"This Is What We Do. We Keep Stations on the Air No Matter What"

We asked consultant Gary Kline how operations are reacting to the coronavirus impact

By Paul McLane | Radio World

Technical consultant Gary Kline, who also contributes regularly to Radio World, travels a great deal both domestically and abroad; he is in frequent contact with many radio industry organizations. We asked him what he’s been hearing over the past several days about the impact of COVID-19 around the U.S. radio industry.

RW: Based on what you hear from clients or others, what impact is the coronavirus national emergency having on U.S. radio station operations?

Gary Kline: For most stations, it hasn’t yet caused serious disruptions to programming or reliability of distribution (RF, streaming, on-demand, etc.). There has been, and there will continue to be, financial implications both on the revenue and expense side.

I’m already hearing of reduced capital expenditures – not surprising at a time like this. There have been some reports in the trades about folks being asked to work from home including broadcasting from home. I think we may see more of this work from outside the studios as more staff (or the people they’ve had contact with) test positive for the virus.

I think it is safe to say as time goes on there will be more changes. These changes in operations may touch upon all departments including engineering, sales, finance, traffic, promotions, management, etc.

RW: Are there specific impacts in technical infrastructure and programming operations we need to think about?

Kline: I think the biggest impact happening right now is the need to work or broadcast from home. Not unlike so many other businesses asking their employees to stay home, radio operators are doing the same with their non-essential staff.

The good news is that for many stations, remote access has been in place in one form or another. Traffic can operate remotely using VPN or other specialized remote access software. The same goes for music scheduling and even the automation/playout system. Many stations have been utilizing some form of remote voice tracking for years.

The good news is that for many stations, remote access has been in place in one form or another.

Therefore, the basic elements of operating a radio cluster are routine for most stations. For those that don’t have one piece in place, it’s not too hard to call your vendor for your traffic, CRM or playout system and ask for their remote access package. You may also need some help from your engineer or IT department/contractor to adjust the firewall and security settings to make everything work.

That being said: I think what we are seeing now though is a much greater emphasis on these remote systems and, in some cases, not enough capacity or hardware to accommodate ALL the stations in a building at one time.

For example, if you have four or five or even six stations with live or live-assist morning shows in your building, is there enough remote technology to handle all those at once? Is there enough gear in someone’s living room to handle things like putting phone callers on the air without a board op back at the studio? Are the facilities ready for total remote control of the console etc.? Can you produce spots remotely and insert them into the log? Can you trigger EAS remotely? Do you own enough IP codecs or apps to simultaneously feed each studio?

RW: What impact is the emergency having on engineers and technical staff, either professionally or personally?

Kline: Most of the engineers I have spoken with have been busy making plans for the remote operation of station business systems in addition to complete remote broadcasting for every one of their stations in a cluster. This is so that if the building needs to be emptied due to a prolonged cleaning and/or company required work-at-home policies, things continue to run. Most facilities had something in place to do these things already, but not always for every station simultaneously. In some cases, the equipment existed but was not configured for exactly the purpose of total remote broadcasting. So, engineers now find themselves re-configuring systems and designing more elaborate command and control procedures for use externally.

RW: Engineers are often asked to be the ones who step in when other staffers have to step out. We’ve heard from at least one engineer who has been told that if further quarantines come into play, he’ll be the one living and sleeping at the studios. Are there any special best practices that engineers and their employers will adopt?

Kline: I think most engineers will tell you that they’ve been through various emergencies, crisis situations, weather related disasters, and as such are doing what they always do in challenging situations, they excel under pressure and rise to the occasion. This is what we do, we keep stations on the air no matter what. We adapt and we innovate. That’s the impact this has on an engineer. On a personal note, I am sure that we are all concerned about contracting the virus, ensuring our families and family are safe as well as our colleagues. Right now, it is all hands-on deck in getting ready for the worst case – prolonged remote station operation.

Most engineers will tell you that they’ve been through various emergencies, crisis situations, weather related disasters, and as such are doing what they always do in challenging situations, they excel under pressure and rise to the occasion

RW: What else should we know?

Kline: All the things that need to be done to prepare technically…. Do them now. Right now. Because if tomorrow you must clear out your facility, you may not be ready to operate it from a different (or multiple) locations. It can happen overnight so don’t delay. If you need extra gear, borrow or purchase it right now. If you need to bring extra engineering help in to re-configure your facility, add remote software, program your router, do it now. Do not wait. If you use contract engineering, remember they may be busy helping many other owners so call them today. Some of the preparations may require technical folks visit the homes of staff including air staff – this may not be possible at some point so get on it now. Make sure everyone knows what their role is and make sure you have understudies for key roles. Have a backup engineer and IT person on call – even if it is a contractor.

We don’t want to think about these things – but if your engineer tests positive, what will you do? What will you do if your transmitter goes down or automation system crashes and your engineer is quarantined for a month or more? There are people out there that can help you produce a technical plan to ensure business operations continue if you need the help. There are many different systems which must operate in harmony to fully operate a facility from the outside – do a dry run this week. For smaller operations with a handful of employees, it only takes one or two positive tests to create a major kink in your local operations.

Original Article: https://www.radioworld.com/news-and-business/news-makers/gary-kline-covid19-impact 

Tips for Interviewing the Candidate

Gary Kline | RADIO ENGINEERING IN CRISIS, Radio World | January 2020

Here are some of the things any manager (engineering or general) should be thinking about when trying to hire a prospective candidate. Having hired numerous people for technical roles for more than 20 years, I’ve met many candidates from all walks of life and geographic regions. Their needs and wants (not always the same thing) may vary a bit; but most want to know about one or more of these things:

Salary— Most candidates do expect to be paid fairly and commensurate with their experience and based upon the requirements of the new job. Title and market size may factor into their mindset. Usually, but not always, they do have an expectation that they will be paid more than their last position. Engineering salaries are climbing as the supply of experienced and trustworthy candidates dwindles.
Be very careful about convincing someone to take the job for less than they are truly worth. It is my experience that they will be plucked away by another station or station group. Again, that’s not a given but it does raise the chances this will happen.
This applies to newer less-experienced candidates too. You could end up training them for a year or two only to have an offer made to them for significantly more than your paying them if you do not pay competitively. And, yes, you might have an opportunity to offer an increase to keep them when the time comes, but you’ll likely end up paying more to do this in the end.

Reporting structure— Many candidates you interview will be very interested to understand who they will be reporting to directly. That may be the director of engineering if they are applying for an assistant or staff level position. It may be the OM/PD if that’s how the station cluster was configured in the past; some GMs thought it best to do this since the DOE/CE ends up working most closely with the OM/PD on a day-to-day basis anyway. And in many cases, the CE/DOE reports directly to the station manager (GM/MM).
It is my experience that in most situations it is best to have the CE/DOE report to the GM/MM and that the position be defined as a department head. They can work day to day with the OM/PD and anyone else that makes sense, but structurally they should be accountable to the station manager. And most engineering candidates going after a top-level position do want that. They should be included in weekly department head meetings in addition to a minimum once-a-week one on one with their direct supervisor.

Job Description— This sounds like a no-brainer. It is important to have a job description that is well thought out so that there are no questions about expectations and responsibilities. Along with accountability comes responsibilities. There’s a very good chance you have this in some form already because you needed it for the recruiting process. You can’t simply think of or list everything an engineer or IT candidate should do as part of their job, but you can properly describe the role such that everyone understands the overall expectations. Any candidate who has experience as a broadcast engineer should come to the table with a decent understanding of what is required of them.
This process ensures that you have something to refer to in the future should there be a need. Broadcast engineers work very hard but do want to make sure that the hours and on-call expectations are reasonable among other unique requirements that come along with the territory. You know, like playing with high voltage. Whether they articulate this or not during the interview, it matters to them.

Growth— Not everyone you interview will be looking to grow. Some technical candidates are content to settle into a nice working environment at a good location, and do their job well. But there are others who are interested in growing.
They may want to know about opportunities to grow within the cluster, regionally if a larger company, or even to a corporate position one day. If you are asked, be prepared to discuss this with them. You may need to talk to regional or corporate engineering management in advance of the interview or telephone discussion. Every company has a plan for growth for those who desire it, the main takeaway here is to be prepared to discuss it. If they are interviewing with different companies at the same time this could be a deal breaker.

