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


Moderator:
Kirk Harnack, Telos Alliance – Nashville, TN, USA; South Seas Broadcasting Corp. – Pago Pago, American Samoa
Panelists:
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.

Original Article: View PDF


Radio Seeks Its Footing In New Audio Landscape

Paul McLane, Radio World | April 9, 2018

Podcasting and smart speakers are “the two most talked-about sectors in audio today.” That’s according to Edison Research and Triton Digital in the “Infinite Dial 2018” report on digital media U.S. consumer behavior.

Podcasting may be more than 15 years old, but the researchers found that it continues to grow, including in the car. The topic should find interest at NAB Show, which features a podcasting conference, pavilion and studio.

Meanwhile, as smart speakers take off, radio faces a “home hardware challenge.” Twenty-nine percent of respondents do not own an AM/FM radio in the home. Thus radio also is weighing how to maximize those speakers. The promise is captured by a radio trade ad headline: “Alexa, ask Vipology to put my station back in the home!” That company is but one of many hoping artificial intelligence can help radio reestablish its footprint in the domestic media ecosystem.

However, the authors also concluded that radio remains “by far” the dominant medium in the car. Separately, Nielsen Audio recently reported that broadcast radio continues to reach significantly more people each week than any other medium in the country at 228.5 million adults 18 and older — that’s more than TV, or apps/web via smartphone, or video on phones, or streaming audio, or satellite radio or podcasts.

CORE BUSINESS

Revenue growth will be the core goal of many conversations here. Expect leaders to focus on building ad share.

“We believe that is critical to moving the radio industry forward,” said Erica Farber, president/CEO of the Radio Advertising Bureau. “Interest in the audio space by advertisers and agencies continues to be significant. Radio’s #1 reach medium status is the door opener; but analytics and data are key to helping us drive more spend from existing advertisers and bringing in new revenue from ad categories that haven’t necessarily included radio in their media mix.”

Those conversations take place in the context of headlines about heavy debt at iHeartMedia and Cumulus, and the quieter yet significant impact of M&A activity such as Beasley’s acquisition of Greater Media and Entercom’s merger with CBS Radio. Managers are likely to be attentive to takeaways from the Business of Broadcast conference, where topics include how to create more effective ads, digital success stories and the connected car.

On that front, broadcast leaders have been working quietly to improve cooperation with automakers, aftermarket suppliers and consultants. Among their goals: making it easier for listeners on Apple Car Play or Android Auto to get back to the native radio tuner. A development that will affect some U.S. operations is the TV spectrum “repack.” Hundreds of FMs will need to power down or turn off to accommodate work on TV antennas by mid-2020. A $50 million provision in the new federal spending plan provides a mechanism to compensate stations.

On the FCC front, deregulatory-minded broadcasters have exulted in Ajit Pai’s first 15 months as chairman. The commission eliminated the main studio and newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership rules, killed a requirement that stations retain copies of letters and emails from the public, launched a “Modernization of Media Regulations” initiative and took other licensee-friendly steps.

What next? Commissioner Michael O’Rielly would like to do away with AM/ FM per-market ownership sub-caps. “I got a promise from the chairman that we’re going to look at that as part of the quadrennial [review],” he said in a Radio World interview, a process he hopes will start this summer. Another idea gaining attention is an FM Class C4 that could allow hundreds of Class A FMs to increase power.

Meanwhile, AM revitalization to date has focused on helping owners obtain and move translators. Tougher AM technical decisions remain undecided, such as changing protected contours to help smaller stations at the expense of longstanding, far-reaching protections of big signals.

The FCC also has sought to raise the profile of pirate enforcement, despite former Chairman Tom Wheeler’s cutbacks in field offices. Supporters of stricter enforcement like O’Rielly hope Congress will act on new legislation to put more teeth in FCC statutory enforcement tools.

And the FCC is considering sharing the C Band with wireless carriers for broadband. Broadcasters use it for downlinks and worry about interference, especially to unregistered earth stations, of which there apparently are quite a few. Commission officials seem intent on protecting incumbents, so tech leaders emphasize the importance of stations registering now.

NEW TOOLS, SAME MISSION

Technologists too are being challenged to think differently. A skim of the Broadcast Engineering and Information Technology Conference finds less about RF and audio, but much more about cloud tech, big data, blockchain and social networks. Measurement and analytics, too, will only grow in importance.

One session title is succinct: “The Mission’s the Same — The Tools Have Changed.” Expect engineers also to debate the possible role of all-digital FM transmission, in light of the presentation by NAB PILOT of new field test results; such tests are seen as an early but important step in understanding all-digital operation. And a trend worth watching is how elimination of the main studio rule might affect studio and transmitter design. Consultant Gary Kline sees opportunity.

“Can we use technology — mostly available today — to build centralized distribution and back office centers to reduce cost and improve reliability?” he asks. “For anyone who thinks that means eliminating DJs, think again. There are already many automated solutions that do that; centralized facilities don’t do that any more than what’s being done already. This is about cost savings, affordable access to best-in-class software and hardware, and overall reliability.”

Randy Gravley, chairman of the NAB Radio Board and president/CEO of Tri State Communications, identified radio’s challenges as increased competition for listeners, keeping and attracting advertisers, the changing auto dashboard, “convoluted” music licensing, sustaining live and local content, the role of digital, and equipping smartphones with radio capability.

“That being said, I believe radio’s best days are still ahead,” Gravley said. “Every week, more than 260 million Americans tune to their hometown stations. We’re the number-one source for the discovery of new music. We remain a trusted news source, particularly for local news, at a time when ‘fake news’ is prevalent online and on social media. And, as we saw countless times last year during times of emergency, we are a lifeline that provides timely information that can keep Americans safe.”

Original Article: http://www.nabshowdailynews.com/top-stories/radio-seeks-its-footing-in-new-audio-landscape
View PDF


Wow That’s a Good- Looking Studio!

Here are crucial considerations when planning a radio space with video in mind.

From the pages of Radio World’s ebook “Visual Radio 2018” – reprinted with permission. | View PDF Version

 


Top Technologists Discuss Studio Design

By Marguerite Clark | View PDF Version

Radio World spoke to leading technologists from private and public broadcasters regarding what it takes to design and build an efficient, cost-effective radio studio. Those who replied to the questions below include Mirosław Ostrowski, technical director, Radio Wrocław in Poland; Gerry Pyne, general manager, Queensland Remote Aboriginal Media (QRAM), Australia; Gary Kline, owner and CEO, Kline Consulting Group, United States; Frédéric Bourgeais, technical director of Alouette, France; and Eugenio La Teana, head of Research & Development at RTL 102.5, Italy.

Radio World: What should the modern studio have?

Mirosław Ostrowski: There are many important questions to consider before building a studio. For example, what is the main purpose of the studio; will the studio be connected or separated from control room; how many audio sources are necessary; will listeners be broadcast live; how many mics do you need in the studio/control room; how many mix-minus feeds will you need to man- age telephone hybrid/hybrids, OB vans, outside trans- mission links, inter-studio connections; do you plan to stream audio/video signals; should the intercom system to be in touch with the central control room and other studios; is signaling (red, green, yellow, blue lamps) required; where will the PCs be located? And of course, what’s the budget for the project?

