Sony, WCU Team Create One-of-a-Kind Studio

Letterman. Leno. Disney. Winfrey. The Sony systems integration experts who spent long summer months at Western in 2003 have worked on the sets of some of the biggest names in television. What were they doing on campus? Wiring together the university's new digital TV and recording studio in the Center for Applied Technology.

Simply put, Western's facility was wired by the best in the business. "If you watch ABC's Monday Night Football," says Sony project manager Mike Walton, "there's an 80 to 90 percent chance that Sony crews put together the 53-foot production trucks." Sony also built CBS's Big Brother house, the Staples Center in Los Angeles, and relocated Atlanta's Crawford Communications and WSB-TV studios.

The Sony crew in their natural habitat.

The Sony crew in their natural habitat. Left to right:
Andra Butler, lead installer; Jonathon Kennedy,
installer; Gary Szot, senior implementation supervisor;
Kerry Taylor, lead installer; Chris Crummett, senior staff
engineer; Mike Walton, project manager; Graham
Bentley, senior staff engineer. Not pictured: Thana
Vatananan, lead installer; Sheri Martin, cable fabricator;
Vivian Kong, cable fabricator; and Randy Mendoza, lead

Connecting with Sony

How did Western and Sony connect? When a TV and recording studio is built, all the equipment has to work together as a system. Sony's systems integration division based in San Jose, California bid successfully on Western's project. Taking the university's existing design, concepts and equipment list, they then created the wiring design.

Sony was especially interested in the project, says Gary Szot, senior implementation supervisor, because of the company's commitment to aiding education and the industry-quality facility.

Sony crew members flanked by the studio's recording decks.

Sony crew members flanked by the studio's
recording decks are (left to right): Gary Szot,
senior implementation supervisor; Kerry Taylor,
lead installer; Jonathon Kennedy, installer; and
Andra Butler, lead installer.

Laying out the project

Before Western's Sony team even set foot in North Carolina, a full documentation package was produced for the facility, and engineers designed the system. The engineers then handed the approved drawings off to Szot, whose job it was to document every cable connection.

"We compile what's called the 'wire list' of all the 'tos and froms'--every connection on the job--and then we have to fabricate the wires," says Szot. Depending on the size of the job, wire listing can take anywhere from a week to a couple of months.

Cable fabrication is done by a team in San Jose. Equipment is purchased and delivered to that location and then, when the fabrication is just about complete, everything is shipped to the job site. That's when the systems integration team really goes to work.

Both the installers and engineers have a master set of documents. On their master, the installers physically highlight each wire's progress until it is completely installed. In this way, each crew member can see how progress is being made. In the same way, the engineers highlight their master as they test the system.

In September 2003, Szot counted 5593 wires (and was still counting). That's 214, 805 feet of cable. Each cable bears a thermal-printed non-fade label detailing the pieces of equipment it unites, its length, and connectors. A clear numbering system on the label differentiates between each type of wire: digital video, analog video, digital audio and analog audio.

As you can see, what sets Sony apart from other systems integration outfits is the company's incredible attention to detail. All drawings produced are minutely detailed; each piece of equipment is asset tagged with a serial number and a bar code.

Western's systems integration project was essentially completed in September 2003 with only final testing to be completed. Sony provides support training for professors to learn to use the new equipment and, in conjunction with the company's school in San Jose, a trainer will work with Western.

Cables are precisely placed and bundled throughout the facility.

Cables are precisely
placed and bundled
throughout the facility.
Each cable is marked
with a thermal-printed
label that identifies the
cable and its place in
the system.

Cable culture

Most of the cable installers on Western's project arrived on campus in early July and were on the job through September. Self-described "vidiots," "wiremen," or, according to lead installer Andra Butler, "technical gypsies," they go where the project is and work six-day, 60-hour weeks--whatever it takes to get the job done.

How does one become a wireman or -woman? Lead installer Kerry Taylor, whose job it is to stage, wire and harness systems, has been a wireman for over 25 years. He began his career in telephones, moving first into audio and later into broadcast work. These days, Taylor works on various Sony projects all over the world.

Szot, who supervises the wiring and component testing of systems, has worked for Sony on jobs as high profile as the CNBC facility in Hong Kong. With a degree in communication arts, his background is in the music industry. Many of the installers he works with are musicians or ex-roadies who have migrated into the communications industry.

With a dual degree in business management and international business (and a longtime interest in technology and computers), Walton previously built interactive systems for cruise ships. On one such job he befriended a Sony project manager and, after collaborating on other projects, later joined the company. He's responsible for the management of projects from design stage to final acceptance.

Sony culture, says Walton, is similar to that of other companies. Upward movement exists. For example, an installer might gain promotion to lead installer. There's also often a balance between Sony employees and contractors. On Western's job, it's about a 50-50 balance.

Sony's line on the future

There's good news for Western students who cut their teeth in the TV and recording studio. According to Walton, the communications industry is looking for qualified people who can operate and understand the cutting-edge equipment that Western now has. Furthermore, the "old guard" is changing equipment, people are retiring, and organizations are increasingly turning to the internet as a broadcast medium.

Room is being made for the next generation. And Western students, thanks in large part to Sony, will be on the forefront of the industry. "Western's students are very fortunate," says Szot, "This is going to be one of the best studios this side of Nashville."


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