WHEAT:NEWS Radio Oct 2015 - Vol 6, No. 9
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Sh#!t Happens. So Here’s the Plan...
If there’s a disaster like a flood or fire or photon torpedo, it could be headed straight for a studio near you. No passing ‘go,’ no time out. It’s going to hit you like so many Klingons in the neutral zone, and your listeners are counting on radio --- still the best wireless communication out there — to get them through it. So here’s the plan.
Fireproof network cabling.
Don’t add fuel to the fire. Ideally, Ethernet cables should carry a plenum fire rating. This little extra insurance could make all the difference between containing a fire to one studio or a fire that wipes out your entire facility.
Leave enough network ports open on switches.
If you’ve added to your audio network, you might have used up all those switch ports you thought you’d never use for an added talent station here, another announcer position there. If that’s the case, our field engineers suggest you redistribute the workload more evenly across your existing switches, or add one or two more edge switches. Should a flood or fire take out one switch, you will have enough ports on another switch to accommodate anything that’s left hanging.
Reestablish islands of reliability.
Studio networks have a way of expanding, and those so-called islands of reliability could now be one large landmass the size of Australia. If one studio goes down, they all will. Just about any topology can provide some isolation between studios if you strategically place smaller or edge switches throughout. Better still, a true distributed network will give you more points of recovery should the unthinkable happen. For example, each I/O BLADE in our WheatNet-IP audio network carries a complete map of the entire connected network in its onboard CPU flash RAM. All it takes is one I/O BLADE anywhere in the network to automatically reestablish connectivity in the event of a disaster.
Think like your insurance guy.
Start with what’s most likely going to take you off the air. Flooding? Locate your main studios on the second or third floor. Tornado? Move it to the basement. Flooding and tornado? Have a studio on each floor. Every little bit of precaution helps. We know of a few broadcasters in Florida who are using optical fiber throughout instead of copper cabling as one more safeguard against a lightning hit, for example.
Use separate circuit breakers.
True story: one of our larger network installations involved an elaborate web of interconnected edge switches segmented to dual redundant core switches to isolate studios. Only problem was, those core switches were racked up a mere two feet from each other … on the same circuit breaker. Luckily, an astute Wheatstone field engineer caught the error before it became a problem. Make sure you’re setting up islands of reliability all the way to the circuit breaker.
Create a remote access path.
Do you have a secure path to remotely access the studio in an emergency? If not, you should. A separate line into the studios (you can get DSL connectivity for $50/month) could very well be your only lifeline to the outside world in an emergency, and it could provide outside access to the studios in order to manage a disastrous situation.
Empower your network.
Make sure your audio network knows what to do in an emergency. It should be able to detect silence in the program chain and know which studio or source to switch over to the instant it happens. In the case of WheatNet-IP audio networks, this can be established easily using our software. The hardware I/O units are already self-empowered; if a disaster should take out an I/O BLADE or group of BLADEs, the other BLADEs in the network will automatically reconfigure to continue operating as usual.
Talk to your network …
so you can detect issues before they become a problem. Your audio network should have admin tools for this purpose. One of the more powerful advantages of the WheatNet-IP audio network is being able to monitor each I/O connection point in the network using SNMP-based management software. This is useful for alerting if a particular port is dropping packets or if a device is heating up and about to fail. Each WheatNet-IP BLADE has a unique Management Information Base (MIB) with hundreds of data points for tracking bitrates, temperatures, etc.
Backup. Backup. Backup.
Our field engineers suggest you back up your crosspoints on a regular basis and put this data on a thumb drive or on a server that is backed up on a cloud somewhere. In fact, we recently added a crosspoint backup feature to our system software for this purpose. And while we’re on the subject of backups, always keep a working backup generator at the studio and a backup audio recording at the transmitter site so that if you should lose connection between the studio and transmitter site, you haven’t left your listeners in the lurch. We now offer an optional built-in audio clip player for our BLADE-3s that can be used to put emergency audio on the air. The player can be triggered manually or automatically following a period of silence detected by the BLADE-3.
Have an exit plan.
But take your listeners with you! If you have a WheatNet-IP audio network, it’s almost as easy as grabbing an I/O BLADE off the rack and connecting it to a live microphone. You might not always be able to find an Internet or hot spot connection, but in a lot of cases you will. As extra insurance you can also keep an EDGE unit on hand along with an unlicensed-frequency IP wireless radio system to give you line-of-sight connectivity to the transmitter should you need it. That could make all the difference if you’re the only one on the air talking your listeners through that big tornado or hurricane or other contingency.