Condition of the physical facilities— Good, qualified candidates will ask to see the studios and transmitter sites before they take the job. They should unless your facility is one that’s been published or reviewed in the past few years or has photos online. In most instances, people are looking for a more modern plant that is not a rats’ nest of wiring, has transmitter sites that use newer transmitters and have redundancy, and a general sense that the facility will not consume a majority of their time “putting out fires.” There are exceptions of course. Some engineers do want something to sink their teeth into and clean up, but only if management can convince them that there will be the funds and support to do that. Sometimes, there is a capital budget already approved to build a new site or new studio(s) or purchase new transmitters — it’s just that the cluster needs someone to implement it. Those are also good attractors of top talent.

Station vehicle (honorable mention)— If your market doesn’t have a decent, working, dedicated and properly sized engineering department vehicle, you might consider obtaining one. Especially if any of your transmitter sites are distant and/or hard to get to because of bad roads, snow, etc. Most experienced and qualified candidates do consider having an engineering vehicle an important tool towards performing their duties. This is not always the case, but I have seen it in a majority of the hires I have been involved with.

The author is owner of Kline Consulting and former corporate director of engineering and broadcast IT for several radio companies.

Original Article: VIEW PDF

European Radio Show: The Future of Audio Under GAFA Hegemony

Should radio rename to audio? “It must be done today.” Live from the European Radio Show

At the European Radio and Digital Audio Show in Paris, a three-day exhibition and presentation conference, one of the panels turned its focus to the future of radio in the next few years. A persistent and sometimes controversial point was whether to rebrand the radio industry to “audio.” As noted onstage, European radio is a few years behind American radio on this question — Philippe Generali, CEO of RCS, noted that iHeartMedia routinely calls itself the “largest audio company in the U.S.”

Other panelists were James Cridland (radio futurologist and founder/editor of Podnews) and Alexandre Saboundjian (CEO, Targetspot). The conversation was moderated by Gary Kline who runs a consultancy in Atlanta. This panel was conducted in English; every other word we have heard spoken at this event has been in French.

There was general agreement among the panelists that “audio” put a larger, more contemporary umbrella over the radio industry in an increasingly digital and on-demand era. Saboundjian focused on the sales side, saying that advertisers wanted to buy “audio,” not “radio.” Answering an audience question, he said, “You need to organize your company to appeal to your clients. The danger is big companies like Google taking revenue.”

In fact, the session started off with James Cridland sketching the competitive landscape. shadowed as it is by behemoth new competitors to radio — Spotify, Apple, Google, Amazon. (Or, in a different acronymed lineup that was invoked during the discussion, GAFA: Google Apple Facebook Amazon).

Saboundjian expressed a moderate stance, that radio must adapt, but it is not a red-alert emergency of a business model falling apart overnight. Philippe Generali countered that moderation with an argument: “It must be done today. You have to call yourself an audio company. Own and defend that you are an audio company.”

Cridland’s take: “We’re not in a business of running transmitters, AM, FM, or DAB. Some newspapers thought they were in the business of operating a printing press. They’re not in business anymore. The news organizations that survive are in the business of running a newsroom.” At the same time, Cridland (an outspoken advocate of, and consultant to radio) observed that the personality and one-to-one connection of radio is a key strength, especially compared to music listening in a streaming service. “A human being is a real asset,” he said.

Wrapping up, Alexandre Saboundjian and Philippe Generali agreed that good content is what the business is all about, no matter what it’s called. They both emphasized that advertisers want data, and that U.S. radio is driving down that road.

James Cridland: “Radio isn’t going away fast. We should take advantage of podcasting and other new types of audio.”


Ten Tips to Help You Create Your Best Studio

Here are some common considerations to keep in mind when designing or renovating a studio

Gary Kline | BUILDING THE IDEAL RADIO STUDIO, Radio World International | December 2019

It’s time to build that new studio (or upgrade an existing one) and everyone on the team is excited. Whether you are constructing a brand new facility or simply renovating it, there are common considerations to keep in mind to ensure you are satisfied with the end result.

#1. What’s ideal? From the outset of designing your new studio you need to ask what the meaning of “ideal” is. After all, there are many opinions on what the ideal studio looks like. Ask your colleagues, program directors, managers and do some online research. Chances are you will get a lot of feedback with varying responses. Write all of them down and prioritize what’s important. This list will likely get filtered and organized based on your budget, timeline and resources. The important takeaway here is that you first think about what is ideal and then define it. Not in a vacuum, but with the meaningful input of your end-users, stakeholders, engineers, and thorough research. Be creative. Be different. But don’t forget an ideal studio should always include good engineering practice.

#2. Organization and structure. Put a project management team in place from the outset. Your project may be just one small studio, or it may be a building full of content-generating technology. It may be limited in scope and budget or it may be very large with many moving parts. Regardless of the project extent, you should have a clearly defined decision-making structure in place. This will help with prioritization and refinement of the myriad of design requirements that you will encounter. When you have several passionate individuals on a design team it takes leadership and structure to make balanced decisions. Studios rarely get built without outside help. Contractors and system integrators may occasionally need assistance navigating a problem or unexpected hiccup. The project leader should be empowered to coordinate and delegate as necessary to deal with such an event.
Good structure also helps to avoid budget issues and schedule delays. As the lead engineer and/or project manager, make sure you are in on the design phase early so you can incorporate critical requirements into the drawings. I’ve seen too many studio designs that were “backed into” because things such as HVAC, MEP, the lobby, the kitchen, or the office space had been designed (perhaps commissioned) before important broadcast technical design considerations were integrated. I’ve also seen leases signed before the technical design team was consulted. Roof rights (and access), satellite dish placement, telecom availability, floor load capacity, microwave path, generator availability and restrictive landlord regulations are just some of the critical issues a person who is not experienced in broadcast technical requirements may overlook.

#3. Reflect on user experience and user interface. Build a modern, impressive and user-friendly studio. Examine every inch of the space you are designing very closely. Carefully consider every decision you make about the location and placement of objects in each individual room. Start with the furniture layout as this is crucial. Furniture design can improve the quality of the on-air content because the layout and look sets the mood (and interaction) in the room. Invest in the nicest looking and well-constructed studio furniture your budget will allow. Things such as video monitor placement, mic arm style and height, lighting, ergonomics, line-of-sight, windows, work-space, control surfaces, table and chair height and room size/layout will have an impact on the user (and guest) experience. Also, consider consolidating different software systems (playout, editing, contesting, call screening, social media, etc.) into one or two screens. This eliminates the wall of monitors many studios have. It also allows for a better and more efficient user interface, while improving line of sight to the other talent or guests in the room.
There are different opinions about what constitutes a good interface and experience for the user. Some people want lots of buttons and flashy lights. Some take a minimalist approach with very little “tech” in the room. Some studios incorporate glass screens for the mixing desk, bypassing the traditional tactile faders and knobs often used. Some people want to sit down, some want stand up and some studios have motorized adjustable furniture height, etc.
Design your UI/UX so that it makes the most sense for your needs. This may require considerable research, time and a team effort to produce a good plan. Organize meetings and interviews with the end users and listen to them. Their input is valuable, as they will use the studio every day. Additionally, your architect, interior designer, studio furniture vendor and even Google can help you with creative ideas.

#4. Acoustics. Stellar room acoustics probably has more to do with the quality of how the announcer or live performance sounds than the fancy electronics you just purchased. Do not underestimate the significance of this. In most radio studio environments, you don’t want a “live” sounding room because that will take away from the intimacy and intelligibility of the air talent. We’ve all heard the hollow or echo effect in a poorly built studio when one or more mics are open. Instituting proper isolation so that there is no sound leakage outward and no external noise inward is imperative. There are ways to quantify isolation such using an STC rating. There are different STC ratings for materials such as sound panels, doors, windows, and external walls. Budget and design requirements will dictate your choice for a minimum STC rating. Each room has its own set of design criteria. Take a newsroom for example. That space may not require isolation, hoping that the inherent background room noise adds additional credibility over the air. This topic is too large to cover everything here. Just keep in mind that acoustical design involves specialized construction techniques and materials, something your architect, interior designer, or acoustical consulting engineer can help you with. If you don’t have the budget to hire a consultant, there are many acoustic design examples online in addition to books and articles. Reach out to your engineering buddies or a mentor and ask them for advice.

