Public broadcasting station WFYI builds first-class facility

Surveying the landscape for stellar broadcast facilities built in the past two years, one is tempted to focus on the major markets, where money is more plentiful and ratings are higher. However, WFYI Public Broadcasting, in the nation's 25th DMA, has defied all convention, dreamed big and now operates out of a digital showplace that's second to none.

The television station and its sister radio properties had been operating from an aging analog studio space for years until they set out on a major fundraising initiative to upgrade the station and make it competitive. Back in 2003, when WFYI originally developed the goals for a five-year strategic plan, the station envisioned the construction of a new wing to the existing facility. However, when a prime piece of real estate became available just two blocks north of the station's existing facility in downtown Indianapolis, its future was secured.

Four years later, in October 2007 (on the heels of a successful $20.2 million fundraising campaign), WFYI acquired its new four-story headquarters, which is located at 1630 North Meridian Street — the downtown area of Indianapolis that's frequently referred to as “broadcast row” because it's home to many of the city's commercial broadcast stations. The 94,000sq-ft property (which formerly served as the corporate headquarters for two utility giants, Vectren and the Indiana Gas Company) gives the station ample space for growth.

Once the decision was made to relocate the station's operations, the engineering team, led by chief engineer Nate Pass, created a migration plan that included moving into a state-of-the-art digital television station (PBS) and digital radio station (NPR), as well as a Learning Services Division, a free statewide reading service for print-impaired citizens (IRIS), and a full-service audio and video production facility that produces and distributes weekly local programs. The studios are rented by numerous production houses to produce commercials, streaming media and DVDs.

The engineering team, including WFYI's vice president of engineering Steve Jensen, devised a system design that enabled the station to operate simultaneously out of both facilities for most of 2008 (with master control working out of the old building), until the entire organization completed its relocation process. In order to minimize on-air disruption, the station transferred its staff and broadcast operations in stages and officially went live from the new building in the fall of 2008. It is now broadcasting three digital channels: two SD (480i) and one in the 720p HD format.

The new building includes an HD-SDI (hybrid coax cabling) video infrastructure to support its broadcast services, while audio is handled as discreet channels to make sound mixing easier and avoid the high cost of external embedders/de-embedders.

A new wing

One of the biggest challenges of the new facility was the planning, design and construction of an additional 5000sq-ft wing to house two 50ft × 50ft digital production studios. Pass and Jensen determined that because the studios required higher ceilings for the lighting grids, it was cheaper to build out two new studios than to incorporate them into the existing office space.

The new studios were added to the north side of the building and include three Ikegami 388W SD cameras in each one. Control rooms A and B can be operated individually or in tandem for larger productions. Studio A is SD-capable only and features a legacy Grass Valley 4000-3 digital switcher, which was brought over during the move and has been operational for more than 10 years. The other control room has been built for HD production and will include a new Kalypso HD switcher with four M/Es at a later date.

HD programs are mostly network originated, while SD programs are upconverted for the HD channel or distributed as SD on the station's standard-definition channels.

The walls of the new wing were prefabricated and lifted into position by crane. Finishing was then added to each side, and sound baffling material was added to the roof. The studios also use a separate HVAC system. Some additional customization was done so that the former office space could accommodate the station's radio and IRIS on-air studios.

Redundant master control

Two Grass Valley Maestro digital master control panels with internal branding, DVE, CG, EAS and audio store capabilities handle all of the station's master control operations. This is supported by an Avid Sundance Fastbreak NXT automation system, several Grass Valley K2 servers (for ingest and playout), a Trinix 256 × 256 digital video router — configured for HD and SD signal distribution to support all the digital channels (20.1, 20.2 20.3) — and a 256 × 256 Concerto series router for AES audio. The entire system includes full redundancy to keep the station on-air at all times.

To monitor all incoming (microwaves, satellite and fiber) signals, Pass designed and built a custom monitor wall that spans a three-sided wall. It includes 12 22in ViewSonic LCD screens on the left wall (for ingest), six 50in plasma screens on the center wall (for RF return, outgoing program preview and automation), and 12 LCD screens on the right wall playout with near- and far-field monitoring.

HD production starts with Infinity

The station had been passing through HD programming for the past five years, but was not doing any local origination until it acquired a Grass Valley Infinity digital media camcorder earlier this year. The camera supports WFYI's file-based production and post-production environments.

The Infinity is used primarily in the field capturing both SD and HD images to produce one of the station's most popular shows, “Across Indiana,” which highlights various towns in the state. Footage for “Across Indiana” is stored on Grass Valley REV PRO media and then ingested into the company's EDIUS system to perform HD editing. Most of the station's other programs are shot with Panasonic DVCPRO and P2 camcorders and then ingested into one of four Avid Media Composer Adrenaline systems and edited in SD.

There are also new post-production facilities located adjacent to the new production studios. Although some tape backup is still used, most images now shot in the field are ingested into 5TB Avid storage area network, and then edited using one Avid Nitris DS and four Adrenaline systems, one EDIUS, and two Apple Final Cut Pro workstations. The station also rents out the post facilities to outside clients.

Do it yourself

Perhaps the most impressive outcome is that all of the systems integration work was performed in-house by the station's engineering staff and a dedicated group of local freelancers. Pass and his team supervised all of the work and completed the build-out in a little more than a year. This included integrating all of its radio studios, TV post production, TV production, TV master control, RF and transmission centers within the same building.

At the end of the day, WFYI succeeded in making the transition with few setbacks. The station now has a winning combination of ample space and technical complexity. It's on-air signal looks better than other commercial stations in town. In fact, WFYI uses the more bandwidth (13.5Mb/s) for its HD channel than any other station. It also transmits EPG data (100kb/s) transmission for “TV Guide” listings in the same 19.6Mb/s bandwidth.

Michael Grotticelli regularly reports on the professional video and broadcast technology industries.

Design team


Alan Cloe, executive VP; Steven Jensen, VP engineering.; Nate Pass, chief engineer, architect, system designer, custom monitor wall designer; Steve Goldberg, custom console designer

Technology at work

Apple Final Cut Pro editing

Automation Network
Ethernet switches

Intelli-Sat server
Media Composer Adrenaline editing
DS Nitris finishing
SIDON server
Sundance Digital Fastbreak NXT automation

Belkin KVM network

Bittree A/V jackfields

Infiniti CG
DynaCrawl graphics

Distribution products
Master clocks

Grass Valley
4000-3 switcher
Concerto AES router
Encore control
Infinity camcorders
K2 servers
Maestro master control
Trinix router

Flexicoder encoder
Videotek monitoring

Ikegami 388 W cameras

MRC TwinStream radio

MultiDyne Fiber products

DVCPRO camcorders
P2 camcorders

Sencore IRDs

ViewSonic monitors

Wohler audio monitors

Yamaha surround sound