Study Shows ‘Robust’ Coverage for Digital-Only AM

Frank Saxe, Paul Heine, Inside Radio | April 7, 2014

A second round of field testing by NAB Labs and an array of industry players — including station owners, equipment makers and digital radio developer iBiquity — has brought promising results for the prospects of digital-only AM. “What we see with all digital tests is the signal is rock solid,” NAB senior director of advanced engineering David Layer told the NAB Show yesterday in Las Vegas. The latest tests were done using four stations, including Greater Media’s “News Talk 1110” WBT, Charlotte; Cumulus Media’s adult standards KTUC, Tucson (1400); and Beasley’s WNCT, Greenville-New Bern-Jacksonville, NC (1070); as well as iBiquity’s experimental station in Frederick, MD. The stations shut off their analog stations and broadcast only in digital. Engineers driving around the markets then used standard issue digital car radios to analyze how the signals performed. The daytime coverage worked well, and even the more troublesome nighttime coverage was rated as “fabulous” by Layer. “I went into it pretty skeptical,” Cumulus Media SVP/corporate director of engineering Gary Kline concedes. Now his tune has changed, saying the audio quality was “very good” and was easily on par with FM. “It was far better than I had imagined and I walked away from the test feeling pretty good about running HD only mode on AM,” Kline said. Engineers say hybrid mode — broadcasting in both analog and digital — tends to suffer from signal dropout from things like bridges and power lines. “In the all-digital mode there was virtually none of that,” Greater Media VP of engineering Milford Smith said. It was the second round of testing to involve WBT and Smith now believes signal interference is far more critical. Kline said signal drop-off also remains a concern. Layer said NAB Labs plans to do a third round of testing on four additional stations by year’s end to explore more of the engineering what-ifs that AMs face. “We are also developing a test facility to do the kinds of laboratory-based interference tests that need to be done to understand what we’ve seen in the field,” he said. The science is laying the groundwork for a policy decision in Washington. “We want to go to the FCC at some point for authorization of an all-digital service,” Layer said.

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Cumulus Propels Sports Radio Into 5.1 Era

During the 2011 MLB season, Cumulus’s WNNX-FM Atlanta broadcast Braves games, the first ever in surround. More recently, the company’s Kansas City broadcast outlets were able to translate that experience to several NFL Chiefs games on radio. There are plans to do the Braves’ 2012 season in surround, and station technical execs are considering migrating the idea to the NBA, possibly before the end of this season.

Calling it “the standard for the next-generation radio-broadcasting enterprise,” Cumulus SVP of Engineering Gary Kline says surround on the radio brings another dimension to the fan experience: “You hear it differently in surround. It’s a bigger sound picture on radio. The reaction we’ve gotten has been great.”

The Braves games in surround followed a rebuild of the broadcast facilities at Turner Field shortly after Cumulus and Dickey Broadcasting’s 680 the Fan (WCNN) AM station acquired rights to the games in 2009, which took them to stereo, says Kline, who has been broadcasting sports on radio for 20 years. From there, it was a short leap to surround, using DTS Neural Surround gear built by DTS licensee DaySequerra.

According to Marc Lehmuth, manager of engineering for Cumulus, the surround field is configured using the stereo-effects mix from the remote trucks at Turner Field as the front left-right sources. A pair of Sennheiser ME 66 shotgun microphones located on either side of the broadcast box and aimed downward in a near-coincident pair for crowd and bat sounds creates the rear left and right channels. All announce and other mono sources are automatically routed down the center channel, and the DTS system also creates an LF channel for the .1. The entire array is then routed via T1 line to the main broadcast center at Turner Sports for downmixing.

Kline says that this configuration translated well to football for the Chiefs games, with some adjustments for field dimensions and microphone placement. In Kansas City, the DTS Neural Surround gear is integrated both on-site at Arrowhead Stadium and with the Chiefs Radio Network mobile package. The DTS-based setup allows the audio team to broadcast 5.1 surround sound over a stereo transmission path, using the stereo format at the highest resolution possible. The broadcast audio is watermarked, allowing DTS-enabled receivers to decode it into surround but preserving the discrete left-right signal for FM stereo receivers, which also preserves mono reproduction.

Initial testing for this new frontier of sports radio was an interesting proposition. Kline and Lehmuth drove around Melbourne, FL, last March, listening to the Braves’ spring-training games through a DTS-enabled car radio. Kline says the potential problems that they had anticipated as collateral to the move to 5.1 — phase concerns between channels, mono-compatibility issues, artifacts in the MLB streaming versions of the games — never materialized.

“A big concern was frequency problems that might have interfered with the sound effects, like the crack of the bat,” says Kline. “But those didn’t happen. We just had to make a few adjustments to get the balance between the crowd, effects levels, and announcers just right, and that was it.”

What also excites him is the fact that radio has so many outlets for each team, which creates a kind of instant de facto network that can promulgate the idea of 5.1-surround sports radio, especially as DTS continues to add consumer capabilities. For instance, the Chiefs Radio Network comprises more than 50 stations, and more than 1,000 radio stations in the U.S. are now broadcasting in DTS Neural Surround.

The surround broadcasts of the Braves and Chiefs games, and discussions about a possible NBA team, are as far as the project has gone so far. Kline says it’s still in the proof-of-concept stage but adds that the reaction so far has been very positive. It’s just what radio needed: another dimension.

Original Article: http://www.sportsvideo.org/2012/01/26/cumulus-propels-sports-radio-into-5-1-era/


FM SSBSC Faces Questions

Critics call early testing anecdotal, say more rigorous testing is needed

Thomas R. McGinley | July 2, 2012

Does FM single-sideband suppressed-carrier modulation outperform conventional double-sideband suppressed-carrier modulation?