Gerry Pyne: A modern studio should have a workspace designed to meet the workflow needs of the organization for which it serves. This will vary according to the type of use the studio will get, and in today’s industry there tends to be more production and voice tracking style activities and less live on-air work done in studios. Good lighting and acoustics are key. Of equal importance is the overall experience the studio provides for staff and guests. General layout needs to take into account good ergonomics, and increasingly we need to consider visual attributes such as sight lines between the operator and people sitting as various positions around the studio. Video/web cameras continue to play an increasing role in the modern radio / production studio. The equipment no longer needs to be a dominant feature of the console desk furniture, and this leaves more scope for imaginative design and room to layout documents and other things during studio sessions.

Gary Kline: It should have unparalleled capability to send and receive every form of modern media known today as well as be ready for the future. Skype, FB live, streaming, terrestrial, YouTube, Twitter, POTS, SIP, mobile device APP, iTunes, etc. The modern studio should be ready to accommodate written (i.e.; text, WhatsApp) or any audio/video method of communication that today’s audience uses often to interact. For sure, the modern studio should have cameras and easy-to-use integration to operate them. If it takes more than a few seconds to get a Skype guest on the air, then that is too long. There should also be an excellent social media aggregation tool in the studio with direct tie-in to, again, Skype, FB, Twitter, POTS, etc. One main command center to monitor and control all forms of communication. You should have many mix-minus busses and they should be automatic so every one local or remote and hear and speak to one another flawlessly.

Frédéric Bourgeais: For Alouette it is about the perfect mix between the two worlds: analog and digital. Analog because it gives us a clear, warm sound. Digital because music is all digitized today.

Eugenio La Teana: We believe multiplatform and cross media distribution are a distinctive part of our station identity. Therefore the studio has to be designed and equipped in order to properly allow and ease our multi-faceted distribution strategy. RTL 102.5 pioneered the visual radio experience many years ago in Europe, and
we are continuously developing our visual concept, so
the studio has to be flexible, in order to suit our evolving needs. The essence of the radio is being “live,” so the studio must be capable of instantaneously adapting to anything that happens: our studio is a large room, with cinema-grade video projectors picturing each studio wall with images capable to enrich the message we deliver. In the case of breaking news, we can immediately have graphics, archive material and any live video feed from the internet available for projection to the studio walls, surrounding the news presenters and giving the audience the capability to both understand how the situation is evolving, as well as to point out specific details on the “screens.”

Radio World: How should it be designed?

Ostrowski: Technical directors should listen carefully to the future users of the equipment and follow up with them during the design process. Ergonomics is very important. Everything should be within reach. Sound is the most important thing in the studio and in radio. It is therefore imperative that there are no “noisy” devices like computers or fans nearby. They should be installed behind the studio walls but as close as possible to shorten cable connections. For the connection of PC keyboards, screens and mouse devices, use KVM extenders to send all the signals via one Ethernet cable or fiber. To save space, it’s useful to use a keyboard switch for the control of four or more PCs. Tablets can also serve as a small mixing console, and the clock, loudness meter or intercom are just one click away. We use the DHD touch- screen module. In addition, studio furniture should combine aesthetics and functionality, cables should be easily accessible and special attention should be paid to the glass window separating the studio and control room. It shouldn’t be mounted vertically for acoustical reasons and it’s better to tilt the glass so dust doesn’t accumulate, while considering the reflection of light, which could impede visual communication between the studio talent and the sound engineer.

Pyne: The studio should be designed with a primary focus on the user experience rather than past practice
of featuring a large and complex looking console at the center of the room. Technology advancements have opened up new frontiers previously not possible in studio design and today’s studio can be a far more inviting environment for workers and guests. Flexibility in design is also increased through the flexibility that new technology brings to the industry. Studios no longer need to consider space for a range of traditional items from the past such as CD players, reel to reels, cart machines, turntables, etc. This can all vanish into the digital realm in a modern studio design.

Kline: It should be designed with the highest standards in quality and engineering practice. This should include acoustics inside the room, acoustics between rooms, lighting (especially for visual radio), ergonomics including low-profile mics and low-profile computer monitors, and well-planned layout with plenty of room for talent and guests. Don’t forget about clocks, monitors and other interior design choices. In fact, hire an interior designer if your budget permits. You can build a studio that looks so much different and cooler than the old standard four walls with sound panels and a few track lights overhead — today’s modern studio should incorporate much more. Look at ESPN or the BBC or TV5. When you show your studio on TV (or someone’s computer or phone screen) it should look really cool and well integrated into the frame. Stand out from the rest. There are some amazing radio studios doing this today. Capital Radio in London and Nash Radio in Nashville are a couple of examples.

Bourgeais: Our station is situated near the Atlantic coast so we designed our studios like a beautiful, wooden ship, with some nice curves and maple and cherry wood. This provides quite the atmosphere and generally very good acoustics, which is very important. Our goal is to provide a warm welcome to our guests and that they feel comfortable when broadcasting live from our studios and working with our team.

La Teana: Radio is basically “live,” and can tell the listeners about facts in the very moment things are happening, but it is also “alive,” with people at the core of it. Therefore our studio is a large open space: the main desk for the presenters stays in the center of the studio. At the back, we have the desk for the news presenters and the technical room is inside the studio, with nothing in the middle: We believe the visual and, in general, any non-verbal interaction between the on air talents and news reporters, as well as between the presenters and studio engineers, can enrich the overall message our station delivers to our listeners. We chose to remove all the chairs: Presenters stand in front of the mics, they are free to move and walk across the studio. Our voice reflects the movements of our body, so this way our presenters, being free to move and “gesticulate” as if they were talking to their friends (Italians love to gesticulate, you know), can deliver a richer message through their voice. In addition, through our visual feed, their movements and their look, enrich the listening experience.

Radio World: What are your “go-to” choices for equipment?
Ostrowski: There are many great, cost-effective products out there. It’s important to test certain products in the context of one’s studio because it needs to fit into the feel and tradition of that particular station and also be accepted by station staff. Sometimes you have to make compromises because a product may fill most but not all requirements. Most stations are on a tight budget but you should be prepared to pay the necessary amount for essential gear, such as a console, which you’ll be using for many years. As a public radio station, we are obligated to follow regulations when purchasing gear. It’s not always easy to provide a detailed description of our requirements to our superiors without stating the brand names, etc.

Pyne: Our policy is to transition to an all IP digital network, so any time we upgrade a studio or build a new facility we only look at IP solutions. In the Black Star Network we have made the choice of basing systems on the Wheatstone/Wheatnet platform. This extends to accessories and other equipment and where possible we will use Wheatnet-compatible equipment as a first choice and fall back to AES67-compliant equipment. Having a network where every piece of equipment can be configured to communicate over the wire to every other item is very desirable and allows for a highly flexible and resilient system. In our case it is also important to use equipment that can be remotely monitored via SNMP and web GUI. Our network playout system is based on RCS Zetta, GSelector and Aquira, and these products all integrate well with each other and with the Wheatnet platform.

Kline: That depends on the purpose for the studio (on-air, production, video, voiceover booth, newsroom, etc.). Generally, though, I always go for an AoIP console with
a fully IP-based workflow and infrastructure. No punch blocks, very few XLRs, and loads of redundancy and backups. For phones today, always SIP/VOIP with excellent call screening software and — as stated above — tie in to a central social media platform for total control. I always work with trusted vendors and manufacturers who have taken care of me in the past and who I know will be there if there are problems, questions or very tight deadlines.

