WDDH: The Big Dog Gets a Facelift

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WDDH: The Big Dog Gets a Facelift

Aug 1, 2010 1:00 AM, By Joseph Portelli

Denny Heindl is an interesting man. Born and raised in the small north-central Pennsylvania town of Ridgway, he has spent his entire life there. After his first radio job, a sales position working for the legendary Cary Simpson at WKBI in the early '60s, he left the industry and spent many years building a successful powdered metals company. Shortly thereafter, he purchased his own station and gave it the call sign WLMI - named after his business, Laurel Manufacturing Inc. He eventually sold WLMI to concentrate on his other business ventures. But, proving that once radio gets into your blood, it never leaves, he couldn't resist an opportunity to purchase the station near his home, WDDH - The Hound - a flamethrower serving 18 counties in Pennsylvania and Southern New York.

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The WDDH control room

This is Heindl's second stint at ownership of this particular facility. His company, Laurel Media, had owned the station from 2001 to 2004. Itching to get back into the business, Heindl made a play for the station once again and is now running the show at WDDH. He is a minority owner of a Major League Baseball team and a local philanthropist. He is active in the day-to-day operation of the facility and hosts a Sunday public affairs program, the award-winning "Talk of the Town" show.

Aging Facilities

WDDH (95-7 The Hound) is a Class-B FM, licensed to St. Marys, PA. Originally built in 1986 as WKYN, the facility was wheezing along with aging analog consoles that needed constant repair and dated handmade chipboard and plywood furniture. The ceilings were full of hundreds of feet of unlabeled cabling of all types, and some of the building's electrical wiring was outdated and overly complex.

Another physical plant problem was lightning damage. The WDDH STL antenna is co-located with a cellular carrier on a tower across an empty field approximately 200 yards behind the studio building. Using a Modulation Sciences Composite Line Driver set, composite audio was fed to the studio to transmitter link through twinaxial cable encased in buried PVC conduit. The C-band satellite dish was at the base of this tower, with a long run of RG-6 though this same conduit back to the studio. This setup proved to be rather troublesome during thunderstorm season. Something needed to change; the long cable runs across the field needed to be replaced with something wireless.

To solve this problem, Laurel Media employed unlicensed wireless 2.4GHz point-to-point radios to extend a LAN to the STL building. Stereo audio is fed via APT Worldcast Horizon codecs running in uncompressed mode to the Omnia audio processor and STL transmitter in the building at the base of the STL tower. Also, the satellite dish has been moved to a location directly adjacent to the studio building, thus eliminating all of the cross-field copper connections. Since these changes were made last year, no lightning damage has occurred.

The grand plan

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The production studio

Ownership wanted to completely gut both the production room and the WDDH control room and outfit them both with new custom-built studio furniture. The all-analog facility would be replaced with a digital audio network, providing flexibility and scalability for the future.

Laurel Media decided to use Axia Element control surfaces with PowerStation chassis in both control rooms. The PowerStation units integrate both analog and AES I/O, power supply, GPIO and a network switch into a 4RU chassis. The Axia Livewire network allows for simple, fast installation. Very little downtime was tolerable for this upgrade, so expediency was a necessity for this buildout. Each room was to be taken offline in the morning with the goal of a completely wired studio being available the same evening.

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WDDH: The Big Dog Gets a Facelift

Aug 1, 2010 1:00 AM, By Joseph Portelli

The Livewire network uses RJ-45 connectors for just about every connection - analog audio included. Standard off-the-shelf shielded CAT-6 cables are used for these connections, and the Radio Systems StudioHub+ system is typically used for termination of the cables to the various sources and destinations. Coming from a punch block world, this is a paradigm shift for me, but it works quite well and is extremely fast to implement. It's not quite as easy to create an orderly looking installation as it is with the typical cut and punch methodology, but by using the correct CAT-6 cable lengths and creative wire management techniques, it can be achieved quite nicely.

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Everything in its place. Notice the headphone hook on the right.

The control room has a PowerStation Aux chassis to handle the extra I/O and machine logic required for satellite programming. The rack room is equipped with an Axia analog node and a GPIO node to provide a contact closure interface to the Livewire system for satellite programming.

Much of the recording performed in the Laurel Media production studio is done with outside guests. Members of the general public aren't accustomed to using boom microphones; experience had shown that they typically are too timid to speak directly into the microphone, and the look of a large microphone in a shock mount can appear threatening. Laurel Media opted to install three Sennheiser wireless units equipped with lavaliere microphones in this room to create a comfortable recording experience for visitors. Because the Axia network allows these sources to be used anywhere on the network, the wireless microphones would also see double duty in the control room for occasional on-air use.

