Published in April 2009

The Encouraging Word: AV
By: Jim Stokes

First Baptist Church goes HD and digital.

First Baptist Church, Spartanburg SC, was founded in 1839, and began local live Sunday morning TV broadcasts in 1956.

Historic First Baptist Church (FBS) in the heart of Spartanburg SC has gone HD digital within a massive media upgrade of its AV, broadcast and lighting systems. Founded in 1839, the house of worship has come a long way from a gathering place for 25 Christians. An important media milestone along the way occurred in 1956, when FBS began its first local live Sunday morning worship service TV broadcast. Now, 53 years later, The Encouraging Word is heard in all 50 states. Senior Pastor, the Rev. Donald J. Wilton, announced recently from the pulpit during a regular Sunday Services broadcast that The Rev. Billy Graham is now an official member of FBS.

Overseeing Production

The First Baptist’s media department, headed by Rev. Britt Dillard, Minister of Media, and his staff, oversees the church’s live television production, audio productions, print media and public relations. The weekly broadcast over WSPA-TV, the CBS affiliate in Spartanburg, is made possible through the efforts of almost 80 volunteers, who are trained by the FBS media department. Technical positions, including directing, switching, graphics, FOH, broadcast audio and telephone ministries, are all manned by proficient volunteers. We’ll have more about this later.

“We went to the digital world because of the flexibility it gave us,” declared Dillard. “We were all analog in this installation, and the bulk of our television system, including routers, switchers, monitors and the rest of the entire backbone, was 19 years old. So, we made a commitment about two years ago to make the jump to digital. That move was further nudged to high definition because, when our church moved in the digital direction, the goal was to maximize the investment of our church members. This puts us so far ahead that we can get some better longevity out of the equipment.”

He acknowledged that the multi-million-dollar equipment move to digital was expensive but, looking at the big picture, the move to HD as well was very much justified because it gave FBS the full upgrade path. Furthermore, it follows local WSPA-TV’s commitment to quality as the first HD digital television station in South Carolina.

“For us in churches, there may be a tendency to find the cheapest way to do something. Our goal is to find low-end broadcast rather than high-end consumer gear because we’ve gotten so much more reliability,” said Dillard. Related, he noted that FPS Senior Pastor Wilton has a key phrase “that he drives into our hearts in all situations like this: ‘We want to pursue excellence but not extravagance’.”

‘Sweet Spot Of Service’

Not by the collection plate alone does a church survive. There’s also stewardship. “Everybody must find their place of service,” said Dillard. “We call it the ‘sweet spot of service.’ That service might be coaching a basketball team, serving in the soup kitchen and running the camera for the Sunday morning broadcast. It’s about your gifts.” And there’s quite a diverse array of technical media volunteers. Dillard explained that, if you’d walk into the video booth, the person running the robotic camera is a customer service rep for Verizon Wireless. Sitting right next to him is the manager of a meat packing plant. A retired physics professor and a bookstore owner also run video room equipment.

There’s also the practical reason for using laity volunteer ministry: FBS’ media department has only three staff people. Hiring additional AV, broadcast and lighting personnel would be too expensive. On staff is Jamey Thompson, Associate Minister of Media, whose specialty is video and the world of graphics. Media Assistant Michele Brady’s specialty is audio ministry. Just one of her tasks as we did our interview was producing a half-hour program for WMIT, the Billy Graham-owned radio station in Cambridge MA. We previously introduced the church’s Minister of Media, Britt Dillard. He uses his strong radio and TV broadcast background for many duties within the church. Among the tasks: He’s a show host at FBS-owned HangarRadioZ 104.1 FM in Spartanburg, a low-power station serving the region with a youth-oriented, contemporary format.

Project Credits

General contractor was Harper Construction, Greenville SC. In addition to our already-in-progress interview with FBS’ Britt Dillard, our AV and broadcast related interviewees include Blue Hat Design, Lawrenceville GA, a division of TI Broadcast Solutions Group, which did the design and install of the church’s video system. All the commissioning was done by Mat Hathaway. Site foreman was Brian Kincheloe, and overall project and program manager was TI President Michael Wright.

