WheatNews June 2022

WHEAT:NEWS JUNE 2022  Volume 13, Number 6

BROADCAST ENGINEERS ARE DISAPPEARING
And what you can do about it.

DisappearingHandsOnConsole

It has come to our attention that broadcast engineers, like redwood trees, giant pandas and baby formula, are rapidly disappearing. Too many are aging out. Too few are entering in. And studios are left unattended as a result. What can broadcasters do about it? We have three suggestions based on what weve learned as a technology partner for many of the industrys largest broadcast groups. 

Standardize on a set of equipment, and not just for failover redundancy reasons. Standardizing on systems and equipment makes it much easier to maintain and troubleshoot remotely by a shrinking pool of qualified engineers. “The Beasleys, the Cox’, the iHearts and the Townsquares have all standardized on a set of equipment that they can plug and play in any facility.” Some are Zetta houses, others are WideOrbit houses, and all are WheatNet-IP audio networked shops. “These guys have built these facilities to be intelligent, to be monitored and to be controlled from anywhere in the world,” explained Jay Tyler, our primary liaison for large studio projects. An ideal standardization plan would include automation and AoIP systems, plus consoles, transmitters, STLs, and audio processors as well as a reliable, qualified team of technology partners. 

Use IT tools and apps as your engineering eyes, ears and arms. An app doesn’t exist that can replace an experienced broadcast engineer. But there are quite a few tools and apps that can help him or her monitor, troubleshoot and resolve engineering issues remotely. System management protocols like SNMP can be the eyes and ears of the remote engineer by monitoring and managing data from servers, switches, hubs and IP audio networks like our WheatNet-IP. (Blade I/O access units that make up our WheatNet-IP network each have a unique MIB file with hundreds of data points, and each BLADE has a unique object address in the network for SNMP monitoring and alerting for issues such as dropped packets down to the network port, for example.) Meanwhile, remote control tools like TeamViewer, VNC, or LogMeIn can act as the arms of remote engineers (as well as technical support teams like Wheatstone’s), making it possible for them to maintain and troubleshoot systems as if they were located onsite. Other, more broadcast-specific tools and apps such as WheatNet-IP metering, navigation and scripting software can be helpful for monitoring and triggering automatic failovers to alternative equipment or paths before an experienced engineer can intervene. “Once you’re able to get everything on a common platform, you’re able to monitor and control it,” said Tyler. 

Develop your Tiger Team. Up-skilling existing engineering teams is far more economical and efficient than trying to replace them, especially if those skills can be readily acquired from manufacturers and technology partners sharing similar technology goals. “iHeartMedia has a team of people called the Tiger Team, and they’re a group of guys that go around building radio stations and standardizing on equipment,” said Tyler. Your Tiger Team can include staff engineers and IT technicians and/or contract engineers, specialized systems integrators, network specialists and broadcast manufacturers such as Wheatstone, all of which can fill different roles at different times in the life of a facility. 

WHEN FADERS FLY AT SPORTS HUB

CONTROL ROOM B LXE

CLICK ON THE IMAGE ABOVE FOR A PHOTO GALLERY

Few formats have stood the test of time like sports broadcasting. Consider 98.5 The Sports Hub, the flagship station for the Boston Bruins, New England Patriots, Boston Celtics and New England Revolution. LXE console surfaces here put in 18-hour days.

Faders start flying at 6:00 am when the Toucher & Rich morning team arrives, with Fred Toucher on one LXE console surface in the talk studio, and producer Dan O’Brien on another LXE in a control studio, and faders tracking on both. From there, it’s all hands on deck as commentaries, plays, and replays bounce between the booth at the field, the analysts downline in a studio, and the live action on the field.

It’s not unusual for this sports station to broadcast a 1 pm New England Patriots football game from studio A, a 2 pm Bruins hockey game from Studio B and then at 7:30 pm, it’s back to studio A for a Boston Celtics basketball game. All live with color commentary, highlights, and interviews from the sidelines, each with their own delay, local IDs, breaks and automation triggers on out to the Westwood One headend in Denver for distribution to Patriot, Bruins, and Celtics affiliate stations.

So it goes. Twenty Patriot games, 82 Celtics games and 82 Bruins games annually – and even more if the teams make the playoffs, all in real-time and covered from three WheatNet-IP audio networked control rooms, a production suite and a talk studio in Boston with contributor feeds coming in and network feeds going out.

WBZ DUAL

Faders start flying at 6:00 am when the Toucher & Rich morning team arrives. Shown, right, is host Fred Toucher, and producer Dan OBrien, left, on separate LXE consoles with faders tracking on both. 

“We have these situations all the time like with a recent Patriots game where we had the play-by-play at Gillette Stadium, the color guys in the booth doing a live hit with a station out of New York, and everybody was all on at the same time. To have to re-route and set up every time we did something like that would be just crazy,” said Dennis Knudsen, DOE for Beasley Boston, and one of six engineers who manages six stations in the Beasley Boston cluster along with the technical logistics for all sporting events.

