Upgrades Give Collegedale Radio Station Cleaner Sound

Friday, February 7, 2003 - by Rob York

David Brooks, station manager of WSMC Public Radio 90.5, decided in August that some things needed to change.

The manager of the Chattanooga area’s only classical music station spent most of autumn overhauling the station, hoping that making improvements at the station in Collegedale would help make it a more consistent, better sounding product. “We had several things that we needed to fix,” Mr. Brooks said.

“Number one was we kept dropping off the air,” he said. “Some of the people who were donating to us were complaining and saying that the other stations in this area don’t drop off the air as much.”

“They were right,” Mr. Brooks said. “We found out there were no backup systems to keep us on the air. We now have duplicate systems on just about every piece of the audio path.”

The station also had to buy “power conditioners,” machines that stabilize voltage received from the Tennessee Valley Authority so that “the equipment is getting a steady diet of clean electricity,” Mr. Brooks said. The station also brought a small generator inside the station so that if Southern Adventist University, the station’s owner, has a power outage the radio transmission will not be affected.

“We finished all this in mid-December and we have not been off the air one time since then,” Mr. Brooks said. The station’s generator was put to the test on Jan. 31 when Brock Hall, the building on Southern’s campus where WSMC is located, had its power shut off for nearly two hours. “Our audience never heard a glitch,” Mr. Brooks said.

A second problem the station had was noise that the station picked up from the electronics in the control room and the venting in the station. “We had a lot of computers in the control room that were adding a lot of heat and a lot of noise,” Mr. Brooks said. “I have moved those computers into another room, and there is one monitor in the control room that hooks into all four.”

“For the electronic noise, we eliminated over 300 lbs. of wire that we were able to reengineer,” he said. The station also installed an Omnia 3, a digital audio processor that takes the station's signal and introduces it into the new equipment. The Omnia does not just eliminate noise, Mr. Brooks said. “It allows us to brighten up a piano and mellow the bass notes so that the listener can hear a cleaner sound coming from the radio.

During the fall, the station also took the opportunity to upgrade “old, worn-out” equipment, Mr. Brooks said. “In the studio we bought new CD players and a new digital audio tape (DAT) player,” he said. “We also put in a device that allows us to record interviews over the telephone.”

WSMC is almost completely staffed by Southern students, so the last major change was to make the radio station’s equipment more operator-friendly, Mr. Brooks said. “The new equipment’s easier to operate, it’s all digital. Most students grew up in the digital age, so they feel right at home.”

As a public radio station, WSMC depends heavily on listener contributions to stay operational. Mr. Brooks is counting on listeners who supported the station in the past will continue to donate, as these new additions have upped the station’s budget by at least $25,000, he said.

“People will not buy a product so that you can make it the product it should have been in the first place.” Mr. Brooks said. “That would be like Henry Ford telling his customers ‘If you buy this car, then I’ll put the wheels on it.’”

“We hope the listening audience appreciates the cleaner sound, the more reliable service,” he said. “The students are very proud of the radio station now and are working hard to make sure that the radio programs are done at the highest professional level possible.”

“We want the audience to be happy,” he said. “Without their contributions, this station obviously will not survive.”

“We are a department of Southern Adventist University and we wish to introduce the community to good classical music and to Southern,” Mr. Brooks said. “When people think of Southern, we want them to think of good classical music.”

Over the past year, WSMC began allowing listeners to download its signal from its web site. The number of listeners who have reported being unable to download the signal because of bandwidth restrictions tells Mr. Brooks that there are a lot of people using the new feature. “We do have people listening from all over the world,” he said. “We’re considering broadening the bandwidth.”

“If the final rules on web streaming royalties adversely affect us, we will have to drop it,” Mr. Brooks said. “I really don’t want to do that.”

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