The birth of a radio station

Publish date:

The birth of a radio station

Dec 1, 2003 12:00 PM, By Jay Rose

Equipment ListADC Pro PatchMark II patch bays
APC Smart UPS-3000
Auratone 5R3C-FG rack monitors
Belden 1192A Starquad, 1222B 16-pair cable, 1633A CAT5 cable, 1800B22-gauge cable, 1806F 12-pair cable, 8240 RG-58, 8241 RG-59, 832525-pair control cable, 8444 22-gauge cable
Burk ARC-16
Burk IP8
CRL Stereo Automatic Gain Controller
Denon DN-951FA CD players
Denon DENTU1500RDP AM/FM receivers
Electro Voice RE-27 mics with shock-mount
Equi=Tech ET2R/QFM
ESE Master clock system
Eventide DSP4000-B Plus Ultra Harmonizer
Fostex D15 DAT
Furman PL-Pro power conditioners
Gepco 61801ECGP 22-gauge cable
Hafler P-3000 power amplifier
Harris DA-16000 audio distribution amplifier
Harris TM-2400 2.4GHz spread spectrum system
Harris DA-16000 audio distribution amplifier
Harris Pacific Prime Line studio furniture
Henry Engineering MB-II Matchboxes
HHB CDR850+ CDR-RW recorder
Harris Intraplex STL Plus
Harris Intraplex IX-4101DD TSLJay Rose customstudio-A/automation switch
Jay Rose Inter-Tie custom wire termination panels
JBL 4410A studio speaker monitor
Lea Dynatech line eliminators
Logitek Numix Audio console
Logitek Audio Engines
Logitek Supervisor control program
Mackie 1604VLZ-PRO mixer
Marantz PMD-501 cassette
Mark P9A120 microwave dishes
McFphilben MCP33E6200 warning lights
Mediatouch Imediatouch digital delivery system
Middle Atlantic rack shelves
Middle Atlantic MRK-44-31-LRD equipment rack
Moseley Starlink SL-9003Q
O.C. White mic booms
Omnimount 100WB mounts
Orban 8200 audio processor
Ortofon Night Club cartridge and stylus
Otari Mx5050BIII reel-to-reel
Presonus VXP microphone processors/preamp
RDL ST-PH phono preamplifiers
Symetrix 420 power amplifier
T.F.T. EAS 911
Tascam 302 cassette
Technics SL-1200-MKII turntable
Telos 1x6 hybrid talk-show system
Telos Assistant Producer software
Telos Zephyr 9202
Ward-Beck Systems POD-12 digital audio D.A.
West Penn 291 22-gauge wire
Yamaha SPX-990 multi-effects processor

Like the start of anything, there has to be a motivation. In thiscase, it was a man with a dream to build and run a radio station. Hismotivation stems from being raised in the area. Now he is a lawyer andpartner at a law firm in Las Vegas. His name is Will Kemp and he is aman with vision, drive and the resources to build from the ground up; acombination that proved ideal for this project. The true genius behindthe concept of designing the RF facility is Rich Green of Rich Greenand Associates.

The KVEG control room is at the center of the fully digitalfacility.

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Looking up at the Apex Communications site, which serves as the middlepoint of the STL path.

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The rack room houses the automation system and serves as the centralwiring point for the facility.

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A typical installation using the JRBE Inter-Tie Panel, which serves asa high-density rack or wall-mounted cable termination.

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The production studio is also equipped with a Logitek controlsurface.

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Kemp and Green started working on the concept of a new station inMesquite, NV, in 1997. Green, armed with a huge amount of antennamodeling and mapping software, came up with several sites. Even withall the best software, he likes to see things for himself. Because mostof the proposed sites were in the middle of the desert with no roadaccess, it became necessary to rent a helicopter and visit the sites byair. After the two looked at all the sites on Green's list, they chosea site that is next to an area called the California Bowl. Rich thenreturned to Cameron Park, CA, and started the long process to get aconstruction permit (CP) from the FCC.