Standing Beneath the Big Tower
by Scott Johnson
From three miles north on I-65, I see it, rising from the trees like a steeple. And for radio engineers and country music fans alike, it does mark a place of great reverence. It is the 808-foot tower of radio station WSM-AM, and this day marks an important date in that station’s storied history. 90 years ago on this date, WSM first signed on.
As I drive up and am directed to parking in a corner of the vast field, along with a hundred or more other guests, both the scale of the place and the weight of the experience sink in. I’m here for WSM’s 90th anniversary celebration, an open-house at one of the nation’s most famous transmitter sites.
On October 5, 1925, WSM-AM was first put on the air by its owner, the National Life and Accident Insurance Company. The call letters stood for “We Shield Millions.” Shortly thereafter, the station originated a program originally called the “WSM Barn Dance,” hosted by George D. “Judge” Hay. Later, jokingly referring to the grand opera program on the NBC network, Hay called it the “Grand Ole Opry.” The name stuck, and the show became and has remained the longest-running radio program in history.
As the popularity and fame of the station and its programming grew, more power and coverage were needed, which brings me to the giant spire rising above me, erected in 1932. It's now a national engineering landmark, and is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
As longtime station personality Bill Cody runs a live remote with a stream of guests resembling a who’s who in Grand Ole Opry history, I wander inside the transmitter building, which is actually a very large, solidly constructed house. Inside the door, there’s an office to the right for the Chief Engineer, complete with a cozy fireplace. A 1930s-era kitchen is to the left, a remnant of the days when radio transmitter sites were continuously manned by engineers. Straight ahead is the transmitter room, housing a DX-50 and a 3DX-50, the station’s main and alternate transmitters. A small 5,000 watt backup transmitter and a couple of racks of processing and control gear stand against the walls.
For today, the room’s set up like a museum, with displays and exhibits that chronicle the station’s long history. Looking at the photos, it’s easy to imagine the time when this now-spacious room was completely filled by the components of the original transmitter. Some of the huge coils and components are on display here.
A spiral stairway leads downstairs to a room now largely relegated to storage. A fully functional machine shop still resides here, with a lathe and band saw and milling machine; the site was designed to be self-sufficient and to even fabricate replacement parts for its own equipment. Station engineers still use these tools; once, a gear in a mechanical aircraft beacon on the roof broke. Engineers simply made a new gear themselves. Outside the double doors of the downstairs shop, huge propane and diesel fuel tanks and emergency generators stand ready to keep the whole site running without outside power. An emergency underground shelter beneath the front of the building still stands ready.
During wartime “Everybody knew we had the Army on the roof,” says retired Chief Engineer Watt Hairston, himself a legend. “But few people know we had the Navy in the basement.” The project, involving use of the mighty tower for emergency backup signalling to submarines, was once highly secret. It’s now been declassified, so it can be revealed that a huge transmitter resided here, and the Navy was fully prepared to commandeer the tower had either of its main VLF communications facilities been lost to enemy action.
Able to wait no longer, I walk outside and begin the trek across the field to the tower itself. The massive diamond-shaped “dual cantilever” design was built by Blaw-Knox and was originally 878 feet tall. Found to be too electrically tall, causing a skywave convergence zone, it was shortened by 70 feet in 1939 to its current 808-foot height. This radically improved its coverage, and even today with modern analytical and modeling techniques, the tower has been shown to be at its optimal height! That's a pretty impressive feat for some guys with slide rules and logarithm tables.
Over my head is a fascinating feed line system, no longer used but still quite intact. It’s an open-wire coaxial feedline. Hairston remembers birds damaging the insulators, and after many harrowing repair experiences, he elected to install a conventional underground coaxial feed, which remains in use today. The original feed to the tuning house was an 800-ohm balanced overhead line; the insulators and pass-throughs for this line can still be seen today on both the transmitter building and tuning house.
I’m met at the tower base by the station’s assistant chief engineer, a personable young man named Joey. As guests peer through the door at the huge ceramic base insulator, he casually explains its purpose to the uninitiated. The set of two mammoth Lapp insulators, stacked ball to ball with a pin between them, electrically isolates the tower from the ground, and supports the full weight of the tower as well as the downward component of the guy wire tension. The total weight is estimated at around 300 tons. Incredibly, the insulator system is rated to hold twice that weight. The original insulators have been in place since the tower was constructed in 1932.
