Last year, New York CHR/pop-formatted station WHTZ-FM (better known as Z-100) was operating out of a cramped facility with what chief engineer Josh Hadden charitably describes as a "well-aged infrastructure."
"They were living in a state of deferred maintenance for 12 or 13 years," Hadden says of the station, now owned by AMFM Inc. "No joke, there were college stations that looked a lot better than what we had."
Z-100's eight-person "Morning Zoo"-the crew of the station's popular, morning-drive-time show-worked in a 120-square-foot air studio with no soundproofing and no room for guests. Certain equipment was kept air-worthy with fixes on top of fixes, none of which had been documented, according to Hadden.
The sales staff had to work from a satellite office, making a weekly trek back to the 12,000-square-foot Secaucus, N.J., studios.
After evaluating new sites, Hadden and his colleagues secured a 17,200-square-foot space, right on the Hudson River in Jersey City, N.J., with 30 feet of floor-to-ceiling glass along two walls that provide sweeping north-to-south views of the Manhattan skyline. The facility was completed in September at a cost of $3.5 million.
Hadden had carte blanche to buy everything new, from studio consoles to the funky purple-and-blue carpet lining the hallways.
The new work environment was the first priority. The two on-air studio spaces are surprisingly spare, containing perhaps two half racks'worth of mounted equipment. Even the JBL 4412 monitors cranked in the studios are hidden in the ceiling behind acoustically transparent, fabric-wrapped panels.
Bice C. Wilson, co-CEO of Meridian Design Group, said the furnishings were designed as part of the new Z-100 facility-reflecting the changing trend in modern radio studios.
"More and more, the shape of the studio is determined by the way people need to relate to each other and how it allows them to create the best product," Wilson says.
Next was equipment. Initially, Hadden wasn't sold on going digital.
Not until he delved into planning did he realize that analog consoles wouldn't give Z-100 the versatility that digital could to handle a large morning show and the number of complex remotes done regularly. After bypassing many of the digital consoles on the market today, Hadden picked Zaxcom's DRC 2024 digital audio console.
Thinking more about how he might leverage digital, Hadden coordinated phone calls and e-mails with his core vendors. They included Zaxcom; ENCO, which provided six DADpro32 audio broadcast control systems; and Sierra Automation Systems, which provided Z-100's SAS 64000 series digital and analog router (a lot of Z-100's equipment is still analog). The goal was to integrate console, router and servers as if they were one.
Now, the console can call router selections as easily as it changes configurations. If morning-show production wants to call up external sources such as cable TV or ISDN, the console sends the request to the router, which connects the appropriate input to the console. The console then updates an eight-character LED display above that particular fader, based on information sent by the router. Likewise, jocks can load a song into a particular position on the console and then keep track of what's on each fader, because the LED displays the first eight characters of the song title.
Despite the "beta" nature of much of the equipment in Z-100's new facility, Hadden has found the transition a smooth one.