Once the CP was issued, Green designed a 1,380-foot tall tower. Thiswould be the tallest man-made structure in Nevada. He soon realizedthat this height would allow a booster to cover downtown Las Vegas.

My involvement in the project started while attending NAB2000. I wasasked by Green to have lunch with him and Will Kemp. I had no idea thatI was being considered to lead a large build-out. We talked aboutdigital audio, appropriate STL systems and other elements of qualityaudio. I was intrigued by Kemp's eagerness to provide the best possibleaudio to listeners. Later that evening, I was told about the pendingstudio project and that I was going to build the facilities.

The following day, we visited the proposed transmitter site. Myfirst thought was about the STL path. We wanted to send an uncompresseddigital audio signal 47 miles northeast to the main transmitter site,through an area surrounded by mountains and without any utilities.Further complicating matters is the Apex Summit, which lies just northof Las Vegas. This land mass creates a giant curtain that blocks RF inor out of Las Vegas.

The transmitter site, located about three miles east of I-15 nearMesquite, was being carved out of the desert � as was the road toget to the site. Working without power, telecommunications, roads andsecurity proved to be a nearly overwhelming challenge.

Constructing a building with enough cooling for a 35kW transmitterin 125-degree heat and a 1,380-foot tower is a major undertaking. Aftera few days working in this environment, it becomes business as usual.P&R Tower built the tower.

Because the site lacks all utilities, two Caterpillar 100kW dieselgenerators were brought in to supply the power needed. The firstgenerator runs for 21 days, after which the second generator starts andswitches over automatically. Near the end of the second 21 days, alocal service company arrives to service the first generator, thenswitches generators and services the second. The above ground,10,000-gallon fuel storage tank is filled as needed during each servicevisit. A 100-gallon back up tank is part of the system.

Green designed an air conditioner system with a custom builtpre-cooler that works with great efficiency. The pre-cooler air is onlyon when the outside temperature is lower than the transmitter exhaust.It uses isolated outside air blowing across an air exchange then backoutside. This keeps the outside air from contaminating the transmitterbuilding's closed air-cooling system.

The STL path length was about 47 miles from end to end. I envisioneda double hop, but did not know where the middle point would be. I soondiscovered a site on the west side of the freeway while driving northon I-15. While it was not easily accessible, I determined the positionwith GPS and turned it over to Kemp. This large peak with existingradio towers is called the Apex Communications site.

In short order I had a name and phone number to coordinate a sitevisit with a representative. I used my spectrum analyzer to check foravailable microwave frequencies and sent my findings to Green.

We quickly learned that a microwave channel would not be availablein a timely fashion. An alternative was needed. I chose Harris TM-2400Aurora 2.5GHz spread-spectrum radios for the primary link and theTM-5800 5.8GHz Aurora spread spectrum radio for the secondary link.Many consider spread-spectrum to be unreliable, but both systems haveworked perfectly with no down time in three years. Both radio systemsinterface directly with Harris Intraplex T-1 multiplexers, whichprovide an uncompressed bidirectional link. Program audio is sent tothe transmitter site and an air monitor is returned. The system alsocarries the transmitter remote control data. The primary Intraplexsystem uses digital input cards, while the backup system uses analogcards. At the transmitter site, the two outputs feed the TFT 999Digital Insertion unit. This accepts the analog and digital signals andautomatically switches to the analog feed if the digital signalfails.

Inside the studios

Kemp wanted a facility that could handle several stations, includingradio, TV and webcasting. He wanted four studios, starting with anon-air studio and production studio. The other two studios would bebuilt for future expansion. Kemp wanted an impressive facility todemonstrate his commitment to his new industry.

We planned on building the station in one of his existing propertieson the Las Vegas strip, which was next to a large parking lot that isoften used for bus traffic. Buses would sit in the lot idling for longperiods of time, providing a constant noise source that needed to beaddressed. I designed the studios with the usual constructiontechniques: double walls, three layers of insulation and doublesheetrock. Although the cost of specifying an NC-20 standard in thiscase was impractical, all efforts were made to make it as quiet aspossible. Even with good communication between the contractor and me itstill took several inspections during construction to prevent sometimesalmost hidden breaches of the isolated walls. We decided to spend themoney on backup power and studio equipment. This turned out to be theright move.

