David: A lot of the folks at SE have been with us for years, but you and I go WAY back! When did we start working together?

Rodney: Believe it or not, YOU were indirectly responsible for getting me my first studio job at United Western in 1979.You had called your friend Lydia at Leo’s College For Recording Arts and told her there was an opening for a set up person.

David: Lydia was hot and wore tight jeans. Whatever happened to her?

Rodney: She was hot, but I don ’t know where she is

David: I have a lot of great memories of United/Western. What are yours?

Rodney: Wow, my first time in a big time recording studio. I was in awe. I was a kid from the mid West, and thrilled to be working at minimum wage in Hollywood.

David: I can start paying you minimum wage, if you like.

Rodney: (Uh, sure, I could use a raise.) The studio was so busy, and there were so many big names coming and going all the time. Frank Sinatra, Fred Astaire, Barry Manilow, Dione Warwick, I was star struck.

David: Frank Sinatra recorded the “older” songs for the Trilogy album there, including “New York, New York“. I remember that night well. Gigantic setup in the studio, a 24-track machine with Dolby plus a backup 24-track, as I recall.

Rodney: A 60-piece orchestra with twenty back-up singers, and Frank singing live.

David: I remember there was a bad mic cable one night, that made horrible crackling noises every ten minutes or so. The musicians were getting blasted through the cue system, but with so many live mics and such a rushed schedule there was no way to find the bad cable in the middle of the date. We just grit our teeth and prayed it wouldn ’t ruin a take.

Rodney: I remember another night, you and I called a radio station with your voice going through an Eventide H910 Harmonizer, and you said you were an alien looking for a hot earthling chick.

David: That was on Dave Hull ’s Dial A Date show on KFI.

Rodney: Yes, and I think he kept you on the air for at least 15 minutes.

David: Dave Hull kept the show running late, just to stretch out the bit. I still have the cassette; I should put the sound file on the site. What other memories at U/W?

Rodney: I was working on a Barry Manilow session when someone brought in “I Need Your Help Barry Manilow“by Ray Stevens. Barry didn ’t care for it much.

Remember Gordon Shryock? He engineered the Natalie Cole sessions at Western. I was in one of her videos that was shot in Studio A. And the Beach Boys sessions were really interesting. They wanted to recreate that magic “sixties sound” in their original Studio 3, with the legendary Chuck Britz engineering. (Ed. note: this was the room where they recorded most of “Pet Sounds” in 1966.) They brought in a tube console, a three track 1/2” machine, and a three channel Altec 604 monitor system driven by Macintosh tube amps. The sessions were unproductive and ended after a couple of weeks, but not before their wives, “the Beach Girls”, tried to record some tracks.

David: I stayed at Western but you moved on. Where else
were you on staff?

Rodney: After U/W, I went to Cherokee Recording Studios on Fairfax, then to City Recorders where I was Chief Technical Engineer. I then began doing freelance maintenance and studio installations, and started my own company

David: That was about the time that we started working together again. .about 100 installs ago, I bet.

Rodney: Yes. There was Westwood One Radio Networks, Warner Brothers, Studio A in Detroit, Image Recording and Resonate, KCET Television, Tom Leykis, Sylvester Levay, Elumba Recording, etc.

David: Elumba was owned by a lady from a royal family in Africa.

Rodney: Going to Detroit and working on the SSL install for Studio A was really fun. A lot of work in a short amount of time, and such a beautiful room. Westwood One was always exciting, they were always coming up with interesting requests for their on air needs.

David: I got to meet Jimmy Carter there during a Larry King show, and Thomas Dolby. Remember the “bedoop“system?

Rodney: The bedoop, what a cool way to remotely trigger your spots. The bedoop generated combinations of tones that were a few milliseconds long, that would remotely start a CD, cue the talent, turn a mic on or off, or run a cart machine. This “pinball machine” that we built, that outputted the Bedoop tones, was used to automate a West Coast news broadcast with signals sent from Culver City to Mutual Radio Master Control in Virginia.