Bourgeais: We look for quality and reliability when purchasing gear. We are not here to reinvent the job, but to find the right products for our station.

La Teana: We don’t have a “must.” First we develop our vision for a specific improvement or completely new design. Then we look for equipment capable of turning our vision into reality. Sometimes, we are unable to find the right product to fit our needs from manufacturers of radio broadcast gear, so we also search for products outside the radio realm, for example by looking toward the cinema industry. What really matters though is our ability to successfully implement our vision. The equipment follows the concept, so we don’t have “mandatory” or “forbidden” choices. We have to turn ideas and projects into reality, so nobody cares if we need to design and create a “new device” which was not previously available. One thing is certain however, we always opt for professional- grade equipment.

Radio World: Where do you start? At the console and work from there?
Ostrowski: We first define our requirements. In a digital world, there are various philosophies about how to construct and manage audio consoles. If you already have one and can configure it, then it won’t be easy to change it for something new. For us, we prefer to let our talented engineers manage the digital consoles we already have. We are sticking to our DHD boards. We broadcast three 24/7 channels and need to reconfigure the mixing consoles quite often following the changes and requirements in the program itself and sometimes in the way our talents or DJs run their shows. Before making a decision about the console you have to know how it should cooperate with the rest — playout systems, signaling, intercoms, other studios, OB vans, telephone hybrids, mics, PCs, headphones and video systems. Today’s consoles are flexible and configurable, but they sometimes use different technologies (AoIP, Dante, AES/EBU, MADI, etc.). Protocols such as Ember+ facilitate communication between different devices and it’s important to be sure that the console can interoperate easily with your other studio gear.

Pyne: We always start by looking at the required workflows for the studio. From there we work and design the hardware to match rather than allow the technology to determine the overall design and workflow.

Kline: Typically, yes. But it really depends on the size of the facility that’s being built and what the purpose is. I think it might be more accurate to say I always start with a customer needs analysis and then work from there. I know that I am going to use an AoIP console so it’s more a matter of what size and model will go in each room. How many inputs/outputs are needed overall in the plant and what special needs are required. For example, will the facility be running a sports network with many feeds or will it be internationally focused with different music beds fed to different locations? And if so, are there copyright issues and do I need to plan for that. Or perhaps, there will be live broadcast video and radio coming from the same room — so that may require some thought before you get to console selection. No matter what though, it’s going to be IP, and everything I purchase will support that somehow.

Bourgeais: It depends on one’s budget. But for us the mixing desk is fundamental. Therefore, we start from there and build the infrastructure around that. Generally, we have the same mixing desk in every studio, each with different options.

La Teana: Unlike TV, radio can’t rely on a different studio for each show. Typically, in radio a single studio has to fit all the possible genres and kinds of programs being produced. So we start from the center of the studio. Radio has to be at the heart of everything, so the desk for the on-air talents stays in the middle of the studio. The rest, including technical equipment, stays around the core of radio, so along the walls of the studio.

Radio World: How do you handle room and acoustics design?
Ostrowski: The goal is to get the best sound possible for a radio program so good acoustics are necessary. I suggest employing an experienced company to handle your studio acoustics. It’s more expensive but your listeners and your staff will appreciate a good audio atmosphere. If you have a very limited budget then there may be no question of acoustics. What I would suggest in a case like that is to use low-sensitivity, but still good, dynamic mics, such as the Shure SM7, and speak into them from a close range.

A modern studio should have unparalleled capability to send and receive every form of modern media known today as well as be ready for the future. - Gary Kline

That solution is not ideal however, particularly with guests or when you have a few people in the studio. If at all possible, consider acoustics in the design. Also, don’t forget about acoustical isolation and check for holes in your studio walls. And remember, noise can be transferred by floors and sneak through windows. You could “wall up” the window, but the best, albeit expensive solution is to build the studio as a box in the box. Some larger broadcasters do this for their most important studios. This type of setup is particularly useful for control rooms and studios, which are being used for sound recording purposes.

Pyne: This will depend on the location and design of the environment the studio is being built. Main considerations come down to the protection of the studio from outside noise intrusion and mechanical noise through building structure, flooring, ceilings etc. and then the internal treatment that ensures the right “vocal sound” is achieved. Other considerations include air conditioning and equipment noise within the studio.

Kline: It’s a multi-person and multi-stage process. For starters, I work with the client to determine required STC/ noise ratings and evaluate cost versus benefit. In a perfect world, we would build to Abbey Road standards, but how many stations need that, or can afford it? Some can. Many can’t. So, everything starts with a spec on acoustic requirements. Then, I work with an architect to design those acoustics into the room(s). Over the years I have developed construction standards, which are my baseline for any studio build. I usually then hire an acoustical engineer (I have a few go to professionals I have worked with before) and then review the drawings for any tweaks. I’ve even been known to hire an acoustician to bring in test equipment to measure vibrations and natural resonance frequencies in base building construction before finalizing the design. We also choose (together) things like studio doors with specific sound ratings, ceiling material, floor construction (floating in certain cases), sound panels, etc. In this process we also review the chosen elements for look and feel so that the studio colors, fabrics and other elements remain congruent. The GC or construction supervisor is also part of the process so no one is left out. This is especially true as you evaluate costs versus benefits (as mentioned before).

Bourgeais: We use ABSO, a specialized acoustic company based in Paris.

La Teana: Room design must provide the highest flexibility. We decided to go minimal as regards furniture and chose to not install “fixed” furniture but to get the maximum in terms of visual impact using video projectors to give the walls a different look, depending on programs being broadcast. This lets us immediately change the shape and the look of the studio, or even of a single part of it. We outsource acoustic design, and we supervise their activities.

Radio World: Who handles the installation?

Ostrowski: In general, for the installation of equipment in the studio and the back room, we carry out most of the installations ourselves. This allows us to know the configuration in its deepest details. We also know the habits of our station staff and the expectations of our editorial staff. Fortunately, we have some really good engineers in house who are curious, capable and willing to implement the newest technologies for us. When it comes to complicated installations such as that of virtual disk arrays, virtual platforms for servers or data backup systems or multi-modular production and playout systems, we use outside resources with highly specialized engineers. This is also a way for our engineers to accumu- late more knowledge so they can manage the systems after the installation is complete. Often times, training courses are needed to run the ICT infrastructure, which evolve incredibly quickly. We are on air 24/7 so there is no room for issues. I would say, that it is imperative to have experienced engineering staff under a radio broad- caster’s roof if possible.

Pyne: In our network this is generally handled internally.

Kline: Installation of equipment is usually a mix of the local engineer, local contract engineers/integrators and possibly engineers from within the same company but from another market. I only work with people I trust and usually bring in subject matter experts for various aspects of the installation. For example, I may bring in IT gurus to help with router and firewall programming, broadcast IT gurus for AoIP setup and design, video experts for visual radio, etc.

IP technology has touched virtually every part of our studio design criteria. - Gerry Pyne

I can’t stress enough how important it is to have excellent IT staff working on the project, before, during, and after. Bad IT design will lead to problems — sometimes in the future at the worst time and can be confusing to solve. Most everything in a modern studio is IP based so it must be done well and done efficiently. Different IT experts have different opinions sometimes about how something should be handled (VLANs, PORT assignments, etc.). There may not be one single way to do something but there are bad designs and implementation — avoid it. We’ve all been there — walked into a plant where we started shaking our heads.