Projection was provided by Advanced Video, Columbia SC, with Alan Dox our interviewee. Kelly Bristow at Paragon Productions, Rock Hill SC, described the lighting. On the audio side, our spokespersons were Bill Thrasher, Sr., President and Principal Consultant, Thrasher Design Group/TDGi (Kennesaw GA), and Commercial Sales Manager Ben Babb for contractor Palmetto Sound Works in Spartanburg.

Dillard gave some highlights of the install. But stay tuned. After this electronic journey, we’ll speak with project consultants and integrators. “We’re very happy with Yamaha mixers. They’ve been very good to us,” Dillard said. Yamahas were used in all mix positions. Furthermore, it was economically feasible to tie together two of the same audio consoles. Such was for case at FOH with a pair of M7CL 48-channel mixers to obtain 96 channels. Similarly in broadcast audio for video, two DM2000 consoles were cascaded to allow 96 audio channels for a live stereo or a 5.1 mix.

The TV Side

Moving over to the TV side of the install, there are six Sony operator-run main cameras, two of which have big box 75x camera lenses you’d see on TV sports trucks. And the 2XMSU-750 master control panel provides adjustment of iris and black level. There’s also a Panasonic robotic camera, mounted over the organ, which allows nice shots of the organ without disturbing people.
Dillard said that the Snell & Wilcox Kahuna 4ME has been a “really good switcher with two work surfaces [panels].” One of the panels is used for broadcast and multi-layer elements. The other is used to switch IMAG (image magnification) for the projection screens in the sanctuary. The two-tiered video control room has a lower level devoted to the broadcast chain, whereas the upper level has many monitor screens and has a feed that goes across the street to the church’s youth building. House routing is via Pro-Bel Sirius and Freeway routers.

‘Grand Flexibility’

According to Dillard, the Harris Nexio server has given some grand flexibility. “For example, we begin telecasting at 11:00am no matter what’s going on. Even if we start the broadcast [in the sanctuary] at 10:30am, we can time shift 30 minutes with the ability to write and render to the server. The render just has to stay ahead of itself.” He added that 70% of the time, video production uses the server to time shift an earlier service to 11:00am airing on WSPA-TV. The other 30%, FBS just goes live.

For video editing, a Final Cut Pro HD workstation with an AJA Kona card connects to the Nexio. In addition, the aforementioned youth center across the street from the church can also be accommodated by the server, where video can be time shifted and the pastor’s sermon-only is fed to the 900 to 1000 seated younger congregation members. Dillard acknowledged that Blue Hat Design and System Design Engineer Mat Hathaway “did a terrific job and they have a real attunement to our ministry, which is different than broadcast. It was really good to see them take their experience and apply it to us.”

Video System

“[The video] is a pretty complex system for a church,” Hathaway pointed out. “They built a system that most TV stations would be jealous of. One thing that made this install interesting is that [FBS] does all its recording to a video server, as opposed to tape only. They use tape as a backup.” We’ve already mentioned major items such as the servers, editing and routers, so we’ll highlight the rest of the video system, via Hathaway, starting with the core racked components in the central equipment room.

The Miranda Kaleido-X feeds monitors throughout the install, including five 50-inch Panasonic plasmas and one 28-inch LCD in the main production control room; one 50-inch plasma in the multi-track audio room; and one 50-inch plasma to provide notes, program video and clocks to the pastor in the sanctuary. The Harris InfoCaster feeds the campus-wide digital signage system. Blue Hat installed and set that up along with the Blonder Tongue CATV head-end. Hathaway pointed out that the church staff was “very happy” to use the Avocent KVM switch for remote control of all computers from any location in the facility. “They were ecstatic about that so they could move people around, use for shadowing, training and other things of that sort.”

Moving on to the video production equipment, the PixelPower Clarity character generator is dedicated to sermon notes and IDs as needed. In addition, worship graphics are run on Renewed Vision ProPresenter worship graphics software via an Apple Mac Pro. “It’s really made for worship. ProPresenter allows moving backgrounds to the words. So it’s nice to be able the change things on the fly,” Hathaway said. And he clarified that the two Yamaha DM2000 audio consoles provided by Palmetto Sound were actually integrated by Blue Hat. “The way it works on a typical Sunday morning is, they mix all the music on the DM2000. The mixed output of that goes to the [Yamaha] 01V96V2 mixer, and then that goes to air [broadcast].”