#5. Future growth and expansion. It helps to group this subject into categories: Physical growth inside the existing space, growth into an external location, technology upgrades of existing infrastructure, and expansion into new technologies. As you think about the future, here are just a few things to deliberate. Will you need additional studios later? How many? To serve what purpose? Is a particular studio that you are constructing firmly dedicated to a purpose that could change later? Did you leave enough expansion space for additional studios, offices, technology, or a surprise request? Can you add new studios, streams, metadata, storage, and production capability, etc. quickly and cost-effectively? Did you box yourself in with a tech platform that won’t scale as you grow? Did you choose an audio protocol that is too proprietary? Did the business office review your key suppliers’ finances to ensure they will be in business long-term? Have you studied broadcast technology trends to understand what the world might look like in three to five years? Does your physical plant and technology platform lend itself toward those future trends? Again, these are just a few things to think about. So remember to consider the future and its potential impact on what you are building today.

#6. Speaking of technology. What technology will you use? Is there an organized approach to defining and selecting the technologies, which will be the cornerstone of your build out? Almost everyone builds his or her new radio studio using a digital platform. Which AoIP platform and protocol(s) will you use? Is it compatible with other popular formats and equipment? If your facility will be producing video such as visual radio, branded content, or podcasts, have you carefully researched what equipment is needed to do that? Do you understand the special requirements that a podcast creator might need as it relates to technology? Do you have a visual radio strategy and technical plan? (see Radio World ebook “Trends in Visual Radio 2019.”) Do you have a media asset management system in your plans? Will you index your audio, so it is searchable? Metadata for audio content is a hot topic these days. Will your metadata content look consistent across HD Radio, DAB, and most importantly, hybrid radio/connected car? Did you include the digital team in these discussions? Will you build a large legacy TOC (rack room) or will you make use of the cloud where possible? Have you considered using virtualization to aggregate and manage things such as console engines, audio processing, streaming, codecs, transmission, and many other functions? Have you researched the latest trends in production software and workflow for audio and video? Are you building a live performance space? Does it incorporate the proper technology needed by musical acts? The list goes on but in short research as much as possible to ensure that you’ve made informed technology decisions in your design.

#7. Social Media. Do you have a mediacentric IT fabric to support the specialized requirements of bandwidth-heavy digital audio and video? Is your facility optimized to communicate with your listeners given we live in the age of numerous voice and video apps and use them to engage with the audience? Can you put a Skype, Zoom, WhatsApp or mobile app on the air easily and reliably? Do you support cellular HD voice calls? A simple POTS request line is no longer enough on its own to connect with the audience. Do you support real-time high-quality feeds to YouTube? FB Live? IGTV? Twitch? Do you plan to incorporate automatic speech-to-text intelligence so that some or all your content is searchable? Did you plan for a social media dashboard UI in the studio? You can track real-time audience sentiment using specialized software now — why not show that on that dashboard? There are software and hardware products available to aggregate the relevant various social media platforms for broadcasters that are very powerful.

#8. Security. Given the security breaches and ransomware attacks that have become reality, and considering how almost everything at the radio station connects to the internet, are you prepared? Do you have a security-aware culture in place? Your new studio and facility design should have an IT security framework, which would include redundancy, backups to the cloud, and a quick restoration plan. No studio design should ignore the potential for externally introduced malware. Do you have segregated networks and layers of security that surround them? Did you design each aspect of your studio and office technology with cybersecurity in mind? A simple firewall isn’t enough. Most experts agree it is not a matter of if, but when — so have a plan in place. (See Radio world ebook “Cybersecurity and Studio Disaster Recovery.”)

#9. Innovate. Don’t be afraid to innovate and think outside of the box. So many studios look similar — a desk, chairs, microphones, computer monitors, panels on the wall, fancy track lights, and a window. There is nothing wrong with that. However, some very modern facilities are being designed to look different from the typical studio layout. Avoid the typical console and chair cookie-cutter studio. Design for the user experience and to enhance the on-air product. Design the workflow for the users so that it is easier and less time-consuming to do their job. Design a studio that can increase station revenue. Here’s an example of thinking outside the box: Do studios still need permanent walls? (See VRT Radio 2 Antwerpen article starting on page 4.) There are examples of studios being built without walls nowadays or without physical consoles. There are also studios designed in the cloud, which allows for a less techy studio but more room for the talent. Sometimes, less is more.

#10. Ask for help. It’s ok to ask for help. Every one of us has conferred with others to brainstorm or solve a problem at one point. Your architect, general contractor, electrician, mechanical engineer, and colleagues are there to help and share knowledge. Tour other stations. Some of the best studios incorporate ideas from other creative designs. Dig into the thousands of photos online of cool radio and recording studios. Your studio furniture vendor has worked with many layouts across various projects. They will be another great resource for you and can, in many cases, share drawings and photos. Build a well-thought out facility that achieves your team’s goals using all of the resources and expertise available to you.

Original Article: VIEW PDF

10 Cybersecurity Questions to Ask Yourself

OK, maybe more than 10 ... but here’s a list to help you get started on your program


Be honest with yourself: How aware are you of your cyber preparedness? Do you know what being prepared really means? If you can’t answer these questions with full confidence, it’s time to insert yourself into the cybersecurity process.
Cybersecurity is a top priority for businesses of all sizes; a lack of readiness and defenses can lead to serious financial and operational
consequences. Cyber extortion (ransomware) is big business and is not going away anytime soon.
The following questions and thoughts are a place to start in hardening your broadcast organization’s infrastructure and preparing for the worst case. And yes, you should be prepared for the worst, so you know what to do if an attack is successful. They are intended to help you start a conversation.

#1. Do you have a security-aware culture in your facility? In your organization? Be honest. Knowing that your IT staff or outside contractor installed a new firewall or virus program last year doesn’t mean you are fully prepared. It does not necessarily mean you have a constant security-aware culture that involves regular routines such as:
a. Backing up crucial data to both a local machine and the cloud and ensuring at least one of the backups is *not* connected to the network source it is backing up.
b. Updates and patches are run regularly on all devices such as firewalls, switches, PCs, IOT, etc. We say this all the time but so many facilities do not do it.
c. An ongoing awareness and training program for all existing and new employees across all departments. Many attacks arrive via a simple email. Educate
everyone what to look for.
d. Anti-virus and anti-malware software installed on every machine — sounds like Security 101, right? I find machines all the time that are not running both and/or not updated recently with the latest security databases.
e. Implemented security restrictions and locked all outside access except where needed. Don’t laugh. I find VPN and Remote Desktop active on machines often, and no one remembers who they were for or what the original purpose was.
f. Block all known malicious IP addresses and keep that list constantly updated.
This is just a sample listing of key things a security-aware organization should be doing. There are many more. IT trained professionals in cyber-security know what to do. There are also many excellent sites online with guidelines that dig deeper than we can here.

#2. Along with #1 above, when was the last time you had a serious sit-down with your IT team, administrator or outside contractor to discuss cyber security? How often do you meet? In that meeting, did you know what specific questions to ask? If not, it is time to put together a list of questions. This ebook and this article can help you get started.

#3. Have you considered hiring a third-party outside security consultant to help with assessing your internal and external systems for their penetrability? Have you asked a trusted security expert to attempt to penetrate your network and systems to ensure you are defended properly? I know several broadcast-related companies that send phishing emails with fake viruses and ransomware to employees to test their cyber training; see 1(c) above. If the employee clicks on the suspicious attachment, they are provided further training on how to spot these things. The email gateway still ranks as one of the top arrival vectors for attack, so it is critical that everyone have some training on how to spot that one email which can cause you untold hardships.

#4. Is your network segregated to minimize the damage if something should get through? I often find that networks within the station are combined, on purpose or by mistake. I’ve been in several facilities where they claim their networks are segregated, yet we find that’s not the case. For example, a PC with a double-NIC (two network cards for separate networks) can be compromised and certain viruses can jump from one network to the other. So the machine that handles traffic but must connect to the automation system — and it is using two network cards — might not be as safe as you thought. Or that one PC that has Remote Desktop on it so someone can get into the network but only though that one “external” machine ... well, it may not be the “firewall” you think it is. There are ways to handle remote access properly and securely. Your trained IT staff or outside security contractor can help you with this.