Many observers say the evidence in favor of FM SSBSC is anecdotal and that more rigorous testing is needed. Now the debate has taken the next step, with more testing to be conducted.

Frank Foti, president of Omnia Audio, has always liked to give impressive comparison demonstrations at his NAB Show presentations over the years. An audio clip of Greater Media’s WMJX(FM) in Boston — played at this year’s convention, showing dramatic FM reception improvement with SSBSC — did not disappoint. Find a link to the video at radioworld.com/July-04-2012.

That clip was one of a number of road test comparison recordings conducted by WMJX engineers in difficult multipath areas of suburban Boston.

Greater Media Vice President of Engineering Milford Smith told RW, “The single drive test … was never intended to be the poster child for SSBSC. Its primary purpose was to provide an exhibit accompanying a report to the FCC for the experimental authorization issued to us by the commission.”

Besides the Greater Media tests, a number of significant stations and experienced engineers have tested SSBSC. Most whom we contacted said SSB does generally perform better. These include Mike Oberg of Zoe Communications, Brian Kerkan of the Cayuga Broadcast Group and Gary Kline of Cumulus Media, which is using SSB at several stations.

Dave Whitehead at KBHH(FM), in Fresno, Calif. says that without SSB, he can’t even properly reach part of his service market area with a listenable signal.

BENEFITS
SSBSC is a different way of adding stereo to FM broadcast transmissions. The conventional DSBSC method modulates the 38 kHz stereo subcarrier with both a lower sideband (23 to 38 kHz) and an upper sideband (38 to 53 kHz); SSBSC does not generate the upper sideband.

In 1987, Bob Tarsio, a longtime New York City broadcast engineer and president of Broadcast Devices, studied and wrote about SSBSC as an alternate method of generating FM stereo, one that potentially can achieve reduced noise and multipath. Other engineers — including Bill Gillman, chief engineer with Gentner Electronics in 1997, and more recently Brian Beezley, a retired design engineer, along with Foti and Bob Orban — have evaluated the technology in detail, as RW reported in our March 28 issue.

The underlying theory of why SSB appears to perform better is based on the realization of less bandwidth of the RF carrier, thanks to a reduction in sideband pairs within the FM channel. Sideband pairs are generated based upon the highest frequency transmitted. DSB will generate a spectrum of up to 53 kHz, whereas SSB only requires 38 kHz; this is where the reduction in sideband pairs occurs.

Less RF bandwidth equates to fewer signals becoming annoyed during instances of multipath.

Foti states, “Under program modulation and because of the triangular 6 dB/octave rising noise characteristic of the FM stereo sub-channel, the perceived SNR improvement is closer to 10 dB.” Further, he says, “There is a significant reduction in multipath artifacts and reduced interference to SCA and RDS reception.”

Omnia said station personnel in a dozen or so markets have conducted field tests using Omnia.11 or Omnia.9 processors and reported the results. These boxes have a firmware upgrade that enables SSB.

Foti said the results largely confirmed that SSB in its modern implementation appears to perform better than DSB and is compatible with proper stereo decoding on most receivers being used by consumers. Only a few models have been identified as possibly blending to mono more quickly with SSB.

NYC FIELD TESTS
However the idea has critics. They include Tarsio and Beezley. Since Foti’s 2010 paper and user field testing, those two engineers, working independently of one another, have examined SSB vs. DSB performance using mathematical analysis and multipath generation modeling. They have emerged as perhaps the most notable and outspoken naysayers in the debate.

After modeling SSB and presenting the findings in his 1987 NAB paper, Tarsio spent considerable effort testing SSBSC in the field on three New York City FM stations. His methodology included the use of a modified Optimod 8100 using normal programming received on several stock models of car radios.

“My own anecdotal testing, which went on for a period of six years, did not yield dramatic improved results with SSB,” Tarsio said. “Quite to the contrary, what we encountered was an increase in noise ‘in close’ to the transmitter site, within five miles. My mathematical treatment ... indicates that this should have been the expected result.”

Tarsio has written a paper that clarifies his original analysis; it includes multipath simulation using discrete tone modulation. A link is posted at radioworld.com/July-04-2012.

“It is my conclusion that the proposed SSB stereo system seems to indicate that there is not a significant benefit to reception. In fact in some cases it may actually provide worse reception characteristics due to dynamic modulation conditions.”

Beezley is a software/hardware design engineer who has worked in the past as a consultant to DaySequerra. Recently he applied analysis and modeling skills developed writing simulation software and designing real-time DSP systems to improve the performance of FM receiving systems. His writings on SSB and other topics are available at ham-radio.com/k6sti/index.html.

Beezley has criticized Foti’s claims about SSBSC, saying they are not mathematically provable. “I read Foti’s article in RW in the fall of 2010 and immediately realized that his assertion that there was no stereo separation penalty for SSB was false,” he said. “I was so appalled at the unscientific nature of the SSB YouTube video, the absence of quantitative experimental results and at the hand-waving offered as theoretical justification for an SSB multipath advantage that I decided to write the simulation to see what I could determine for myself.”

Beezley offered a critique of the WMJX video clip: “The tests were made on different days. VHF propagation sometimes changes in minutes, and can easily change in an hour. This factor alone is enough to invalidate the tests. I have conducted many tests of multipath propagation. Its most general properties are its variability and instability. These must be taken into account in any real-world test by verifying that propagation has not changed during the test period. Otherwise the results are worthless.”

