BRUSSELS — This spring, the Belgian Dutch-language public broadcaster VRT finalized the infrastructure and technical upgrade of the on-air studios for Studio Brussel, Radio 1 and Radio 2. The project, initiated in the summer of 2022, paves the way for VRT’s relocation to its new headquarters starting in 2025.
“The new building met with substantial delay in its construction and staggering budget,” explained Thomas Botte, systems expert with VRT radio. “Once we’re in the new headquarters, we’ll review the modus operandi: How will radio work in the future? With this upgrade, we can step ahead and test new procedures and methods, for which we will adapt the infrastructure.”
Another important aspect was that the technical equipment in the on-air studios, while working fine, was outdated. “The Studio Brussel DHD RM4200 studio dated back to 2004, with 18 years of successful on-the-air life and was still going strong. The question was how much longer we could continue,” said system expert Tom Hantson.
The Studio Brussel new look
VRT started working simultaneously on the Studio Brussel and Radio 1 studios. The upgrade project included completely dismantling the on-air systems and installing a new studio focusing on visual radio and dedicated branding imaging.
With Studio Brussel built as a box-in-box studio, VRT retained the windows but completely redecorated the room. VRT’s technical partner and DHD distributor Amptec supplied and installed the new studio furniture, DHD consoles and cabling.
“We’ve opted for a DHD RX2 set-up,” continued Hantson. “The new RX2 offers multiple advantages and applications like AoIP, supporting both AES67 and Dante, remote control via the web, etc.” The new studio features Neumann U89 microphones, a DPA 4466 headset microphone and wireless monitoring using Wisycom and Westone Audio in-ears.
The DHD mixers have a Broadcast Bionics Bionic Studio-incorporated telephone system. The compact touchscreen DHD TXs are for news presenters or when DJs play a set in the studio — they operate autonomously but are part of the on-air configuration. Pending a new playout system, VRT remains faithful to the Dalet+ software.
The visual radio component uses a fully automated IQ Video vPilot camera system, an AI-based platform. “As DHD’s automix function mixes the microphones, vPilot automatically switches the Panasonic cameras using a laser sensor to identify the exact position of people in the studio,” Botte explained. “Image is critical. We stepped away from a desk with three mice, keyboards and screens to three displays, one docking station, a mouse and a keyboard. We’ve also opted for smaller Yellowtec m!ka XS microphone arms and installed a light truss for optimal lighting for the Studio Brussel studio, with plenty of effects to achieve the best possible image.”
VRT also took on Studio Brussel’s backup studio, installing an identical 12-fader RX2 console while keeping the studio furniture. The station now uses it as a broadcast studio for Studio Brussel’s “De Tijdloze” [Timeless], the station’s DAB+ and streaming channel.”
Although radio remains ‘radio,’ image is rapidly gaining importanceThomas Botte, systems expert with VRT radio
Radio 1 style
The new Radio 1 on-air studio uses the same DHD RX2 configuration. “We first used the studio in 2007 envisioning using a radio engineer — the huge 52/MX console was too big for a self-op presenter,” said Botte. “With more self-op programs, the large console was a disadvantage; it also would have dominated the visuals.”
The station installed an RX2 18-fader console in the control room for the morning drive, news and sports coverage, and a 10-fader SX2 and two small MX consoles in the on-air studio. “Radio 1’s morning drive show ‘De Ochtend’ [The Morning] uses TV content, so although radio remains ‘radio,’ image is rapidly gaining importance,” commented Botte. In the on-air studio, smaller m!ka XS arms fit the image during visual radio broadcasts.
“Using the DHD’s ‘shared channels’ option, we swiftly switch from the 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. breakfast show with presenter and engineer to self-op programming, allowing the simultaneous use of different faders,” added Hantson. The studio branding changes for the station’s different programs, such as “De Ochtend” and Sunday afternoon’s “Sporza.”
Radio 2 rebuilt
VRT completely rebuilt Radio 2’s main studio based on the Studio Brussel configuration, with “lessons learned.” A new RX2 12-fader console with additional TX mixing desks replaced the DHD 52/MX.
Radio 2’s morning programs are televised live on the VRT1 TV channel, so the visual aspect is important. A video engineer manages the studio’s local image content. “For visual radio, we use wireless DPA 4466 headset microphones and monitor wirelessly using Wisycom and Westone Audio in-ears,” said Thomas. “The studio guests use Beyerdynamic DT 770 headphones and a Shure SM58 microphone. This works better on TV, although monitoring is somewhat more complex.”
Whereas the simultaneous renovation of the Studio Brussel and Radio 1 studios took less than a year, the new Radio 2 studio had to meet a “hard deadline” — the station’s new morning drive show “Goeiemorgen, Morgen” had to go on-air on Jan. 23. Considering the ongoing delays with equipment manufacturing and supply, this was a real challenge.
Throughout its entire studio infrastructure, VRT replaced existing protocols like MADI with AoIP — AES67 for the central infrastructure and Dante for the local studio part — and cabling with either fiber or Cat-6.
“The time of only using professional material is behind us,” explained Botte. “We now use semi-professional gear, allowing us to interface with other applications such as social media platforms like TikTok. The difference between broadcast and consumer has faded. By the time new professional software is written, the application is a dinosaur.”
A remarkable evolution is that the studio equipment has become lighter and more agile with the introduction of applications. Today it has become quite easy to modify a studio setup without having to move the hardware.Bart Lamberigts, sales and project manager with Belgium-based integrator Amptec
Looking ahead, both Hantson and Botte are focusing on a new playout system, visual radio during outside broadcasts and the new building.
“In this project, with three new studios, the search for the Holy Trinity was key, meaning the perfect balance between functionality, ergonomics and aesthetics,” said Bart Lamberigts, sales and project manager with Belgium-based integrator Amptec; which performed the build-out. “Both in terms of equipment and studio set-up. I think that we delivered on all three. In the case of Radio 1, the functionality was essential to swiftly change between self-op programs and the more complex news or sports programs with a studio engineer. Studio Brussel opted for a presenter desk with a modern twist.”
“A remarkable evolution is that the studio equipment has become lighter and more agile with the introduction of applications. Today it has become quite easy to modify a studio setup without having to move the hardware. There’s less hardware too. I’m convinced that the overloaded studios heaving with external gear for the engineers are a thing of the past,” concluded Lamberigts.
The author reports on the industry from Antwerp, Belgium