#5. Backup, backup, backup. I mentioned this already but it is so important to preventing disaster that it deserves its own reference. It is imperative that you regularly backup all critical files, and do so to locations that cannot be reached by the virus. There are several cases where ransomware found its way to a network backup and encrypted the very files that were supposed to protect the operation! Do you backup every 24 hours? Do you maintain backups offsite? (That’s not only a good idea for protection against the virus but also for events such as fire, hurricanes, other things that could keep you from accessing the studio or transmitter location). With backups you can reinstall critical software and data and potentially alleviate the need to pay a ransom. Or it may simply be less costly in time and resources to restore a machine using a recent backup then using a decryption tool. Therefore, very regular backups are crucial. If for example, you need to restore your music and spot commercial database and audio files quickly, you’ll want that backup to be very recent. Otherwise, you may lose the past several days or weeks of new material — and this could cost the station financially. I often come across TOCs that supposedly are making backups but are not. The backup tape machine hasn’t worked in who knows how long, the NAS drive is full, the software that runs the backups hasn’t been running for weeks or months, or perhaps the directories selected for backup are not correct. The takeaway here is that you should ask yourself or your IT administrator for proof that backups are being run, and run often, on a regular recurring basis.

#6. If you are attacked, do you have the tools in place to quickly detect and determine its origination point within your facility? Do you have the tools (and instructions to staff) in place to isolate the virus or ransomware quickly? Do you use a security event manager? What is your “first 15 minutes” plan? As mentioned, network segregation is critical in situations where you become infected. If the business network is infected for example, do you have a way to prevent this attack from spreading to other business networks in your building or within the company (for larger networks or group operators)? Do you have different offices tied together using a WAN/MPLS or other means which might allow the virus to hop over and then start spreading again in an entirely different location? If you believe a virus is crawling through your network, do you have a plan in place to stop it immediately from moving further along to the next server or PC? Do you know how to kill your network shares immediately? Do you have a plan to yank users and machines from the network in seconds? What if an attack happens at 3 a.m. on Sunday morning? Do you have the technology or people in place to alert the proper team leaders? And do you have a response go-team on call including holidays? This is not make-believe or a far-out fantasy. These attacks are happening regularly to small and large operators, and of course, in all industries.

#7. If your data becomes encrypted, do you have a plan of action filed away so you know what to do? Have you thought about whether you would pay a ransom if presented with such a demand? There are different schools of thought on whether to pay. Many have paid, and many have not. It is reported by Symantec that only 47% of those who pay the ransom to the bad guys get their data back. It is also claimed by several reputable security firms that if you do pay this time there is a chance you will be hit again because the data kidnappers know you will give in. (Of course, we all know you will be fully protected after the first successful ransom, right?). Let’s say you don’t pay; better have your recent backups ready to go. Do you have a backup system that provides for restoral easily and quickly? Do you have a go-team put together who will be ready to restore systems and a chain of command to direct team members on what to do and when? (see #6). If you decide to pay, most ransoms are paid with bitcoin; do you know how to purchase bitcoin? Do you know from where? It can take a few days to obtain bitcoin, depending on how you buy it. Major cities have bitcoin-capable ATMs that can speed this up. The average ransom ranges from a few thousand to much higher. Do you have a source for that kind of money in a hurry should you need it? Now is the time to think about these things and have a plan written down. If you don’t, you may be scrambling at the last minute while your critical systems are down. That kind of delay can cost you money because your operations are down. If you work with an outside security expert or have such staff internally, and you are not sure what your plans are should you get attacked, ask for one. Do not be unprepared. On a positive note: Did you know that some ransomware attacks use a software variant that has a free cure? There are free decryption tools out there that might work in your case. Something to check first.

#8. Some ransomware attacks are widespread. We’ve all heard about them. You’ll see them on TV and on most credible news and IT websites quickly. In some cases, these large-scale attacks are shut down and decrypted within 24 to 48 hours by law enforcement or white hat hackers. If you are affected by one of these large-scale attacks, check with your security provider, consultant, vendor or IT staff to see if there is a fix before paying any ransom.

#9. If you are in the United States, contact the nearest field office of the FBI or Secret Service and report your ransomware event and request assistance. They may be able to help you. If you are in Europe, go to the Europol website and it will direct you to the local agency in your country. If in Australia, report your event to the Australian Cyber Security Centre. Most countries have a governmental agency that wants to hear from you.

#10. Ask for help. I say this often. Do not be afraid to ask for help. Whether you are a managing director or engineer and IT director, it is OK to ask for resources to assist you with cyber-security. You have friends who know things. You have vendors who know things and who have internal resources to assist you with this. There are local IT firms with experts. Consultants. Lots of free advice on the internet. The United States and many other governments provide free information on ransomware, viruses and other forms of malware.

I walk into too many facilities that are not prepared defensively and that starts at the top. Go back to #1 above. Make sure you have a security-aware culture.

Gary Kline is a broadcast consultant who has been actively involved in radio broadcasting for over 30 years. He has held technical positions with several major broadcast organizations, most notably as senior VP of engineering at Cumulus Media. He has provided engineering support and consulting in the United States, Canada, China and several South American countries. He is a past recipient of the Radio World Excellence in Engineering Award.

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Ten Questions to Consider

Important points to take into account when implementing codec technology

Gary Kline | Codec and STL Technology Advances, Radio World | May 2019

The large choice of codecs available on the market can be over-whelming. Gary Kline, a consultant and former corporate director of engineering and broadcast IT for several radio companies, highlights important points managers should take into consideration when defining their audio transport strategy and shopping for new gear.

#1. In today's terms, does everyone on the team understand what a codec is and how it is used? This might seem like a basic question that anyone can answer; but often, depending on the person you ask, the definition will vary. Years ago, we thought of a codec as a simple singular compression and decom-pression scheme or device. But the term "codec" has taken on a more general definition, which can sometimes be interchanged with STL, microwave, transmission path, etc. So before you go down the path of integrating new codec technology into your facility, make sure everyone on the team is familiar with the current models and con-figurations of the codecs on the market. Codecs today comprise many technologies and come in various sizes, shapes and price tags.

#2. Is this a simple codec replacement project or some-thing bigger in scope? In my consulting practice, I meet many managers who start off by asking about a simple codec recommendation. By the time we finish talking, we both realize that there is a bigger picture to consider involving several codec brands and models. By asking the right questions and walking through the technical workflow of the building, we learn that there are pending, among other things, STL, remote broadcast and even on-air tele-phone system needs, all of which could involve codec purchases. So before the codec selection and quoting process begins, ask yourself whether this is a limited scope project or something broader. You may save money and increase efficiency on your capital spend by reviewing the larger picture up front.

#3. If this is a broader physical plant codec review, have you defined your goals and requirements? Defining your requirements goes together with the above question. Without specific goals, how can you determine whether a codec makes sense for a partic-ular situation? Obviously, a simple remote broadcast codec solution is easy to determine. But a larger, sophisticated codec upgrade and replacement project does require you to identify your goals and requirements. Some requirements might include: ·cost savings over telecom fees • audio quality ·increased density so that multiple audio channels can be accommodated with lower cost • improved workflow • redundancy against existing legacy audio transport, metadata and control • integration into AES67/Ao1P/Dante infrastructure ·cost savings over non-codec/IP solutions • reduced maintenance requirements • interoperability/interconnectivity within the plant or third-party studios • portability in the field • integration (or replacement) of on-air phone systems • additional methods for listener interaction (using mobile apps, etc.) Those are just a few examples. Any of these require-ments can be combined into a matrix to help determine if or when a codec purchase should be made.

#4. I don't trust my audio to the public internet for delivery. Is that a valid concern? Ten years ago, many engineers had their doubts about the reliability of using IP codecs for critical audio applications over the public internet. At the time, they might have considered using the public internet as a backup path only. This was due to internet speed, reliabil-ity, cost and a lack of availability at rural locations, such as transmitter sites. One could have ordered dedicated point-to-point IP circuits, but 10 years ago those costs were much higher than they are today. Also, some codec models didn't have a redundant second carrier or aggregation option which meant everything had to rely on a single internet provider.

"Hundreds of codec installs using the public internet have been implemented with jew problems."

Today, however, public internet generally is reliable and can be ordered as a business class service with high-er speeds. It is usually inexpensive and is available in more places including rural transmitter sites. Most codec units on the market now-including single remote broadcast units -have options for inte-grating and aggregating multiple carriers, which make using the public internet safe and reliable. Hundreds of codec installs using the public internet have been imple-mented with few problems. In some very high-profile mission-critical situations, I have ordered a point-to-point Ethernet circuit to be used as the primary carrier with a public internet line as the second carrier. Dedicated Ethernet circuits guaranteeing increased supervision by the carrier are a lot less expensive today. So if having a dedicated circuit is a mandate for you, like a traditional Tl, this is absolutely possible. Broadcasters use a combination of public internet, point-to-point Ethernet, MPLS and RF to connect their codecs.