Video projectors and screens are the bailiwick of Advanced Video, Columbia SC, with two additional projectors and a Spyder processor to be purchased in the second phase. And, currently, the left/right projection screens are being rented from Advanced Video.

However, Allen Dox, VP Sales and Engineering, has plenty to report related to this first-phase install. “We provided [the church] with three-chip broadcast cameras in the old standard definition world. We’ve had a good relationship with First Baptist for the last 20 years,” he offered. “So this was a team effort.” Dox said that Project Engineer Randy Lawter and he designed the optical array and the screen size that would be used in the church.

“The biggest challenge was to come up with a way to install the screens, structurally in the back of the sanctuary,” Dox stated, adding that, “Unfortunately, the structural plans for the church didn’t exist in CADD form. They were hand-drawn when it was built. And with this particular renovation, we had to deal with some structure back around the pipes where the organ is. We actually had to create tie-points. We worked with the general contractor [Harper Construction] to have the screens hoisted and positioned. So we had to create our own custom valence and support for the three screens.”

He explained that, in determining the appearance of the projection screens, the church’s Britt Dillard was most concerned with having the primary center screen the largest and brightest, with the left/right peripheral screens downsized. The initial requirement was to try to position the screens as close together as possible.

“So what we did was supply a screen that actually had the motor inside the roller...the Da-Lite Professional Electrol HDTV screen. Once we had the screens in their position, we had to determine the projection requirement. Prior to the design, we had established with Britt to use an HD projector with a brightness level of approximately 18,000 lumens. We chose Christie Digital projectors.” He noted the advantage of starting with this center screen projector is, “when people spend $100,000 on a projector, it’s kind of nice to take a test drive.”

View from the audio mixing position.

Sanctuary lighting design and implementation was via Paragon Productions of Rock Hill SC. According to Sales Manager/Product Manager Kelly Bristow, lighting within the sanctuary had been installed in various stages over the course of several decades. He pointed out that Dillard “was adamant that everything he ever designs be very flexible so it can be adapted in the future, and we feel the same about our design work.”

Paragon had been involved with the church over the past 10 to 15 years, which included an advanced, full staging install at the youth center’s modern facility. Back in the sanctuary, Bristow was confronted with the aftereffects of different companies’ work on the high dome-shaped ceiling where holes had been cut in the plaster and lighting fixtures were hung in the attic. Although they had to dodge some of the chandeliers, the work went on and Paragon specified eight new ceiling cutouts of around three feet by 18 inches each. “We had an enormous amount of front lighting but little side lighting and not enough good back lighting for the pulpit.”

To augment existing lighting, six Altman Shakespeare 20-degree ellipsoidal fixtures were added. “We were able to get a more even TV wash.” During the renovation, 12 Par 64 fixtures were added in other areas. A completely new dimming system, comprised of new Leviton dimmer packs, was installed across the board. “We couldn’t get enough electricity in any single location, so there are dimmer racks in two places. One location has two racks fed from two different sources. The third dimmer rack is in another spot. This is all tied together with standard DMX 512 and also Leviton’s LumaNet for four programmed zones.” High End Systems’ Road Hog is the primary theatrical console, which can be accessed from two locations: one in the balcony near the audio console and one at a window overlooking the sanctuary.

Other fixtures include 16 Chauvet Colorado 1 LED RGB theatrical fixtures, which are used for lighting the choir, “so the choir can be painted any color. We can fade from color to color and the LEDs are extremely efficient on electricity.” There are eight Robe Colorspot 575 moving light fixtures. Along with those new fixtures are a number of existing High End Systems Studio Color 575s. Finally, Bristow noted, “A big part of what we did, labor-wise, was refocusing the fixtures to get a really even TV wash.”

The production suite features dual mixing consoles—and a full view of all relevant areas within the church complex.

Thrasher Design Group and Palmetto Sound Works handled the design and installation, respectively, for the church’s audio upgrade. Both companies had done previous AV work for FBS. According to Palmetto Commercial Sales Manager Ben Babb, “The driving force for [the project] was upgrading the church’s video equipment in order to do digital TV, and audio tied in with it.” Overall challenges included equipment evaluations in choosing the best for FBS purposes, removing as little of the older equipment as possible, making sure the upgrade was both technically and aesthetically correct for the room, completing the sanctuary project in eight weeks, and maintaining an analog broadcast while preparing for a digital broadcast.

