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MONS, Belgium — RTBF’s VivaCité Mons recently inaugurated a sleek broadcasting studio that’s suitable for both radio and TV broadcasts and features a 360-degree LED background wall covering.
VivaCité is the Belgian French-language public broadcaster’s flagship radio station, with an audience share of 13.6%. With studios in Brussels, Liège, Luxembourg, Charleroi, Ottignies, Namur and Mons, airing on 20 FM frequencies, DAB+, RTBF Auvio and cable networks, the station has a strong regional backbone.
The regional centers each produce a local version of the station’s morning drive show “La Matinale,” offering regional news and information.
VivaCité Mons’ studio upgrade is part of RTBF’s larger scheme to renovate the entire VivaCité radio infrastructure. Most of the station’s regional studios have now been refurbished, with only Namur (slated to be complete by the end of 2021) and Liège (in 2022) still on the agenda.
“For the broadcast site in Mons, the inauguration of the new VivaCité studio marks the cherry on the cake,” said Hélène Ronveaux, RTBF’s radio technology project manager. “After we built a new studio for DAB+-only station Viva+, we renovated the on-air studio for Classic 21 and built a production studio for the same channel.”
It took about two years of design and planning to build the new VivaCité Mons on-air studio — the COVID-19 crisis caused additional delay with equipment and materials supply for the installation.
With an area of 80 square meters, the new studio is the biggest in Mons. “Our priorities were that the facility should be visually attractive, future-proof and offer maximal versatility,” explained Etienne Tordeur, RTBF studio and control room coordinator. “In addition to the multimedia concept, we had to equip the radio studio for high-quality video recording and the ability to handle a wide range of formats from ‘classic’ radio to simultaneous broadcast and digital transmission.”
As for the other VivaCité studios and the Mons broadcast site, RTBF opted to continue using a DHD Audio platform for the new studio. With multiple layers and 24 motorized faders and a 64-channel XD2-core, VivaCité Mons is using an expanded version of the MX range.
“The new studio shares the same master control center with the other radio studios in Mons,” explained Bart Lamberigts, project manager at Amptec, the systems integrator that supplied the DHD structure.
“The individual cores and the control center make use of Ravenna/AES67 technology and the DHD 52-7067 interface module to connect with RTBF’s main control room in Brussels.”
All signals from the four studios are transferred to the main matrix in Brussels where the Mons signal is mixed with advertising and time signal and routed to the respective transmitters.
“The control room, adjacent to the on-air studio, houses a 24-fader DHD 52/MX console, integrated with DHD TX multitouch mixing console panels,” added Lamberigts. The console connects to an AVT Magic THipPro telephone hybrid and a Netia Air-DDO playout system by means of the Ember+ protocol.
Amptec installed “TV-friendly” custom-made microphone stands for the Neumann TLM 102 broadcast mics, and manufactured the presenter furniture with incorporated video displays.
“The studio is split into two zones,” Tordeur said. “The triangular ‘talk’ section has room for five people. Opposite is a modular removable ‘cozy’ zone with a smaller round table, offering room for showcases, extra guests or audience.”
Tordeur describes the two zones as having their own identity, adding that “future-proof” was the adage when it came to the studio furniture and decoration. “The challenge was how to combine the installation of cameras that could capture the 80 square meters of studio from different angles in a ‘timeless’ setting and managing the graphic elements,” he said.
They found the answer in a two-layer wall covering with LED lights and dedicated software. The studio walls were covered with a micro-LED five-centimeter pitch curtain, supplied and installed by LedBox. They then added a diffusing canvas lining, which provides a natural range of background colors.
“We based the idea on French company SMODE’s technology and developed a graphic environment to manage all image sources and elements,” he said. “It’s quite a novelty: In addition to the in-house designed studio imaging, RTBF’s staff developed, integrated and coordinated the whole concept.
Like a chameleon, the studio can seamlessly change background colors — in addition, three huge image “totems” display dedicated content like logos or pictures, making the whole on-air landscape esthetically pleasing to the eye.
Radio and TV Broadcasts
RTBF’s creative team designed the studio’s project furniture, which Amptec then manufactured, as part of their tender agreement with the public broadcaster.
Next to the on-air studio, RTBF installed a small “club room” to cater for the station’s sports programs. “We based the new studio landscape on a list of technical program requirements,” said Tordeur.
“Sports are an important part of our programming — Viva Sport brings live sports coverage on weekend nights between 8–11 p.m., and on Monday and Wednesday evenings. That’s why we decided to install a separate booth equipped with four displays and a mic allowing sports commentators or analysts to contribute to the program in a comfortable way.”
The club room features a camera — to convey a “sports” atmosphere on the station’s social media platforms and RTBF Auvio — as well as a DHD 52/TX multitouch console.
Unlike the recently opened Classic 21 studio, which was conceived as “visual ready,” the new VivaCité facility, which is in the same building, is fully equipped for video broadcasts.
“The studio is still pretty much focused on radio, but with part of the programs being aired on television, we boosted the quality notably,” Ronveaux added.
“The five-meter-high ceiling allowed us to expand the perspective and improve the technical quality of the images. We’ve installed a lighting fixture grill that creates the correct [TV] studio lighting in combination with the LED background. This would not have been possible in a ‘classic’ radio studio with a ceiling just three meters high.”
Nine Panasonic AW-UE150 PTZ cameras capture the images. “The Ember+ protocol allows a direct connection with the DHD console,” continued Tordeur. “Based on our experience with our RTBF Média studio in Brussels, we developed an in-house system for the ‘shooter’ and ‘mixer’ interfaces, with video automatically following the audio signal using robotic MRMC tracking for some of the cameras,” he said.
“DHD has internal automated microphone mixing plus an integrated level detection system, which, using Ember+, collects the data to kick off the carousel focusing on the microphone-input signal, and trigger the cameras,” added Ronveaux.
Studio engineers manage all of VivaCité’s broadcasts. The 40-square-meter control room houses three workstations, in a flexible setup that’s adaptable to both audio and video broadcasts.
In addition to VivaCité’s flagship weekday programs, the full-service station also uses the new studio for weekend morning shows “Viva Weekend” and “En cuisine,” which air on RTBF’s La Une TV channel, RTBF Auvio and the internet.
Each of the programs has a dedicated backdrop and branding. VivaCité Mons’ weekday morning drive program “Viva Hainaut” also began broadcasting on regional TV channel TéléMB on May 3.
“The VivaCité on-air studio is the first big visual studio in Mons,” emphasized Tordeur. “The transition was challenging for our staff who were used to working in a more traditional radio studio. This move to a modern control room and studio required a lot of flexibility and adaptability, without losing the key dynamics of making radio happen. The term ‘chameleon’ therefore also applies to our staff, presenters and engineers, who in no time, swiftly adapted to the different needs of modern production.”