Radio Star Rising
Radio Bremen opens its digital Broadcasting House
What does it take to turn a small, almost insignificant, station into the hottest property on the German public broadcasting block? Radio Bremen, the smallest station of the German public ARD alliance, has come up with some daring ideas and added cutting-edge technology
Most people in Germany used to think of Radio Bremen as a bottomless financial pit. So much so that the powers that be began demanding its closure or merger with a bigger station. That was yesterday: today, the big boys are about to copy the revolutionary ideas devised and implemented by this tiny public broadcasting station.
Radio Bremen’s first measure to bring down overheads was to sell two big facilities in downtown Bremen, where the TV channel and radio station people had been working in perfect isolation from each other. In late 2007, all of the station’s departments (radio, TV and internet) moved into more compact and cost-effective premises. Based on the desire to reduce production costs through more efficient resource pooling, the management also restructured the editorial teams. Each team, such as the sports desk for example, now works in true “trimedia” style, serving all three areas. Obviously, this desire to streamline operations also mandated the acquisition of appropriate technology to support the endeavor.
The Future Begins
Facilities and structure were not the only things that changed after Radio Bremen’s move. Most of the technical infra-structure has been replaced to meet the requirements of the new approach, which called for an all-digital mixing and production environment. Conceived by the general contractor BFE, the new complex is now truly state of the art, with cutting-edge technology and unique approaches to the production and on-air systems. These are jointly used by the TV channel and the radio station together with a shared audio and video asset management system with a storage capacity of 110TB. Other show-stoppers include the flexible workstations for journalists and editors, each installed in a wheeled unit that can easily be moved to the nearest free control room. There is simply too much to mention here, so we‘ll concentrate on the audio production technology proper, which is just as cutting-edge as the overall concept. Little wonder then, that it should be based on the highly flexible AURUS and NEXUS systems.
Bimedia For Enhanced Efficiency
New broadcast facilities are, of course, only as good as the technology and equipment used in the main control rooms. Radio Bremen decided not to skimp on the kit and to devise a system which would enable the luxurious control rooms to be achieve the most efficient utilization possible. The idea of a bimedia production approach serving both the TV and radio teams allowed the station to limit the number of main control rooms to five. Of these main control rooms, each fitted with an AURUS console, only one is dedicated to TV productions. The remaining control rooms can be used by either the TV or radio teams. The AURUS console in the event control room is crammed with DSP power and is therefore used for the larger scale radio and TV shows involving live music and the countless microphones that go with it. Even live recordings can now be made on-site, because the event control room can be opened on one side to include the catering area, a nifty feature for live performances. Three control rooms are available for radio production and TV post-production.
In total, Radio Bremen boasts four hybrid control rooms. These are complemented by two bimedia-savvy studios and four commentary booths.
The required flexibility is provided by six OMUX optical switchers. These make possible a very clever feature: the two studios‘ Base Devices and the four commentary booths can be linked to any of the five control rooms, providing an almost infinite number of possible combinations.
OMUX switchers have become a staple ingredient in many a production facility. Here however, the OMUX units are used to create completely independent subnets (or islands) with no link whatsoever to the remaining network. The advantage of this approach is maximum flexibility without any of the potential drawbacks, where one subnet can affect other subnets. These temporary networks are connected to the remaining control rooms or the main switching room via MADI or discrete audio lines, thus dispensing with any potential interference.
Some configurations will no doubt be used more frequently than others during day-to-day operations. But it’s always nice to know that the flexibility provided by the system also allows for rather more unusual applications, like connecting all the studios and commentary booths to a single control room for large-scale productions. Of course, the ability to change control rooms at the flick of a switch would also come in handy if a control room went down due to
Two Sampling Rates
One of Radio Bremen’s requests was the ability to select the desired sampling rate. In any event, any all-digital studio built today simply must be future-proofed by enabling users to double the sampling frequency as soon as that becomes the new standard. Another consideration was that Radio Bremen’s production facilities were spun off into an independent company by the name of Bremedia in early 2007. This quite naturally triggered the desire to complement the facilities’ usual activities with commercial productions. However, this ambition can only be realised if the equipment goes beyond today’s broadcast standards to meet free market requirements. In short, Bremedia asked Radio Bremen for permission and the required resources to work at 96kHz if the customer requested this.
Thanks to the strict isolation of the networks created by the OMUX units, this can now be achieved in an ingenious and flexible manner. While all other Base Devices and consoles run at 48kHz (the broadcast standard), control rooms 1 and/or 2 AURUS consoles and NEXUS networks can operate independently at 96kHz. Thanks to the island nature of the various networks involved, patching a 96kHz source to a destination running at 48kHz is virtually impossible. Using two different sampling rates in parallel on the same large-scale NEXUS network has become a doddle – with little or no programming or configuration effort involved.
Delegation At The Press Of A Button
The OMUX connections are made and altered using BFE’s proprietary KSC Manager software. By simply selecting »Event studio to TV control room« in KSC Manager, for instance, the user causes the OMUX switch assigned to the event studio to establish an optical NEXUS connection to the TV control room. This seemingly simple switching operation even includes all ancillary signals, red light, tallies, talkback and returns as well as a message indicating the studio’s current application. No manual patching or switching is necessary, which is a good thing given the high error rates that can occur when such complex switching operations need to be performed manually – and usually under stress. That said, such automatic switches can also be performed using the NEXUS Logic system and an AURATUS console, as demonstrated by the regional WDR studios (Germany). At Radio Bremen, however, KSC Manager had been selected for overall system control at the onset of the planning stage, and so following its delegation functions simply made sense.
Incidentally, the bimedia approach doesn’t end with the production equipment. Another feature is the combination of TV and radio switching room functions. Although operated by separate teams located in different rooms, the same devices handle all the audio and control signals.
The central audio router is based on a NEXUS STAR unit to which ten Base Devices are connected, providing up to 2,800 x 2,800 patch points. Although the NEXUS networks of the AURUS-based control rooms connect to the central router’s main network via separate lines, the commentary booths can also be connected directly to the central router. This feature is mainly used for the eight edit suites located in a separate building. They can be connected to the central router via a NEXUS Base Device, and from there to a commentary booth for post-production applications.
Plenty Of Good Reasons
Such a variable and flexible concept with an almost infinite number of possibilities was only possible thanks to the use of AURUS, NEXUS and OMUX switchers. The desire to work with discrete audio networks and mixing systems quite naturally led Radio Bremen to select STAGETEC equipment.
And that choice was not solely based on the NEXUS’ and OMUX’ features but also on the characteristics of the AURUS consoles. The analogue-like user interface simply caught the operators imagination. Against the backdrop of totally new technology for the staff, AURUS’ intuitive operation for production and on-air work and the console’s at-a-glance structure simply made it no contest. The only aspect that took some getting used to was the need to create new Projects, since that step doesn’t exist in the analogue world. The flexibility and countless possibilities provided by AURUS’ and NEXUS’ total recall features were however deemed such important assets that objections to this additional step were quickly overcome. Another remarkable aspect about the Radio Bremen project was the fact that sound quality was never even mentioned. Excellence was simply taken for granted, given the reputation of AURUS, NEXUS and STAGETEC technology.
In November 2007, Radio Bremen seized the opportunity of hosting a one-week general manager convention to show the other public broadcast stations its new facilities and explain the underlying concept. Several colleagues from other public stations have subsequently kept the phone lines busy enquiring about the innovative system’s reliability in real broadcast life.