Consultant Bill Thrasher declared with good humor that the audio system is built around CobraNet products, which accommodate diverse audio sources. “I like the fact that I have multiple manufacturers that all play nice with each other. You’re not stuck with just one brand, and if that breaks, you’re out of business. I don’t appreciate that at this point in my life. We have a 96-channel [CobraNet] snake there. The Whirlwind conversion box takes CobraNet and converts it to Aviom or EtherSound or EtherSound to Aviom. So it converts among the different networks. That got me from CobraNet into Aviom without too much heartburn.”

Furthermore, he emphasized that the snake is line level. It was done all on fiber instead of copper wire. Anything that was already at a line level signal, for example, tape playback, tie lines between consoles and wireless mics, is plugged into the digital snake system. They don’t have to worry about mic preamps. A BSS Audio Soundweb London series was added as the primary DSP. And Thrasher designated the time-consuming and arduous task of field wiring to Whirlwind, which built them to plug into the Yamaha, BSS and other related products.

Because we’ve already covered the audio consoles, we’ll deal primarily with other sound-related aspects of the install. The existing sanctuary FOH speaker system is comprised of Community M4 coaxes and low frequency JBLs.

In the upgrade, Yamaha front fills, Danley front subs and new power amplifiers were added. Three Shure UHF-R wirelesses were added, bringing the total wireless in the sanctuary to 22. Along with that, 24 more analog mic receptacles were added to the platform area using ProCo splitter systems for a total of 144 mic receptacles.

Integrator’s POV

Now Ben Babb of Palmetto gave the integrator’s POV. In Phase 1, general contractor Harper Construction completely gutted the sanctuary, he said, adding that Palmetto’s job was redoing the stage area. “We installed some new floor boxes and pockets and rewired everything. The audio renovation included installation of about 4½ miles of microphone cable and 2000 feet of CatE cable.” As mentioned, that also included installing the Yamaha M7 consoles for the sanctuary sound system.

Although Babb noted that the audio for video Phase 2 isn’t entirely complete, he described the specifications. The two DM2000 consoles cascaded to allow 96 audio channels, which permit live stereo or a 5.1 mix with hookup to Pro-Tools HD yet to come. “Twelve Yamaha AD8HR remote pre-amps convert analog mic signals to AES. This allows the mic pre settings to be digitally stored with scenes from the DM2000s. Although the initial digital audio signal will be stereo, future 5.1 audio will be monitored by 5.1 Genelec 8030 monitors and subwoofers.”


Advanced Video Inc.

Headquartered in Columbia SC, Advanced Video Inc. offers clients the full spectrum of AV options. Both the Columbia and Greenville locations are fully staffed with sales and rental/staging divisions.

Advanced Video’s services include videoconferencing, used equipment, LCD and DLP projection, and PA systems, among other options.

For more information, go to

Blue Hat Design

Blue Hat Design, a division of TI Broadcast Solutions Group (TIBSG), is located in a 100-year-old factory in historic Lawrence-ville GA. TIBSG provides design and integration services to commercial television stations, networks and studios, while Blue Hat Design brings the same level of expertise to churches and Christian ministries.

“We not only understand the technical requirements for video system design and integration, we also understand the unique challenges of churches and Christian ministries,” said Mat Hathaway, Design Engineer for the Spartanburg project. “We help to bridge the gap between media and the mission of the church.”

For more information, go to


Thrasher Design Group, Inc.

Thrasher Design Group (TDGi), Kennesaw GA, is an audio/video systems design and consulting firm specializing in high quality, cost effective AV systems for worship and assembly spaces, performing arts, themed entertainment and related applications. TDGi is constantly seeking to improve and refine its skills by being actively involved with audio systems being used in the field, not just being designed on the drafting table. Expertise and skills are offered in three principal areas of service: facility design services; production design and audio mixing services; and audio/video systems-related training services.

