When the viewers and listeners of WOSU Public Media’s television and radio programs tuned in over the last year, they would have been unaware of the massive technical changes happening behind the scenes at the Columbus broadcasting operation.
Working collaboratively with the Broadcast Educational Media Commission (BEMC), the Ohio Academic Resources Network (OARnet) and The Ohio State University, WOSU Public Media moved from its long-time home at Ohio State’s Fawcett Center to a state-of-the-art building located just east of campus at the corner of 14th Avenue and Pearl Street. Although the project required years of planning, construction and a carefully orchestrated transition of equipment, WOSU maintained seamless and uninterrupted broadcasts to the community throughout the process.
What is the BEMC?
As the state's public broadcast umbrella network, the Broadcast Educational Media Commission (BEMC) promotes technology-driven education in Ohio by uniting Ohio Public Broadcasters, the Ohio Channel and the Statehouse News Bureau. Through the BEMC, all eight public broadcast television stations, 15 public radio stations and six radio reading services in the state connect to OARnet's high-speed fiber optic network.
Now fully operational, WOSU’s new headquarters are designed to welcome the public into the broadcasting space, where they can participate in events and tour cutting-edge radio and television studios.
“I personally think that, overall, the transformation of our building is unmatched,” said Mike Meadows, director of technology for WOSU. “We have so much interest from our audiences and members; we can’t keep up with the demand from people to see the facility.”
Ohio State originally proposed moving WOSU Public Media as part of an initiative to develop the eastern edge of its campus as an arts district that would invite community engagement. But relocating the public broadcasting operation was no small task: The project would require the construction of a new facility and the transition of equipment that supported four television stations and two radio channels, as well as two television transmitters and seven radio transmitter sites that service the state. WOSU Public Media had been housed at the Fawcett Center since the 1950s.
The project spanned six years from planning to completion. WOSU worked with architects, designers and technical consultants who had expertise in building facilities that mitigate vibrations and external noises to avoid broadcast interruptions, Meadows said. About 70 to 80% of the broadcasting equipment was newly purchased for the facility, including robotic cameras that can be operated remotely.
A key element of the project was the development of new networking infrastructure for the Pearl Street site. The BEMC, a state agency that provides centralized broadcasting of programming for public stations across Ohio, began discussing the WOSU Public Media move with OARnet in early 2020. OARnet provides networking support to BEMC, connecting it and Ohio’s eight PBS stations, 15 public radio stations and six radio reading services to the statewide fiber-optic backbone and offering 24/7 monitoring of the infrastructure.
The two entities worked with Ohio State’s Office of Technology and Digital Innovation to secure the use of its existing fiber-optic cable to help connect the BEMC’s headquarters on North Star Road to the new WOSU site on Pearl Street while also maintaining the link to the Fawcett Center. OARnet added new switches and connections to create two paths—one running along the northside of campus and one on the southside—to ensure redundancy and stability in the system, said Geoffrey Phillips, executive director of the BEMC.
The engineering teams involved in the project collaborated to carefully execute the moving of equipment and to prepare for the broadcast streams to switch from the old network connection to the new one without any interruptions for viewers or listeners.
“We were able to successfully unplug a 50-year-old fiber after transferring everything to Pearl Street,” Phillips said. “When you step back and look at the project, it happened so seamlessly.”
For OARnet, the WOSU Public Media headquarters move offers a prime example of how the organization brings value to its collaborative projects. OARnet not only has the engineering and technical expertise to quickly evaluate project needs and execute solutions to them, but also has significant experience with partnering with a wide variety of entities around the state and helping them work together, said Denis Walsh, chief relationship officer for OARnet.
“We bring a breadth and depth of technical support that helps facilitate projects, not only in public broadcasting, but in education, university, government and health care settings,” Walsh said. “It’s how we contribute to the overall success of broadband networking in the state of Ohio.”
For WOSU Public Media, the new Pearl Street location will enhance its community and student outreach and engagement activities while providing the most contemporary equipment and facilities for its radio, news and television operations. The five-story, 52,000-square-foot building features broadcast and performance studios, an expanded newsroom, a media learning lab and a podcast studio. The focal point of the building is the new Ross Community Studio, which can accommodate events ranging from lectures to musical performances.
WOSU Public Media also designed the building with an eye to the future, Meadows said, to accommodate technology advances that will allow the broadcasting operation to evolve.
The public may register for tours of the new WOSU Public Media headquarters, through the organization’s website.
By Andrea Gibson
Since 1987, OARnet has delivered technology-based solutions that reduce costs, increase productivity and improve customer service. As a division of the Ohio Department of Higher Education(link sends e-mail)'s Ohio Technology Consortium(link sends e-mail) (OH-TECH), OARnet serves Ohio's education, health care, public broadcasting and government communities. Other members of the consortium include the Ohio Supercomputer Center(link sends e-mail) (OSC) and the Ohio Library and Information Network(link sends e-mail) (OhioLINK).