Bourgeais: Our in-house technicians manage this for our station.

La Teana: We design the overall installation plan, then we often work with third-party professionals to get the job done.

Radio World: Do you invest in staff training?
Ostrowski: Yes. When possible, our engineers visit manufacturers’ premises to learn more about their products and participate in training courses. This is especially necessary for the more complex equipment like mixing consoles, which need the user to configure everything. For less complicated gear, we depend on user manuals for the most part, or contact the manufacturer in the case of a specific issue. Our station also provides English- language courses for our employees. This helps them to understand documentation, which is usually in English, and also makes people, especially the older and more experienced ones, more open to contacts with the outside world.

Pyne: Staff training is very important to us and we do invest in external training provision for new systems and equipment wherever possible.

Kline: Some. It depends on the skill level of the staff, in addition to other factors. If a new automation system is part of the install, which nobody has seen before, then definitely, yes. If visual radio (video) is a new addition to the studio then the answer is yes. New phone system with lots of new buttons? Yes. In some cases, I have built a single temporary studio with all the new gear at the old facility so staff can train and work out any possible issues before the move to the new facility or studio.

Bourgeais: Not very much. But that’s just because our staff is always so busy. We do however take the time to attend major exhibitions in the United States and Europe to be sure we keep up with the latest trends and technologies.

La Teana: Yes, but not in the conventional sense. RTL 102.5 loves to explore new territories, trying technologies and pioneering new ways of making radio. So our people are asked everyday to find the best way to find a solution to a new, unconventional requirement. Many times they can’t immediately find inspiration from within our industry, so they are obligated to start designing and sourcing from scratch. This commonly indicates a trial-and-error approach. We invest in this particular form of training on the job. Basically, our people don’t have an “everyday task.” We ask them to dig further into something they (and essentially nobody) is familiar with, and to look for the best possible resolution, also from a budget-wise point of view.

Radio World: How is IP technology affecting the radio studio?
Ostrowski: IP technology is becoming more central to radio broadcasters. I have however seen some reluctance in implementing the technology because two various worlds are trying to connect into one — IT and radio. The two different teams of specialists need closer cooperation between them. IT specialists need to move closer to the audio world and understand an essence of sound, while audio professionals should get closer to IT issues. IP brings many advantages, such as easy audio access, ubiquity and flexibility.

Pyne: IP technology has touched virtually every part of our studio design criteria. It introduces flexibility and workflow that have not been possible in previous generations of technology and it also introduces a new scale of reduced cost to the design. Studio builds are now simpler and take less time to complete and when studios are redeployed to different uses they can be reconfigured within the digital domain simply and quickly — often at the simple push of a button. IP technology has had a profound effect on all areas of the broadcasting industry.

Kline: IP has made it easier and more efficient to multi-task and create a much more exciting product on-air. The technology has also made it much simpler (and cheaper) to install gear, configure everything, and modify things in a hurry. It can also make it a little more confusing to troubleshoot a problem or trace out a workflow — no more analog wires to troubleshoot with a simple tester. You’ll need some IT knowledge and a good computer skillset (and a laptop!). But I think most engineers in radio today have all that — it’s been over a decade since things started moving to IP in radio. Hard to believe, I know. IP is not in its infancy anymore.

Bourgeais: IP technology has facilitated our lives. Five years ago we virtualized our entire premises. The technology allows us to exchange, control or remote-control gear, share songs and files. It’s very reliable for our needs.

La Teana: We’ve been implementing IP now for a decade. We started our visual experience within the analog domain, but a couple years ago, we transitioned everything to IP, including our video feeds.

Radio World: How is visual radio changing the way you design your studio?
Ostrowski: We now have two studios that feature visual radio. Each studio is equipped with an automated system with four PTZ cameras. The software controlling the camera movement and changing scenes is very nice with some artificial intelligence elements. But when it came to designing the studio, we had to predict where the cameras would be installed. It was difficult to find a com- promise between the best camera positions and ensuring they didn’t interfere with the studio’s daily normal operation. After defining the best camera positions we had to plan the routes for all cables (video, power supply, control and spare). All the cables end in a separate small equipment room where the computers are located. The room also houses the machine for video streaming, converting and recording. Now we use live video streaming to the internet and we can record any part of the program, especially when we have some famous guest or very interesting discussions or debates. Then we use the material as on-demand content on our website.

For visual radio, we use good video cameras, but without the proper lights the video wouldn’t be acceptable. - Mirosław Ostrowski

Lighting is important. We use good video cameras, but without the proper lights the video wouldn’t be acceptable. We consulted on the subject of lightning with a TV and film specialist and he advised us to use LED panels. One pair for one person in the studio — the first panel illuminates the person from the front, the second from the back. It makes the picture more natural and spatial. There is also a LCD screen to show what the streamed video looks like and it’s possible to carry out corrections. When streaming video from the radio studio you also have to consider the scenography. It’s not enough to tidy up the studio and turn the lights on. We use scenography lighting made of colorful LED tapes. It allows us to quickly change the colors and overall look of the studio.

Pyne: To cater for the increasing demand on visual features within the radio studio we need to consider a range of visual aspects within the overall design. Camera angles need to have clear sight lines to talent and this needs to mess together well with the placement of screens, mics and mic stands, seating arrangements and this all has the potential to affect the room acoustics. These things need to be well planned from the beginning. Cameras need to be positioned in a way that does not cause talent to “play to the audience” and things such as multi-angle cameras instead of multiple cameras can help with this.

Kline: It means we pay attention to the design of the room, the layout, for example. You’ll want to have great camera angles — none of this wide-shot stuff with mics in front of people’s faces. That’s a pet peeve of mine — mics covering a major portion of the frame. You want wide shots when appropriate but also intimate close-up angles. You need excellent lighting — I usually hire a lighting designer and install TV studio lighting — not
too much but enough to light up the room for HDTV. You should also think about where the video switcher will go and who will operate it. Much like you place your call screener in the room. Have plenty of flat screens for promoting that special guest’s new album or book, or to pull up a listener calling in on Skype. Make sure you have enough internet bandwidth in the facility to handle uploads or live HD streaming. Choose a great visual radio system — there are a few good ones out there. Make sure you have graphics and logos well thought out. Your system should easily incorporate those into the shot as well as Twitter and Facebook feeds and advertising. Don’t forget about monetizing the product! One more time: lighting — don’t cheap out on the lighting! If you can’t afford a designer, find someone from the local TV station or production studio and buy them lunch for some insight and advice. I pre-wire every studio I design now for camera positions, even if they aren’t a part of the initial budget.

Bourgeais: Today, we use live video mainly for coverage of our one-off live events. We like the mystery radio offers so for now there are no cameras in our studios. Audience ratings show us this method is working.

La Teana: Our studio was designed to be a visual radio studio. Everything, including lighting, walls, furniture, the fact the presenters don’t stay seated but stand in front of the mic, was designed to ensure the best possible radio listening experience and a great visual experience. Visual is a key part of our message. Today listeners can find so much attractive content to listen and watch, including on the internet. So we have to stay competitive. It’s not just a matter of offering fantastic “radio,” it is a matter of appeal. Radio has to be designed and produced in order to be successful nowadays. Various web services, including YouTube, offer audio and music content. We have to convince listeners to stay within our channels, notwithstanding the platform they choose. That’s why even a video we post on Youtube, or anywhere else, can’t only be just great “radio” — it has to be engaging in a wider sense.

