Station Staff On Air Technology

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This is how the RFBM "Shack" appeared at night in 1999. This building is the oldest reused structure at Black Rock City. Its has a 20' x 8' footprint with a verandah added in 1998, increasing its total footprint to a 36' frontage by 16' depth. The basic structure of the core is 8' x 4' panels, 4-inches thick, with fiberglass wool insulation. Sections are bolted together to form the structure.



The original design in 1995 was a simple building with a twelve-foot frontage, four windows, an internal partition wall to make two rooms, and a two-piece roof assembly. This made the main studio room only eight-feet by seven-feet and no air conditioning. During the daytime, the indoor temperature reached 95-F quickly and became very uncomfortable. The two-section roof system leaked rain water that year because of a large, unprotected seam between the sections, across the center of the shack. This two-piece roof was also extremely heavy, requiring five people to install and remove from the shack. In this first design the wall sections are basically horizontal with a tongue and groove joint between lower and upper panels. The two 8-foot walls cap the ends of the longer walls and through-bolt into T-nuts secured in the studs.



After the 1995 Burning Man, the shack pieces were brought back to the Sunnyvale, CA laboratory and a project to expand the size and improve many features began. Over the next eleven months, the left side was built-out eight more feet, air-conditioning was installed in the new room and a "fan credenza" was built to move cooled air quietly into the studio room. Various electrical upgrades were made. The two-section roof system was made into a four-section structure with the same leakage and installation problems. 1996 was kinder to RFBM and the comfort arrangements helped keep the staff happy. One project, an awning across the 20-foot front of the building, was planned late in the year and many of it's parts didn't make it to the playa till the last day of the event.






At the end of the 1996 event, the shack was removed from the playa successfully and we started using our local storage for its pieces. With the shack now residing permanently in Nevada, the logistical costs and dilemmas of transporting this large mass from Sunnyvale to the desert every year were eliminated. This storage does, however, stop the close attention to preservation and the ability to make upgrades and fixes directly to the shack pieces.

Preparation for the 1997 event was a slow and meager process. High rates of staff attrition led to a group of RFBMers very disconnected from the realities of making this most arduous and expensive part of RFBM continue. Replacing the four-piece roof with a system of five, 4X8 roof sections was given the highest priority. This second roof specified 6-inch, R-19 fiber-glass wool insulation, so the panels need to be more than six-inches thick. I-beams were home-crafted for use as 16-inch-spaced joists oriented laterally across the 8-foot span of the shack. The new roof system's individual sections were, of course, easier to cary, but were about 200-pounds each, making them tough to lift overhead, onto the shack. High priority was also given to making the awning a reality. Five 4X8 panels made of corrugated sheet-steel were attached to simple frames made from wood 2x2s. This panel design proved extremely successful with light weight, 100% opacity to sun and rain, and overall ease in attaching to structures. Deck sections were introduced under the awning. These were made with 5/8" plywood sheets screwed into wood 2X4s which were laid directly on the ground. To support the awning, six posts were made from redwood 4X4s and bolted to the outside ends of the deck sections.

On the Hualapi Playa, the shack made a nice place to do radio. The "verandah" under the awning became a great, if small, gathering spot for citizens throughout the event. Numerous live interviews were conducted in front of the station. The shack ended up featured on several major television news reports about Burning Man that year, including the ABC Nightline interview with John Hell at the controls.

Take-down that year was difficult as all but two of the staff remained for cleanup. The shack remained on site for 45-days after while the fallout from Burning Man's financial disaster devastated the cleanup effort in general. Logistical difficulties forced the shack pieces to be stored in various barns and out in the open until spring 1997 when it could be hauled to the real storage site. This handling introduced a lot of water damage into the pieces.




1998 saw improvements to only the verandah. It was enlarged to wrap around three sides of the shack. This improved the shading on the walls of the building which improved resistance to solar pounding. The six original columns were replaced with a fluted design, again completely home-built. With the peripheral extension of this newer verandah awning, more span was needed between columns, so 8-foot lintels were built to support the ends of the awning panels. A design theme was selected to make the verandah a "gift to the street," with 18 corbel brackets placed at the post tops and the lintels. These brackets were individually crafted from 1-inch redwood fence boards. The process involved cutting four layers for each bracket on a router table.

Getting the shack setup in Black Rock City was easy that year and it served the station well. The verandah served the citizens well as a welcome shelter from frequent rain showers during the event. After the event, though, was a disaster. All but one of RFBM's staff was able to stay behind and coordinate takedown. The roof was removed and loaded for transport to storage, but that Tuesday night the storms stalled over what remained of BRC and the entire playa was flooded with standing water. This much water made instant, impassable mud throughout the once proud city. No vehicles could gain purchase on the slick, miring surface. The open-roofed shack was drenched. The pieces had to be left at the site for DPW to remove. This loss of caring attention to the pieces would take its toll.




