Practice Studio – New Tally Light

With the new "In Use" tally light, you can see when the studio is in use without opening the door.

With the new “In Use” tally light, you can see when the studio is in use without opening the door.

Students using the Practice Studio frequently run over their scheduled time. Also, for some strange reason, many students will close (and lock!) the door of the studio when they leave, even though they know other people will be using the studio after them.

Since our Practice Studio doesn’t have any windows and has a soundproof door (STC 45), the students coming in for the next slot never really know if anyone is in the studio. Often, they will be waiting outside of an empty room, afraid of interrupting someone’s recording. This also makes them run over their time, creating a domino effect.

To fix this problem, we installed an On-Air tally light. The tally light illuminates anytime the microphone is on. Our light actually says “In Use” since the Practice Studio is not used for broadcasting.

The light itself, a Sandies Model 343, isn’t expensive at around $80. However, installing the light wasn’t cheap – Facilities charged us $350. Part of the problem might have been that this is an unusual job for them. In fact, they asked me to wire up the low-voltage (DC) side of the relay, which I did.

In the end though, I think the cost is worth it since this should lead to higher utilization of the space, less waste of the students’ time and less interrupted recordings.

Production Studio Update – Relocating Mic 1

Mic 1 has been relocated from the left side of the board to a center position behind the board.

Mic 1 has been relocated from the left side of the board to a center position behind the board.

Today, I spent time tweaking the “feng shui” of the Production Studio.

If you look at the picture of the Production Studio in my blog post on November 23rd, you’ll notice that the OC White mic arm is mounted to the left of the console and the mic hangs near the rear of the console. In use, this is as awkward as it looks – you have to lean over the console to speak into the mic. So I centered the mic arm behind the console and put it on a riser that I salvaged from the Practice Studio. For good measure, I greased all the joints to silence any squeaks and adjusted the tension on the arm so it no longer snaps back. Now the mic hangs directly in front of the console and can be easily swung away without making any noise.

As an added bonus, with the mic arm out of the way, I could move the equipment rack closer to the console.

I also replaced the 17″ CRT monitor with a 17″ LCD monitor, which allowed me to move the computer closer to the console as well. This puts everything within easy reach of the user.

Finally, I replaced the old chair with two newer chairs from Surplus (so they didn’t cost us anything). The old chair squeaked, was missing an armrest and had a rip in the seat. Even though the new chairs were from Surplus, they are in great shape although I had to repair a broken back adjustment lever on one of the chairs.

Old Production Studio chair with missing armrest and torn seat

Old Production Studio chair with missing armrest and torn seat

Production Studio Upgrade – New Racks

Our ancient metal rack has been replaced by two racks, a particle board rack on the table and a brand new metal rack underneath.

Our ancient metal rack has been replaced by two racks, a particle board rack on the table and a brand new metal rack underneath.

After completing the upgrade of the Practice Studio, I am turning my attention to upgrading WGMU Radio’s Production Studio on the ground floor of the Johnson Center. I originally wanted to complete this project over the summer, but our Business Manager suddenly retired in April, and I inherited his duties due to my previous stint as Business Manager back in 2001. Needless to say, absorbing an additional 0.5 FTE worth of work is tough.

The console in the Production Studio, ATI Vanguard, is a virtual twin of the one that was in the practice studio, except that it is slightly newer (early 80’s vintage) and has a set of four cart machine controls on the front. At around 30 years old, this piece of equipment is older than most students that use it. I can’t fault the console’s durability, but it is functionally obsolete, so it has to go. Luckily, the same employee of the Associate Press who donated equipment for our Practice Studio also donated a second Logitek AE-32 Audio Engine and Remora control surface for use in the Production Studio.

Overall, the Production Studio is a mess. Whoever set it up initially knew what they were doing. Unfortunately, all their handwritten labels on the 66 block faded away a long time ago and numerous people since then have installed various unlabeled and undocumented hacks. My favorite is the “poor man’s mix-minus bus”. Since the Vanguard doesn’t have a min-minus bus installed standard, someone kind of made one by tapping into the Mic 1 pre-amp output and connecting it to the Telos Zephyr ISDN codec. This does work although it drops the output of Mic 1, which makes it more difficult to balance it with Mic 2.

Other issues include both mics wired out of phase, the 3.5mm computer connection swaps the left and right channel and the shield pin isn’t connected in many XLR jacks – probably a clumsy attempt to fix a ground loop hum issue.

The first step in the studio upgrade is to install all the equipment we purchased over the summer into the equipment racks. Originally, we tried to install the equipment in our ancient gray metal rack, but after Rodger Smith asked that we move the Comrex Hotline to the Production Studio in order to handle Women’s Basketball broadcasts, we didn’t have enough space (even after ditching the old Technics compact cassette deck).

Our ancient gray metal rack.

Our ancient gray metal rack.

That is just as well since we had trouble screwing in the equipment into our ancient gray metal rack because the threads were rusted. Also, true story, back when it was new (World War II?), the rack was actually black and when it begun to rust, someone decided to paint it gray. Why? I assume that gray paint was on sale at the time. Repainting would have been perfectly OK if they sanded off the rust first and smoothed out the paint, but they just sprayed over the mess and called it a day. That is what gives the rack its wonderful mottled appearance.

Rust collecting at the bottom of our ancient gray metal rack.

Rust collecting at the bottom of our ancient gray metal rack.

I made the decision to use two medium size racks instead of one gigantic rack, primarily because I didn’t think the table could handle the weight, and because it would be tough to reach the equipment at the top of the rack from a sitting position.

The upper rack is the particle board rack from the Practice Studio. It was too big for the Practice Studio, but just right for the Production Studio. I gave it a good cleaning and added felt strips on the bottom so it can slide around on the desk without scraping it up. The equipment in the upper rack is (from top to bottom): Furman PL-8 C Power Conditioner*, Aphex Distribution Amp (which I would have removed if I actually knew what was patched through it), Alesis RS300 Amplifier, Comrex Hotline POTS Codec, Telos Zephyr ISDN Codec, Numark CDN450 Dual CD Player*, Rolls RA62c Headphone Amplifier* and Benchmark System 1000.
* New Equipment

The lower rack is a brand-new Samson SRK12 rack. The Samson is a great rack for the money. It is completely steel, includes casters and has both US and European threads. The gauge of the steel isn’t as thick as our ancient gray metal rack, but not bad overall. I put the Logitek AE-32 Audio Engine and Benchmark PS202 Power Supply in the lower rack since neither piece of equipment has any front controls.

Practice Studio Upgrade

Early in 2011, when the Office of Student Media was planning their new location in The Hub, they carved out space for an Audio Studio for students to use in creating pre-recorded radio shows, podcasts and other recordings.

Unfortunately, due to budget constraints, Student Media was unable to furnish the studio with new equipment. Instead, they had to use 30-year-old equipment transplanted from WGMU Radio’s original studio formerly located in Thompson Hall.

Thanks to a generous donation of equipment by an employee of Associate Press, Student Media was finally able to upgrade the Audio Studio this year. To keep costs low, all studio design and engineering work was performed in-house by David Carroll, Associate Director of Student Media, with assistance from Martin Bonica, WGMU’s on-call audio engineer (a recent graduate), and Cody Racek, WGMU’s current Director of Audio Engineering.

The Audio Studio now features up-to-date digital equipment and purpose-built furniture. It will be used by student staff of all the Student Media groups, as well as students in the COMM 148 and COMM 348 radio workshops.