Putting it all together

Setup of the digital audio system went smoothly for the most part. To get started, the entire Axia Livewire network was set up on the workbench. Programming of the network is made quite simple with the Web-based GUI built into the PowerStation units and analog/digital/GPIO nodes. All nodes were programmed with network addresses and channel numbers and names. During this process, a few questions arose and the Axia staff was quick to return our calls and provided excellent support. Both AES and analog sources were fed into the system for a two-week burn-in period after which installation commenced.

The owner's goal of the upgrade was to streamline the look of both the control room and production studio, eliminating as much equipment as possible. The Axia system makes this a breeze as it allowed us to eliminate all external microphone processors, distribution amplifiers and dynamics processors from the system. The integrated dynamics processing capabilities of the Axia system allow each operator to have his/her own customized settings for microphone processing. There is plenty of I/O on the PowerStation chassis, so external distribution boxes are not necessary. The result is a clean looking rack without a lot of visible adjustments.

The AudioVAULT automation system was upgraded from an AV100 system in 2008 to allow for greater redundancy and capacity. Integration into the new digital network was made via the AES I/O channels of the Digigram audio cards without any difficulty.

Prior to the upgrades, we had considered installing wiring trays in the building to allow for a neater installation. However, after careful consideration, it was decided that installing a tray for two or three CAT-6 cables would probably be a waste of time.

Electrical work was performed by TSI of Ridgway, PA, and equipment installation and configuration was performed by JPP Communications of State College, PA.

The furniture was designed and built by Skraba Construction, a local custom woodworker/builder in Ridgway. Skraba was on-site during changeover days to assemble, install and cut custom cutouts in the countertops for the control surfaces. In addition, the station logo was cut into the kick panel in each studio.

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WDDH: The Big Dog Gets a Facelift

Aug 1, 2010 1:00 AM, By Joseph Portelli

Finishing touches

When all the equipment changes were finally in place, minor updates were made to each studio to improve the atmosphere. The rooms were outfitted with new carpeting, both on the floor and the walls, and new lighting.

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One of the custom gold-plated microphones

There was one more touch the owner wanted. Heindl had decided that the microphones in his control rooms would look better with a gold finish. I was given the task of contacting Electro-Voice to inquire as to how we could obtain golden microphones, like the ones we have seen in use on a certain syndicated talk show. After speaking to several folks at Electro-Voice - being bounced from person to person, some of them chuckling at me - we decided that a new golden microphone was probably not going to come from Electro-Voice.

The station already used RE-27s, so it was decided that we would try to get them plated on our own. We stripped the RE-27 microphones down to the metal enclosures and sent them to a plating company. For a reasonable price, they came back with a durable 24-karat gold plating that looks stunning.

Network troubles

Several weeks after installation, panic occurred. The station suddenly lost audio, and the building LAN went down.

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The furniture maker routed the station logo into the cabinet doors.

When I got to the station, I noticed that the port on the Ethernet switch that was connected to the Axia network was completely flooded. Unplugging this port restored both the station LAN and the audio. The crisis was solved for now, but administration of the Axia system was now cut off from the building LAN.

When the system was installed, the Livewire network was bridged from the rest of the network and connected at the station Ethernet switch. This kept the Livewire traffic away from the LAN but still allowed administration. The real-time clocks in the Linux-based PowerStation units need to be kept synchronized. This is performed using NNTP from an external time server.

A call to Axia confirmed to me that this is a problem, and that I should configure a separate computer to act as a NNTP server and put two network ports on that machine - one connected to the station LAN and one to the Livewire network. This configuration has proven to be completely trouble-free, and administration of the PowerStation units is available via the NNTP server computer.

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WDDH: The Big Dog Gets a Facelift

Aug 1, 2010 1:00 AM, By Joseph Portelli

In retrospect

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Outside the studio building

This was my first experience with the Axia digital audio system and with the PowerStation units. Did we have any problems? Sure we did. Most of them, however, turned out to be operator (that would be me) error, which was quickly pointed out by the folks at Axia. We had the usual logistical problems that occur when studios are completely stripped down and rebuilt, but all things considered, it went smoothly with no dead air or missed traffic.

To see the control room live, visit the WDDH website at houndcountry.com and view the studio cam.

Portelli is owner of JPP Communications, a contract engineering firm based in State College, PA.

Equipment List

360 Systems Short/Cut 2000
Aphex 320A Compellor
APT Worldcast Horizon
Audemat-Aztec FMB80
Axia Analog Line Node, Element, GPIO Node, PowerStation, PowerStation Aux Expansion Chassis
Broadcast Electronics AudioVAULT, The Radio Experience Software
Broadcast Tools 8x2
Crown D75A
Denon DN-S1000, TU-1500 RD
Electro-Voice RE-27
JBL Control 1
OC White Pro Boom
Omnia audio processing
Radio Systems StudioHub+
Rane HC-4
Sennheiser EM-300 G3, ME-2, SK-300 G3
Telos One

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