Getting a Grip on Facility Design

Well, the good news is in for Iowa Public TV. The state legislature has appropriated $10 million for our DTV conversion for the next fiscal year. Although this is not enough money to complete the conversion, it does provide us with enough to make significant progress on our remaining transmitter sites as well as start work at our studio facilities.

And it's studio facilities-actually facility design-that I want to write about here: not so much about proper layout or what you should and shouldn't include. Although these are important issues, the foundation of a good studio is in the planning-not the hardware, which will in all likelihood be obsolete before all the cables are connected to it.


The planning process takes a team of people from all facets of the station-engineers, editors, TDs, directors, operating technicians and business office people. The goal is to build a facility that fulfills organization's mission without breaking the bank. Your station may or may not have the staff expertise to craft diagrams and layout. In the early stages of the planning process, that is not a requirement. I favor a free-form creative thinking-type environment for the initial planning processes.

And unless your GM and business manager can divorce themselves from their primary job of watching the bottom line, I would ask them not to attend the early meetings. The idea early on is to lay out all of the dreams and visions that we have for this new facility without spending a great deal of time worrying about the costs. The truth is that everyone involved in the brainstorming process recognizes that money is a factor, but they may be afraid to throw out a good idea for fear that the boss will start to doubt their sanity. So if you're a boss reading this, let the team dream. Who knows, some of the crazy ideas may actually not be crazy or they may open doors to other ideas that aren't so crazy. You will want someone at the meetings to record the ideas and suggestions so that after the warm fuzzy glow dies away, there are actual notes that can be read and refined.

The next step in the process may or may not be hiring someone with experience in designing facilities. It depends on the comfort level of the team. Now is the time to start thinking pragmatically. Eliminate the ideas that don't fit the mission of the organization.


Once you've created a mission-centric vision for what the facility needs to be, I'd take the designs to some of the manufacturers that have integration arms and ask them for ideas. Obviously you're going to get sales pitches, but along with them you'll also get some good guidance on how to transform the facility vision from idea to practical design. In the competitive market we're in, a lot of these entities will provide a lot of information for free just for a shot at your business. They also want you to be comfortable with their level of skill and experience. If you're not comfortable with this approach or you just don't relish the idea of enduring a few dozen all-day sales seminars, you could also hire a design firm to work with you.

Looking for a pure design engineer who will work with the team to transfer the ideas into a working system and yet has no interest in bidding on the integration or hardware portion of the job will thin the herd, since most of the big manufacturers and box distributors make their profits on the sale of equipment, not on the designing of the plant. The design engineer can also provide a lot of guidance in writing the bid specification for the hardware to be used.


When the time comes to actually start buying hardware and integration there are a couple of options. In the case of IPTV, I am inclined to create a request for proposal (RFP) for the project in two phases, hardware and integration. In our case, the RFP process is much more procedurally intense and time-consuming, but it provides us with the ability to evaluate the proposals on a broader scope than just the price.

We evaluate the technical details and experience of the bid without knowing the price. We then evaluate the price and create a total score so that an excellent proposal that is actually higher in price may still win. This gives us more control over our future; and since we tend to live with these decisions for decades, saving a few thousand dollars on a multimillion dollar project is not as important as making sure that the system that is built does the job.

So, there you have a thumbnail sketch of how I see planning for a new studio facility. It is quite a bit different than the planning process we use for transmitter facilities. In the design of a transmitter facility, the primary focus is making sure that the transmitter does the job and is comfortable doing it. In a studio plan we have to make sure that it does the job and that the people operating it are comfortable. Getting those people involved on the front-end means that the process will take longer but the end result will be a facility in which everyone has ownership. Who knows, they might even keep it clean.

Bill Hayes

Bill Hayes, director of engineering and technology for Iowa PBS, has been at the forefront of broadcast TV technology for 40 years, 23 of them at Iowa PBS. He’s served as president of IEEE’s Broadcast Technology Society, is a Partnership Board Member of the International Broadcasting Convention (IBC) and has contributed extensively to SMPTE and ATSC.  He is a recipient of Future's 2021 Tech Leadership Award.