Responding, Foti said: “We ran in-field tests, independent of the WMJX tests, using a plotted route, and constant speed, where known multipath existed. Then we did an immediate A/B switch between DSB and SSB along the route, and captured the results. One of those examples was demonstrated during the NAB presentation. In all cases the SSB signal contained noticeably less multipath. This example eliminated any quandary about achieving different results on a different day, atmospheric conditions or propagation effects.”

Milford Smith says the WMJX SSB field tests were controlled and repeatable and defends their methodology.

“We do have other examples and intend to collect additional samples. All of these are collected in the same manner. Generally we select a route over which multipath is known to be present. The route is driven twice in the same direction, at the same speed — with and without SSBSC — and the audio and video from both runs is recorded. A conventional HD receiver and a likewise typical factory installed antenna are used for the tests.”

Smith also is unequivocal about SSB’s advantage over DSB in most of their tests: “We did not encounter any areas to date where DSB was judged to be superior to SSB. There were many areas where the performance of both was roughly equivalent. The example being circulated probably exhibited the most improvement noted in our limited testing.”

Like Tarsio’s mathematical analysis, Beezley’s modeling suggests that SSB offers no consistent advantage over DSB.“They indicate that the system that best suppresses multipath distortion depends on the delay and amplitude of the multipath replica,” Beezley stated. “Sometimes DSB is better, sometimes SSB. Averaged over a wide range of delays and amplitudes, the simulation shows no significant advantage for one system or the other. But for a particular propagation situation, one may work better.”

Foti believes Tarsio’s early over-the-air tests in New York were not capable of demonstrating SSB’s advantages fully because Tarsio used legacy analog SSB generation and processing equipment.

“Our digital implementation does not suffer from any lost modulation, due to overshoots, whereas the Tarsio method required a reduction of overall modulation — due to overshoots that were hard to manage in an analog implementation — and it’s quite possible the reduced modulation level … may have brought on other reception issues that gave the impression of exaggerated multipath,” Foti said.

“Recall, Bob Tarsio’s tests were done 25 years ago, and I believe much of those results do not hold up in today’s environment. We can accomplish so much more doing this in the digital domain with DSP, as compared to the analog implementation Bob did back in the 1980s.”

MODELING VS. FIELD TESTS
Bob Orban appears to agree with that assessment.

“Because Tarsio’s SSB generator of necessity used an analog 90-degree phase difference network with non-linear group delay, there may have been additional modulation overshoot artifacts.”

Orban offered the following observations regarding Beezley’s SSB vs. DSB mathematical analysis:

“Beezley’s model is accurate for the transmitter side. He did not simulate a radio that uses one of the many multipath mitigating algorithms used by real-world radios, although he did model a real IF. His multipath simulation was not necessarily as complex as a real-world scenario. … He discovered multipath scenarios where SSB was better and also scenarios where it was worse, assuming a relatively simple receiver with a real-world IF but no signal-dependent blend or other multipath mitigating algorithms. Because multipath creates nonlinear distortion in the FM detector, superposition does not hold and use of multiple tones will not necessarily predict what a radio would sound like with real program material.”

Foti sought to counter Beezley’s simulations by running real-world stereo separation tests with the same equipment Beezley cited. He found a “huge” disparity between the Beezley simulations and the actual system tests. His NAB presentation offered a few examples of these differences. Foti contends Beezley has not validated his methodology by comparing it to a known end-to-end actual system.

Radio World asked all of the engineers involved in the debate what they thought might be the basis for the disparity between the math modeling and the real-world field tests that have demonstrated SSB’s apparent advantage.

Both Tarsio and Beezley state there should not be a disparity or any such advantage for SSB. Orban suggests, “It is possible that the problematic areas in the Foti/Greater Media tests were those where the details of the multipath (delay time and magnitude of the reflected wave) happened to make the situation better.”

Other factors may be involved. The Tarsio and Beezley models and the early Tarsio field tests included only pure SSB transmission. The current Omnia.9 and .11, and the Orban 8600 processors, employ a vestigial sideband approach, in which the first 150 Hz to 200 Hz of audio spectrum modulates the 38 kHz stereo subcarrier with DSB. According to Foti and Bill Gillman, this technique helps to preserve stereo separation depth, mitigates early blend-to-mono and should reduce multipath distortion in receivers.

Foti asserts, “There’s a huge difference between simulations using steady state tones, and on-air tests with dynamic program material. Multipath behaves extremely differently between the two. Remember, multipath generally occurs on a short-term momentary basis, and dynamic program audio exists in a random manner too. Making a correlation about multipath using tones as compared to program material is a bit ponderous.

“There might be some merit to the simulated results — if an all-tone broadcast format were to exist.”

Another consideration is the effect of psychoacoustic noise masking under heavy modulation. Listeners do not hear noise and multipath artifacts as easily on a densely modulated and peak-limited transmission as they would on a less processed signal.

NRSC ACTION
But people with an interest and stake in SSBSC seem to agree on one thing: More theoretical and field testing is needed to better understand what is really going on.

At the NAB Show, the National Radio Systems Committee established a task group of the AM and FM Analog Broadcasting Subcommittee to tackle this assignment. Bert Goldman, a former broadcast director of engineering and now vice president of engineering consultancy Independence Broadcast Services, chairs the task group.

Orban offered ideas regarding how testing should proceed:

“I believe that NPR Labs has the best available equipment to do the tests, as they have a full-bore multipath simulator that can include Rayleigh fading. Doing the tests properly requires total repeatability between the SSB and DSB transmissions, so exactly the same RF path degradations occur at exactly the same time in the audio program material used for testing.”