Here, there’s no time to think about mix-minuses. The right mix-minus needs to automatically follow the right source, whether it’s down the hall, in the booth, or across a link, along with the relevant GPIO logic for triggering mics or breaks. Even connections associated with those sources follow along; getting the return feed automatically for the right Tieline or Comrex codec can save precious seconds when potting up a live report from the field.

There’s no time to think about which signal goes where, either. As the flagship for three franchises in major sports leagues, The Sports Hub has custom touchscreens above every LXE console for quick network sends to the Westwood One syndication headend along with the correct automation tones and triggers. 

Control Room B LXE Custom Touchscreen   Sports Routing (4 buttonns on the right) routing programmed by Chris Penny   All other routing programmed by Dennis Knudsen

This touchscreen was built using Wheatstone ScreenBuilder for sending network feeds to Westwood One along with the correct automation tones and triggers. 

The tap-through routing menu was designed using ScreenBuilder tools and is within easy reach of the surface controls. “When they hit the Patriots button, that gives them control of those triggers and that particular delay as well as talkback in certain places in the talk studio and control rooms, depending on which network they’re talking with,” explained Knudsen, who did the routing backend scripting for Beasley Boston’s four music stations and enlisted the help of Chris Penny with Agile Broadcasting to script routing for the WBZ 98.5 network end.

Everything in and around the studios is designed to fit the way sportscasters need to work. “Our board ops are very talented people. They get it. They understand technology and figure out how to use it,” commented Knudsen, who has noticed more Zoom interviews using the bus-minus in LXE consoles and, in general, a lot less shuffling between studios lately. With AoIP, sportscasters are able to go from covering live plays one minute to commercial reads the next, all in one sitting with tracks piped through the AoIP talkback system studio-to-studio. (As a result, Roger Moore, who produces the majority of The Sports Hub’s commercials, no longer runs back and forth between the production room and control rooms.)

“The hockey guys are a good example of how everyone is finding their own unique way of working. Instead of asking me for a bus-minus for their intermission reports, they’re creating their own temporary mix-minus (using the four floater ones on the LXE) for talkback between the interview in the tunnel and the guys upstairs in the booth,” he said. 

As we write this, The Sports Hub is in the process of building a new 32,000-square-foot facility in nearby Waltham and moving existing consoles and AoIP from its address on Morrissey Blvd for Beasley Boston music stations and The Sports Hub. The group expects to fit the move into a small window of time, ideally between the Celtics playoffs and the beginning of Patriots training camp.

But, as with all things sports, that could change with time. 

“Let’s see how far the Celtics go. If the Celtics play into the finals the middle of June, that gives us a month and a couple of weeks to make the move over to the new studios,” said Knudsen. 

In addition to affiliate stations that pick up the Bruins, Patriots and Celtics games, the Toucher & Rich morning show is syndicated nationally and consistently dominates the ratings in Boston for male and adult audiences 25 to 54.

BONNEVILLE IS IN THE HOUSE

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CLICK ON THE IMAGE ABOVE FOR A VIDEO OF THE FACTORY STAGING

Bonneville engineers returned to the Wheat factory for the final details on a complete studio build for the group’s Phoenix location. It was just two years ago that the Bonneville team of engineers built out the new Bonneville San Francisco studios, which is also a WheatNet-IP audio networked shop with LXE consoles. Shown, Aaron Farnham, left, Regional Director of Engineering for Bonneville, and Robert Fields, right, CE for Bonneville Phoenix.

SERVERS AS THE GATEWAY TO CLOUD 

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By Dominic Giambo, Engineering Manager

Whatever your future facility might look like, it most certainly will involve software and a server or two. In his presentation given during the recent NAB Broadcast Engineering and Technology (BEIT) conference, Wheatstone Engineering Manager Dominic Giambo talked about servers as the gateway to cloud. 

By moving broadcast functions from application-specific hardware onto a general-purpose server, you can replace racks of hardware and readily serve up any of those functions to any point in the AoIP network. In the case of our Layers software suite, for example, one Dell or HP server can run multiple mixing instances for several consoles located throughout the studio facility, plus serve FM/HD audio processing with full MPX out to the transmitter as well as provisioning and metadata for multiple streams out to the CDN provider. 

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All these resources and apps can reside on one server run by one Linux OS. By having another server at the ready, you also have the ultimate in redundancy. Using built-in failover features available in any modern AoIP system, you can seamlessly switch to a redundant server in the event of a failure. Eventually, as cloud technology becomes more prevalent and interconnect links become come reliable, you can move all or some of these applications or resources offsite to be managed by a cloud provider. 