Kemp also wanted the best possible audio to crush the competition.We wanted the perfect digital chain: CD quality with absolute linearityall the way through to the exciter. I started with a product that Iknew well; I needed a hard-drive media delivery system with trulylinear capabilities at 44.1kHz. It needed to handle all the latestnuances, such as CD ripping, importable music scheduling, ease of useand plenty of backup infrastructure including a backup server andseparate play-to-air machine for each room. I also wanted to remotelylocate the machines in the rack room to keep the studio as quiet aspossible. Luckily for us, my last responsibilities at KMEL were topurchase and install just such a system to replace the station's agingITC cart machines. I knew which system I wanted. We purchased aMediatouch system.

For the audio console, I chose a product that I think offers a lotof bang for the buck; the Logitek audio engine with the Numix controlsurface. Its mix-minus capabilities and ease of use makes it a realwinner and it looks great. We used these consoles in the on-air andproduction rooms.

The telephone hybrids are from Telos, complete with talk-showoptions. The Inter-Tie system was my own design that I first used atKSTE in Sacramento, CA, in 1993. I have always felt that if engineershad more options, they wouldn't use 66-style punch blocks with theirknife blade's width connections. After all, most phones and datacircuits develop problems because of bad punch connections. My systemuses a series of Molex, BNC and F-type connectors and can be fittedwith any other connector as well.

These connectors are mounted on a custom-built JRBE Inter-Tie panelthat I have improved over the years. Every type of cable is run andterminated to both ends. It is considered permanent and even if theroom is rebuilt, these connections need never be removed. The user endcan be used as needed or changed completely. With every wire numberedit was easy to trace any wire. I believe that full documentation isalways appropriate, if not for your benefit, for whoever follows you.It is a real challenge to explain it to management, but they can bemade to realize that it will cost them more in the long run forengineers to try to figure out the wiring every time a change orconnection is needed.

The air chain

Content (music) is ripped into the Mediatouch system from CD instraight PCM 44.1kHz format at eight times speed or faster. Content isreproduced on the Mediatouch play-to-air machine (PTA) for studio A(on-air control room), which is equipped with Digigram digital audiocards. The system features a second play-to-air machine running off theredundant server simultaneously playing the same content for the backup. In case of a failure, the secondary can be brought in immediately.The AES digital audio from the PTA machine is routed to the air studioand feeds one of the Logitek audio engine digital inputs. Mixed programaudio leaves the control and returns to the rack room, feeding the TFTprogram interrupter. The digital output of the interrupter feeds aWard-Beck Systems POD digital distribution amplifier. Digital output-1goes to the main transmitter Intraplex digital input and the seconddigital audio output-2 goes to the booster transmitter Intraplexdigital input. The main transmitter audio is sent to the Apex site. Themain transmitter Intraplex digital audio output fed an Orban 8200,which then fed the input of the Broadcast Electronics Predator Exciter.(We have since changed the processor and exciter.) The entire pathmaintains a digital signal throughout at 44.1kHz sampling rate.

The Predator is outfitted with the 10MHz time-base option, which isfed by an ESE GPS receiver. This works well to synchronize the main andbooster carriers. The audio is carefully synchronized through anotherIntraplex card to add a small amount of delay. To give the stationevery edge possible, Kemp let me indulge in new and some old processorsand exciters to make the station sound its best.

While digital audio has a natural advantage for maintaining audiopurity, when it's all said and done the ear is still analog. We likecertain types of distortion. We found that another processor andexciter combination sounded even better, and we incorporated a few newand old tricks that work nicely. I feel that in the end, an all-digitalchain helps to provide excellent audio all the way to the transmitterand gives you a great platform to work some analog magic for our analogears.

Rose is chief engineer of Jay Rose Broadcast Engineering.