Radio Station CJCS: wiring their relocated studio and keeping them on the air

Laughton Electronics
I've often remarked my work is "usually unusual," and CJCS is a case that illustrates the point. Who ever could have predicted that I'd get asked to wire up an entire radio station !?

The problem to be solved in this scenario was the temporary loss of a key staff member; also the unyielding necessity of keeping the station on the air — even in the face of complete upheaval.

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Radio Station CJCS has a long history in Stratford, Ontario, and in 1997 management opted to vacate the crowded downtown premises which the busy station had occupied for decades. Their new location — a former children's day-care facility — was sunny and spacious, but certainly wasn't wired for radio production.

Broadcast Audio wiring at the new facilities was originally scheduled to be installed by an engineer whom CJCS kept on contract. But some sudden health problems forced a change in plan. Although the schematics he had been drafting were mostly complete, the fellow was unable to make the project a physical reality.

From my point of view the challenge of the job wasn't the technology or the incomplete schematics but simply the sheer number of individual circuits there were to terminate. A total of five 50-conductor cables connected the three individual studios with a terminal matrix on the back wall of the Equipment Room. Fifteen more such cables led to three full-height racks loaded with of mixers, distribution amplifiers, tape decks, compressors, a patch bay and so on. Besides all the balanced audio twisted pairs, there were also connections for a digital satellite news feed, some remote control wiring and the station's computer network.

At least the new layout was all tidy and reasonably accessible — a description that contrasts hilariously with that of the wiring at the premises being vacated. I had to analyze some of the old wiring there, and I found a marvellous variety of connections of every age and description which ran through every wall and ceiling in the building. Lying on the floor under one of the mixing consoles was an immense rat's nest spaghetti tangle that was utterly ludicrous; it would have served nicely as decoration for the set of a Mad-Scientist comedy movie. It was the result of layer upon layer of additions and renovations performed by many people over many years - always with the station on the air, and never with a good chance for a revamp and tidy-up. But, amazingly enough, it worked — and for the time being I had to keep it working, as I will explain.

The Leapfrog Game

Relocation to the new premises was to be accomplished without any interruption of service — CJCS had to remain on the air continuously. What this meant was that, on the day of the changeover, we required two functional radio stations!

Obviously that resulted in limitations on which equipment could be moved at any given time. We were forced to use a sort of leapfrog strategy, for example moving one of the big mixing consoles first while leaving the other in place. Luckily there was also some new equipment purchased, including all the distribution amplifiers. And of course the wiring itself was new.

The Countdown

The carefully orchestrated changeover occurred at midday. There was one Disk Jockey "spinning platters" at the old location. Another DJ was waiting at the new premises. Meanwhile, a third employee was posted at the transmitter site. (The transmitter is remote from both studios. Special telephone lines relay the audio signal to the transmitter.)

Coordinating by telephone, we arranged to wait for the fadeout at the end of one particular song that happened to be playing, and when the song ended the connection at the transmitter site was deftly switched over.

One magic moment later the DJ at the new premises glibly commenced to jawing, and the new location was on the air! Our radio audience might never have noticed anything unusual... except they could probably hear a gang of us cheering wildly in the control room!

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