#5. Can a codec operate using RF? Yes. Typically, a data radio is used at each end, which provides a private Ethernet path for the station between two points (typically between the studio and the transmitter site). This allows for audio transport, metadata, Ethernet and remote monitoring. The RF data radios are usually bidirectional, as are the codecs, so return audio can be passed back to the studio for confidence monitoring, etc. The RF path physical dis-tance can be short or go for several miles. There are different radio models with different costs depending how much bandwidth is needed and how far the transmission path is. For shorter distances, these radi-os utilize smaller dishes. If a proper path is designed and the appropriate radio/antenna combination is selected, the RF system will be very reliable. Some systems can be installed without a license from the spectrum regulatory body but other cases may require one. The cost to implement an RF link for codec usage is very competitive compared to traditional analog micro-wave gear; in some cases much less expensive.

#6. Are there any new practical codec technologies? Yes. Here are some of the features you'll find in codecs today: AES67 and Dante compati-bility, AoiP compatibility with console manufacturers, transport of FM MPX composite over IP, higher-density transport containing multiple audio channels using the same piece of hardware, smaller physical sizes, carrier aggregation for redundancy and improved connection reliability, improved usage of cellular including 4G LTE and easy-to-understand GUis. In addition, most units now feature integration with on-air phone systems for improved caller audio; iOS and Android apps for remotes and news gathering as well as enhanced listener and VIP participation; reduction in cost per audio channel; and cloud-based switchboard servers to make connecting codecs even easier by eliminating certain firewall or router issues. The FM MPX over IP feature is very helpful to those who wish to move their audio processing back to the studio or for those who want one audio processor to feed multiple locations. MPX over IP may also be interesting to those who employ SFNs. Apps for the smart phone or laptop make remotes, newsgathering and listener call-ins sound better and are easy to implement. Cellular bonding makes broadcasting from rural areas and large events (concerts, sports) more reliable because it helps mitigate network congestion.

#7. Are there advantages to having an Ao/P plant as it relates to codecs? Yes. There are several codec boxes today that are compatible with AoiP consoles and audio routing sys-tems. This allows for high-density audio paths without all the extra wiring. A well-designed AoIP plant will incorporate seamless integration into the switching and control aspect of all installed codecs. For example, a large complex with many studios can use just a handful of codecs by utilizing dynamic allocation and switching available within an AoIP system. This saves on the expense of purchasing more codecs than otherwise might be needed. AoIP also allows for the automatic control and manip-ulation of codecs for linking remote studios together or to send programs from one city to another. The macros and automation available in a typical AoIP infrastructure can tie together the features of your automation playout system, console routing and codec allocation to facilitate very powerful audio transport within your plant or to the outside world. Modern radio distribution networks are being built around this concept. IP codecs are increas-ingly being used for program backhaul, satellite replace-ment, and regular program distribution at great cost savings and efficiencies.

#8. Besides the purchase of the codec equipment, what other technical matters should be considered? There are a few key ones. One is your firewall. Codecs that talk to other devices in the outside world need a way to get through your firewall. Each codec has its own set of ports and special routing requirements so they can connect reliably to the far end.

"Do not ignore your upload speeds; this is particularly important for codecs that are sending IFB audio to the field."

The requirements are not complicated, but some-one with knowledge of firewalls and routers will need to manage this. The use of cloud-based switchboard/trans-versal servers can eliminate some or all of this, so they are a good option. You should also consider redundancy for mission-crit-ical paths. This is good practice whether you are using a codec or any other type of transport device. One method is adding additional carriers for what is known as "carrier redundancy." The other is physical hardware redundancy, which means you will have a second physical codec or legacy device in place to backup the primary codec. Another key consideration is your internet provider. You should allow for enough bandwidth inside your facil-ity to handle all the requirements not related to codec usage plus your total possible codec utilization. Do not ignore your upload speeds; this is particularly important for codecs that are sending IFB audio to the field. Some facilities have installed a separate internet line solely for their codecs or to be used as a backup, although this is not absolutely required. Every situation is unique, so it's impossible to cover them all here. These are just a few of the more common approaches. The bottom line: Redundancy is good engi-neering practice in addition to having a well-designed IT infrastructure.

#9. Do I need to be a scientist (or hire one) to install and program codecs? No. The GUis and setup screens in codecs today are easy enough to understand and navigate. In addition, because IP codecs have been around for several years, there is a lot of institutional knowledge out there. It is easy to find someone on staff or locally who can assist with the programming and setup of any popu-lar codec device. There are also excellent online resources in the public user groups and on manufacturer websites. Most pro-gram directors and on-air talent regularly broadcast from the field using an IP codec without any technical assis-tance. Some codecs even allow for remote control so that someone back at the studio can diagnose minor issues in the field for an added measure of support.

#10. I have a codec; which audio algorithm should I use? Use the highest quality (least compressed) algorithm that will reliably work given your particular speed, network congestion and program material. In other words, choose for the best audio quality without risking dropouts or glitches. Most codecs have settings to buffer and lock in a solid connection even under challenging situations, so don't be afraid to start at the top and work your way down. Using more than one carrier simultaneously (aggrega-tion) can improve robustness. Music programming usual-ly requires higher quality while speech can get away with lower bandwidth in many cases. Your codec manufacturer can walk you through the steps necessary to activate carrier aggregation.

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14 Questions to Ask Yourself

Thought prompts for the manager planning a visual radio project

Gary Kline | Trends in Visual Radio 2019, Radio World | February 2019

In an earlier Visual Radio eBook, Gary Kline explored considerations for planning a serious video-ready facility at a radio operation. For this edition we asked him to review key high-level questions to ask yourself.
Kline is a consultant and former corporate director of engineering and broadcast IT for several U.S. radio companies, and often speaks to conference audiences and clients about facility design considerations.

#1. Why? Why are we getting into visual radio or video in the first place? We need to be able to articulate the reason, in part because it will help determine the gear we purchase. Are we going live? Are we only producing taped (on-demand) segments or video podcasts? Are we going to capture and produce content from outside the studio (remotes, client locations, third-party studios, concerts)?

#2. What’s the ultimate goal? Is this project about ratings improvement, building traffic for the station website, revenue, etc.? Knowing the goal(s) will help us determine which partners to seek out (video streaming providers, on-demand hosting, Facebook, YouTube Live, etc.)

#3. Who are our stakeholders? An internal team of stakeholders should be assembled and meet regularly. Typically, this would include the station engineer, IT, PD, OM, sales manager and/or GM, digital director, legal, etc., creating a small group of station experts to guide the necessary activities for their respective departments. Otherwise, we may end up with video but no backend way to measure response through analytics and monetize it. Adding visual radio to the mix is not something just one person should be doing on their own; we also don’t want a sales team selling a video package to a client that can’t realistically (or budgetarily) be engineered; and we don’t want to sign service contracts that were not reviewed by legal.

#4. What can we realistically accomplish? Set expectations of what you want the finished product to look like and then weigh those versus budget, existing physical facilities, timeline and resources. Unless we are designing a new studio with visual radio in mind from the start, we are likely retrofitting an existing room to accommodate cameras. This usually requires careful thought. Otherwise we may end up with a boring camera shot that doesn’t draw anyone’s attention for long. Seek out articles written about studio design and best practices for video in the studio. For instance see our previous article on design considerations.

#5. What resources will we need? Dovetailing with #4, pay careful attention to resources. There are resources needed to construct; but then there are resources to operate the video system. If we purchase a manual switcher and cameras that need operators, we’ve added something that requires staffing. If we intend to produce video content for several hours each day, all week long, across a couple of stations, we will have a bunch of people who need to be budgeted for (not to mention recruited). There are automatic switching systems that eliminate the need for video switching and camera operators. Each system and method of operation (manual, automatic, semi- automatic) has their pros and cons. Make sure to discuss all of this internally and, if helpful, seek outside experts to determine what’s best in your situation. In fact, if you have several studios, one solution and hardware package may work in one room while another is better in a different room. One size does not fit all. Therefore, it is so important to have a team of experts in the organization working together to establish the needs.

#6. Do we understand the big picture? This encompasses not only the factors mentioned so far but also longer-term plans for the facility
and organization. Are we converting/building all our studios at once, or a few over time? Are dipping our toes into the world of video with one studio and then maybe some others later? And is this a project that might be expanded across other locations? The thing to keep in mind is always this: Am I buying anything today that will not be compatible with things I buy in the future? Am I doing anything now that will impede progress down the road? Am I putting myself into a corner? This could encompass studio layouts, camera choices, switcher choices, CDN providers, etc.

