the studio furniture.
With so many other attractions seeking attention in the park, the radio studio can be easily overlooked among the buildings on the street.
The monitors in the Jaws studio are not placed on either side of the console. This room is used for production more than for on-air use, so the monitors were placed on either side of the Orban Audicy. This placement is not a problem during on-air use because the monitors are not used for critical listening at that time.
While studio furniture is not usually considered a high-tech element of a new studio, the furniture Universal chose includes several new design elements. First, the laminate material on the surfaces is something that is not commonly found on furniture, but it may sometimes be found under it. The surfaces are covered with a material called Marmoleum, manufactured by the Dutch linoleum manufacturer Forbo. Because of its design for use as a floor covering, it is durable and can withstand the use and abuse of serving as a cabinet fish. It comes in rolls measuring 12' wide, so it is possible to create seamless surfaces while using materials that are less expensive than some solid-surface designs.
Once cut and covered, the surface edge is fitted with a flexible T-molding to withstand bumps and provide a smooth edge.
While the furniture in the Jaws studio is functional, the furniture in the T-2 studio offers a unique characteristic. Using the same construction materials, this furniture implements Harris' Hydraflex feature, which debuted at NAB2002. This allows the furniture height to be adjusted from 30" to 38" at the push of a button with a hydraulic lift system fitted into the legs. This allows the operators the flexibility to adjust the furniture height to their liking. At the 30" height, the furniture is also ADA compliant.
To maintain the open feel of the T-2 studio, the furniture support has open spaces with cable raceways instead of having a solid-block construction. Although subtle, the room does have a more open feel and the design helps with ventilation.
Behind the scenes
In the rack room, the biggest change was the removal of all the patch bays and the installation of an SAS 32KD router. Because of the demand for flexibility in 1993, the patch bays were a natural and safe choice. While the demand for flexibility has not changed, the digital router handles this need with less effort. The router is also integrated into the Harris consoles so input scenes can be recalled and input source labels can be changed.
The original installation also used PR&E Molex blocks for termination. A few still remain for analog sources, but several rows of Krone blocks have been installed for digital audio and data uses.
The fourth room is used as an office for the radio studio staff. Affectionately called the dungeon, this room can be used as a studio if needed. It has the necessary cabling to make it an active space with the addition of the required audio equipment that can be rolled in as needed.
Interaction between the operators in the studio and the park visitors outside was important to Universal in the planning process, so monitor speakers were placed over the windows to feed audio. PZM mics were also mounted outside to pick up street noise or to allow the studio to talk to park visitors. To add to the interaction capability, a wireless mic and IFB system is available with enough range to cover the street in front of the studios and well beyond the visual range of the studios.
Because this is a self-contained campus, the Universal IT department can install ISDN lines anywhere on the Universal grounds. Visiting stations can also broadcast from anywhere in the park with a portable mixer and ISDN codec.
The park is open year round, and during the peak season the studios are used almost every day. The associated parks offer visitors plenty of entertainment, and the new radio studios offer visiting stations a modern and efficient space from which to broadcast. It truly has combined form and function in unique way.
Thanks to Harris and Universal Studios for their assistance in preparing this article.
Interested in broadcasting from Universal Studios Orlando? For complete details contact Ross Marvin at (407) 224-7291 orRoss.Marvin@universalorlando.com.
AirTools PH-500 Mic Preamp/Processor
BMXdigital 30 console
Denon DN-M991R Minidisc player/recorder
Eventide BD-500 delay
Eventide DSP-4000B+ effects processor
Fostex D-5 DAT player/recorder
Fostex RM-1 rack mount powered monitor speaker
Hafler TRM10.1 Active subwoofer
Hafler TRM-6 Active monitor speakers
Harris Hydraflex furniture
Harris/Henry World Feed Panel
Harris-Pacific 3�6 headphone amp
Harris-Pacific producer turret
LPB silent mic boom
Middle Atlantic rack panels
Orban Opticodec 7000
Orban Opticodec 7400
SAS 32KD Router, interfaced to BMXdigital consoles
SAS AXC-8 XY Router control panel
SAS DSS-8 single output router selector/monitor panel
SmoothLine custom cabinet
Symetrix/Airtools 6100 delay
Tascam 202MKIII dual cassette deck
Tascam CD-RW2000 CD-RW player/recorder
Telos 2�12 broadcast phone system
Waves MaxxStream codec
Visit the Studio Spotlight at www.beradio.com for photos of the Universal Studios radio studios before they were remodeled as well as a special look at the construction of the new studios during the remodeling.