Worship Broadcasters Embrace Digital

From studios located within houses of worship to purpose-built radio and television facilities, religious broadcasters are taking full advantage of the features and benefits of digital audio mixing consoles and networking.
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From studios located within houses of worship to purpose-built radio and television facilities, religious broadcasters are taking full advantage of the features and benefits of digital audio mixing consoles and networking.

“The nice part was being able to start from scratch and build a digital studio from the ground up,” says Jeff Ozanne, general manager and “tech guy” of affiliate station WWJC 101.5 FM, part of the Prayz Network. The listener-supported radio ministry covers southwest Wisconsin plus portions of southeast Minnesota and northeast Iowa. Calvary Technical Management of Lynchburg, VA provided system integration and build-out.

One of the Wheatstone digital console and networking equipped studios at Prayz Network. A pair of studios at Prayz Network are outfitted with Wheatstone E6 consoles, while a standby studio is equipped with the Glass-E Virtual Mixer, and multiple Wheatstone AirAura X3 units process the on-air and internet feeds, while also offering redundancy.

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“Through WheatNet-IP [Wheatstone’s proprietary network system], you can connect the Glass-E to any E6, so I can run either one remotely from the third studio. It’s a great platform for doing interviews where we don’t need an operator in the room. I’m running mic levels and everything they need, and I’m not intruding,” says Ozanne, who runs the software on a Windows 7 machine.

Wheatstone’s Glass-E also offers a backup, in case of hardware failure, he adds. “What’s nice is that the license is for the station, so I can put it on as many machines as I want.”

The virtual mixer enables Ozanne, who has been a corporate and charter pilot for 30 years, remote access while traveling: “If I’m away and something breaks, I can jump in and fix it. You can remotely control your studios from anywhere that you have high-speed internet, so I could be in Zimbabwe and run an interview from there.”

The WheatNet-IP Navigator software is equally valuable to the smooth operation of the facility, he continues. “The crosspoint routing setup allows you to virtually rewire the studios with the click of a mouse. I just save different crosspoint scenarios; all I have to do is load those configs and it completely reconfigures the studios.”

Every week, the 40,000-member Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, TX produces a broadcast of its service that potentially reaches millions worldwide through radio, television and the internet, as well as mobile device apps. PowerPoint Ministries, the church’s HD broadcast ministry, maintains an audio studio featuring a Studer Vista 9 console that is complemented by a pair of Vista 5 M2 42-fader consoles installed at the FOH and monitor positions in the sanctuary. A three-way passive split feeds separate Studer D21m preamps for each desk, avoiding the gain structure and level offset challenges typically associated with shared inputs on digital consoles.

In the studio, broadcast audio engineer Christopher Do often has his hands full. A typical Sunday can comprise 120 channels, including praise team, choir, orchestra, band and other mics, including ambience. The Studer desk makes it easy to keep everything organized, says Do. “The layout is very intuitive. You can move channels around and you can patch things very quickly; you can always adapt.”

For example, “If you’re in a situation and you find that it’s hard to get to a certain set of inputs, you can rearrange everything very quickly to a more comfortable setup, even during the event. You don’t even need to use templates—it’s essentially drag-and-drop.”

Services are distributed live, including simulcasts to satellite campuses in nearby Prosper and Dallas, and are also recorded. “I’ll mix that down for a more refined mix for the web,” says Do.

The Prosper campus features another Studer 5 M42 while the Dallas campus houses a DiGiCo SD10. The three campuses are linked via Riedel’s Mediornet platform, which will be extended throughout the Plano campus later this year, according to audio engineer Armando Escobedo.

Each campus independently feeds 56 audio channels via MADI over Mediornet. Escobedo also notes, “You can throw in SDI, peel off the audio channels and come out MADI or any flavor. That is very useful for us in that we’re not locked in” to any particular format.

He adds, “You can go in and land those channels if you want, or just isolate the few channels that you need for the application. Sometimes they’re independent channels and sometimes they’re mixes.”

After due diligence and an in-house evaluation period with three different manufacturers’ consoles, The Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) installed a pair of Calrec Artemis Beam consoles at its facility in Virginia Beach, VA several years ago. “We’re an international ministry,” says David W. Jones, executive director, broadcast operations. “We do a half-dozen live and recorded shows per day out of three studios. These consoles serve all three studios. We also have a separate, smaller console for the news studio.”

CBN’s flagship program, The 700 Club, is a magazine-format show that airs every weekday in the U.S. and beyond. The show includes news and call-in segments and may even feature a band.

“Calrec’s Hydra2 routing makes it so simple to share all of the resources that are on the router,” says Jones. “If we want to have a separate mixer mix a large band for the live show, then it’s easy; they go to the other studio and pull up the resources. Then we end up only having to bring up one fader for the show” on the main production desk.

Having two identical consoles offers another benefit. “We wanted that kind of redundancy, because it’s live and it’s nationwide—it’s on ABC Family as well as a couple of hundred affiliates. If we had some sort of catastrophe in one control room, we could easily and seamlessly switch to doing the show from another control room,” he says.

Easy configurability of the work-surface is also important to CBN’s engineers. “Each show has a template, and within that, some operators have their preferences for where they want to see things so that they’re comfortable. We utilize that for every show; it’s very helpful,” says Jones.