Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
Back in April 2011, a family wedding brought your editor across the Atlantic for a delightful weeklong jaunt across Ireland. And while we showed you a few of the (silent) medium-wave sites that we saw on that trip in a later 2011 installment of Site of the Week, we”ve not made good – until now – on the promise to show you the one and only studio tour we scored in Ireland.
If you”re only going to get to see one radio studio in a European country, the one to see is usually the main studio center of the state broadcaster – and in Ireland, that”s Raidió Teilifís Éireann, or RTÉ, which makes its headquarters in a compact campus in the Donnybrook neighborhood of Dublin, right off the A11 Stillorgan Road four miles or so south of the city center. The campus dates to 1961, when RTÉ began TV service from the Television Centre portion of the complex – but until September 1973, radio services remained headquartered at the General Post Office (GPO) on O”Connell Street just north of the River Liffey, where they”d been since 1928.
In the view from the main entrance above, we see the self-supporting mast that provides “links” (we”d call them STLs on this side of the pond) to transmission facilities elsewhere (we”ll see one at the end of this week”s column); next to that, we see some of the newer TV buildings toward the front of the compound, and behind them the older Television Centre studio buildings from the 1960s.
RTÉ has been working on upgrading this facility for a while now; there”s a plan (slowed, apparently, by Ireland”s economic downturn) to replace much of the northern part of the campus, including the Radio Centre, with a huge new broadcast facility.
After four years of construction beginning in 1969, the new Radio Centre was itself rather a big deal when it opened. Designed by the prominent Irish architect Ronnie Tallon in a rigorous Modernist style, the 58,000-square foot building at the north end of the Donnybrook campus is a two-story building that doesn”t look like one from outside. Come on in and we”ll show you why…
From the lobby, we immediately head through a set of glass doors and down a flight of stairs to the studio core of the building, which is mostly underground. The whole building is constructed around Studio 1, a mammoth room (62 x 56 feet, with a 32-foot ceiling) designed for live orchestral performances and other big productions. The control room for Studio 1 is tucked neatly under the elevated audience seating, which is accessed just off the lobby at ground level.
The rest of the building surrounds Studio 1 and a courtyard of similar size toward the rear of the building. Lined up along the long south side of the studio floor, seven feet below ground, are eight smaller studios all in a row, each paired with a control room.
Many of those studios were in use on the morning we visited, originating programs for the two national radio services that do most of their broadcasting from Dublin. RTÉ Radio 1 is the main national service, and most of its shows come from some combination of these studios; so do the mostly music offerings of RTÉ 2fm, whose main studios and control rooms look out on the courtyard toward the rear of the building. Some of the studios and control rooms back here are also used by RTÉ Digital Radio”s mostly automated services.
The master control portion of the facility is located all the way around the back of the courtyard, and it”s from here that an engineer keeps tabs on RTÉ Radio 1, RTÉ 2fm and the two national networks that originate most of their programming elsewhere in Ireland: RTÉ Lyric FM, the classical service, operates from studios in Limerick, in the west of Ireland; RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta, the Irish-language service, has some studios here but operates mainly from a separate facility in County Galway, also in the west.
Continuing around the other side of the ground floor, there are several larger studios lining the hallway on the other side of Studio 1. Shown below is Studio 10, which is used for larger RTÉ Radio 1 live broadcasts, including election nights, political debates and weekend sports programming. This side of the building also houses a studio for drama production and a studio that”s often used for live music performances.
(Those consoles throughout the facilty – or “mixing desks,” as they say in Europe – are mostly Studer OnAir 3000s, and the one in Studio 10 had just recently been installed when we visited.)
From here, we head back upstairs to the above-ground floor, which retains the open-plan design from its 1973 opening. This is where we find production offices for many of RTÉ”s shows, as well as a music library and other offices. What you won”t find here – at least not anymore – is the RTÉ newsroom. As space in the Radio Centre became ever tighter, RTÉ built a new newsroom shared by radio and TV in an expanded part of the Television Centre next door, and newscasts are now piped in from across the campus.
There”s also another level of the building down below ground; the basement includes rooms full of wiring and of tape archives, and we”d love to have had more time to poke around down there, but alas, our visit had to come to a close as we set off for other parts of Dublin and eventually out into the countryside.
Before heading out of Dublin that April day, though, we made a stop at the most-visited tourist attraction in Ireland. It”s not the Book of Kells or the Blarney Stone; as of the last few years, that honor is held by the Guinness Storehouse, an innovative museum that tells the story of Ireland”s national brew by way of a series of exhibits that stretch from ground level up ten stories to the top of a former storehouse in the Guinness brewery at St. James”s Gate.
At the top is the Gravity Bar, which boasts a 360-degree view of Dublin from one of the highest points in this low-rise city – and we”re particularly pleased to be up here because it provides us with a view to the south, past the RTÉ campus and out to Three Rock, the hilltop south of Dublin that”s home to most of the city”s FM signals and a set of TV transmitters as well. The national FM and TV services have two sets of transmitters in the Dublin area: Three Rock, closer to the city, serves the urban area while the Kippure transmitters to the south provide broad-area coverage of much of the central east coast.
(When we were in Ireland in early 2011, the “Saorview” free-to-air digital TV system was in test mode; by late 2012, Ireland had gone all-digital and the analog transmitters were shut down.)
And that”s nearly all that we saw, at least for broadcasting, in Ireland…except for one very tall tower that we”re saving to show you in a future installment!
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Next week: Winslow, Arizona, 2011