“We’re fast-track artists,”said Larry Frontino, president, Direct A/V Inc., Hawthorne, Calif. “Some contractors are good at fast track while others are good at submitting an RFI [request for information] and waiting three months for the answer and prodding along on a four-year project,” he said.
Frontino’s company focuses on the sound and communications market, and quick turnaround is part of working in that market.
“We like a fast pace. We’re good at it. Like for the Democratic National Convention. They needed 4 million feet of cable pulled in 30 days for seven major broadcasting networks with 30 affiliates. And we did it.”
Traditional electrical contracting is not their niche. “We generally let the bigger contractors do the electrical. It’s not our forte. We want the audio/visual (A/V) portions of the job,” he said.
Direct A/V rises to the fast-track challenge with a number of different strategies. Several engineers are on staff. One is an expert on closed-circuit television (CCTV) and networking protocol, another in paging and autonomous sound systems, while still another engineer focuses on performing arts venues. An additional practice is establishing strong relationships with other companies to work seamlessly under the Direct A/V umbrella.
Partnerships pay off
“Through associations I’ve made over the last 25 to 30 years in the business, we have worked out relationships with other businesses to retain their services,” Frontino said. “We are represented as one company to clients. For example, on a large project we might need several engineers. I don’t want to carry several engineers or project managers if there’s no work for them, so the independent company signs an agreement for the project. They bring a degree of professionalism that I can’t match on payroll.”
Having a pool of professionals available allows Direct A/V to tackle a variety of projects ranging from the 2000 Democratic National Convention and 2006 Summer X Games, both in Los Angeles, to Indian casinos, corporate offices for a television entertainment network and more (see related story on page 28.)
For the 2006 X Games, Direct A/V worked in conjunction with event producers. The four-day event appeared on EXPN.com, an online version of ESPN’s action sports network. It featured live television feeds of skateboarding, snowboarding, surfing, inline skating, BMX and MotoX racing. Producers had live television cameras at four locations over a 30-mile radius, sending feeds to a truck and into cable modulators. The modulators turned the feeds into cable channels, with each of those channels a different camera shot.
“What we do is distribute the feeds from that truck back throughout each of these facilities, like a cable television system,” Frontino said. “Before we can input it onto their house system, we have to balance, align and prove that the camera channels they are providing to the locations are good. They use us for proof of performance. Then, the producer can plug in a television anywhere and monitor his cameras from anywhere in the four locations.”
Direct A/V brought a different set of skills to work on the Morongo Casino Resort & Spa and San Manuel Casino, located between Los Angeles and Palm Springs, Calif.
“We like working on casinos because, in terms of A/V and integration, they have it all, a large volume of the systems incorporated in the job,” said Frontino.
At both casinos, Direct A/V integrated satellite communications with custom paging, sound and satellite routing to gaming and betting rooms. Perini Building Co., Las Vegas, a wholly owned subsidiary of Perini Corp., was the general contractor for both projects. Kelley Technologies, Las Vegas, was the communications systems designer and project engineering firm and provided the drawings for the projects.
Direct A/V used a staff of 25 to 30 people to complete its $5 million part of construction of the Morongo Casino Resort & Spa, a $185 million design/assist construction contract commissioned by the Morongo Band of Mission Indians.
Cabling, CCTV and signage
Direct A/V’s job included $1.8 million in Category 6, high-speed communications cabling to accommodate the hotel and pay-per-view systems; $400,000 in CATV; $800,000 in broadcast cabling associated with the meeting rooms and throughout the casino floor and all leasehold areas; some $800,000 in CCTV cable and camera installation in the casino and hallways; and a $400,000 signage package for the casino floor. Workers installed and provided all terminations for each medium as required per specifications for voice and paging and all the broadcast media cabling, approximately 3 million feet. They also installed A/V systems for seven new restaurants, meeting rooms and conference rooms.
As with other projects, Direct A/V brought the skills of its professionals to the situation.
“We worked from Kelley’s plan and then we had our engineers go through and find out any incidental mistakes or things that needed to be added. We tested it, proved it and resubmitted it,” Frontino said.
In January 2005, Direct A/V took part in the low-voltage communications contracting on the expansion of the San Manuel Casino in Highland, Calif.
“San Manuel has a full-blown theater, a movie house, and we had to engineer the sound, the projectors and a lot of different systems that go into what I call a ‘theme park,’” Frontino said.
The conference rooms were wired to support elaborate multimedia A/V systems.
“Software is an integral part of each of the A/V multimedia systems. The challenge in working with it is to the match the customer’s expectations of the system with the capabilities of the system,” he said.
“We sat with the customer and allowed them to tell us what they expected out of the system and then we incorporated it into the software. Once they saw it all working, they made comments about what they wanted to change. That is usually the case because it is hard to envision the finished system. We always give customers the opportunity to engage with the engineer eight or nine times to change the software,” he said.
Direct A/V’s work also entailed running cabling, running gaming wires to the gambling machines, doing theater signage and installing substructural cabling and broadcast media panels to support outside events for the new, three-level casino. Direct A/V installed Internet protocol (IP) addressable cameras in all the parking structures so customers can be observed while going to and from their cars as well as more than 400 cameras for overlapping surveillance throughout the facility.
“As with all large multifunctional facilities, there are different low-voltage systems for the areas of a building, each being designed, changed and modified per the department head,” said Tony Meyer, project manager, Perini Building Co. “We rely on experienced contractors like Direct A/V to be proactive and flexible enough in its installations to be able to incorporate last minute changes and ensure that all system are integrated, tested and functioning properly prior to turn over to the owner,” Meyer said.
All in a day
Dealing with late-stage change orders was an additional challenge on the casino projects. For example, Direct A/V had to move quickly when presented with a change order that called for 250 plasma displays rather than the originally ordered 30.
“For us, it meant that we had to have engineering staff on-site to accommodate the fast-track changes,” Frontino said.
Direct A/V’s engineers dealt with the change orders by finding out what they believed to be the smartest and most cost-effective resolution and proposing the answer along with the RFI.
“We design/built on the fly, so we could keep moving forward,” he said.
Direct A/V has customers among the top communications, broadcasting and corporate companies in California. It goes for the specialty niche and excels at it. And the company wouldn’t have it any other way.
CASEY, author of “Kids Inventing! A Handbook for Young Inventors” and “Women Invent! Two Centuries of Discoveries that have Changed Our World,” can be reached at email@example.com or www.susancaseybooks.com.