At any time, you can add virtualization to host the software locally on your server or stack of servers. This could allow you to use part of the same server for automation without a change to the architecture. A nice feature of virtualization software like VMWare is it decouples the software even more from the hardware; just copy VMWare and run it along with your applications on any similar server or desktop. Another alternative is to go to a container model using something like Docker, which gives you a number of services running on a container engine. In this model, you don’t have the overhead of the OS running each and every instance, as is the case with VM host software, and it’s just one container engine running the containers for the services you need. 

Whatever direction you decide to go with your broadcast facility, it all starts with a server and the right software. 

To view Dominic Giambo’s full presentation, click on the video at the top of this story. 

THE IDEAL TV NEWS CONSOLE HAS THIS 

WhatEveryTV ConsoleNeeds

Q: Our news team has slowly downsized to just the producer, director and a few technicians, and we’re now in the market for a new audio console to replace our old analog desktop. We’re considering an AoIP console. What else should we be thinking about?

A: Narrowing your search down to an AoIP console is a good start, especially if you’re making the leap into production automation for the first time. Managing audio as an element in the overall production workflow, rather than mixing as you go, requires a much tighter working relationship between the audio mixer and the automation system that only AoIP can provide. Our AoIP consoles, for example, come with 64-channel layering as a standard interface to the automation system and just as important, provide full integration with automation and mixing in one native IP audio environment.

Your next primary consideration should be how easy your new console will be to navigate for all members of the news team. You probably had a dedicated audio board op the last time you purchased a console, but now the person overseeing the audio is likely to be the same one running the video switcher or performing any number of duties. Little things like motorized faders that track to the automation can make a world of difference to busy producers and directors who need to be able to see that the audio is tracking as it should while busy with other duties, like making sure talent is hitting all their marks and the robotic cameras are pointed in the right direction. Even automated workflows will require minor EQ or level adjustments, and certainly occasional sporting events and news reports will require full hands-on mixing, so easy navigation is key. We find that a combination of tactile faders and touchscreen controls work well in a console for small news teams (see Tekton 32 or Strata 32) because it checks off all the automation boxes and is intuitive to navigate for just about any member of the team. 

Whether you decide on a physical AoIP console or a virtual mixer, be sure your new console offers a way to remote into it from home or on location over a standard IP connection. Wheatstone offers a variety of remote apps for this purpose.

ANOTHER LOOK INSIDE WTOP

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It just never gets old. Here’s a remake of the WTOP video from RadioDNA showing  WTOP’s iconic Star Trek-like space on Wisconsin Ave. Note the news nerve center with 50 workstations, featuring virtual audio mixers designed by RadioDNA using ScreenBuilder development tools. Set your YouTube player to 4K to get the full effect. 

SCREENBUILDER SCRIPTER'S FORUM

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Are you a ScreenBuilder or ConsoleBuilder power user? Register and log onto our Scripters Forum. This is a meeting place for anyone interested in developing new screens and workflows for our WheatNet-IP audio network. Share scripts, screen shots and ideas with others also developing virtual news desks, control panels, and signal monitors. You’ll find documents, starter scripts and a whole knowledge base available to you for making customized screens like those pictured.

Click to register for our Scripters Forum (it's free)

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The Wheatstone online store is now open! You can purchase demo units, spare cards, subassemblies, modules and other discontinued or out-of-production components for Wheatstone, Audioarts, PR&E and VoxPro products online, or call Wheatstone customer support at 252-638-7000 or contact the Wheatstone technical support team online as usual. 

The store is another convenience at wheatstone.com, where you can access product manuals, white papers and tutorials as well as technical and discussion forums such as our AoIP Scripters Forum

Compare All of Wheatstone's Remote Solutions

REMIXWe've got remote solutions for virtually every networkable console we've built in the last 20 years or so. For basic volume, on/off, bus assign, logic, it's as easy as running an app either locally with a good VPN, or back at the studio, using a remote-access app such as Teambuilder to run.

Remote Solutions Video Demonstrations

Jay Tyler recently completed a series of videos demonstrating the various solutions Wheatstone offers for remote broadcasting.

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Click for a Comparison Chart of All Wheatstone Remote Software Solutions

MAKING SENSE OF THE VIRTUAL STUDIO COVERMaking 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 control over 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.

AdvancingAOIP E BookCoverAdvancing AOIP for Broadcast
TAKING ADVANTAGE OF EMERGING STANDARDS SUCH AS AES67 VIA AUDIO OVER IP TO GET THE MOST OUT OF YOUR BROADCAST FACILITY

Putting together a new studio? Updating an existing studio? This collection of articles, white papers, and brand new material can help you get the most out of your venture. Best of all, it's FREE to download!

IP TV EBOOK COVER

IP Audio for TV Production and Beyond

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT MANAGING MORE CHANNELS, MORE MIXES, AND MORE REMOTE VENUES

For this FREE e-book download, we've put together this e-book with fresh info and some of the articles that we've authored for our website, white papers, and news that dives into some of the cool stuff you can do with a modern AoIP network like Wheatstone's WheatNet-IP. 

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.

-- Uncle Wheat, Editor

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