Radio Studio Design and Build

Building a Radio Studio

You’re building a new broadcast radio studio. Maybe you are adding an additional studio to your facility, or perhaps you are starting out from scratch. Whatever the case is, it’s important to go through a properly defined process to ensure you properly project manage your studio buildout and get the right results.

Here are the steps you should take (and the tasks to complete in each step) in order to properly build a studio. This is by no means a definitive guide, but should be a good starting process for you to develop your own process from. If you think I missed anything, post it in the comments and I’ll add it to this guide.

Steps to Building a Radio Studio

1. Gather Requirements

Before you do anything else, you need to work out what you require from the final product. Work backwards from the content you intend to produce, and then figure out what your content creators need to get them there.  Consider these questions to kick start this process:

  • How many people need to have a position in the studio and what will their roles be?
  • How many microphones?
  • Will the panel operator also need a microphone?
  • Which positions need headphone controls?
  • What feed does each headphone need to hear?
  • Which positions need computers?
  • How big do your announcers need the computer screens to be?
  • What playback devices do you need? PC? CD? Minidisk? Tape? Turntable? External inputs?
  • Will a phone system be required?
  • What style of phone calls will you be doing? Talkback? Interviews? Pre-records only? What type of phone system do you need to facilitate this style of calls?
  • Do you need a separate recording bus?
  • What sight lines do you need between people?
  • Do announcers and guests prefer to sit or stand?
  • Can announcers choose which studio goes to air?
  • What feeds do you need from other parts of your facility?
  • What feeds do you need to provide to other parts of your facility?
  • How cold/hot does your space need to be?
  • Is there an expectation video will be recorded in this space?
  • Do you need a producer or call screener to connect in via a separate room?
  • How will this space be expected to change over the coming years?
  • Do you need to accommodate for live music in the studio?

2. Determine the Available Space

With your requirements firmly in place, you can now determine what size space you will need to put the studio in. Perhaps you are already limited in this area and do not have the luxury of building the room from scratch. That’s fine, but make sure the various stakeholders recognise this limitation before you enter the design phase to avoid disappointment.

3. Equipment Selection

This is my favourite part: selecting the equipment. This is very important and there are so many choices to be made. The requirements of the studio will determine a few factors (such as the number of inputs, number of mix minuses, etc.). However, there is also a lot which is up to you and what you are comfortable with. Remember, there is a lot more to a studio than the console and microphones. Here is a list of some equipment you need to consider:

  • Audio Console
  • Computers for playback and/or editing
  • Computers for general purpose work
  • Microphones
  • Microphone stands
  • Microphone mounts
  • Keyboards and mice
  • On air light
  • Headphone amplifier
  • Headphone source selector
  • Distribution amplifier
  • Phone system (and associated handsets, hybrids, computers, line interfaces and controllers)
  • Computer monitors
  • TV screens
  • Clocks
  • Talkback/Intercom system
  • KVM Extenders (to keep the noisy computers out of your quiet studio)
  • Delegation switcher
  • Profanity delay
  • Patch cables
  • Audio adaptors
  • Playback equipment (such as CDs, Minidisks, Carts, DATs, Tapes, Turntables, etc)
  • Patch bays
  • Balancing amps
  • Satellite receiver
  • Audio processor

These are just some pieces of equipment you need to select. Some of it can be fairly easy to select, especially if you already have another studio to base it off. Also, some pieces of equipment can be used station-wide and can live in a rack room (such as a profanity delay, delegation switcher, phone system master unit, satellite received and audio processor).

The biggest equipment purchase would probably be the audio console. There are a lot of units on the market at the moment, and the battle between analog and digital is still ongoing. Thankfully, people are finally starting to get digital consoles (even in the smallest of stations). From what I heard, it seems a lot more Axia digital consoles seem to be going in at the moment than Elan analog consoles.

If you go digital, ensure it is easily networkable so you can share audio around using an IP network. If it’s analog, ensure you include enough audio distribution amplifiers and multi-pair cable to get audio around your facility.

4. Room & Acoustics Design

Now you know how much space you have to work with and the size of all of the equipment, you can work on the design of the room. Getting the ergonomics correct is very important. Remember, your announcers are probably going to spend a lot of their time in here every week so it’s worth designing a practical and comfortable studio for them.

Pay special attention to the sight lines between all of the announcer positions, as well as any outside producer/call screener positions. Also consider the positioning of monitors. As with usual office ergonomics, you should try and make sure the top of your main computer monitors are at eye level as to promote good posture.