Davide Moro contributed to this article.

 

 


Busy First Day at AES and NAB New York Shows

Collocated shows provide plenty; visit to One World Trade Center broadcast transmission center

Whatever your connection to audio or video, if you could walk out of New York’s Javits Center Wednesday without finding something to catch your eye (or ear), you weren’t trying very hard. The combination of the Audio Engineering Society’s long-running New York show and the more recent evolution of the NAB New York show brought together a little something for just about anyone, all packed into two connected exhibit halls and a warren of meeting rooms downstairs.

The NAB side of the show evolved from a TV convention, so there’s still plenty of video and lighting to be seen there, but those are technologies we radio folks need to learn now, too, as we were reminded in an all-star AES session Wednesday afternoon on the latest trends in studio design.

Four walls aren’t enough anymore, because few of us are just doing “radio,” as presenters such as Telos’ Kirk Harnack, Max Media’s Daniel Hyatt and independent consultant Gary Kline reminded us. Sightlines are vitally important, Kline pointed out, not just so that your air talent and producers can all work together but also so that everything looks great on video as well as sounding great on audio. Still using incandescent lighting? The latest LED technology not only looks much better on video, Hyatt said, but also saves money on power bills. (We’ll be writing more about all of this in RW soon!)

Wednesday’s biggest event on the AES side (and the reason you’re not seeing this until Thursday morning) didn’t happen at the Javits, though. Seven miles downtown and 90 stories above lower Manhattan, veteran New York engineer John Lyons opened the doors at One World Trade Center for a presentation and tour for about 60 visiting engineers.

Most of New York’s TV broadcasters have signed on with the Durst Organization (where Lyons is VP of broadcasting) to relocate to the new 1WTC mast after spending the last 16 years transmitting from the rival Empire State Building. The first of those stations, Telemundo’s WNJU, signed on from 1WTC over the summer. It will soon have plenty of company: transmitters are now in place on the 90th floor for at least three more stations, with Fox getting ready to start building out its facility there very soon.

Think you know what a modern TV plant looks like? This new space might change your mind. For one thing, it’s quiet enough that Lyons was able to give a slide show about the construction right in the middle of the transmitter room — everything here is liquid-cooled and almost silent. For another, it’s all in one big room that wraps around the south side of the tower. Instead of individual transmitter spaces bursting with equipment as in the old days, each station has just a single row of equipment — a few locked racks next to today’s relatively compact transmitters. (Rohde & Schwarz is the brand of choice for most; CBS went with GatesAir, in part because of the close relationship they had with Harris in getting WCBS-TV back on the air right after 9/11.)

Combiners sit at the other end of the space, feeding VHF and UHF master antennas high above.

And as we rode back uptown toward the Javits and a late dinner, it was hard not to miss Empire, too, which was lit up in AES signature blue for the convention.


Atlanta Braves’ New SunTrust Park Utilizes DiGiCo’s S21 Digital Mixing Console

When the Atlanta Braves played their first game in their new home, SunTrust Park, on April 14 against the San Diego Padres, they were doing it in baseball’s new advanced stadium. The $622 million, 41,419-seat capacity facility’s sound is routed, around the venue and out through the Braves’ 135-station regional radio network, operated by Dickey Broadcasting Company (DBC). Gary Kline, principal at Kline Consulting Group, says baseball fans are expecting more comprehensive and immersive experiences, both at the ballpark and while listening to games on the radio.

As part of his mission to help his client, DBC, create a new radio broadcasting facility at SunTrust Park, Kilne was also tasked with getting customized audio feeds around the stadium itself. For instance, a broadcast feed had to be routed to key back-of-house areas, including the luxury suites, including the Infiniti Club area, and to other areas under the stadium’s control, such as elevators.

However, this feed would need to be stripped of the effects audio that is woven into the main broadcast feed, since those at the stadium would already be immersed in crowd sounds and baseball effects such as bat cracks. Those “sounds of the game” were being picked up by microphones strategically placed by Kline and the top-notch Braves in-house broadcast team for the main radio feed. Then, another version of that feed—essentially a mix-minus—needed to be made that would let the broadcast announcers hear the local vocal mix created on-site while mixing the radio IFB (commercials, imaging, etc.) and producer
talkback into the mix.

To best accomplish all this, Kline specified the installation of a DiGiCo S21 digital audio console. “The S21 effortlessly creates this special headphone mix for the announcers,” says Kline. “It makes sure that their vocals fed to the station do not feed back to them, as the small amount of transport latency would be disconcerting.”

“We collect uncompressed audio from a wide range of sources throughout the stadium, from the effects mics near home plate to a direct feed from the front-of-house console for the singing of the national anthem before each game,” says Kline. “We also have a standard connection to the home team TV truck, so, if we want, we can integrate their ambient and crowd feeds into our special total effects mix. The S21 is critical for this: collecting all of the audio from sources all over the stadium, then letting the operator organize it into the custom feeds needed.”

“For instance, some need the radio broadcast feed with the commercial already integrated, which means that it’s coming back from the radio studio, where they’ve inserted the commercials into the feed we had already sent them. It can get pretty complicated. Before this, they would have to use outboard mixers and summing amps; now, the S21 can handle it all, letting the operator build exactly the mixes each person needs in their headphones and headsets.”

Kline says the S21’s ability to build an array of mixes has been crucial to making SunTrust Park’s new radio broadcast infrastructure work, but that the console’s other features are just as valuable. He cites the desk’s excellent dynamics and EQ, “They’re EQing out the lows from the effects audio to keep it clear and punchy, without losing any of the tonality.”

And DiGiCo’s seamless integration with Waves processing is also being leveraged at the Park: radio A1s are able to send effects and ambience channels to the Waves servers with a DTS Neural Surround plug-in thatlets them group all of those channels separately. “That gives them a master-fader effects mix for the surround mix, for radios than can
decode the DTS Neural Surround encoded content,” he explains.

But, at the end of the day, it’s the sound that sells the S21 as much as its features and functionality. “It just sounds amazing,” says
Kline. “The separation between channels in stereo and surround is incredible and really contributes to the sense of being there for
listeners. The S21 has been a big part of making the broadcast and house audio aspects of SunTrust Park work to their maximum potential.”

Original Article: https://www.sportsvideo.org/2017/08/03/atlanta-braves-new-suntrust-park-utilizes-digicos-s21-digital-mixing-console/


Making a Marriage Work: Entercom+CBS Radio

BALA CYNWYD, PA. — If anyone has a playbook on how to combine technical operations of two major radio broadcast groups smoothly, John Kennedy and Paul Donovan likely will want to see it.

Kennedy, corporate director of technical operations for Entercom Communications, and Donovan, vice president of engineering for CBS Radio, are overseeing the complex integration of engineering staff and technologies pending federal approval of the marriage between Entercom and CBS Radio. The new entity will have a total of 244 stations in 47 markets with operations in 23 of the top 25 markets in the United States.

The success of the combined company, which will become the second-largest radio broadcaster in the United States based on revenue, will depend in part on the combined work of the engineering, IT and digital departments responsible for the backbone of the broadcast group’s technical operations.

The estimated $2.5 billion deal, being scrutinized by the U.S. Justice Department, could close by the end of this year, according to those familiar with the agreement. That leaves little time to plan out such a herculean effort.