#7. What changes can we anticipate? Nothing stays still very long in broadcast. After all our careful planning, discussions, reviews, installations and product showcasing, there’s still a good chance that things will change. Someone will complain about the lighting. Sales will ask for a feature we didn’t plan on. We may be asked to produce content for a distributor we had not planned on (and now need special encoding for). Anything can happen. So don’t fear change; expect it. Remember #6. Do your best to not lock yourself in with technology. For example, if you shop for a video switcher or software package and decide to save a few bucks by not purchasing an “advanced” version, make sure there’s an “upgrade” path for later.

#8. Do we understand video like we understand audio? Most of us in radio have been doing this for a while. We understand radio technology and everything audio. Our sales team understands how to sell radio and NTR. They know how to sell the digital products our station or company offers. Video is in some ways similar; it’s content, it’s stored as a file on a computer, it’s something that engages the audience. But there are differences too, in both technology and monetization. Seek help from trusted sources. Do not dive into purchasing video equipment (and then installing it) unless you have experience with such things. If someone asked you if you are designing for 4k or 1080, what would your answer be? Could you speak intelligently about your decision and why? Ask for help. There are video engineers in nearly every city. There are experts at many of the vendors you talk to on a regular basis. And then there is the internet. There are many good sources of info. Use them.

#9. Do we understand the required workflow necessary in our unique facility to produce and distribute our video content? I mentioned this briefly but it requires lots of thought. Let’s say we intend to produce 30 short videos a week and post them to Facebook, YouTube and our website. How will that happen? Who will do it? What’s needed? We’ll need video editing software, graphics capability, hardware capable of handling video production, easy-to-use upload widgets, etc. This will require part-time/full-time/contract employees depending on the needs and speed at which fresh content is expected to be posted. Do we have space (desks or workstations) allocated for these functions? If we produce live streaming content (morning or afternoon drive time), do we need staff to monitor or switch cameras/graphics during the broadcast? Will we incorporate Skype or remote video guests? What do we need? The good news is that there are visual radio systems available to do this today.

#10. Have we identified our vendors? Do we know where to buy video gear? We want a vendor we trust who has the expertise to assist with decisions. What about software? Do we know the brands of the most popular packages (Final Cut, Adobe Premiere, etc.)? Do we know what those pieces of software cost and how they are licensed? Something simple like a monthly cloud plan may require a credit card. Whose card will we use? Little details like this can hold things up. Do we know where we will purchase our lighting? Find a good vendor who can give some free and valuable advice on TV lighting, especially important in the age of HD.

#11. How much storage will we need? How much video will we store? For how long? Will we store the final video output with graphics (the dirty feed)? Or will we also collect and store all the ISO camera feeds? That requires much more storage. Will we store video uncompressed or, say, in MPEG 4? Will we store locally or in the cloud? Think about this in the early stages. Again, consider expectations; include storage and retention of produced content as one of your talking points.

#12. Have we considered media asset management? This is how we store data — sometimes a little, sometimes a lot — about recorded video and audio. It may be a simple description like “Billy Joel interview,” or it may be more detailed, even a full speech-to-text conversion so every single word can be searched for. Remember, down the road we may want to find that one time the local celebrity called into the morning show three years ago. We won’t remember the exact date or time, we just know they were on the air or stopped by the studio. We want to find it quickly. Better yet, our audience may want to find it. There are ways to make all this content searchable on Google and your website. Speech-to-text is big business now. It’s affordable and doable, even for a single station. There are visual radio systems that will convert everything to text automatically.

#13. Who is running quality control? Make sure a QC manager is appointed to watch the content often. Is the produced product(s) of the quality you expected? How does it compare to other video content you may be competing with for the attention of the audience? How’s the lighting? Audio? Editing? Graphics? Camera angles? Load time? Searchability?

#14. What will we do once our visual radio project is completed? Keep learning. Stay up to date on the latest technology, trends in video, and rends in digital strategy; most of all, keep an open mind. Every month there are new products announced that could make your life, or the lives of your colleagues, easier, through greater efficiency, faster production, higher quality. You may read about how a station is using visual radio to do great things; it might be anywhere in the world. Ask whether your setup could do the same thing or if it would need modifications or upgrades. Share the story with your original team including the general and sales managers. Watch the produced content as often as you have time. Remain engaged.

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@SalonRADIO / @EuropeRadioShow is a great place to meet friends old and new.

AES New York 2018 Broadcast & Online Delivery Track Event B04

Broadcast & Online Delivery: B04 – Understanding Audio over IP for Broadcast
Thursday, October 18, 9:00 am — 10:30 am

Kirk Harnack, Telos Alliance – Nashville, TN, USA; South Seas Broadcasting Corp. – Pago Pago, American Samoa
Gary Kline, Kline Consulting Group LLC – Atlanta, GA, USA
Greg Shay, The Telos Alliance – Cleveland, OH, USA
Kent Terry, Dolby Laboratories Inc. – San Francisco, CA, USA
Christopher Tobin, Newark Public radio – Newark, NJ USA

Audio over IP, a technology first deployed at radio stations some 15 years ago, is mature, stable, flexible, and most certainly viable for decades to come. There are now over ten-thousand radio studios constantly producing roughly a half-million IP-audio streams. Equipment manufacturers and engineers have come to understand what’s critical in designing and installing studios built on AoIP infrastructure. The AES67 standard for AoIP interoperability plays a key role in IP-audio adoption.
Now, the television world is moving to an IP-centric infrastructure for both audio and video. Notably, the AES67 AoIP standard is at the center of the new SMPTE 2110-30 TV-audio specification. This panel presentation and discussion reveals techniques that radio engineers have been learning and perfecting for over a decade. Some panelists will also suggest the best practices for television engineers as AoIP is implemented alongside video-over-IP infrastructure.
This session is designed for audio and video engineers and technicians from radio, TV, and post-production facilities. IT engineers will also benefit from by learning key concepts in these real-time applications of IP-audio and IP-video.

Codecs: What Do Leading Technologists Want?

From design to application, each broadcaster has unique requirements when selecting codec technology

Marguerite Clark, Radio World International | April 2018

Radio World spoke to a sampling of technical leaders from around the world to find out what features they seek when choosing a codec, ways they implement the technology to improve broadcast quality, and how they envision the codec of the future. Those who replied to the questions below include Qazi Ahmed Mateen, GM, operation for FM100, Pakistan; Etienne des Roseaux, technical and production manager for RMC, France; Peter Verhoeven, radio host/producer for Qmusic, Belgium; Andre du Toit, head of technical for Primedia Broadcasting, South Africa; Gary Kline, owner and CEO, Kline Consulting Group, United States; and Masood Amery, president of Afghan Paiwastoon Media Communication, Afghanistan.

Radio World: What do you feel is the biggest trend in codec technology today?

Qazi Ahmed Mateen: MP3, WAV and AAC.
Etienne des Roseaux: I think that IP transmission is an important technology today. How codecs can manage public internet issues, lost packets, online remote management, provider restrictions, etc. With the end of the ISDN protocol, codec brands needs to innovate to propose the best solutions.
Peter Verhoeven: With an abundance of codecs today being used in everyday communication devices like smartphones, tablets, browsers, wireless speakers and so on, it feels as if consumer and professional use of codecs are drawing closer. Many of these applications now use the same tools to communicate with each other and some of them are open standard, which makes it more interesting for developers worldwide. Take Opus for example, an open and royalty-free codec that excels in quality and has lower latency than other codecs. It’s been used in professional applications, but you can also find it, for example, in WhatsApp on your smartphone.
Andre du Toit: Everything is moving toward IP-based codecs with reliance on high-speed mobile networks.
Gary Kline: I think there are a few tendencies, some of which have been gaining traction for a while. One is the now-commonplace (it wasn’t always) built-in aggregation and redundancy among studio and portable codecs. The ability to merge different cellular carriers, Wi-Fi and wired connections at the same time is now available on most codecs. Some refer to this as “aggregation.” This is a huge step toward reliable and good-sounding broadcasts using IP — more specifically the public internet — as the transport mechanism. Another trend is the capability of most codec models to offer a redundant streaming approach. It’s not just about having simultaneous connections aggregated at the same time but also the codec know-how to seamlessly splice the bits for a very robust connection across any path and in challenging band- width conditions. Another development is the continued reduction in size and pricing and form factor for portability. A great example of this is the newest smartphone software packages.
Masood Amery: Today audio codecs offer many advantages to radio broadcasters. For remotes, certainly many strides have been made. IP is a major development.