Soundproofing and acoustics isn’t for the weak of heart. I’m not going to pretend to be an expert here, but as a starting point think about having multiple layers of plasterboard, raised and isolated flooring, building ‘rooms with rooms’, lots of insulation, and no parallel walls. Also, don’t let your door let you down – make sure it is sealed very well, and perhaps consider a double door arrangement.

Ensure you have adequate space for equipment. Make sure you include a 19″ rack, with rear access available, to mount everything. Also try to plan out your cable runs and associated trays.

5. Costing & Budgeting

All throughout your project you need to be conscious of your budget. There is no point getting to this stage and realising you have blown right bast your original budget expectations.

However, this is the time to ensure your project is well and truly within budget. Remember to account for all of the little items – these all add up and catch you by surprise as you do the build. Have you considered all of the carpet, furniture, acoustics, format converter boxes, data cabling, KVM extenders, rack shelves, and the like? Go through your design and check everything is accounted for.

6. Timeline

Develop a detailed timeline of the project from here on in. List every aspect of the build and who is required to do it. It’s worth using a Gantt Chart to ensure the dependancies are all accounted for. A chart such as this will help you communicate to the team how any delays in their area will push everything else back.

7. Further Consultation and Approval

You have your designs, quotes, budgets and timelines. Now you need to go to your management or board to seek final approval. It is best to go over it with them using a fine tooth comb to ensure there has been no miscommunication in the process. If possible, have CAD drawings ready to show how it will look. Also ensure they are fine with things such as the input list – are they all happy there are no turntables accounted for?

8. Ordering

Time to place your orders with suppliers. Hopefully the previous couple of steps haven’t taken too long and seen a substantial change in the exchange rate. The key pieces of equipment will also probably be the most expensive, so start ordering those first to get them locked in.

9. Construction

It’s time to start your build. Of course you need to start by building the physical room. This should go without saying, but I have seen people install equipment before finishing the construction – this resulted in a big mess that takes much longer to resolve. Simple things such as doing the painting before the carpet goes down makes a difference here. Also make sure infrastructure items such as air conditioning and data cabling are put in as a part of this physical construction phase.

10. Equipment Installation

You’re now ready to drop your equipment into place, wire it up and get it running. Ensure you document it as you go, especially if there is analog wiring in the project.

11. Calibration

Ensure your equipment has all be calibrated to meet your reference level. This is generally an easy process with digital audio equipment. Run test tones in and out of each piece of equipment and adjust your levels to meet your reference level. If using cheaper sound cards, you will need to run your test tones at different frequencies to account for poor frequency response. Please don’t skip this step.

12. Testing

This is the part where you check that everything works as expected. You need a test plan so you know what to check. Here are some example items to go into your test plan:

  • Microphone on/off switches trigger on air light
  • Microphone on/off switches trigger speaker mute
  • All inputs and outputs function correctly and without electrical noise or hiss
  • Profanity delay controls work
  • Phone system logic works
  • Delegation system logic works
  • Output busses work and route to correct locations
  • Meters show correct sources
  • Monitor select buttons allow for appropriate feeds to be monitored
  • Preview audio can be heard over program audio

If you find something wrong in your testing process, you should fix the issue and then restart the tests from the beginning to ensure your changes didn’t negatively effect other aspects of the studio.

13. Training

Now it’s time to conduct your training of the end-users. I find it helpful to develop a written training manual (complete with photos), a video training guide, and finally an in-person training program. The reason you should go to this level of effort is because no one is going to remember everything you said at the in-person training session, and will need a reference for them to refer back to. You don’t want to be the first line of support if you can avoid it.

Don’t Be Afraid to Seek Help

It’s important that you don’t embark on this project alone, especially if it’s your first time building a studio. Pay a visit to the other stations in your area or network to see what they have done with their studios. Check out the equipment they selected, and the design choices they made. See what trouble they had, and what they would improve if they got the chance to do it again.

There are also many websites and groups you can visit online to help you. If you’re looking for studio design inspiration, I especially find the Axia website helpful as they have countless photos of previous studio jobs (using their consoles, of course!).

Anthony Eden is a technologist. He's been developing software and websites and working in broadcast media for over 8 years now. He works full time for Hope Media, and provides contract services through Media Realm.

Follow Anthony on Twitter: @anthony_eden or Google+

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Tags: Broadcast · Equipment · Radio · Studio

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