Big things are happening at Highveld 94.7 and Talk Radio 702 with a total overhaul of their broadcast facilities including the addition of new studios, an analogue to digital upgrade and a state-of-the-art digital media installation with the help of Spectrum Visual Networks and local AV experts Electrosonic.

Departing from the original idea of a simple makeover of the radio stations after several meetings, Primedia set in motion a fresh new take on studio design and decided to implement more than just a cosmetic makeover and an upgrade to their broadcast equipment from analogue to digital. Therefore this overhaul is limited not only to the audio broadcast end and includes a number of modern visual elements such as video walls for live streaming of presenters and guests and for displaying third party content.

They have only recently completed phase one of the upgrade, starting with the Highveld studios, causing 702 to “camp out’ there while their own new studios are being completed downstairs.

According to Grant Vick, project manager at Primedia, the original plan was to install single screens in each of the new studios to display feeds from social media, live sporting match broadcasts and breaking news as they happened. An additional goal was to display branding at strategically chosen times during the day and night as opposed to traditional fixed print media.

Spectrum Visual Networks, a local digital media solutions provider, was approached by the Primedia team and the aforementioned plan was tabled. Since Primedia is a 24-hour operation, a solution had to be reached that offered around the clock stability and support.

Grant Neill, business development manager at Spectrum Visual Networks with many years’ experience in the field, took on the project and unveiled a comprehensive solution consisting of multiple ultra-narrow-bezel NEC X463UN direct backlit LED displays arranged in co-incident configurations to form a series of 2×2 and 2×1 video walls. To drive the video walls, a single GALAXY video wall processor was proposed per studio floor (there are two studio floors), offering the user the ability to display branding of any sort during radio shows and interviews, multiple live DStv feeds and computer graphics on any of the displays at any time.

Of course, Primedia was sold on the idea immediately and, along with Neill, visited the Electrosonic SA (NEC and GALAXY distributors) showroom in Northcliff, Johannesburg for a comprehensive demo of the proposed solution.

However, this installation like many others was not without challenges. First and foremost, the LED screens had to be mounted flush with the acoustic panelling in the studios which left very little space for mounting hardware and required the use of standard flat brackets. While this solved one problem, it presented another of increased difficulty in panel alignment.

In a studio environment, noise is a critical issue. Microphones and recording equipment do not discriminate and will pick up any ambient sound in the room which made the initial plan of implementing the GALAXY processor in the call screening room a challenge due to its relatively high intrinsic noise level. The call screening room is used to record telephone calls and therefore has to be very quiet and the GALAXY, while not an overly loud processor, did not meet the required decibel level. As a result, the GALAXY had to be moved to the server room downstairs which once again provided a seemingly concrete solution with the caveat of also providing more challenges.

The most pressing of these challenges was the distance between the processor and the video walls which presented signal loss problems due the distance being too far; around 90m. In order to drive HD signals over that distance, active Kramer HDMI transmitters and receivers were installed to transport the signal over Kramer DigiKat7 shielded twisted pair cable specifically designed for this application. This solution enabled full HD signals (1920 x 1080, 60Hz) to be transmitted flawlessly from the GALAXY to the displays.

Abrie Du Ploy, NEC and GALAXY product manager at Electrosonic SA, was deployed to programme the GALAXY processor. On the challenges faced programming the GALAXY, he says: “In the GALAXY wall control software layout, the entire wall was displayed as one canvas instead of the multiple smaller walls in the studios. This was easily overcome because I simply had to keep my focus while designing the layouts. Another challenge was the layout selection from individual studios. Each studio has five or six different layout options and because it is driven by a single controller, we had to carefully design layouts to accommodate both studios. This was also not too big an issue as we created a lookup-table of 30 layout combinations in order for each studio to operate independently from the other and still have maximum flexibility.’
For the end user, a simple, intuitive and user-friendly control interface is paramount. A single Crestron CP3 control processor was implemented into the GALAXY/NEC system along with three 7′ TSW750 wall-mounted full colour touch panels for source selection as well as to control lighting zones throughout the studio complex.

The wrap

The final product was a streamlined, effective and efficient system that accomplished exactly what Primedia sought and will conceivably serve them for years to come.