Radio World: What do you look for when choosing a codec?

Mateen: Audio quality, capacity and clarity.
des Roseaux: When I need to choose a codec, I look for three things: Latency, user interface and quality of audio preamp and circuit.
Verhoeven: Latency and quality (especially in lower bitrates) are the two most important aspects that I look for in a codec. For live applications like a remote interview, low latency is a must. I find nothing more annoying than to participate in a two-way conversation where gaps and unwanted silences tend to make the debate or dialogue really awkward for both the listener and the presenter. I always avoid a remote live interview when the delay is more than 500 ms. That said, I would never sacrifice audio quality over latency. Lower bitrates can reduce latency, but then it’s really important to choose a codec that can deliver excellent audio. I love the Apt-X and AAC codecs in that regard and I would love to test the Opus codec mentioned previously.
du Toit: I haven’t had much experience with different codecs. We use the Telos Z/IP One, but ultimately we would look for low delay and high quality.
Kline: It depends on what the use case is: General remote, sports remote, studio-transmitter-link, IFB, etc. Generally, I look for something with the appropriate form-factor (rack mount, portable, smartphone, etc.) and built-in codec compression choices. I consider budget, density constraints, quantity, purpose (as stated above), ability to talk to other codec manufacturers if needed, input/output options, including AoIP, upgrade capabilities (for future improvements or features), bandwidth aggregation capability, and onboard algorithm options. It comes down to identifying the requirement and choosing the right codec considering cost, value and its ability to meet particular criteria.
Amery: When choosing a codec, we look for ease of use, flexibility, easy export and archiving.

Radio World: Do you prefer to set up a connection to 4G/3G mobile broadband networks using your own modem or connecting to Wi-Fi hotspots or LAN connection available onsite?

Mateen: At FM100, our first choice is LAN, then Wi-Fi and finally 4G. However, it always depends on the broadcast facility’s quality.
des Roseaux: It depends on what we are using it for. For simple usages, such as temporary news commentaries for example, we prefer to connect to a 4G network with a good audio algorithm. For an external live radio show or large event like the Olympics or World Cup, we prefer using a dedicated LAN access. We don’t like using Wi-Fi hotspots because of the encapsulating delay, and also due to the fact that the access is open to everybody.
Verhoeven: I never use Wi-Fi hotspots for live applications, as they are mostly capped in speed and bandwidth and not very reliable. It really depends on how mobile you want to be. If you need to run around or hop on the back of a motorbike then 4G/3G is the way to go. But if you’re in a crowded place like at a concert or in a packed stadium where everybody wants to stream the event on his or her phone, I would look for a local LAN connection.
du Toit: When given the opportunity we have found that dedicated fiber gives us the best performance. We have had mixed experiences with 4G due to the connection and speed fluctuating.
Kline: It depends on which of these networks is readily available at the location in addition to the degree of importance of the broadcast. It also depends on whether the use case is, for example, a short-term remote or long-term link to a transmitter site (“nailed up” STL connection). Generally, no matter what the scenario is, and if several bandwidth options are available, I prefer a wired LAN connection first. Then comes Wi-Fi followed by 4G. In a perfect situation, I would simultaneously aggregate LAN and Wi-Fi. 4G is great in many cases — especially now with decent network coverage worldwide — but at large events, it can become a nightmare. That’s because, as anyone who has used IP codecs in the field knows, you are sharing your 4G experience with what could be many thousands of people. Think concerts, large sporting events, large news events, such as an inauguration. So 4G is my last choice but not something I entirely shy away from — especially with aggregation options. I’ve aggregated two 4G connections from different carriers before.
Amery: Here in Afghanistan, there is a lack of knowledge and sources regarding new technologies. The 4G/3G networks are not good in our country, and internet is not great either. However, in my opinion Wi-Fi is better than 4G/3G, and so is LAN, althought it’s not available everywhere.

Radio World: When working on remotes, how much do you use IP, and how much do you use more traditional technologies such as ISDN?

Mateen: In Pakistan, IP connectivity is nationwide, while ISDN is mainly metropolitan-specific. Thus, in big cities we primarily prefer ISDN.
des Roseaux: Today we are using IP on remotes more than 45 percent of the time. My goal is to reach 100 percent in the next two years.
Verhoeven: I try to use IP as much as possible. ISDN is gradually disappearing as an option and will be discontinued in the future. Although it was (and actually still is) a reliable choice, it is also a very costly solution compared to AoIP. IP networks are vastly improving and seem the logical pick, but they are still very reliant on the available speed and quality of the connection. Sometimes we use both IP and ISDN, one as main and the other as backup. It really depends on location and budget.
du Toit: We still tend to use the older ISDN technologies as far as possible due to reliability, but there is a growing need from the business for faster turnaround times for remote broadcasts. ISDN lines typically take 10 days from order to installation, so we generally do our bigger events on ISDN and the one’s that come up with short notice over IP.
Kline: In my newest design facility in Atlanta, it is all IP. There is no T1 or ISDN available, so we went completely IP for remotes and STL. The STL connections use IP via a landline wired circuit and over the air point-to-point microwave. In facilities where both ISDN and IP are available things tend to lean 75 percent IP and 25 percent ISDN, and that percentage is moving quickly toward all IP. At least in the projects I have been associated with.
Amery: When working in the field, particularly in remote areas, IP is much easier and faster from ISDN, and the truth is that IP is much more available in Afganistan than ISDN.

Radio World: Which bitrate do you typically use for different types of broadcasts (live music, sports commentary, breaking news, etc.)?

Mateen: MP3, 256 kbps.
des Roseaux: At RMC we only have talk programs, no music at all. For all our connections, we use an Opus 96 kbps as a minimum bitrate. For external live show or big events we usually make us of a 128 kbps.
Verhoeven: Years ago we used Apt-X over ISDN at 256 kbps for its low latency and great quality. We could have a remote conversation with the main studio without the listener ever knowing that we were miles apart. The H.264 encoder I used for my visual radio show last year had a variable video bitrate of around 6 Mbps with AAC audio embedded at 256 kbps. For my daily radio show, which is only audio and broadcast out of Los Angeles to Belgium, the encoder is fed a digital AES/EBU signal and sends lossless PCM audio over a VPN using the public internet at 1411.2 kbps. The delay is under a second, and that’s pretty acceptable. The reason I prefer to use the lossless audio is because of the chain the audio follows after it arrives in Belgium. It travels to a satellite uplink in a MPEG 2 lossy format to the transmitters. Some listeners prefer to listen through the website, which adds another lossy stage to the audio. So the cleaner I can deliver the audio to the mixing board in Belgium, the better.
du Toit: We generally use 64 kbps because we always only send voice from our OBs.
Kline: I prefer PCM uncompressed for any long-term or nailed-up connection or for stereo music remotes. For sports and talk I generally choose AAC mono, unless I am sending stereo.
Amery: The higher the bitrate, the higher the quality, and the more bandwidth it will require. So, mostly in developing countries like mine, the choice really depends on the project being carried out. With lower bitrates and a bad quality, at least we are still able to reach a majority of listeners, and sometimes that’s more important than airing a high-quality program but reaching fewer people.

Radio World: There is often a tradeoff between latency and error correction/jitter. How important is it to minimize latency? What is an acceptable amount?

Mateen: It is very important to have a low latency rate — less then 20 milleseconds is acceptable.
des Roseaux: Since RMC is a talk radio, the latency is very important. A lot of our guests are not in our studio, so to preserve the quality of our program, we need to have as little latency as possible. With ISDN had no more than 30 ms. Today with IP, I will accept no more than 150 ms latency. If it is more than that we start to loose reactivity between each speaker. Sometimes we have to accept 500 ms to preserve signal integrity because we have too much packet loss. But it’s really very difficult to work when that happens.
Verhoeven: It depends on the content. If you need to do a live interview where both parties are miles away from each other, it’s often preferred to try to avoid the awkwardness of gaps and silences while one party is still waiting for the question to arrive at the other end. It depends on both talking parties and the pace of the conversation, but I prefer to keep the latency under 500 ms. If there is music involved on the casting side, I would always choose quality over latency and increase the buffer or the error correction.
du Toit: Latency is the most important factor for us due to the nature of our OBs.
Kline: For me — in a perfect world — it’s never accept- able to have an IP broadcast that sputters or has drop- outs often enough that your listeners notice it. So I choose to use a limited amount of latency as necessary to reduce the risk of a sub-par audio experience. That being said, if I find that I am adding too much latency to overcome a bandwidth issue or perhaps some weird networking problem in a venue, I stop and try to solve the problem at the network side. So for example, if I am having issues with Wi-Fi or LAN in a sporting arena, I will go find the on-site IT admin and work through the issue rather than add too much delay to the codec settings. I realize this is always easier said than done but I think it is best to have a good connection from the start.
Amery: Latency is a measure of the responsiveness of an application; how instantaneous and interactive it feels, rather than sluggish and jerky. In contrast to bandwidth, which is the rate at which bits can be delivered, latency is the time it takes for a single critical bit to reach the destination, measured from when it was first required. This definition may be stretched for different purposes depending on which part is “critical” for different applications. Mostly, I like to keep the latency higher and increase it even more if the connection is breaking up.

