Denon DN-950 FA Cart CD player

These were all the rage when they came out some 23 years ago or so. They were specifically made for DJs who were used to shuffling carts in and out of cart machines.  The idea was to use familiar motions and procedures so DJs could easily perform their shifts using CDs without relearning studio dynamics.  The only downside, a DJ could remove the CD that was playing by accident whereas pulling a playing cart out of a cart machine is difficult to do.  Later Denon versions made it more difficult to remove playing CDs.

This is a promotions photo circa 1987.

Denon DN-950FA cart CD player
Denon DN-950FA cart CD player

This machine is still in use 22 years after its manufacture date.  Over the years the top cover has been removed countless times, no doubt to replace the KSS-210A optics and bearings or to periodically clean them.  The Phillips head screws are so worn a screw extractor is nearly required.

Denon DN-950FA back
Denon DN-950FA back
Denon DN-950 FA optics and platter
Denon DN-950 FA optics and platter

They are located under a circuit board, which has to be removed.  Again, the DN-951 series CD players did away with this, making maintenance easier.  These CD players could and often were affected by RF especially when the studios were co-located with an AM transmitter site.  One such symptom was randomly speeding up and slowing down while playing.  It made for some interesting-sounding songs and even more interesting commentary by the morning show.

Every time the optics and bearing were replaced, there was a pretty involved alignment procedure that took some time to get right. I remember some funny Japanese-to-English translations in the service manual.

Of course, nowadays if there are any issues, you just chuck the computer and get a new one.

The Pacific Records and Engineering BMXII console

I snapped these pictures at WICC in Bridgeport, CT. It is an older PR&E BMXII console, with 26 channels, I believe.

Pacific Recorders BMXII 26
Pacific Recorders and Engineering BMXII 26

These were manufactured starting in 1985, I installed one in 1990. It is a testament to their durability that this one has lasted 23 years.  They were expensive when purchased, and all of them were purchased directly from PR&E, Carlsbad, California.  The beauty of these things is their modularity.  All of the major components are replaceable, including the module face inlays.

Penny Giles conductive plastic fader
Penny Giles conductive plastic fader, PRE BMXII console

The faders, Penny and Giles 4000 series, are fully rebuildable.  The part that wears out the most is the nylon bushings that slide along the metal rails.  The contact fingers sometimes also need to be replaced.  These are 10 Kohm conductive plastic linear faders.  P&G does not make these anymore, they have been replaced by the 8000 series, which has an edge connector instead of a wiring harness.  Since the top of the fader is open, it also tends to accumulate dust, dirt, and other debris.  The fader board itself should be cleaned off with warm water, light soap may be used if needed.  Do not use alcohol on these because it eats into the conductive plastic and ruins the fader.

PRE BNXII line input module
PR&E BMXII line input module

One of the great things about this console is the fact that all the modules are hot-pluggable.  If one needs to be serviced, it can be pulled out of the main frame while the console is on the air and a new module plugged into it’s place.  Only the line output module replacement necessitated taking the station off the air, and then only for a few seconds.  It was a great concept that is now standard in almost every broadcast console.

There were several basic module configurations.  On the input side, line level, mic level, and telco were standard console inputs.  There was also a passive remote line select button set.  Out put modules consisted of line-level output, control room monitor, and studio monitor modules.

PR&E consoles were top-of-the-line gear, but expensive.  Most radio stations could not afford them and went with less expensive models like Wheatstone, BE, LPB, Autogram, Radio Systems, etc.  The fact that some of these BMXII consoles are approaching 30 years of age and still in service is a testament to their construction.

In the early 1990s, PR&E began branching out into the lower priced market with their product line.  They produced the Radiomixer and Productionmixer consoles, however, mid-market-sized radio stations were slow in adopting them because PR&E had the reputation of being expensive.  After all, if you can only afford a Chevrolet, why bother looking at the Mercedes?

WQXR control room
WQXR control room

This is a grainy promotions photo from the early 1990s showing what I think is the WQXR master control room, nick named “The Bridge.”  I took a tour there around 1993 or so and it was a fantastic facility, of course, the New York Times spared no expense.  I really felt like Willie Wonka in the Chocolate factory.