Foti said Omnia engaged the services of NPR Labs and specifically its senior technologist John Kean, who determined that SSBSC does not cause any increased co-channel interference. That was the most important hurdle to be cleared so the FCC would grant experimental STAs to stations that want to test SSBSC over the air, according to proponents.

Regarding further testing, Orban said, “Getting valid results absolutely requires double-blind testing of the multipath-induced audio quality degradation at the output of the receiver.” Orban plans to join the NRSC AM and FM Analog Broadcasting Subcommittee and said, “I am keeping an open mind about this, but I am unwilling to be convinced without rigorous testing. Anecdotal evidence is interesting but insufficient.”

Foti says he’s in full agreement. “I’ve made requests to the NRSC about how to go about testing this. They listened, and now we’re about to embark on what testing is needed. In the meantime, it was also suggested by NRSC to go out and see if the concept has merit. We’ve done that, and based on comments from broadcasters, it does.”

Original Article: https://www.radioworld.com/news-and-business/fm-ssbsc-faces-questions


September 2011 NAB Radio Show Bio

NAB Radio Show | Sept 14-16, 2011 | Chicago, Illinois

Gary Kline has been actively involved with radio broadcasting for the past 30 years, with an additional five years dating back to his first HAM license. After graduating from Purdue University with a business degree, he still continued to act as the broadcast engineer for both the home and away football games on the radio for thirteen years.

Kline has held positions with several radio broadcast companies over his career, including both NBC and ABC radio in New York. He has been with Cumulus Media for thirteen years, with his current role as Senior Vice President of Engineering keeping him busy with approximately 525 radio stations in 110 U.S. markets as well as a fully distributed network that serves over 4,500 affiliates nationwide. In addition, Gary has provided engineering support, services, and consulting in other places around the globe like China, Canada, and various countries in South America.

Committees and education also play a role in Gary Kline’s career. He has been a member of the SBE for nearly 13 years and was one of the first people to take the CBNT exam. Kline sits on the SBE National Board of Directors and is Chair of the SBE Education Committee. In addition to his SBE involvement, he has also served or currently serves on several national level committees including the Media Security Reliability Council (MSRC) – Communications Infrastructure Working Group, NAB Digital Radio Committee, NAB Broadcast Engineering Conference (BEC) Committee, NRSC, NAB TAP Radio Discovery Group, IPAWS Practitioners Working Group, and was a member of the Peer Review Group of the Advances IBOC Coverage and Compatibility Study. He is also a member of the AES and AFCCE.

Gary Kline’s continued efforts to keep engineers educated, efficient, relevant, and respected in their field certainly does not go unnoticed. This dedication to radio engineering in the industry earned him Radio World’s Excellence in Engineering award at the NAB Radio show in Philadelphia in September of 2009.

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Cumulus, Gap Share Engineers

Rather than outsource, they experiment with combining tech resources

LESLIE STIMSON | Radio World | Oct 14, 2009

Seeing a way to strengthen engineering resources while keeping costs down, Cumulus Media and Gap Broadcasting have begun sharing engineers in four markets. If the arrangement works, they may extend it beyond those areas, according to executives at the radio groups.

Cumulus Vice President of Engineering & IT Gary Kline and Gap Broadcasting Vice President of Engineering Norm Philips — as well as their bosses — had been discussing such an arrangement. The companies finalized the deal in June for the Texas markets of Amarillo, Midland-Odessa and Abilene, as well as Shreveport, La.

Four engineers, two from each company, are part of the agreement so far.

Several weeks of discussions went into the deal, which is working out well to date, according to Kline and Philips. “Typically we hear about the complaints when something isn’t working,” said Kline, but there have been none from the engineering, programming or sales staffs of the affected stations.

Jasen Bragg, DOE and IT director for Cumulus Media of Shreveport, works on a switch at a Gap facility. “Norm and I agreed when the deal was done, if something needed to be adjusted, we could change it. We’re going to make this work.”

Gap Broadcasting and its sister division Gap West are subsidiaries of Gap Holdings, which is controlled by funds managed by private investment firm Oaktree Capital Management. Gap Broadcasting owns 60 radio stations in 12 markets; Gap West has 56 stations in a dozen markets. In June, the company formed another division, GAP East, to focus on acquiring and managing radio properties in markets east of the Mississippi River.

Cumulus Media is a publicly traded company based in Atlanta. It controls approximately 350 radio stations in 68 markets.

The arrangement essentially takes work that had been done by one or more contract engineers in each of the four markets and moves it to a full-time employee of the respective partner company. Two Cumulus contract engineers were replaced by full-time Gap engineers. Gap and Cumulus share their time.

One Gap engineer in one market was let go; Philips said the company is looking to hire a couple of engineers in other markets. Kline added: “It is our goal to do our best to keep our competent and trustworthy engineers’ employed within the company. It is entirely possible that an engineer from outside the company could be hired as part of the sharing program.”

The companies said that before the deal was reached, they studied whether they could accomplish the sharing, retain engineers and not burn them out. Aspects such as compensation and station proximity were discussed.

They looked for markets within a two- or three-hour drive of other Gap or Cumulus clusters, so an affected engineer could count on engineering help if needed.

“Say a transmitter goes off the air and this guy is the only engineer for both clusters,” said Kline. Under the plan, theoretically that engineer can bring in engineers from more markets than he would have been able to otherwise.

Compensation for extra work

“Once we found a way to make it happen without many additional hours on the engineers, we worked out the plan. There is cost savings for both companies without losing services,” said Philips, who says the affected Gap engineers are getting a bonus for the work. They’re not being asked to work more hours, though that may happen from time to time, he notes.

