Radio News May 2018

WHEAT:NEWS RADIO  May 2018 Vol 9, No 5

Chicago's WDRV The Drive Goes Live

WDRV LIVEWDRV (97.1, The Drive) is now rockin’ from Hubbard’s new studios at One Prudential, Chicago. On May 11, Bob Stroud and the midday team boarded a double-decker bus and headed down Michigan Avenue from the John Hancock building, which had been WDRV-FM’s home for 17 years, to the new studios at One Prudential. 

WDRV-FM is the first of Hubbard’s three Chicago stations that are making the move to One Prudential.

WDRV LXE

Two more on-air studios, one more production studio, and two more producer studios will be completed over the next two months for WSHE-FM and WTMX-FM. This first completed studio houses the largest Wheatstone LXE console delivered to date -- a 37-channel strip frame that’s been programmed with ConsoleBuilder according to the custom features specified by WDRV-FM CE Kent Lewin along with integrator RadioDNA President Rob Goldberg. It features four LX-SS strips which, like the LXE, can be programmed to handle the execution of complex tasks.


Our Bob Martin was there with the cameras and put together this short video of the cutover. (Spoiler: the first song played from the new studio was the Stones' “Start Me Up,” of course). 

That’s Communication!

Brenda

By Dee McVicker

“It’s interesting. We’re in the communications business, but too often engineers and programmers don’t communicate.”

As soon as WHIZ Media Group Radio Program Director Brenda Larrick said these words, I did a facepalm and threw up my hands all at the same time, which, if you try it, is nearly impossible. We had struck up a conversation at an NAB kickoff party last month, and the thought of engineers and programmers getting together to discuss the intricacies of a new studio install intrigued me.

Did they actually sit together in the same room and breathe the same oxygen?

Larrick said she and WHIZ Media Group DOE Kevin Buente most certainly did. She then went on to tell me about her long discussions with Buente, about going over details like the height and feel of the console, where the buttons should be, and how work should flow. And how that kind of one-on-one communication has made all the difference in their new studio.

I was gobsmacked.

I already knew a great deal about WHIZ Media Group, having just the month before talked to Buente about the group’s studio renovation as an all-WheatNet-IP audio network facility. I recalled being impressed that this family-owned, for-profit AM/FM/TV combo in Zanesville, Ohio, was doing so many cutting-edge things. IP audio networking for sure, but also IP microwave STLs and virtual automation were at the top of that list.

Now this. “Too often the engineer designs the studio without any input from the person who’s going to be using it. That’s a big mistake because either someone has to live with issues or it has to be changed. I was fortunate, I was involved from the beginning,” said Larrick.

Obviously, this is a group that values communication. It’s why Larrick can now broadcast from anywhere in the community on a moment’s notice (no special wiring, mixer or engineer needed), stream out a birthday wish to a special listener without much ado, and simulcast up-to-the-minute news segments from the TV studio to the AM. (“We take the audio out of our TV console and run it into a BLADE, and that makes it so easy because they can just sit down in a studio, turn a knob and boom. It’s on the air,” explained Buente.)

It is, in fact, why she was able to step into her new role as program director for WHIZ-FM and WZVL-FM, and still keep her signature radio show where she is a regular at county fairs, local fundraisers, and the animal shelter. Many of Larrick’s listeners tune into WHIZ-AM almost exclusively. A few have been tuning into the station since it first went on the air in 1924. As an aside, WHIZ-AM will be adding an FM translator this summer. As an aside, WHIZ-AM will be adding an FM translator this summer.

“As part of my PD contract I insisted on keeping my morning radio show. I never want to lose that connection with the listener,” she said.

Now that’s communication!

WHIZ on the EDGE

WHIZ 1Shown above is a snapshot taken during a recent storm of the IP microwave link from WHIZ Media Group’s studio location to an FM and TV collocated transmitter site 17 miles away. The green and orange lines show the fluctuations in data rates due to noise/interference.

Speaking of communication … WHIZ Media Group is doing plenty of that these days with the use of wireless IP radios as communication links between the studio and two transmitter sites.