Rodney: It was synced to a satellite clock and completely automated. They didn ’t need to hire an engineer to get the broadcast on the air.

David: I wish we had some automated wiring people. We could save a bundle on installs.

Rodney: We’ll always need highly skilled people with patience and talent who can build immaculate cables assemblies. Well, until everything goes over Ethernet, that is.

David: Or wireless. (Shudders)

Rodney: We get a lot of calls from people who want their studio installed right away, or by next weekend. People can’t imagine all the details that are involved in a professional install. We have a good team and we’re efficient, but it doesn’t pay to rush. We’ve seen studio wiring that looks like a rats nest, because someone didn’t take the time to do it right the first time.

David: Can you offer some suggestions for someone who’s starting an install?

Rodney: If you’re putting in central patchbays that include several rooms, it really pays to plan carefully ahead of time. Long before construction begins, you need to plan the cableways, and allow for future cables. We always recommend high quality, high bandwidth cable. It will handle today’s audio and video needs, and can still be used when the studio upgrades to digital audio and HD video.

In your Control Room, plan your patchbays first. The entire studio will revolve around your patchbay. The patchbay is the heart of your facility. The patchbay will dictate all your wiring needs, your wire lengths, and even the placement of some gear.

The air conditioning needs to be planned early on. Add up power consumption of the gear, convert that to BTU, add a human being or two, and then allow more than enough air for cooling. In the control room or recording booth, you will want to move a high volume of air but at low velocity, so that rumble isn’t introduced. In a machine room, you may want the air blasting, to keep the gear really cool.

Clean AC power also needs to be considered. If you’re in a building with questionable or unstable power, you may want a power conditioner or UPS on the Tech Power circuits. We usually recommend hospital grade outlets with isolated ground circuits.

This is more work and expense for the electrical contractor because it requires more wire, home ground runs to the panel, and ground rods, but it will pay off in the long run. In many cases we ask the electrician to twist the hot and neutral conductors before pulling them into the conduit. This really reduces EMI problems in sensitive environments. AC power should not run parallel to audio lines, especially mic lines. If they cross, it should be at a 90 degree angle.

Be aware of city codes that require your cables to be flame retardant or plenum rated. Plenum rated cables are often twice the cost of regular cable.

When locating your studio, it ’s good to know who your neighbors are. One studio had the electrical room for the whole building next door, with a lot emf coming though ,causing a lot of hum. We had one studio with tie lines that went under the building. Some rats were using the cables as a highway into the studio, and began eating them. The cables had to be replaced.

David: Do rats prefer Mogami or Belden?

Rodney: They enjoy any brand that is sold by Mouser.

David: They’d probably avoid CAT-5 cables. You know Rodney, I was thinking the other day, a lot of guys have a room with a view… but you have a room with a VU.

Rodney: Hey Dave, Pamela Anderson called. She wants you to meter.

David: As the soldering station said: Weller….Wen?

(All groan.)

Rodney: Back to install tips, AC ground noise and ’ground loops’ are not the problem they once were, with digital audio more common, and analog manufacturers more careful with the “pin 1 problem”. But we still prefer to “telescope the shield” on balanced audio cables.

David: Why don’t you explain the concept.

Rodney: By connecting the ground or shield on just one end of an audio pair, ground noise currents are prevented from flowing between pieces of gear. This can be done on line level interconnects that are balanced on both ends. It cannot be used on unbalanced connections or microphone lines. To stay consistent, we always lift the shield at the INPUT device. (Ed. note: see various publications from Jensen Transformers, and Henry W. Ott “Noise Reduction Techniques in Electronic Systems”.)

We never lift the grounds at a patchbay, as the patchbay is merely acting as an extension cord. Also, we do not bus the grounds together at the patchbay, because can cause ground loops and noise.

David: Well, I guess we better stop here, I know you need to get going.

Rodney: Yes, Steve and I need to take the install van over to 5 Guys. We’re setting up a RS-422 patchbay.