It’s not clear exactly how many people in the engineering and technical staffs at the two companies will be affected, though there is some market overlap between them. Entercom has announced it is placing 14 FMs in a trust for future spinoffs.

Execution of their integration work will be scrutinized by those inside and outside the company, according to people who have been through complicated mergers.

Kennedy declined to be interviewed for this story while a CBS Radio spokesperson declined on behalf of Donovan. Given that we were unable to speak directly with them, we asked four expert outsiders, former corporate engineering executives who have been through a variety of mergers and acquisitions, to comment on what a technical game plan for such a huge merger might look like and the potential pitfalls. Respondents were Gary Kline, former VP of engineering for Cumulus; Milford Smith, longtime director of engineering for Greater Media; Bert Goldman, one-time VP of engineering for ABC Radio; and Andy Laird, former vice president and chief technology officer for Journal Broadcast Group.

RW: What are some of the first engineering management issues that come to mind when merging broadcast companies?
Kline: I typically start with the big-picture outline and then narrow things. The big picture may include departments you are not directly responsible for but somehow may touch. For example, HR systems may be on the engineer’s list because there’s interaction with IT or access in the local markets — things which engineering should be involved with but more in a support role. In the early stages of a business deal, you may not be permitted to discuss anything with the other party or their employees, even though you may know them well. Radio is a small business, especially in the engineering ranks. So in the beginning, I’d form a list of questions that the business development and legal teams can request.

Smith: Whereas it might seem like equipment, budgets, procedures and the like would be first up, I would make a case for people being the first priority. Such transactions are fraught with anxiety, fear of the unknown and insecurity on the part of all the staffs involved, technical staffs included. Good broadcast engineers are extraordinarily difficult to find and more challenging still to “lure away” in the event of an opening. Thus, it’s my opinion that the number one priority is to immediately get acquainted with the new folks suddenly joining the organization and to allay their fears and concerns going forward. It’s important, too, to make sure “your” people have any concerns addressed relative to the merged entity. These are unsettling times, and efforts made to make the situation less scary and to provide positive assurances is very much time well spent.

Laird: Both companies are very successful, so job one is do no harm!

If there is a broadcast engineering technical mandate that needs to be understood, ask: What technical procedures and records are in place at each company? How good is the physical diligence for the properties? What are the reporting structures for each technical group and how do they differ? How do the two companies differ concerning FCC related issues, representation? How do each of the companies handle expert technical work — in-house, consultants? Since one company is mostly major market and the other large and medium market, does it make sense to consolidate technical management across the combined group? Major changes take time for personnel buy in, for trust to develop. Certainly the merger improves capital purchasing leverage. How can communication among CEs be fostered for sharing best practices? The collaboration tools we have today are a great help.

RW: How is redundancy in technical operations typically handled?
Goldman: There are two kinds of redundancies.

Technical equipment redundancies is the first type. As part of the overall planning, office/studio and transmitter leases should be evaluated as to cost, lease restrictions and term. If it makes sense, and as part of the due diligence budget, any potential consolidation should be examined and budgeted. FCC allotments should be checked to see if consolidation of tower sites and/or facility upgrades should be considered. The lease terms for studio and transmitter seldom line up with the acquisition schedule, so there’s usually some period of time when operations remain separate and redundant.

Personnel redundancy is the second type. This is tough and varies considerably by company culture and overall needs. From a corporate standpoint, the corporate engineer of the company being acquired is seldom retained, at least not in the same capacity. Regarding local station staff, questions come up very soon after the merger announcement as to what the new company’s intentions are both from incumbent and by the engineers being acquired. In my experience, however, unfortunately, I’ve found that the engineering personnel are the last to be considered when companies are merging. Ultimately, upper management and imposed budgets make hard decisions necessary.

Smith: I think communication with staff is the key. There will obviously be some painful changes that will ultimately have to be made — and I can speak from personal experience! — but if humane measures are put in place as to any reductions in staff the potential pain can be considerably eased and the negative turned into at least a partial positive. For those unfortunate enough to be RIF-ed [slang for fired], there are new opportunities out there. Any severance arrangements should allow the individual impacted time to seek them out.

RW: What kind of technical issues must be laid out and managed? How are legacy networks and various brands of equipment dealt with?
Laird: Any technical issues that can put a license in jeopardy require immediate attention. Do all the stations have established procedures that are followed daily, weekly, monthly and yearly with record keeping?  Example: tower inspections, history of transmitter and antenna parameters, server back-ups, testing of back-ups, etc. How are the ongoing inspection results reported to the station manager and to corporate technical management?  Legacy technical networks and various brands of equipment within an enterprise of this size are normal. This is not necessarily a bad thing as long as proper IT structure and security is in place to protect them. The need to change is sometimes driven to get new features or because of discontinued hardware and/or software support. With the merger, station technology changes may be needed to support back office initiatives, centralized traffic, billing and IT management. Considering audio programming, will file sharing and voice tracking be expanded?

Kline: The first higher-level engineering things that come to mind are the major backend systems for each. Then there are lots of questions to be answered about HR/payroll, accounting, CRM, billing/traffic, music scheduling, streaming, etc.

Goldman: Regarding legacy networks and equipment, I advise folks not to move too quickly. If the stations are all being consolidated into a new facility, I’d wait until then to make major changes. All involved staffs should have a hand in deciding what brands of equipment are purchased. Some equipment by necessity must be the same, but many equipment items can remain specific to the needs of the individual stations or even specific people, such as preferred production equipment. When deciding on a common equipment platform, like consoles and automation, solicit input from everyone. It may not change the ultimate choice if there’s a company preference, but it may prompt some tweaks to make it more user-friendly to the newcomers on the chosen platform.

RW: There are likely culture differences between the companies. How does a manager handle operational differences?
Smith: Likely, at the outset, the right way to do things, the right way to structure the organization, management wise, and the right level of staffing is pretty much thoroughly ensconced in each organization. Before blindly imposing the right way of doing things on the acquired company, it is very wise to take a good look at how they are doing things and see what positives one might want to incorporate in the new, merged organization, and obviously any negatives that might need to be eliminated. There will certainly be changes, and a lot of them; but letting people know in advance what is being done and, more importantly, why it is being done is critical to buy-in. Without such buy-in, the transition period is doomed to be a rough one.

Laird: Consolidation of best practices in this area should be pursued. Each location should have a list of items that need inspection procedures such as fuel tanks, generators, UPS, building mechanical systems, real property issues, roofs, electrical panels, fire suppression, etc. There should be procedures specific to FCC, such as tower lights, EAS, Part 101 license renewals not associated with the station license. And what about OSHA compliance issues, noise, personal protection, physical hazards and RF exposure? Standardized reporting helps corporate engineering properly oversee technical management responsibilities. This is usually not a big issue with technical personnel, especially if they know they get support when issues arise.

RW: How much time is given to deciding who reports to whom and can you describe the process?
Goldman: Usually, the acquiring company and people associated with the acquiring company take the upper hand in the reporting process. I think it’s simply a trust issue. The corporate staff knows and trusts the local station manager, who knows and trusts the department heads. That’s why I suggest waiting for a while before making any particular staff cuts or organizational changes until more is known about the people coming into the company. Speaking for myself, I have experienced being forced to make decisions before I could properly get to know the new people I was managing. As a result I didn’t make the best choices.