Hanging off the group’s WheatNet-IP audio network in Zaneville, Ohio, is a Network EDGE that connects directly into 5.8 GHz IP wireless radios for point-to-point connectivity between the studio and an AM transmitter site five miles away and another FM transmitter site 17 miles away.

Wireless microwave systems start at a few hundred dollars for a basic unlicensed-frequency wireless IP system complete with radios and dishes, and are fairly robust, according to WHIZ Media Group DOE Kevin Buente. Even bumping up against the range limit on the 17-mile link (IP microwave systems are typically specified for up to 25 miles), he said the station is getting between 800 and 900 Mbps across the Mimosa B5c IP microwave link on a clear day. “On rainy or foggy days, it’s still around 600 Mbps and that’s operating at 90 percent capacity all the time,” he said.

WHIZ Media Group, which includes two FMs, an AM and a TV station, runs hourly data backups through the link (from 30+ virtual machines and nearly every physical computer in the company) out to one of the FM transmitter sites.

The EDGE provides the necessary delay as a buffer to any latency shifts that come across the link and acts as an interface between the WheatNet-IP audio network and the IP radio. Audio from the EDGE unit routes directly into the IP wireless radio through RJ-45 connectors, and because the link is all IP, that means it can carry audio, video, voice-over-IP, and data of all kinds.

Does the unlicensed IP microwave link run into interference issues in this rural area, where wireless ISPs seem to be most active and home routers are prevalent? “There’s a part of our signal that does run across the interstate, and that causes some interference,” replied Buente. But he added that unlicensed frequency systems like the Mimosa B5c do have interference mitigation features, so the system will automatically jump to another frequency during extreme interference conditions. “We find that for home router interference in particular, it’s often the first channel or the last channel (in the frequency band), and so far we’ve had success with frequencies in the middle.”

WHIZ 2

The IP radio link has also given the station a sound quality boost, in part because it made it possible for Buente to move the AirAura X3 audio processor from the studio to the transmitter site where he was able to feed MPX over AES into the Nautel transmitter using the processor’s baseband192. “We’re hearing frequencies we’ve never heard before. No A/D, D/A,” he said.

And there is an added layer of fail-safe now that he’s moved the aged 950MHz STL to backup status – and just in time. “I was always aware that we’d be SOL and off the air if that 950MHz went down. And sure enough, a few months ago it stopped working,” said Buente.

With these new IP radio links, he said the studio has a much more solid recovery plan in the event of a studio disaster such as a fire. “We can go down to the tower site, connect a computer to the backup and get our virtual machines running again and get one station back on the air. And then, because the EDGE is located in a separate building on the same property as the studio, we can come back through the EDGE and feed the other stations,” he said.

BLADEfest 2018

BladeFest 3

Would any sensible broadcast engineer put his/her system through dozens of consecutive reboots? Would she/he ever send audio on a purposefully Rube Goldberg-ish route? Would they use new, unproven switches? That’d be asking for trouble, right?

But we did. As we prepared to roll out a major revision of our BLADE software, we put together a huge WheatNet-IP system: 12 radio and TV consoles, 62 hardware BLADEs, 100 software BLADEs, talent stations, SideBoards, Smart Switch panels, and software including three different vendors’ automation systems. Then we added in AES67 devices from Genelec, Ward-Beck, Dante, and Axia. All of this was tied together by new models of Cisco and Dell switches.

Then we routed audio from one device to the next until our signal path passed in a big daisy chain through every single piece of gear. Just cabling and configuring the system took days! Then, with our engineers monitoring closely, we ran the system through a series of automated torture tests that included completely rebooting the system and verifying proper operation afterward. We’re proud to say that after more than 160 reboots, not a single connection failure or loss of audio occurred.

We did all this so you won’t have to. When you take that inevitable catastrophic power hit, you can be confident that your WheatNet-IP system will come back up healthy and ready to pick up where it left off.

