This year’s Radio TechCon both unnerved and inspired attendees
GHENT, Belgium — Less than a year after TOPradio changed ownership and moved to new premises, the station has inaugurated new radio studios, new equipment and an advanced digital strategy. TOPradio was launched in 1996 and steadily evolved to become one of the leading commercial FM radio networks in the Flanders region of Belgium. Today, Ghent-based TOPradio airs on DAB+, 16 provincial urban FM frequencies and five streaming “sister editions.” These include the recently (January 2022) launched TOPbam, TOPretroarena, TOPschaamteloos (“Shameless”), TOPtechno and TOPzen. TOPradio also transmits dance festival Tomorrowland’s One World Radio.
In April 2021, the station became part of events and marketing company Twice Entertainment, and relocated to the “Galveston” building, a renovated spinning mill factory that dates back to 1912. “We appointed TVV Sound Project as systems integrator for the new studio environment,” said Youri Beaumont, TOPradio’s cofounder and head of music. TVV Sound Project designed the new infrastructure and office landscape, comprising two radio studios, an engine room, offices and meeting rooms and a staff kitchen.
Twice opted for a modular box-in-box studio system. The company’s technical team assembled the two on-air studios with materials supplied by Juunoo, which specializes in partition walls and modular boxes.
“The Juunoo interior walls consist of patented telescopic steel modules that give the wall rigidity and acoustic insulation,” explained Chris Van de Voorde, Juunoo’s CEO. “Because acoustics were key in this project, we added an extra layer to make the box completely soundproof. We mounted gypsum boards onto the steel modules and attached AcouClick-panels with detachable industrial tape.”
iDeal Acoustics analyzed the internal acoustics of the twin radio studios. “We studied the optimization of the acoustics and checked the reverberation time of the on-air rooms,” said Matthias Aerts, iDeal Acoustics CEO. “We installed tailor-made acoustic panels. The 10-square meter sound absorbing wall behind the presenter desk is covered with a printable acoustic fabric, allowing thematic adaptation of the background,” explained Aerts.
The studio gear
TOPradio’s two identical radio studios face each other and are suitable for live broadcasts or production assignments, like voice-tracking. “The core of the self-op studios is a Telos Alliance Axia Pathfinder Core PRO broadcast controller,” explained Joris Schiettecatte, project manager with TVV Sound. “It’s a powerful matrix that allowed us to build an extensive configuration, offering maximal flexibility for the two studios. The Pathfinder includes dedicated HTML pages for each of the 10 different regional editions for the 16 FM frequencies, and a reliable monitoring panel for the FM, DAB+ and streaming output. The technical staff has a unique page that controls either studio at any time, from anywhere.”
The studios can either be used as separate units or as a twin setup using the Pathfinder’s routing network. Each studio has an Axia iQ eight-fader mainframe console and an eight-fader iQ expansion frame, powered by a QOR.32 integrated console engine.
“We also installed a Caliope Broadcast Software system,” continued Schiettecatte. “It includes the playout software, radio commercials planner and player, jingle pads, scheduler software and a multiplayer option for our streaming editions.” Beaumont added that this is crucial to make the 10 editions serving 16 frequencies FM economically viable. “Caliope allows us to air specific commercials for each individual FM edition simultaneously.”
The presenter desks have Audio-Technica DP40 microphones and black Yellowtec m!ka microphones and monitor arms. All the microphone signals route to an external PC using AoIP. “The PC runs vMix pro video production software and automatically triggers the PTZ cameras in the studio where we run broadcasts with visual radio for specific programs,” noted Schiettecatte.
JBL 305P MKII JBL monitor speakers and Orban Optimod 5500 processing complete the studios.
Managing multiple editions
With different editions serving 16 frequencies, the TOPradio signal flow requires intelligent management. The studio signal is routed to Telos xNodes using Livewire AoIP technology. “Pathfinder allows us to switch to either one of the studios’ signal or advertising for each individual edition,” said Schiettecatte. “Every edition is equipped with an Orban Optimod 8600S processor, providing the station’s signature sound.”
The 16 FM transmitter sites use dedicated Comrex BRIC-Link II or 2wcom codecs — the signal is processed using the station’s MPLS network connection. Each transmitter site has a 4G router as a redundant backup. According to Schiettecatte, the Pathfinder monitor function is essential in the signal flow. “Pathfinder automatically checks the individual editions — in case of a system failure, it sends an email message to the engineers and activates a backup.”
TOPradio uses AeroAudio TX transmitters for the FM frequencies and an Orban Optimod 6300 digital DAB+ processor for the DAB+ signal. The xNode signal goes to a Telos xNode and the Optimod 6300 and main studio Comrex BRIC-Link II codec and then routed, using an MPLS network, to (DAB+ operator) Norkring’s Comrex BRIC-Link II codec and Norkring’s Deva Broadcast DB9000-RX backup decoder.
TOPradio also wanted to renew its digital position and add a native “all screen” app. Dutch company All4Media, headed by radio consultant veteran Alexander Josiassen, handled the logistics and technical integration. “Digital becomes bigger every day and needs to be fully integrated into all workflows of a media company,” explained Josiassen.
Using collected data, TOPradio can provide localized content and advertising. It uses a tailored content management system for media to manage data, content distribution and commutation with each station’s audience. “We use technology connecting the listener’s postal code to individualized commercials,” continued Josiassen. “Clearly identifying audience profiles and reach opens new commercial propositions to advertisers.”
Together with integrator TVV Sound, Josiassen maximized the possibilities of the tech stack. “Studios and digital must run side by side today. The infrastructure and functionality must fully integrate to do the job. From production tools for radio talents to the output of a stream — FM or DAB+ — TOPradio now has it all and is ready to grow,” he concluded.