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Behind-the-scenes of eTown Hall and Recording Studio, Part 1

Apr 3, 2014 10:43 AM, With Bennett Liles


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Editor’s note: For your convenience, this transcription of the podcast includes timestamps. If you are listening to the podcast and reading its accompanying transcription, you can use the timestamps to jump to any part of the audio podcast by simply dragging the slider on the podcast to the time indicated in the transcription.

eTown is where it’s at for music. Every week Public Radio listeners tune in the music shows recorded before live audiences. The eTown Hall and recording studio was set up by SIA Acoustics and Sam Berkow is here to give us a behind the scenes look at this fantastic place. All that’s coming up next, right here on the SVC Podcast.

SVC: Sam Berkow with us on the SVC Podcast from the LA office of SIA Acoustics. Sam, welcome to the SVC Podcast and how about giving us a little rundown on SIA Acoustics.

Great. Happy to be here. SIA Acoustics is a design and consulting firm with offices in New York City, Los Angeles and Mumbai, India of all places. We are a firm dedicated to sound-critical spaces, mostly performing arts related – recording studios, production facilities and concert venues. We design sound systems, noise control issues, room shaping, layout, facility design and architectural acoustics. We also specialize in acoustic measurement. I’m the original developer of SIA Smart, a reasonably well-known acoustic measurement tool, or perhaps the best-known acoustic measurement tool in our field. [Timestamp: 1:43]

And working in acoustics, everything isn’t cut and dried and no two venues are exactly alike. It has gotten a lot more scientific but to make a venue like eTown Hall look and sound right can bring in some interesting challenges, I’m sure. How did eTown get started? What exactly did they want to do with this building? That was a complete re-build, wasn’t it?

Yeah. What happened is this project started like so many with a phone call. The owner/star of eTown, a guy named Nick Forrester, called me and said, ‘I’ve got a little project and I don’t know if it’s something you’d be interested in, but we want to take an old church and turn it into offices for our radio show and some studio spaces, some post-production spaces, performance space and a community-gathering space.’ I reminded Nick that about 20 years earlier we had had dinner together when his band Hot Rise, which was one of the better bluegrass bands around for a number of years, was playing in New York City where I’m originally from, and opening for the great John Hartford. And we reminisced about music we liked and got together in New York City where I was teaching at NYU a class on acoustics and control room design – studio design – and started down the road of building eTown Hall. [Timestamp: 3:08]

And that’s a pretty well-known place, especially to Public Radio listeners because they have a weekly show that I think includes all kinds of music.

The eTown weekly radio broadcast is heard on approximately 300 mostly public radio stations on NPR, some PRI, across the country with a weekly listenership of about a million listeners. I understand that the podcast version of the eTown show is downloaded between 80,000 and 100,000 times a week, so it’s quite a nice audience. And the show is based on Nick Forrester and his wife, Helen, and their band, the eTones, playing with well-known music artists particularly the songwriter or acoustic music person and a lesser-known or an up-and-coming artist. And Nick interviews the artist and asks about their inspirations and talks about their talents and their songwriting and their interests. It’s much more personal and insightful than your typical late-night talk show interview. Helen gives away an award to someone each week who’s made a non-profit contribution to their community called the E-Chievement Awards and that’s really – it’s actually pretty wonderful. It’s a really nice thing. So it’s a nice show to be part of. The show was celebrating its 18th or 19th year when we started the project and I believe we’re at 21-22 years now. [Timestamp: 4:37]

So they’ve got performances being taped before live audiences and SIA Acoustics had to make the room sound good right from scratch. They pretty much tore down the old church that it used to be and started over, didn’t they?

Yeah. What we did was we took the roof off and rebuilt the roof because it hadn’t been maintained or kept up for quite awhile. And the space was very funky and had been rebuilt numerous times and added on, so there were actually rooms on eight different levels. So there’s steps between each level and getting from space to space, particularly getting conduit from space to space was tricky. We also found out that the main floor of the main worship space, which was to be the main hall, had to be completely removed because its support system was really deficient and unsafe. So we took the main floor out, we added new steel, we added a new roof. We kept the sidewalls and most of the foundation, however. [Timestamp: 5:35]



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