RW: What little things tend to bog you down when planning a merger? From your experiences what potholes can be avoided?
Smith: Trying to focus on the minutiae right out of the box is, I believe, a mistake. That can tie you up in knots and result in noting much of consequence being accomplished.

Laird: Many potholes with technical staff can be avoided by establishing a clear path for technical communication on closing day. The first day communication package is critical for reducing those problems. If there’s a lack of information the void will be filled with bad speculation. Anticipate likely questions by starting a FAQ. Have the org chart available with contact numbers.

Goldman: The biggest potential pothole I’d say that a technical manager must keep in mind when going through a merger is that you must minimize future surprises. Corporate managers really hate surprises. Learn as much as you can as fast as you can about the technical facilities and the people managing those facilities to provide good intelligence and minimize surprises after closing.

Original Article: http://www.radioworld.com/news-and-business/0002/making-a-marriage-work-entercomcbs-radio/340134


Powered by NASH

Cumulus Delivers Country from Nashville.

BY SHANE TOVEN, EDITOR

When you think about Nashville, the first thing that comes to mind is probably music—particularly country music. In 2013, Cumulus launched the NASH brand of country music lifestyle and entertainment programming with NASH FM 94.7 in New York City as the flagship station. In 2014, the NASH brands received new headquarters as Cumulus constructed the NASH campus and studio facilities in the heart of Nashville. The NASH label encompasses a number of brands spanning various multimedia platforms including “America’s Morning Show,” “NASH Nights Live with Shawn Parr,” “American Country Countdown with Kix Brooks,” “Kickin’ It with Kix,” and others. All of these brands originate from the new campus.

BEHIND THE BUILD

Radio magazine interviewed Gary Kline, Director of Engineering for Cumulus about the new facility.

Radio: This truly is a unique facility. Tell me a little bit about some of the main design goals behind the NASH studios.

Kline: The goal was to lay the foundation for a cutting-edge broadcast and production facility to support our NASH brand globally. We intend for this property to become a campus with various production facilities located on our expansive property near downtown Nashville. We wanted the very latest and most modern technology for audio, video, and multimedia production. One of our design goals was to ensure we could distrib- ute and produce high quality HD video, and the very best audio content for broadcast, streaming, web, television, etc. All of this had to be handled in an efficient manner so that we could maximize our production capabilities while retaining the ability to reconfigure and respond to new programming requests quickly. We also incorporated space for our publishing partner, Country Weekly Magazine. They have a full editorial room as well as storage and conference areas.

Radio: Building a new facility always comes with unique challenges—I can imagine the challenges are even greater when building a facility designed for national origination of an entire family of brands. Can you tell me a bit more about some of the challenges that you faced during the design and build process?

Kline: Essentially we gutted the old Citadel facility down to the concrete floors and steel rafters. Before we could do that, however, we had to move WGFX and WKDF over to our other large broadcast facil- ity at Music Circle. WGFX is a sports/talk station with a complex format, and the flagship station for the Titans. Building new studios for them was no small task, and that had to be done before the operation could be moved. The same is true for WKDF. A lot of work had to be done at Music Circle to expand and prepare our existing TDM audio routing system to accommodate the new family members. Hats off to our excellent Nashville engineering team, which handled this large project. Another challenge (after we cleared the building of live broadcast stations) was designing the new layout, which had to accommodate both radio and television studios. We brought in an architect and interior design firm to assist us with this. The design was an iterative process with many meetings to hash things out. The challenge was not only figuring out what went where, but also thinking in terms of the future. For example, we had to make sure we had enough rooms allocated for video and audio production to handle growth over a period of years. Another example was that we installed floor conduits and cable jacks throughout the facility in case, for instance, one day we decide to rearrange the studio furniture. If you pick up the floor rug in Kix’s studio you’ll see what I mean! Oh, one other interesting challenge—one that I think we nailed…Installing multiple monitors and mics without blocking camera angles. Check out Blair’s studio.

Radio: So how long did the project take from initial concept to completion?

Kline: There really were a couple of periods of time here. It is important to note that we built the facility in different phases with Kix’s studio being Phase 1, America’s Morning Show with Blair Garner being Phase 2, and NASH Nights Live being Phase 3. We are working right now on a Phase 4 studio as we are regularly engaged in supporting our brand. That being said, I think it was July of 2012 when we first decided to begin designing the facility. It was then that we hired an interior design firm and began working on plans. We ultimately hired two different architects shortly thereafter. We used two different firms in part because we needed stamped plans, and were seeking guidance on certain construction and design elements. The next step in the process was equipment selection and studio furniture design. By January of 2013 we had a General Contractor on board with plans in hand. In March of 2013, we moved Kix into his beautiful new studio where American Country Countdown and Kickin’ it with Kix is produced. The design, planning, bidding, permitting, and demo work took longer than building the first phase. Once we had all of our ducks in a row it was full steam ahead, not unlike most studio projects. Blair’s studio went online from NASH campus around September of 2013. He broadcast his show from temporary studios at Music Circle until the new studio at the NASH campus was ready. This transition period gave us a chance to work out a lot of bugs before we moved him and his broad- cast crew over to the new studios. NASH Nights Live began broadcasting from their new Phase 3 studio in January of 2014.

Radio: Who were some of the key equipment manufacturers for this project? Choosing from the variety of options out there can be a bit of a chal- lenge. Tell me a bit about the decision process for the equipment on this particular project.

Kline: The audio portion of the facility is handled by an Axia infrastructure using their xNodes for I/O. This approach allowed us maximum flexibility and scalability. We absolutely knew we wanted to build around an IP based system with super flexible GPIO and audio routing capabilities. Using Axia and their Livewire transport allowed us to take advantage of a full broadcast ecosystem. Our VX studio telephone hybrids speak natively to the Axia system, as do our many 25/7 digital delay units. Zephyr ISDN boxes used for guests and backup backhaul also speak Livewire. The automation system used throughout the plant is OP-X. It has been very reliable and speaks directly to Axia using Livewire drivers. The system has various iPad apps for remote control, which we like. APT Oslo frames handle the backhaul to our Westwood One satellite uplink in New York, with ISDN as backup. The APT units run over redundant private and public IP networks, and use Surestream technology to manage that. We also have Intraplex frames with T1 cards. Both the T1 and IP boxes use uncompressed audio. Everything in the plant is AES, and all music is PCM WAV. We literally run linear audio throughout the plant to the uplink. This is not by accident—this is a must for us. Orad provided all of the HD television graphics and switching. We worked very closely with them to integrate their software with our Axia system. For instance, in any studio, the cameras will switch automatically when someone speaks on Mic. If two people are speaking, the system is smart enough to go to a split-screen mode. Of course, you can still switch things manually, but automatic mode lets our producers, board ops, screeners, and video experts focus on other things during the show as needed. Orad is a top-notch company based in Israel. Their graphics package integrates social media such as Facebook and Twitter, which is almost a requirement now for interaction with the audience. Sony provided the PTZ HD broadcast quality cameras. Crestron provided the large video matrix and control system for the many LCD monitors in the studios and throughout the Campus. Omnirax handled all of the custom–very custom–studio furniture. Mika provided the mic and moni- tor arms. Dell and HP provided the many audio, video, storage, and archiving servers. Sadie and Adobe provided much of the editing software.