Kline says the arrangement helps him attract good engineers because Cumulus is sharing the cost with another company. Cumulus has to pay Gap for its engineers and vice versa to account for the different compensation systems within each company and different number of studios in each market. The agreement also covers compensation if one company has older equipment than another in a market, which may necessitate more time for upkeep.

Cumulus engineers who work for Gap received a package modification, according to Kline, in the form of a bonus or commission.

Neither Kline nor Philips would provide financial specifics about the agreement such as the cost-savings for each company or how much the affected engineers would earn.

There are set days that the engineers are scheduled to work for each company, but that is flexible depending on need. The week Philips spoke to Radio World, he said the Cumulus engineer in Shreveport was having a transmitter issue. It was a “Gap day” but the engineer worked on the Cumulus transmitter.

“I talked him through a couple things to look at and offered to meet him at the site later if needed, since I [was] driving to Shreveport anyway,” said Philips. “We had a similar off-air issue the first week of the agreement in Abilene and the Cumulus engineer was working on a Gap transmitter on a Cumulus day.”

The four engineers involved retain their seniority and benefits with their respective employers. Each reports to his or her market manager, who is the point of contact with the other company.

Program may expand

The companies have discussed expanding the agreement and are open to it if it makes sense, according to Kline and Philips. How many stations in a market an engineer would need to cover is key, as is proximity to other Cumulus or Gap markets, they said.

The numbers worked out, for example, in Shreveport, where Gap has six stations, four FMs and two AMs. Cumulus has five total stations in the market, four FMs and one AM.

In Texas, Midland-Odessa engineer Rodney Norris of Gap is shown at the transmitter facility of Cumulus-owned KBAT(FM). Asked whether the arrangement is a way for both companies to do more work with fewer engineers, Kline said, “I can understand why someone would think that, but that’s not what this is about. It’s about retaining engineers with decent compensation plans and good tools for the job.

“You might think [a situation with] an engineer who had five stations, and now has 11, is horrifying. It’s not,” Kline explained, because engineers now can draw from two companies instead of one in times of need, for instance, and will have more test equipment to share.

“You’re alone day to day, typically, but if something goes wrong, you’ve got people who can help,” said Kline.

Cumulus does some sharing internally now, he said. For example, the chief engineer in Cedar Rapids, Iowa is also the CE in Waterloo. The company has the same CE covering stations in Green Bay and Appleton, Wis. and one CE covering all the stations in Oxnard and nearby Santa Barbara, Calif.

The program also is a way for participating engineers to gain more responsibility and management experience, in addition to gaining more experience with consoles, wiring systems and other equipment — keys to becoming a regional engineering manager at Cumulus, according to Kline.

“In each market, you want to consider who has the broadest experience and the right maturity level,” said Kline. “Who is the best candidate for this job? Is this person responsible? You want the other station to say: ‘I’m glad this person is doing this job.’”

They say their companies keep the lines of communication open.

“In all the markets I am familiar with the engineers have worked behind the scenes to help out engineers [from other companies] in times of off-air situations, said Philips. “This is an extension of that concept on a daily basis.”

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Cumulus Cincinnati reinvents by rebuilding and reusing

Radio Station 2.0
In a down economy, stations must be resourceful to reduce, reuse and recycle, even when building new facilities.

In the summer of 2008 I was asked by Cumulus Media Cincinnati, which owns and operates WRRM (Warm 98), WGRR (Cincinnati’s Greatest Hits), WFTK (96 Rock), WNNF (Frequency 94.1) and WOFX (92.5 the Fox) to help plan, design and manage a complete studio and office facility move. With the purchase of WNNF and WOFX, the cluster had outgrown its downtown facilities and expanding in the existing building was not an option. The area had also been on a steady decline: It was time to make a move.

Karrie Sudbrack, local market manager, Gary Kline, Cumulus V.P. of engineering and IT, and I visited numerous buildings and locations. Would the building be easily accessed from all locations in the city? Would there be adequate parking? Did the facility have the proper security and safety for the employees? Were there clear STL paths to all the transmitter sites from the rooftop or could a small tower be erected on the premises that would accommodate these needs? Would there be enough space to expand or add studios in the future? Within a few short months and after many discussions, a perfect location was chosen.

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Open Mic: Gary Kline

RadioMag | May 1, 2006

At the end of January, the HD Digital Radio Alliance formed the Engineering Cooperative to assist the engineering community within the group's partners to share technical information and provide guidance on technical issues. Gary Kline, corporate director of engineering for Cumulus, leads this group.

Now that a few months have passed, we asked Kline to provide an update on the activities of the Engineering Cooperative.

Radio: The Engineering Cooperative of the HD Digital Radio Alliance recently provided input that modified the original station roll-out schedule. What factors were considered in making the recommended changes?

GK: We were asked to examine all HD Radio conversions scheduled for future dates in each of our respective companies. The goal was to decide if any dates could be moved to an earlier position in the schedule. For example, if a certain market was scheduled for October 2006, we were asked if it could be moved to perhaps June 2006. The idea was to help the alliance realign its roll-out schedule to coincide with market size so that larger markets could be launched sooner.

The main factors considered were technical obstacles and budgets. Specifically, we considered several questions: Was equipment already on order? Could equipment be swapped with another market? Were there any issues with leases, power, HVAC? Was sufficient labor in place to handle the work? Could any of these concerns be handled sooner rather than later? Was budget allocated for the market?

As a result of this effort, several markets were moved to earlier positions on the schedule. In some cases, no changes were made.

Radio: How was the information gathered and shared among the group?