A thick, sturdy brick wall surrounds the insulators to a height of around 9 feet, with a steel door that opens toward the brick tuning house a few feet away. The wall is designed to protect the insulator against flying debris in the event of a storm, bullets from vandals with rifles, and shrapnel in the event of a bomb’s near miss in wartime. The inside of the wall is covered with a thick metal screen, which Joey indicated was meant to catch brick shrapnel in case something impacted the outside of the wall. You may imagine that when a piece of ceramic is under that much compression, it wouldn’t take a lot of the wrong kind of impact to fracture it.
Seeing the tower from its base is at once intimidating and fascinating. When you stand at the base, you’re not standing beside the tower. Because of its design, you’re actually standing under the middle section. Gazing up at the structure from this angle, the upper half of the tower seems to disappear completely, and all one sees is an inverted pyramid with guy wires attached to its wide top. It’s quite a dizzying sight!
On the way back to the transmitter building, I meet Chief Engineer Jason Cooper, and we spend a few minutes chatting about the tower’s history. “Over-engineered and over-built,” is how he describes the structure, saying that it’s needed only very minor repairs over the years. He and Joey have a major task keeping this site well maintained and operational. Redundancy is a key word here. In addition to the two 50,000 watt transmitters and the big tower, WSM maintains an auxiliary tower (a shorter, relatively pedestrian uniform cross-section guyed tower to the west of the main one) and a 5,000 watt emergency transmitter to drive it. Just in case.
Jason tells me that atop the tower, now disconnected, remains an FM turnstile antenna. But this is no ordinary FM antenna — it’s designed for the older, low-band VHF channels of the original Armstrong FM system. In 1941, WSM-FM (originally W47NV) was the first commercial station in the US to receive an FM broadcast license from the FCC. If one looks closely at the top of the tower, the antenna can still be clearly seen. That’s quite a piece of history!
After spending a relaxing hour or so talking with other guests and listening to Bill Cody interview country music greats and Grand Ole Opry stars old and new, I thanked my hosts for their hospitality and reluctantly drove away from the iconic site where for 90 years, the radio signal carrying the Grand Ole Opry had been transmitted, casting a last look over my shoulder at the iconic red-and-white spire, the symbol of radio broadcasting at its very finest. I can almost hear the father of bluegrass, Bill Monroe, singing, “Y’all come and see us when you can.”
Scott Johnson is a systems engineer, webmaster, and video producer with Wheatstone Corporation.
Meet Vox Pro - Rick Bidlack & Jay Tyler Introduce You
In this video, we'll introduce you to VoxPro, the de facto standard audio recorder/editor for live radio broadcast use. It’s hard to walk into any radio studio in the world today and not see VoxPro next to the console.
Rick Bidlack (the programmer behind VoxPro) and Wheatstone's Jay Tyler give you a quick overview of the product, and why it fits into radio studios so perfectly.
- IMG College (Winston Salem, NC) purchased new I/O BLADEs and Screen Builder custom app to expand an existing WheatNet-IP audio network.
- Aphex Broadcasting (Hilton Head, SC) purchased two I/O BLADEs for a wireless STL application.
- MZ Media (Toronto, ON) purchased an I/O BLADE for an existing WheatNet-IP audio network.
- Corus (Calgary, AB) purchased LX-24 control surfaces.
- KTWN-FM (Minneapolis, MN) purchased NAVIGATOR 3 upgrade software.
- CBC (Moncton, NB) purchased audio drivers for an existing WheatNet-IP audio network.
- CJBQ-AM (Peterborough, ON) purchased an LX-24 control surface and audio drivers for a WheatNet-IP audio network.
- KFRG-FM (Colton, CA) purchased a high density LIO-48 BLADE and NAVIGATOR 3 upgrade software for an existing WheatNet-IP audio network.
- CBC (Inuvik, NT) purchased an I/O BLADE and Screen Builder custom app for an existing WheatNet-IP audio network.
- KERA-FM (Dallas, TX) purchased a BLADE and SBC turret for a WheatNet-IP audio network.
- Delmarva Broadcasting (Wilmington, DE) purchased a TS-4 talent station, IP-12 digital audio console and several I/O BLADEs.
- Gulf Coast State College (Panama City Beach, FL) purchased four E-1 control surfaces and I/O BLADEs.
- MediaWorks (Auckland, NZ) purchased a Screen Builder custom app.
- United Christian Broadcasters Ltd (Staffordshire, UK) purchased two LX-24 control surfaces and I/O BLADEs.
- City Colleges of Chicago (Illinois) purchased an LX-24 control surface through BSW.
- iHeartMedia (Richmond, VA) purchased an IP-16 digital audio console, M4-IP3 four channel mic processor and I/O BLADE.
