More stations will feed from one location using cloud, virtualized processing or MPX over IP

Radio World Online | September 2022 | VIEW ORIGINAL ARTICLE


Gary Kline is a broadcast consultant seasoned in PPM optimization, audio processing, studio design, RF optimization, due diligence, cap-ex negotiations and budgeting. He also has expertise in telecom savings, cloud-based/hybrid workflows, podcasting and visual radio.

RW: What is the most important trend in how processors are designed or used?

Gary Kline: Most processors are mature in their design. There are the occasional software updates, most of them incremental in terms of sound. Some are more about features; and then there are major updates for audio like G-Force for the Omnia.11.

I think MPX over IP is another more recent step, not in terms of audio, but in terms of letting us redesign the way we distribute audio — in many cases, more intelligently.

Also, the recent evolution to containers and cloud for some of the boxes is another step towards a refined modern facility, allowing us to run many instances of processing in an efficient manner. Again, not so much about audio quality, but about plant design and intelligent/efficient distribution of our public-facing products.

Having said that, it’s conceivable that a redesign using MPX over IP or high-density processing might improve the audio quality by the mere fact of replacing old STLs, analog gear or other transmission-path items that limit performance.

RW: If loudness was a main goal in the past, what characterizes successful processing today?

Kline: Ensuring that the target demos are reached and that time spent listening is maximized.

Loudness matters too, but more than loudness, stations want ratings improvement. If not ratings, then quality of audio and — this is important — quality of RF.

Do they want quality of audio so bad that the loudness is way low? No. But it is a balancing act whereby business goals are weighed heavily. Processing is a tool, not a game to see who can outdo the other.

There are exceptions. I could name some domestic and international markets where there are a few loudness wars.

RW: What other distribution channels require audio processing attention today?

Kline: Obviously, streaming is a big one. In fact, I would offer that many streams are not processed very well.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many very nice-sounding streams out there. But I do find several stations using old leftover boxes that are not competitive or set properly for streaming. Streaming processing does not require 75 μs (or 50 μs) emphasis or the same amount of clipping we use on FM.

I think stations should be looking at their video feeds, if they have any. Does your visual radio audio feed to YouTube or Facebook sound proper on a laptop or 55-inch LCD? DAB and HD Radio are over-the-air but they can also be overlooked in terms of top-notch processing adjustments or hardware/software.

RW: How will the cloud, virtualization and SaaS affect the processing marketplace?

Kline: It will ultimately change how we design facilities in the future. But this will be, in my opinion, part of a larger cloud computing and virtualization design.

The entire studio operation needs to be evaluated in terms of virtualization from microphone to speaker, and this includes processing. We are already seeing, and I think we will see more over time, stations feeding their transmitters from a central location using the cloud, high-density virtualized processing and/or MPX over IP. I’m seeing this more in Europe and internationally, but I do know of folks in the USA doing it too.

The problem right now is that not everyone understands all of the different technologies and how to use them together. Several manufacturers have prepared online courses to help with this.

RW: What challenges or issues do cloud-based program material sources present?

Kline: Audio quality in some instances. That’s because some cloud solutions use reduced-quality algorithms to reduce the bandwidth needed to send the audio across the public internet. Are these reductions noticeable? Depends on the algorithm and how many times this is being done in the chain.

RW: What’s being done to handle FM stereo multipath distortion and reduce clipping distortion in source material?

Kline: Not enough. I find too many stations have many MP3 files or otherwise compromised source material. It’s not OK, and it is a common problem. I’ve lost count of the number of stations I have consulting and advised replacing hundreds of cuts before we finalized the processing. It makes a huge difference in quality and against the competition.

RW: What did the pandemic experience teach us about audio processing?

Kline: Your streaming audio quality matters a lot. And your sonic signature on Alexa, Google and other smart speakers matters too. Including your mono (summed stereo audio).

RW: What tools are available to mitigate issues involving synchronization of HD Radio and analog signals?

Kline: I think we are past that now. Several transmitters can do this internally, sync your levels and timing. And if not, products like the Inovonics Justin 808 or Belar FMHD-1 can do it for you. Nautel has some interesting solutions of their own that you can find online. Often, when I find an HD station that’s not synched, it is an engineering problem, not a lack of proper equipment. Not in 2022.

RW: Do you have a philosophy for processing?

Kline: I come into each situation with an open mind, and I consider each project to be unique. I weigh the specific format, current sound of the station, market ballistics — the sound of the market including direct
competitors — station input and personal input from myself, then decide what to do next.

Processing is way more than twisting knobs or playing with software. That’s almost the last thing I do after a complete analysis. In some cases, nothing needs to change — and you need to be prepared to accept that too.

I put great emphasis on the goals of the station, with input from the PD, OM and perhaps the GM. There are ratings, target demos, audience sharing and overall signature sound to consider. In some smaller markets, it’s
not necessarily about ratings, it’s more about the sound and perceived dominance of the station.

RW: What else should we know about processing for radio?

Kline: Analyze each situation carefully. Spend time with the stakeholders to establish their goals. And if their goals don’t make sense, discuss that before touching anything.

Don’t forget to look at the entire air chain. Often, there are problems with the audio before it ever hits the input terminals of the processor. Audio signatures matter. Develop your own.