By the winter of 1999 the shack pieces were recovered from DPW at the 80-Acres work ranch site, where they had been stored outside, like so much of the waste left behind by theme camps who think leaving stuff for DPW is the answer to their cleanup and logistical problems. Water and ice had damaged many of the wood forms and painted surfaces. Even worse was the loss of part of the original partition wall and several awning panels. The panels were constructed to simple tolerances and could be easily reproduced, but the "gallows" portion of the partition which held the partition door was a significant structural element to the alignment of the front door section. Without this crucial piece and the ability to replace it easily, the option to make a major design change was exercised. This change was to eliminate the partition, which formed a simple hallway from the entry door, and make the cramped studio room longer making it 11.5' X 7.5' inside. This was accomplished by rebuilding the "power wall" and the front door section. The front door got first-class treatment in the form of a single-light, window door. The water damage had also wrecked the studio's console table and this was replaced with an L-shaped console table made slightly more transportable with folding legs.


Fear of bad weather early in the event forced a slow setup of the shack and RFBM was not on the air until Wednesday. The failure in 1998 caused the takedown and storage to be better planned and was expedited faster than expected. The work of reusing the aging structure was beginning to look futile, as cosmetic and structural faults were numerous. The heavy second-generation roof system was discarded at takedown.





The first priority for 2000 was the replacement of the roof system for a third time. The major considerations were light carrying weight, smaller stacking thickness for greater storage efficiency, stronger frame bolting to guarantee against the wind ripping the roof off, and an aesthetically pleasing ceiling to complement the victorian facade on the verandah. The answer was a two-layered structure with beam sections about 4-inches thick and a 2-inch thick roof covering on top. This would make a span strong enough to walk on, but light enough for two people, or possibly one person, to lift overhead and install. Standard fiberglass batting insulation is not readily available for a 1.5-inch ceiling thickness, so Polyisocyanurate foam (PIR) sheets were cut to fit the various insulation gaps inside. Joists need to span the same length as the old roof, but hold people on top like a roof should, so wood 1X2s were spaced 9-inches on centers to distribute strength. This structure is not sturdy enough alone for an 8-foot span, so an intermediate beam system was developed using wood 2X4s to form virtual 48X48 squares. Lag bolting made both layers rigid. The beams were carefully paneled with 1/8" birch-veneer plywood and fir half-round and cove molding were mitered into the squares. The top ceiling sections were sheathed in fir bead board panels. This was then stained with an oil-based wood stain and finished with polyurethane varnish. The effect is a stunningly well-crafted ceiling that went over the heads of most visitors that year.

On the playa the weathered outer skin was given a fresh coat of paint. Window surrounds were installed on the outside and pilasters with the fluting of the verandah columns were attached to the corners making the shack look like a strong and important feature of Center Camp. Staff help was abundant that year both for setup and takedown and the once mixed emotions surrounding the continued use of this building were driven to ideas of continued success.




2001 saw no changes to the shack. A new equipment building was made to go at the base of the tower which was now part of the immediate RFBM camp. This tower building was designed to house the transmitter equipment close to the base of the tower, rather than placing the tower close to the shack. Sufficient staffing made setup and takedown work well. It was clear, however, that any decrease in staff for the before and after operations would seriously impair RFBM's unfortunate and growing independence from the organization that runs BRC.



A major change in operations was anticipated for 2002. The shack could not be used because key personnel would not be able to continue to volunteer that year. Instead a plan with BRC LLC was worked out where a rental building would be used for RFBM and Burning Man Information Radio (BMIR) jointly. The shack was placed into "dignified disposal" at the LLC's Workranch site where was setup in the hope that it could serve as a vacation retreat at that site. RFBM, along with several other groups using the workranch site, were evicted in the summer of 2003, just in time for the shack's reintroduction on the playa.




The shack was brought out of dignified disposal for 2003. With the core of the building supported on dek-blocks to raise the floor 12-inches above grade, a new deck system was needed so that the deck surface would also be 12-inches above grade. Redwood 2X6s were used for the new decking. This new decking was expensive and continuing focus was on simplifying the shack design, so only the front 20-feet of the building were to be covered with the verandah. The old lintel sections were replaced with arch sections designed for a 48-inch spacing of the posts. This new system was easier to install and take-down and made a tighter fit to the verandah.

The shack saw much winter damage while on the LLC's workranch. This damage added to older water damage and wear received over the years combined to make the wall sections very difficult to install. Replacement was deemed necessary, however not funded.


With minimized operations planned for 2004, building a new shack was out of the question. Space for the RFBM station was provided by the Seattle based Area 47 village at the street location of 9:30 and Mercury. This minimization of RFBM got even smaller when the tower site was abandoned in favor of just getting the shack built.

During assembly, the box beam sections revealed serious splits in their 2x4s and many parts of the ceiling and walls had delaminated from water damage and handling.


2005 saw no changes to the shack. Transportation logistics finally showed their fundamental error to several staff members during setup. While the building and other RFBM facilities served admirably, the overall difficulty in setup and take-down made the decision to make final disposal of the shack's existing pieces inevitable. Thirteen major pieces were added to burn-platforms at the end of the event. The pieces that burned did so quickly, brightly, and relieved the take-down crew of this extra burden. The wall pieces are not able to be placed on burn-platforms due to their fiberglass and plastic content. Verandah and deck components are slated to be reused in any future shack that may be built.

It is somewhat saddening that this building could not be used for more than ten BRCs, but by destroying it, the RFBM staff are forced to consider what to do to make the station happen in the future. This task is great as there will be only one year of preparation available to build a building that took four years to reach its final form.



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