GK: The directors of engineering of each alliance company participated via conference call and then e-mail to provide data on which stations in a market could move up in the schedule. All of this data was aggregated by the alliance management team and then a list was issued with adjusted roll-out dates. The entire process worked well from start to finish, and the Engineering Cooperative proved to be a great resource in researching the needed information efficiently.

Radio: What is the primary activity of the cooperative right now?

GK: Currently, the cooperative is in an information-sharing mode. We continue to share documents and notes about installations, equipment and ongoing research.

 

Original Article: https://www.radiomagonline.com/misc/open-mic-gary-kline


Dielectric Provides Turnkey System For 100,000 KW Houston FM Station

Constructing a 100,000-watt FM radio station isn't easy. When the construction involves building a 2,000-foot tower, it is probably a good idea to bring in outside help. Cumulus Media chose Dielectric to handle turnkey design and construction of its new 2000-foot tower and associated transmission facility serving the H

TVTechnology | Oct 11, 2004

Constructing a 100,000-watt FM radio station isn't easy. When the construction involves building a 2,000-foot tower, it is probably a good idea to bring in outside help. Cumulus Media chose Dielectric to handle turnkey design and construction of its new 2000-foot tower and associated transmission facility serving the Houston, Texas market.

The facility has two sets of transmission equipment and main and auxiliary antennas, providing a fully redundant system. The RF system includes Dielectric motorized coax switches and two 4-1/16-inch transmission lines. Dielectric is also supplying the dehydrator system for the lines, Flash Technologies brand high-intensity strobe lighting, and a monitoring system. Dielectric's Alarm Response Center will provide 24-hour a day monitoring services to Cumulus Media.

John Capasso, president of Dielectric Communications, commented, "We are proud to have been chosen by Cumulus Media for this landmark project. This will serve as yet another demonstration of our ability to offer our customers complete engineered and project managed systems safely, cost-effectively, and efficiently. Houston is the fourth-largest city in the United States, and this 100-kW broadcast system will enable Cumulus to expand its market reach dramatically, provide uninterrupted broadcasting services for both listeners and advertisers, and build a firm foundation for future implementation of digital radio broadcasting."

Gary Kline, Cumulus Media's Director of Engineering, said, "We have a long relationship with Dielectric, we know all of the company's key people, and we have confidence in their ability to design and build our new tower. Because Dielectric provides a broad team including design specialists, structural engineers, and tower experts, we're able to go to just one source to get the entire project completed efficiently and cost-effectively."

Original Article: https://www.tvtechnology.com/news/dielectric-provides-turnkey-system-for-100000-kw-houston-fm-station
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Bridging the digital divide

Bridging the digital divide

When Cumulus Broadcasting purchased the Harrisburg, PA, cluster of radio stations in late 2000, the four stations were operating from two facilities. The stations — WTPA, WNCE (now WWKL), WNNK and WTCY-AM — had been under common ownership since 1999, but the planned consolidation of the facilities never took place due to the AMFM-Clear Channel merger, and nearly two years of uncertain status that ranged from being on a divestiture list to being operated by a trust.

Prior to the purchase of WTPA and WWKL, the WNNK/WTCY Harrisburg location was crowded. With 45 full-time employees in a 4,500 square foot building, there was not a lot of room to move. To the amusement of visitors, the continuity director worked out of a converted bathroom, with his filing cabinet in a shower stall. The situation became even more difficult when management decided to move the sales and administrative staff from the WTPA building in Mechanicsburg, at which time we lost our conference room to sales cubicles and began having our meetings in vacant office buildings nearby. We also had aging equipment at both facilities. While we had no reliability issues, the numerous ownership changes had limited our ability to replace much of the equipment that was near the end of its expected life.

The light ahead

By 2002, the pieces were finally in place to start the integration process. We had identified a new location with sufficient room to house all stations and provide some room to grow, and our new owners, Cumulus Broadcasting, were committed to building a showcase facility. There were several meetings with our director of engineering, Gary Kline, to discuss each of our visions for new the facility. We agreed that we wanted digital technology where possible, simplicity of design and maximum flexibility. We also wanted to avoid any single point of failure items that could potentially take the entire cluster off the air.

I became the integrator, calling on contractors and other Cumulus engineers as needed to complete the build. The new consoles were furnished by Wheatstone. We purchased one D-5000 console for WNNK and four D-4000 consoles for WTPA, WWKL and two production rooms. We recycled several analog consoles and a refurbished A-500. The old WNNK console was installed in the WTCY-AM studio. WTCY programs an urban A/C satellite format so the primary use of the studio is WTCY production. We also had two Audioarts R-60 consoles that were in nearly new condition that we installed in our two newsrooms.

The audio system

In our production rooms, we replaced our aging Roland DM80 and DM800 editors with Cool Edit Pro using Lynx2-LS-AES cards.

As former Capstar/AMFM stations, the stations were equipped with Prophet CFS16 systems, which had performed reliably, and in the case of WTPA the hardware was only three years old. Rather than replace these systems with an entirely new automation, we chose to purchase a new server capable of handling all four stations and several additional audio cards to complete the system. All inputs and outputs from the Prophet system are running AES Digital in both production studios and on our three FM stations. I discovered that only a few stations had attempted to run digital in and out of the Antex cards in the CFS system. Part of the difficulty originated from the DIN connector on the Antex cards. To correct this problem, we used an adapter cable that takes the four DIN connections and provides a single DB15 connector, wired like the Audio Science card used in the newer systems. This allows me to mix-and-match newer cards as needed.

