NORWICH — The University of East Anglia has brought historic radio studios back to life, installing new equipment to train future radio and television talent.
The former Heart and Radio Broadland building in the center of Norwich, in the east of England, reopened last November after UEA’s Broadcast Journalism course director, Professor Mark Wells, discovered the studios just days before they were due to be knocked down.
Radio shows were broadcast from the studios for nearly 35 years, having opened as the headquarters of local station Radio Broadland in 1984. The station became part of the Heart network in 2009, with increased programming networking, meaning broadcasts from the building ceased in 2019.
Professor Wells found the studios when he started looking for a new home for the university’s broadcast journalism courses in 2018. UEA’s courses were expanding with the start of a new BA in Broadcast Journalism, and had outgrown their previous home at Epic Studios in Norwich.
When Wells approached St. George’s Works, in the city’s historic Colegate area, with a view to renting space to create a newsroom, he was shown the adjacent former radio studios. Recently purchased by the management company Our Place, the studios were scheduled for demolition.
“For the University, with its expanding journalism and creative practice programs, it seemed too good an opportunity to miss,” said Wells. “Our Place quickly put the demolition on hold and gave us the opportunity to develop a plan to make use of the site’s unique features. For our students, being able to benefit from a state-of-the-art broadcast center, complete with radio and TV news studios, provides them with a simulation of what a career in the broadcast industry would be like. It also allows them to produce high-quality audio and visual news content during their time here.”
When UEA arrived, the studios were empty, with racks still in place in the former equipment room. These were removed and converted into a television gallery. The university refitted the three broadcast studios to industry standards, and now students have access to a newly revamped radio presentation area, a television news studio and an audio studio, plus new teaching and meeting spaces.
“We designed the project with two phases,” explained John Tully, UEA’s senior faculty manager. “Phase one was 13 months, starting in August 2020. We secured the lease, refitted the building and installed IT and furniture. Teaching went live in September 2020. Phase two involves further IT and building enhancements, resolving minor snags, and developing innovation and employability links. We’re currently well into the latter phase, and the project will end on July 31, 2022.”
Tully said the team faced several challenges during the work.
“First, we needed to put in a new mechanical ventilation system in the building,” he said. “We hadn’t caught this in the conditions survey, so it was unexpected, expensive to install and put the project budget under pressure. Second, there were supply time delays from procurement to delivery. For example, we had to wait 20 weeks for the desktop computers to arrive. We only got them set up and ready due to the massive efforts of the IT and technical support team.”
The facilities now include a Sonifex S0 desk in the radio studio, with three Electro-Voice RE20 microphones. The newsroom camera is a Blackmagic studio camera 4K Pro. Together with a Blackmagic vision mixer in the TV gallery and a Datavideo 4K PTZ camera, this setup allows users to simultaneously record four shots in one.
UEA launched its new BA in Broadcast and Multimedia Journalism in September 2020, alongside the MA degree in Broadcast and Digital Journalism it already offered. The reaction from the students to the new studios is positive.
“They love working in such a modern space with a sense of history about it,” said Clare Precey, UEA’s course director for Broadcast Journalism.
“They’re really excited to be here in the center of the city and the home of Radio Broadland and Heart Radio. As a former radio professional, I really love working here too. We have one studio set aside for radio, one for TV and one multipurpose/flexible space. Plus, the acoustics in the studios are excellent.”