Radio: These studios are absolutely gorgeous. Attention to detail is important when designing a room with proper studio acoustics—even more so when that studio will be used for video as well. Who did you use for the architectural and studio design?

Kline: Anderson Design handled our interior finishes, consulted on overall layout, and was an integral team member working across all disciplines. For example, studio furniture placement had to be carefully coordinated with regular furniture locations, backdrops, and lighting angles. Kathy Anderson’s firm has handled many major projects for both residential and commercial clients, some very famous folks I can’t mention. Ever been backstage at the Grand Ole Opry? That’s her work. West Construction also contributed to the architecture design, and handled all non-equipment construction. Clair Systems (Clair Brothers) handled most of our lighting and video design and integration. Da- vid Holland at Omnirax, as always, was invaluable with studio furniture design as well as giving advice on line of sight and overall layout. There is much more to studio furniture design than choosing a color and size—When you add TV cameras it gets even crazier. Cumulus engineers from around the country drove and flew to Nashville to wire, build, and configure all of the broadcast gear. It was a team effort.

Radio: I see a few very cool features that stand out to me, including a guitar neck shaped countertop leg in the NASH Nights studio. Tell me a bit about some of the more “unique” features of the facility. Is there anything in particular that you really want to highlight?

Kline: I think the automatic camera switching based on who is speaking is amazing. Our graphics package for video is excellent and very social media friendly. The lighting control can be handled manually using sophisticated lighting controllers, or via our Crestron lighting package. For example, Kix can walk into his room and convert the entire lighting scene to video interview mode by pushing one button. If he hits another button, all the lights return to normal. We provide title and artist data from all playout systems via a special data path to the uplink, and pass that data to the affiliates of our live programs. Blair’s morning show studio is also a live audience performance space. We can accommodate about 17 people in a very comfortable and intimate environment for ei- ther watching the show, or band performances. The entire studio set can be disconnected (via pre-made cable harnesses) and wheeled off the stage. We have an entirely separate digital mixing console and Clair Brothers designed sound system for these events. The band mixer feeds the Axia system for broadcast use. We have a full Creston matrix for video switching. This al- lows monitors in the lobby, green room, studios, wherever, to be remotely set to show a number of different feeds. We can display the TV feed from a studio in one spot while showing CNN somewhere else. A great example of this is in the green room; Artists can hang out and see what’s going on in the studio before they are interviewed. Oh, and we installed a Sonic Ice ma- chine—The real deal. If you want those little pieces of ice, come by. We’ve got them. We have two green rooms: one of them for artists who visit, and the other for the air talent. Did I mention the full basketball court?

Radio: A number of engineers tend to look back at a new facility build and say, “I wish I had done that differently.” You have obviously been involved in a number of facility builds and have learned from those projects, but are there any things that you would change now that the NASH project is complete?

Kline: Yes, and I am changing it. We need a larger generator and UPS system than was there before when Citadel used the property for radio broadcasting only. Work is in progress to upgrade both of these things.

Radio: Thanks for your time, Gary.


Kix Confidential

Man of many talents Kix Brooks moves into his comfortable new studio space for American Country Countdown and keeps his solo career rolling.

STORY BY JON FREEMAN | PHOTOS BY JOE HARDWICK | COUNTRYWEEKLY.COM

Kix Brooks looks quite comfortable in his new studio, seated behind a large trunk-shaped wooden desk where he is tapping on the keys of his Apple notebook. Located in the still-under-construction Cumulus Radio offices in the Rutledge Hill area just south of downtown Nashville, the singer and American Country Countdown host’s new space is warm and inviting, bathed in earthy tones, leather and eye-catching cowboy artifacts. It’s the kind of place you might like to kick off your boots, pour a scotch and settle in for an engaging chat with one of your buddies. Which is exactly what Kix, who has hosted the long-running countdown show for seven years, had in mind when he took over the program from radio legend Bob Kingsley. “Radio studios in general have somewhat of a dentist office attitude. [A] lot of Formica and that’s kind of it,” he says. “Having done a lot of interviews as an artist in those environments, it’s just chilly in general. So I was determined with my first studio to create a living room/cowboy vibe, where people walk in and drop [their] shoulders a little bit.” Maybe it’s that casual, conversational atmosphere that helped Kix win the CMA’s National Broadcast Personality of the Year Award in 2009 and 2011, which he considers a “great honor,” knowing his radio peers voted for him to win.

Kix’s method is merely to make his guests — many of whom are friends and tourmates from his days in Brooks & Dunn—feel comfortable when they visit. “We always sit down and just start talking about family or kids or whatever,” he explains. “I’m always rolling tape. The last thing they always say when we’re done is, ‘When are we gonna start?’” he says with a hearty laugh. “I’m like, ‘We’re done!’ I always tell them, ‘If you say anything that you’re not comfortable with, just give me a call if it comes into mind and don’t worry about that.’  As a result I’ve got a lot of really candid conversations that are special.” Kix admits that when he took over hosting duties in 2006 with the blessing of previous host Bob Kingsley, he had a lot to learn. ABC sent him to ESPN’s interviewing school, where he picked up some important tricks and methods for talking to his guests. Even still, he says, those early days were a bit touch-and- go. “I just cringe at the thought of even how bad it was when I got started. I didn’t even recognize my own voice on the radio!” he says, shaking his head. “And I was doing everything wrong, everything you can think of—every bad way of speaking, so much nervous energy that it was just out of control.

But they stuck with me and I really worked at it, listened to myself a lot, airchecked constantly. I’ve gotten better, and I’ve still got a long way to go but I want to be good at this.” Asked if that’s strange for him, listening back to himself on the radio, Kix says pretty much always. “It’s not unlike singing, when you hear yourself sing in the studio,” he muses. “You think you really killed a take singing and you listen to it and go, ‘Ugh.’” He lets out a laugh, adding a mock-disgusted “‘Gotta do it again.’” The way Kix sees it, the key is just paying attention to his guests and letting the conversation go where it will. “The most important thing about it all is just learning how to listen,” he states, recalling an experience from interviewing school. “You watch so many interviews, and people just had questions on a page and they weren’t listening to what the person was trying to tell them. It’s helped me because I love to talk,” he pauses, laugh- ing at his own expense, “so it’s helped me to sit back and shut up a little bit and to take in what an artist is trying to say and what they’re trying to tell me. Then I may have some questions that are totally different than what I intended to ask originally.”

It’s certainly a craft, like songwriting or playing guitar, that requires practice to master. And Kix, who is still touring and working hard on his post-Brooks & Dunn solo career (see sidebar) as well as being part owner in the Arrington Vineyards winery, has his hands in a lot of pies, so it’s sometimes very difficult. “I’m really jealous of radio personalities who get to do it every day, because Nice digs! The control room is where Lonnie Napier (inset above left) makes all the right cuts. I do a weekly countdown show,” he admits. “I still have my job as a record- ing artist, and I still tour and do other things. I realize when I sit back in that chair that I gotta get my legs back under me. I really respect the people that are great at radio and it really makes me want to be better at it.” It might be stressful, if Kix didn’t love doing it all so much. “Everything I’m doing right now, I’m doing be- cause it’s fun for me,” he says. “I wake up in the morning and just smile at all the stuff I’m gonna get to do every day. I pop that calendar open and it’s a full schedule, but I’m like, ‘OK, OK.’ It’s all good stuff.” With that, he returns back to his desk, looking comfortable as ever as he bangs out another e-mail.