Radio World: Packet loss can cause significant audio dropouts, and packet loss is not uncommon in connections over the public internet. How much is too much?

Mateen: Anything more than 2 percent tells us that there is a problem.
des Roseaux: It’s too much when we start to have audio dropouts. In those cases, we have to increase the latency. We can only accept this solution for small news commentaries. For radio live shows, we need to be reactive, with as little latency as possible.
Verhoeven: I prefer zero tolerance in dropouts. The level of compromise you make in either latency or audio quality depends on your content. Check your internet or connection speed before you commit to any job in the field. If you need to do a voice-only remote interview or report where a small delay is important for communication pur- poses, I would say to sacrifice bitrate and sound quality. If you have to stream music or content with high-quality audio, I would suggest adding buffer size and thus also latency, so you can keep a better bitrate and quality.
du Toit: On the Z/IP codecs that we use, the buffers compensate for a small amount of packet loss. Packet loss is acceptable up to the point of audio interruptions.
Kline: That depends on the nature of the broadcast. Is it a four-hour football remote? Is it a two-hour client remote with a handful of two-minute breaks? Or is it a 24/7 nailed- up STL link? If it is a four-hour non-stop football remote, then there may be no margin for error — no clicks or drop- outs allowed. Would you even allow one “pop” of audio during the Super Bowl with millions of people listening? For a short single client remote with a few quick DJ breaks, an occasional “pop” that might not even make it on the air might be OK. It also depends on the bandwidth options available. If only 4G is available inside a building and the remote is only for a few minutes, and it has to get on the air, then you tweak your latency/buffer settings (these can be automatic) and do the best you can.
Amery: In most cases, I carry out network performance troubleshooting to find if the problem is related to packet loss or excessive latency. Packet loss is literally when you do not receive a packet. This can be caused by a variety of factors, such as RF interference, dirty fiber connectors, oversubscribed links and routing issues.

Radio World: Is it important that a codec continually attempt to reconnect if the connection is inadvertently dropped?

Mateen: Not really. But depends on the scenario.
des Roseaux: Today, most codecs have an auto recall option. For us it’s essential because 80 percent of our connections are made by a journalist alone. As he or she is not a technician, the codec needs to be in an auto recall mode.
Verhoeven: I think it is. In some cases it’s not possible to physically monitor the encoder or decoder. Sometimes the hardware device is located in a tech room maybe on a different floor and there is no time to have a technician run over to it to try a manual reconnect.
du Toit: Our codecs are setup to auto reconnect for up to five seconds, but we always have a broadcast engineer onsite monitoring and they will intervene if necessary.
Kline: For nailed-up STL connections I always set the modem to reconnect automatically. For anything else, it depends on the situation.
Amery: Yes, It is very important for a codec to continuously attempt to reconnect if the connection or signal is dropped. Otherwise the work needs to be taken from the top, and that takes time.

Radio World: Do you prefer working with a desktop or rack-mounted codec?

Mateen: Rack-mounted.
des Roseaux: I prefer a rack-mounted codec. It’s more simple to use for a journalist and it’s a dedicated device for live broadcasts.
Verhoeven: In professional situations I have always worked with hardware codecs in rack-mounts, but I feel — with the huge popularity of streaming content and podcasts — that desktop codecs and streaming apps are gaining significantly in market share.
du Toit: We work with rack-mounted codecs only, kept in flight cases for better durability and quicker setup time. Our base units are mounted in climate controlled envi- ronments.
Kline: If it is in the studio, I always prefer rack-mount. If in the field, usually portable (desktop). Unless it is located in a “remote kit,” where there is a portable rack with some other gear in it. Often these are used for sports remotes or larger remotes. Everyone has their own preference on this.
Amery: Personally, I prefer rack-mount, since it provides more stability for my requirements. But, for many, both are acceptable.

Radio World: How important is it to be able to get remote access to the codec while it is in use? For example, do you want to be able to make changes in its configuration even after the remote broadcast has started?

Mateen: Absolutely. It is very convenient to be able to have such an option, and also be able to configure the codec while broadcasting.
des Roseaux: Today it’s really important to get remote access to the codec. A good IP connection depends on a lot of network presets, and fake presets. It’s too complicated for reporters to configure their device, and it’s not their job to do so. That is why I like to have remote access to manage the control.
Verhoeven: In my opinion it is extremely important to have remote access to the codec. As mentioned before, it’s not always possible to have a technician available when things go south. If you have sufficient knowledge about what you’re doing and the device itself or the soft- ware doesn’t adjust automatically it must be possible to manually correct latency or quality of the connection. Or even reset the codec if needed.
du Toit: This is very important to us as we can monitor the status in real time and make any configuration changes if necessary.
Kline: I would say it is important to always have that capability. Commonly, for station remotes, there is a remote technician (or DJ) who is responsible for setting things up at the far end. This person may or may not be codec expert with in-depth knowledge of every setting in every menu, but he or she certainly knows enough to connect and how to change bitrates or algorithms — things that can fix common problems. And for situations where they can’t figure out how to resolve an issue outside of the studio, I use remote access to make and disconnect connections, change algorithms, update firmware, etc.
Amery: This is a very good question because it’s extremely important to be able to change codec configuration during projects as required.

Radio World: How important is N/ACIP compatibility? Do you ever connect different brands of codecs to one another?

Mateen: Any new device that has N/ACIP compatibility would be a plus. Our station has not connected different brands together thus far.
des Roseaux: It’s rare for us to connect different brands of codecs to one another. But when it’s happen, N/ACIP compatibility affords us the possibility to easily connect two different brands together.
Verhoeven: Yes, I think it’s very important, and we do use different brands. I understand that some manufacturers want to protect their name by implementing exclusive protocols, but on the other hand in this day and age it’s all about ease of use and interchangeability in a fast-paced working environment. Sometimes in the field you land in unforeseen circumstances where you need to improvise and if you have a brand that instead limits possibilities and slows down your workflow, you’ll be thinking twice on what to use on your next assignment.
du Toit: We always connect Telos Z/IP to Telos Z/IP.
Kline: Not that often. I think it makes sense and is important to have as an option — especially as a traveling remote engineer who carries one type of codec and connects to lots of different studios. Or for a studio that owns one type of codec and has regular special guests from out of town, who then need to connect to their home base, which may have a different codec. But again, personally, I don’t do it often.
Amery: For the moment we haven’t tried to connect two different brands of codecs but I am sure we will in the future.

Radio World: Do you think codecs will remain a physical unit or will they be replaced by software applications, which are integrated into smartphones, tablets, etc.?

Mateen: It depends on the environment. For example, a small setup could do with software application, but a larger broadcaster generally requires good hardware if they could afford to invest in it.
des Roseaux: In my opinion, codecs need to be a physical unit for two reasons: Firmware stability and good audio circuit interface. A software codec needs to be installed on a desktop and operating systems are never stable enough.
Verhoeven: I think eventually it’s inevitable. We are not far away from a complete streaming radio studio inside your phone. It may be already possible today. Next thing you know you’ll be making a complete show from your smartphone while sitting on a bus with an elderly lady with groceries next to you.
du Toit: I think there will always be room for both, but the technology is already being integrated into smartphone, tablets etc.
Kline: Physical units and software applications have coexisted for many years. You can choose either and even cross-connect them (smartphone to physical unit). This is standard practice. Do I think one will ever replace the other completely? No.
Amery: Using software codecs on smartphones and tablets certainly simplifies the task and eliminates the need for additional devices when managing remotes. But for us that is still costly. So hopefully in the future, prices will decrease.

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