We maintain the digital path as far as possible on our FM stations, converting to analog just prior to the preprocessors, which are analog-only. For the D/A converter, Kline specified a high quality unit, the Benchmark DAC 104. It handles two streams per card, so we are able to handle the three stations with two D/A converters. Each of the AES streams is fed from a single RAM 6×4 switcher, which allows fast switching of any digital studio into any of the on-air stations processing. This offers a patch-panel-free way of bypassing a failed console, or vacating a control room for maintenance. Two of the three FMs are then processed and sent to the transmitter via composite analog.

In the case of WNNK, we returned to digital for the STL using a Moseley SL9003. The uncompressed AES audio enters an automatic switcher made by Titus Industries at the transmitter site, and then into the main processor. In the event of STL failure, the Titus will sense the loss of AES and automatically switch to a backup STL, a Moseley 6000 series with 6000 DSP.

We did not install a facility-wide central router. Instead, we installed a smaller system to handle only satellite, RPU and other remote feeds, as well as air monitor routing. These sources are analog, so the SAS 16000 with expansion chassis worked well. The ability to route air monitoring is useful when the air talent is handling production at the same time. Dual remote units for this router were installed in each on-air studio. Production rooms access the router through PC controls.

Full integration

The programming department demands high quality telephone calls. All three of the FMs rely heavily on callers, so we incorporated the Telos 2×12 ISDN dual hybrid into each of our studios. These, like most of the other equipment that does not need to be accessed regularly, resides in the central rack room, offering convenient access for maintenance and troubleshooting. As anyone who has dealt with the local telephone company can understand, it is much faster troubleshooting a suspect ISDN line when you have more than one unit available at a single location.

We did not begin the integration process until September 2002. I was able to take advantage of the delays by planning virtually every aspect of how the facility was to be wired and plan the station moves down to the last detail.

The first station, WTCY-AM moved on Nov. 15. WNNK followed several days later. The last station to arrive was WTPA, which moved in on Feb. 14, two days before a big blizzard hit the northeast.

During the project we relied on many time-saving devices, such as the Broadcast Tools COP and COA devices for wiring satellite receivers. We also used Wheatstone Phase 2 prewire, with the in-studio equipment prewired and preconnectorized to the harness, resulting in savings of many days of time.


Supplee is regional engineering coordinator of Cumulus Media, Harrisburg, PA.

Equipment List

360 Systems Shortcut
360 Systems Instant Replay
Ariane audio processing
Omnia audio processing
ATI Dual 1×6 digital DA
ATI Dual 1×6 digital DA
Audioarts R-60 audio console
Audiometrics CD10 CD players
Belden 8451 audio cable
Belden 89758 18-pair digital audio plenum cable
Benchmark DA104 D/A converter with mainframe
Betabrite messaging signs
Broadcast Tools 1×2 Switcher
Broadcast Tools Connect-o-adapter
Broadcast Tools Connect-o-pad
Broadcast Tools Silence Sense
Comscope 5624 24-pair CAT5 plenum cable
Cumulus Custom Furniture
Cybex KVM extenders
Dell Optiplex PCs
Denon C630 CD players
Denon C680 CD player
EV RE-20 microphones
Event 20/20 BAS powered monitors
Gepco 552624GFC 24 pair digital audio trunk cables
Gepco 5596 EZ digital cable
Gepco D5526 dual digital audio cable
Gepco D61801 dual analog digital cable
Harris monitor mounts
Henry Engineering Super Relay
HHB 800 CD recorder
HHB CDR-850 CD recorder
JBL studio monitors
Krone termination blocks
Liebert 1500kVA UPS
Lynx One and Two sound cards
Mackie HR824 powered monitors
Marantz PMD520 cassette recorder
Middle Atlanic racks
Moseley 6010 and 606 composite STL
Moseley SL9003 uncompressed digital STL
NEC LCD 1550 V 15" LCD monitors
O.C. White microphone arms
Presonus VXP mic processors
Prophet Systems Audio Wizard CFS 16 automation system
Radio Systems 4×4 analog DA
RAM SR64 6×4 switcher
Rolls headphone amplifier
Sage EAS
Samson S-Phone headphone amplifier
SAS 16000 32×32 Stereo Analog Router
SAS dual router controller
Shure KSM-44 microphones
Sine Sytems MBC-1 Message Board Controller
Sony MDS E12 MD recorder
Sony PCM R500 DAT recorder
Starguide II and III satellite receivers
Symetrix mic processors
Tannoy Reveal powered monitors
Tascam 112 cassette recorder
Telos 2×12 ISDN studio telephone system
Telos Xtream
Telos Zephyr
Wheatstone A-500 console
Wheatstone D-4000 digital console
Wheatstone D-5000 digital console

Active Participants

The facility integration was handled by Dave Supplee, with the help of Gary Zocolo, Cumulus - Youngstown who handled much of the detail wiring in the studios. Lightner Electronics of Claysburg, PA, punched down the studio trunk cables and provided several harnesses for the recycled consoles. Alf Long and Mike Mackenzie of Cumulus - Harrisburg assisted in the construction and the move of the stations. IT wiring and satellite work was done by Skyline Communications, Indianapolis, IN. Photos by Scott Giambalvo, HarrisburgPA.com.

Original Article: http://www.radiomagonline.com/automation/0071/bridging-the-digital-divide/25590
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Building a National Radio Network

An Examination of Cumulus Media Strategic Planning

Gary Eskow | TECHNOLOGY AT WORK FOR YOU, Radio | February 2003

Expanding market share in the highly competitive radio market requires a carefully considered formula and the flexibility to alter this recipe on a case-by-case basis. Cumulus Broadcasting, a division of Cumulus Media, owns FM and AM radio stations that serve mid-sized markets throughout the United States and the Caribbean. Cumulus is currently in the midst of an expansion. What factors go into the blueprint it brings to each new market it seeks to penetrate, and what are the nuances that allow each geographical area to establish its own identity?