- Austin Independent School District (Austin, TX) purchased an E-6 control surface.
- City of San Antonio (Texas) purchased two E-6 control surfaces through Beck TV.
- Leighton Broadcasting (St. Cloud, MN) purchased an M4-IP four channel mic processor and WheatNet-IP audio drivers.
- KCNC-TV (Denver, CO) purchased a Series Two audio console.
- Audio Design Company (China) purchased an IP-16 digital audio console for Radio Foshan, China.
- iHeartMedia’s WUSQ-FM (Winchester, VA) purchased an L-12 control surface, four M2 dual channel mic processors and WheatNet-IP I/O BLADEs.
- WXXI-FM (Rochester, NY) purchased a MADI interface for a TDM Gibraltar routing system.
- Sirius XM (New York, NY) purchased several GP panels.
- Real Presence Radio (Moorhead, MN) purchased an R-55e console.
- Alpha Media’s WXCL-FM (Peoria, IL) purchased an R-55e console.
- Grupo Media (Mexico City) purchased an R-55e console.
- Broadcast World Philippines (Manila) purchased an Air-4 console for GMA Radio Network.
- WKIL Radio (Galesburg, IL) purchased an Air-1 console.
- KUYY-FM (Keams Canyon, AZ) purchased an Air-1 console.
- WLTB-FM (Binghamton, NY) purchased an R-55e console.
- MMV (Montreal, QC) purchased an R-55e console.
Wheatstone Audio Processing
- Entercom (Kansas City, MO) purchased an M2 dual channel mic processor.
- Beasley’s WNCT-FM (Greenville, NC) purchased an AirAura spectral audio processor.
- Entercom (Wichita, KS) purchased a VP-8IP multi-mode audio processor.
- Townsquare Media (Tuscaloosa, AL) purchased an FM-55 audio processor.
- Radikal Elektronik Ltd (Turkey) purchased an M1 mic processor for Power Group, Istanbul, Turkey.
- Audio Solution (Taipei, Taiwan) purchased an AirAura spectral audio processor.
- ESPN (Chicago, IL) purchased five M2 dual channel mic processors.
- City Colleges of Chicago (Illinois) purchased seven M2 dual channel mic processors through BSW.
- Leighton Broadcasting (St. Cloud, MN) purchased an AirAura spectral audio processor.
Wheatstone Adds Live Radio Broadcast Production with VoxPro5
Planning to spend the day in the studio, messing with the audio editor? Right. But first, you need a 10-second sound bite from a two-minute phone-in, and you need to do it all during the next commercial break. We see the problem.
Full-blown audio recording and editing packages are great for whiling away the day in the production studio, but offer far too many options and are far too complex for those on-the-fly phoners and edits broadcasters do. By the time you’re ready to record, the moment’s long gone.
Or, as our Gary Snow likes to say, it’s like bringing a machine gun to a stick fight.
That’s why we added VoxPro digital audio editing to our Wheatstone product line. Actually, to be more precise, Wheatstone purchased Audion Labs, the maker of VoxPro, earlier this month.
We’ve always admired the company and the product. VoxPro is a staple in broadcast on-air studios because it can do all those important things a commodity editor can do, only faster. Broadcasters tell us over and over again that nothing beats the clock faster than VoxPro, which is a PC based software program with optional control surface that’s very intuitive to navigate.
We’ve long been a partner with Audion Labs, and in fact, VoxPro was one of the first products that we integrated into the WheatNet-IP audio network for online sharing, editing and archiving of audio files.
So while the VoxPro control panel will continue to sit side-by-side with our consoles in broadcast studios everywhere, we’re now adding it to the Wheatstone family of products along with all the support you’ve come to expect of a Wheatstone product.
Processing Tip from the Field
Clip restoration processors can make great additions to the production studio but we don’t recommend them for the air chain, where they can play tricks on otherwise great sounding audio. These algorithms seem to work on overly clipped audio but can be unpredictable on audio that doesn’t need to be restored.
Kim Komando’s New Studios @ Corner of IT and Radio
We arrived at the corner of radio and IT the day before Kim Komando’s new studios went live. While Jim Hibbard (Studio Builders), the integrator on the project, showed us around, our Dee McVicker snapped a few photos. See all that green cabling? That’s carrying WheatNet-IP through Kim’s new studios in Phoenix, which are now feeding all things digital to more than 400 radio stations and TV affiliates. If you look close in one of these shots, you’ll see an Altair 8800a, a TRS-80, and a classic Indian head TV test card.