For more information, go to



1 Aviom M16/o-Y1 interface card
2 BSS BLU-32 I/O expanders w/CobraNet
1 BSS BLU-80 signal processor w/CobraNet
BSS London Series signal processing
4 JBL ASB 6118 single 18" subwoofers
4 JBL CSP18-BT front-fill speakers
38 Neutrik NL4MP1 panel-mount NL4 connectors
3 Pro Co MS83P mic splitters w/phantom power
2 Shure UA888 network interfaces
3 Shure UHF-R wireless mics
West Penn installation mic cable
1 Whirlwind PXP Protocol eXchange Platform converter
1 Whirlwind WLF482 48-point longframe patch bay
12 Yamaha AD8HR remote control head amps
Yamaha cables
2 Yamaha M7CL-48 48-channel digital audio consoles
2 Yamaha ME2000V2 automix memory expansion kits
5 Yamaha NHB32-C 32-channel I/O audio interfaces
w/CobraNet compatibility
1 Yamaha P3500S amp (front fills)
1 Yamaha P700S amp (front subs)
List is edited from information supplied by Palmetto Sound Works.

1 Christie Digital 4.1-6.9:1 HD zoom lens
2 Christie Digital HD10K M or HD12K projectors
(to be purchased)
1 Christie Digital HD18K 18,000 lumen HD projector
1 Christie Digital Vista Spyder image processor
(to be purchased)
3 Da-Lite low-voltage controls
1 Da-Lite professional Electrol 133"x236" HDTV screen
2 Da-Lite professional Electrol 92"x164" HDTV screens
List is edited from information supplied by Advanced Video Inc.

11 Leviton/NSI DS1224 dimmer packs (Dimmer
Racks 1, 2, 3)
4 Leviton/NSI DS824 dimmer packs

High End Systems Road Hog
4 NSI 400CP architectural panels

Fixtures (added in renovation)

6 Altman Shakespeare S6 20° ellipsoidals
16 Chauvet Colorado 1 LED
4 DMX Universes
4 Doug Fleenor DMX distribution amps
12 Par 64s
8 Robe Colorspot 575 moving lights

Load Distribution for dimmed, non-dimmed loads
22 SSRC pipe-mounted outlet boxes
5 SSRC floor boxes
List is edited from information supplied by Paragon Productions.

1 Apple Final Cut Pro HD w/AJA Kona LHE I/O
1 AVP Mfg & Supply modular switchboard-style
SMPTE fiber patch
Forecast MasterRail consoles
1 Harris TVM-900 multi-format HD/SD-SDI video,
audio signal analyzer
1 Panasonic AW-HE100 multi-format integrated HD/SD
camera/pan-tilt system
1 Panasonic BT-LH1760 17" BT Series multi-format
color LCD production monitor
Panasonic TH-50PF10UK 50" 1080p HD pro plasma
1 PixelPower Clarity 3000 character generator
1 Renewed Vision ProPresenter worship graphics
software package
1 Snell & Wilcox Kahuna 4ME production switcher w/2
control panels
6 Sony HDC-1400 cameras w/HDCU-1000 CCUs, RCP-
920 controllers, MSU-750 master control panels
1 SSL Delta Link I/O MADI-ProTools converter
1 Vinten camera support
Yamaha AD8HR remote controllable 8-channel A/D
2 Yamaha DM2000VCM mixing consoles
1 Yamaha O1V96V2 mixing console

AJA FS-1 up/down/cross-converters
1 Avocent AMX5010 KVM switch
1 Blonder Tongue CATV head-end
1 Evertz 5600MSC master sync, clock generator
1 Harris InfoCaster digital signage system
Harris Nexio SAN, HD video servers w/Final Cut
1 Harris VTM4100 waveform rasterizer
1 HME Pro850 wireless intercom
1 JVC DT-V24L1DU 24" broadcast studio monitor
14 Middle Atlantic MRK series racks
1 Miranda Technologies Densité conversion, distribution
1 Miranda Technologies Kaleido-X monitor wall
1 Pro-Bel Sirius, Freeway router
1 Riedel Artist intercom system
1 Tandberg E5780 HD MPEG2 encoder
1 Wohler audio monitor
List is edited from information supplied by TI Broadcast Solutions Group, Broadcast Integration Group.

Sound & Communications Contributing Editor Jim Stokes has been involved in the AV industry for more than 30 years as an AV technician and writer.
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