Click for more photos from BLADEFEST 2018

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BladeFest 1

 

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BladeFest 1

 

Sportscast Like A Pro

SportscasterKitCollegiate sportscasting, we’ve been told, is a contact sport. It’s all about being on the field and in the moment. No one knows how to do this better than pros like Mike Janes, the Vice President of Engineering and Technology for the NBA Portland Trail Blazers, who has been a student of the game for more than 20 years.

He says that you don’t have to be in the big leagues to produce compelling sportscasts. Even if sporting events are a small part of your larger broadcast mix, you can still cover college football, basketball or baseball games like a pro with these few simple tips. 

1. Add to the picture with multiple microphones. “If you have only one camera for, say, a small college football game, it makes sense that you’ll be shooting from the stand. But you have a lot of area down below on the field to cover, so use microphones to add dimension to that picture,” advises Janes, who recommends shotgun mics for this purpose. His crew places microphones on each side of the basketball court, both underneath the nets and on the ground pointing away from the basket to catch effects. They also place a mic at the free throw line and an XY pair on center court. “Audio is one of the more underappreciated aspects of what we do,” says Janes. (Full disclosure: Portland Trail Blazers uses our WheatNet-IP audio network with E-6 IP mixing console at its production studio in Portland). 

2. Keep everyone in the loop. Things can change in an instant. Everyone on your team needs to be in the loop, and that includes the technical director at the home studio as well as the announcers on the ballfield, and everyone in between. The Trail Blazers uses a complex intercom system that loops in more than 30 production crew members at one time, including the graphics designer for generating logos and other graphics as the game rolls. Your intercom doesn’t have to be as complex, but it does need to be a reliable backchannel of communication that includes all crew members. Mixing consoles made for broadcast have talkback features that can be useful for this purpose. Even better: IP consoles, the IP audio network of which can serve as the backbone for a simple, easy-to-set-up IFB system and other purposes. 

3. Be able to call the shots. It’s one thing to report from the steps of the Capitol Building, but it’s something entirely different to cover the play-by-play of a game. In broadcast sports, the key is knowing where the ball is going next – and that requires a good understanding of the game. “Most of our guys are very tuned into the sports they’re covering,” comments Janes. 

4. Have backups of backups. When things go wrong in sportscasting, they tend to go wrong in a hurry. You’ll want spares, and spares of spares. That includes routing equipment and paths, and codecs, mics, mixers, headsets, and power cords. “I learned the hard way; have backups of backups,” says Janes. 

MAKING SENSE OF THE VIRTUAL STUDIO COVERRead our new E-Book:

Making Sense of the Virtual Studio:

SMART STRATEGIES AND VIRTUAL TOOLS FOR ADAPTING TO CHANGE

Curious about how the modern studio has evolved in an IP world? Virtualization of the studio is WAY more than tossing a control surface on a touch screen. With today's tools, you can virtualize almost ANYTHING you want to do with your audio network. This free e-book illustrates what real-world engineers and radio studios are doing. Pretty amazing stuff.

Your IP Question Answered

IP QA

Q: We’ve been hearing a lot about virtual studios. Is that something we should be thinking about now, or is it going to be a while before this has any practical application?

A: If you’re referring to creating virtual interfaces to an IP audio network like a WheatNet-IP, then you most definitely can start creating and using those interfaces right now. We have hundreds of virtual control panels and mixers in use at broadcast facilities today. And they are practical! For example, we know of several stations using a variation of the virtual news desk on a Windows ® tablet in replacement of large, physical workstations. Everything talent needs is on one Windows tablet – weather report, sports feeds, mic input control, talkback, etc., all connected to, and part of, the IP audio network. Broadcasters are creating virtual producer workstations, talent interfaces, and control panels using our virtual development platform, ScreenBuilder.

The video below shows how the CE of collegiate sports distributor IMG World was able to develop an interface that his producers are now using to navigate a dozen sports games at once for a new channel featuring sports highlights.

Got feedback or questions? Click my name below to send us an e-mail. You can also use the links at the top or bottom of the page to follow us on popular social networking sites and the tabs will take you to our most often visited pages.

-- Scott Johnson, Editor

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