For starters, when Cumulus enters an area it looks to acquire a diverse group of stations that cater to a cross section of the advertising market. Establishing high quality programming is paramount, but how is this goal achieved? Strategically choosing those areas that are most likely to reap the benefits of capital investment, the Cumulus business plan calls for an aggressive improvement in signal quality and plant equipment.

Now more than ever, radio stations need to realize that the bar has been set high with regard to audio quality. CDs and greatly improved home-theater systems have made the average listener accustom to a digital sound quality that is far superior to the product delivered less than a decade ago. As a result, whether retooling an existing facility or designing one from the ground up, Cumulus insists on an all-digital pathway.

The place to start
Atlanta-based Cumulus relies on architects working in the area to bring a cohesive look to the entire fleet of stations, but input from the people who will be most responsible for the sound and feel of a local station, including on-air talent, local engineers and market, production and program
managers, is carefully considered. Everything from a detailed equipment list to the color of carpet is discussed at this initial stage. System integrators from each local area are hired to execute the design work. Cumulus also has a group of six regional engineers on staff. Depending on the location, a staff engineer may also be involved in the day-to-day execution of this design work. One example is Dave Supplee, of Harrisburg, PA, who was a logical choice to oversee the Pennsylvania project.

Economy of scale purchasing is also a critical part of Cumulus' strategic planning. When the company completed the facility installation in Harrisburg, it centered the operation around a number of Wheatstone digital consoles and Mosley digital STLs. Knowing that they were about to begin work on several stations in Mobile, AL, Cumulus purchased consoles for this project at the same time, and were able to negotiate a preferred rate from the manufacturer as a result.

They may not buy paperclips in bulk to get a discount, but Cumulus does aggressively pursue any area where consolidation can save money, including furniture purchase. The company analyzed the amount of furniture it had purchased over the last several years, projected its anticipated buys for the next 24-36 month period, and cut a deal with European Cabinetry, their preferred vendor, that gave the Atlanta-based manufacturer the opportunity, based on anticipated revenue, to purchase new equipment. As a result of this alliance, European Cabinetry then passed the savings of several percentage points back to Cumulus. Based on the volume of purchases that Cumulus makes for its three hundred radio stations, buying in bulk applies to its relations with Shure and other microphone manufacturers, as well as vendors who make everything from mini-disc players to distribution amplifiers.

Something old, something new
When Cumulus acquires a new station, existing equipment comes with the purchase. If the equipment is in suitable condition, it will be reused. If not, the company will install a new system. Cumulus is currently completing a facility in Eugene, OR, and has centered the installation around a Broadcast Software International (BSI) Simian automation package. Cumulus Media also owns BSI, which is based in Eugene. The Cumulus strategy is to make this set of radio stations a showcase for the Simian system.

As part of its all-digital planning, Cumulus sizes all of its facilities for IBOC, which it believes will soon become the industry standard. Although compressed digital audio is still often used in many radio stations, Cumulus is building its digital pathway around a non-compressed path that will take audio from digital consoles, through digital transfer links and ultimately to the listener's car or home at the industry standard of 44.1kHz/16bits.

The entire fleet of Cumulus stations is networked, making it easy for an announcer to listen to his or her most recent program along with emailed comments from an executive in Atlanta or a listener. Production rooms can also share files for use in promos or for study purposes, because all studios are tied together through an FTP site operated out of Atlanta.

Eventually all the markets will be linked, but at this time 20 company markets are networked together using Eskimmer, a hard disk audio logging system. Each market has its own system. Accessed through the Internet, Eskimmer records every word that is broadcasted from the Harrisburg facility. With a properly secured password, any Cumulus employee can log onto Eskimmer, click on a market and locate an individual station. At this point a calendar pops up. Files, kept active for at least a year, are selectable by choosing a station and the date and hour a program was originally aired or by executing a search based on the name of an announcer.

For each hour of programming, about 810 lines of commentary are listed as initial search points. The searcher can then click on any of them and, using Media Player or Real Audio, listen to the remainder of the hour's audio clips. These files, available as MP3 files for quick playback, can also be extracted as uncompressed .wav files for future production usage.

Proving Performance
Cumulus also uses Golden Eagle to monitor the audio and signal parameters of its own stations in real time. Manufactured by the French company Audemat, Golden Eagle also allows Cumulus to monitor other signals in the market. Operating like a remote controlled FM radio, Golden Eagle allows an authorized Cumulus employee to listen to any programming in a given area in real time using Real Audio.

Golden Eagle also lets the Cumulus engineering staff remotely monitor the signal parameters for each of its stations, checking to see that audio modulation levels, for example, are all within spec. A simple selection lets the user choose between listening to a chosen frequency or monitor TCIP. This is convenient for program directors, who have no use for the technical capability of the system, and for engineers, who rely heavily on them. If a company station located in Beaumont, TX, has four seconds of dead air, an e-mail will be sent to company headquarters in Atlanta and a local engineer to help analyze the problem. Ultimately, the company goal is to devise a master monitoring system that will let the engineering staff in Atlanta monitor and track the technical performance of all of Cumulus' radio stations.

Thanks to Gary Kline, corporate director of engineering, Cumulus Broadcasting for providing information used in this article.

Eskow is a composer and journalist who lives in central New Jersey. He is currently a contributing editor for Radio magazine's sister publication Mix magazine. He may be reached via his website at www.garyeskow.com.

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