Later in that decade, they changed the name to Pacific Research and Engineering, and the went public.  I think going public was the death knell, soon thereafter they sold the entire product line to Harris Broadcast.  The final non-Harris console was the Airwave, which is a good medium-duty modular console, incorporating some of the traditional PR&E designs.  The later consoles stopped routing audio directly through the faders, using voltage-controlled amplifiers instead.  This solved some of the channel drop out problems that sometimes occurred in earlier consoles.  The Airwave consoles are much less durable than the BMX series, however, with the advent of voice tracking, perhaps 24/7 durability is not that necessary anymore.

Harris has dropped support of much of the early PR&E line, but there are those that soldier on, buying up parts and rebuilding these things.  Mooretronix has a good selection of BMX and ABX parts.

The WICC/WEBE  installation is about to be refurbed, which means these consoles will be headed out the door.  There are three of them in fair condition.

Studio Builds, the never ending cycle

The lease is up, it’s time to move! Yay, we get to rip apart the old place and redo it! Again! It seems to be a matter of course that every few years a radio station will move. Such is the case with WKZE in Red Hook (the town, not the area in Brooklyn). Their lease is up on the “Grotto” location, so the owner has decided to move to a new location, closer to the center of town.

The new location was the former thrift shop.  I know this because while I am working there, a constant stream of older people stop by and tell so.  Once, while working alone doing some pre-move work punching down wires and computer network cables, I had to use the facilities.  There I sit, on my porcelain throne, when I hear, “Hello?” in an old shakey voice.  A quick glance at the door reveals it is not locked.  Oh, NOs!  Okay, don’t say anything, she’ll go away.



“Hello, is anybody here?”

“Hello?  Very strange, the doors are open but nobody is here.  Hello?”

Oh for the love of Pete, “I’m in the bathroom,” I finally said.

“Where is the bathroom?” said the interloper.

I refused to say anything else and she finally left.  She could have taken all my tools if she wanted to.

Anyway, the studios themselves are pretty simple, one production studio and one air studio.  A T-1 line to the transmitter site, turned out the be the hardest thing about the entire operation.  We moved the old Radio System consoles rather than purchasing new equipment.  Radio Systems has a program called a Millennium upgrade, where you buy a new control surface, which replaces all moving parts, for something like $2,300.00 or so.  For that, basically, a new console is had.

Radio Systems Former RS-12 now Millennium 12 console
Radio Systems Former RS-12 now Millennium 12 console

The new production room is long and narrow.

WKZE new production room
WKZE new production room

The air studio is large and spacious.  They often have live music from this studio, which is really cool.  The station uses Prophet Systems automation equipment, although it is live most of the time.

WKZE air studio before furniture is installed
WKZE air studio before the furniture is installed

The main office area is one large room where desks will be located.

WKZE office, painted no furniture yet
WKZE office, painted no furniture yet

We are moving in stages:

  1. Prep work, installing all the computer network cable, phone system cable, pulling all the audio and control wiring.  Then the contractor finished up the drywalling and painting.  Nice Colors!
  2. Ordering phone lines and T-1 line.  Ahhh, the phone company, such a pleasure to deal with, we had to pull a new cable through the underground conduit from the street to the building because the old cable did not have enough pairs.  The conduit length is about 75 feet or so.
  3. Removed the old production room console and took it to the shop to rebuild.  It was not that difficult really, although a little cumbersome.  I throughly cleaned out all the dust dirt and other detreious materials from the console frame and install the new control surface.  I also checked all the power supply voltages with an oscilliscope to make sure there was no ripple.  The original consoles were made in 1992, not bad for an 18 year old board.
  4. Built a new production room with the rebuilt board.
  5. Tested all computer jacks, audio wiring, etc prior to move.
  6. Move T-1 circuit and all office and studio telco lines to the new location.  Fortunately, the phone company is a local company not the big V we have in other cities.  They were able to work with us and get things paralleled to the new location, something a large company might not have understood.
  7. On the air from the production room at the new location
  8. Remove the main rack, intact and move it to new location
  9. Remove office phone system and install at new location
  10. Remove and rebuild old air studio console
  11. Install rebuilt air studio console in new studio, wire
  12. Transfer operation to new studio

Right now, we are on step #6.  That is going to be done next Tuesday (the day after memorial day) morning I believe.  We should have the move completed by the end of the week.  I’ll post updates as they become available.