Broadcast Continuity in a Pandemic

Engineers shared ideas about workflows during a special TWiRT episode

TOM VERNON | Radio World | May 29, 2020

“Always have a backup” has been a mantra of radio engineers since the earliest days of broadcasting. Much time and energy has been spent developing disaster recovery plans that outline responses to fires, floods, tornadoes and other cataclysmic events.

But the outbreak of COVID-19 required most station employees, including air staff, to work at home for extended periods of time, a contingency that some engineers might wish they’d spent more time considering.

Lessons learned in the first weeks of the pandemic were discussed in an interesting episode of “This Week in Radio Tech (TWiRT),” hosted by Kirk Harnack, senior systems consultant for The Telos Alliance, and Chris Tobin, IP solutionist. They convened a special edition to talk about “Broadcast Continuity in a Pandemic,” sharing experiences in adapting station workflows and technology.

Codecs and Chromebooks
Geary Morrill is regional director of engineering at Alpha Media USA, an early adopter of the WideOrbit 4.0. He said that platform was being used by those working at home for remote access to the station via iPad and iPhone apps, mainly for recording and voice track activities.

Robbie Green, director of technical operations at Entercom Houston, said his employer created a work-from-home protocol for most staff, although air talent was still in the building. Should it become necessary for them to leave, equipment was set up so they can voice track from home. For the sports staff, he purchased a number of Comrex Opal IP Audio Gateways, as well as refurbished Chromebooks to equip remote kits.

Green said that the cluster’s building includes 600,000 feet of rentable space, of which the station occupies half. If someone working there were to become infected, building management would have to close the building for decontamination, so plans were developed for that eventuality.

A challenge facing many broadcasters, including Green, is how to handle the generation of logs. “Our traffic people have been working remotely for over a week, and program directors can also do logs remotely. We have a secure portal where they can dump everything into our WideOrbit system.”

Tom McGinley, chief engineer at KUFM(FM/TV), engineering manager at Townsquare Media in Missoula, Mont., and Radio World technical advisor, said that a global pandemic occurs about once every hundred years. If this outbreak had happened 20 years ago, he said, broadcasters wouldn’t have had the internet and IP connectivity we have today. The challenge would have been much greater for stations merely to stay on the air.

With no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in his area at the time of the podcast, McGinley said buildings were still accessible for talent. Traffic was being managed off-site through an internet connection. Plans were underway to do live shows remotely via Comrex Access gear, along with RCS NexGen iPush and Remote. McGinley added that the stations were already planning an upgrade to RCS Zetta, which has more flexibility for remote broadcast.

“This is What We Do”
Consultant Gary Kline applauded the efforts of broadcast engineers worldwide. Rising to unexpected challenges and having solutions ready before management knows to ask is “what we do,” he said. Kline praised codec manufacturers whose shipping departments worked overtime in March and April to make sure broadcasters got the tools they needed to stay on the air.

He said that while there has been growing awareness in recent years of the need to prepare for disasters, not all contingencies have been addressed.

“Many stations would have emergency generators as well as backup IP and internet facilities,” he said, describing conversations with clients, “but I would ask ‘What if you have to leave your building?’ and they weren’t so sure about that. Next time, we’ll be so much better prepared for something like this, so there is a silver lining to the story.”

Jim Armstrong, director of eastern U.S. sales at the Telos Alliance, has fielded a lot of questions about accessing equipment such as consoles off-site.

“I tell everyone, it’s just a remote broadcast, only from your home.” One aspect that sometimes gets overlooked is that most AoIP consoles can be operated remotely, and routing switchers can also be controlled off-site.

Several software products are available to fill these needs. There’s third-party software from IP Studios in Paris that runs IP tablet software. He discussed Axia SoftSurface, a program that connects to an engine or console to control the mix bus and faders, and Axia Pathfinder Core Pro, a development tool that allows users to create a virtual Fusion console.

He praised radio engineers for their handling of the situation and joked that a person is not really in radio until they’ve slept at the station, a rite of passage.

Bill Bennett, media solutions manager for ENCO Systems, talked about how stations could access and use their automation playout systems remotely.

For some time, he said, automation has meant servers in the studios plus some form of offsite backup. The cloud has experienced explosive growth over the past 15 years. Engineers have gotten comfortable with the idea of the cloud as a place to store data offsite and as part of their backup plans.

ENCO’s current automation playout system has a web interface, the front of which is HTML5-compliant so it can run on a browser. At the same time, the software is running on a virtual machine in the cloud.

Another bit of software keeps the virtual machine in sync with the studio machine over a VPN line.

An important consideration is keeping viruses that might infect the studio machine from reaching the virtual machine in the cloud. Harnack noted that Paravel Systems’ Rivendell 3.0, the open source automation playout system, is capable of running from the cloud during disasters.

With this type of system in place, all that is necessary in emergencies is to access the virtual machine via a laptop, and route a stream to the transmitter.

Also participating in the conversation were Mike Sprysenski, regional director of engineering at iHeartMedia, and Bryan Waters, chief engineer at Cumulus Media, Atlanta. The podcast can be accessed at thisweekinradiotech.com, or you can watch the full episode below.

Chris Tobin had the last word, talking about understanding workflow solutions. Air talent may be accustomed to working in front of a console and a stack of three audio devices and hotkeys to fire things off. They won’t have those at home and may experience initial stress if everything is different. The goal of the engineer should be to know the workflow of your announcers off-site, and try to make it as similar to the studio environment as possible.

Lightning Round
Harnack asked panelists for words of wisdom that could fit in 30 seconds or less.

Bill Bennett — Use two-factor authentication for network authentication and file access. Yes, it’s more complicated and slows things down, but much more secure.

Gary Kline — Ask yourself who is your backup if you become sick or quarantined. Formally designate someone if you need to.

Geary Morrill — Keep an even keel and be patient with staff as they adapt to the unfamiliar. People will feed off your emotional state.

Jim Armstrong — Have essential spares on the shelf. Remember that you don’t really need it until you need it, and then you really do.

Mike Sprysenski — Remember to take care of yourself as you’re taking care of everybody else.

Bryan Waters — Keep it simple. Give people what they need to work from home, but don’t overwhelm or complicate.

Robbie Green — Create documentation that’s written for the non-technical person. Have someone do a test drive with it before you distribute.

Tom McGinley — Look for the silver linings as this situation winds down. Expect a new level of competence from stations as they revise disaster recovery plans.

 

VIEW ORIGINAL ARTICLE


10 Cybersecurity Questions to Ask Yourself

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

Gary Kline | FUTURE, Radio World | April 2020

I wrote a list of cyber best practices that appeared in a Radio World ebook in November, before the current global crisis. RW asked me to revisit and update it given that broadcasters have rushed to find new ways of doing business centered around remote operations and heavy use of the internet.
There are thousands of announcers, accounting managers, inventory and scheduling staff, programming and music directors, operations directors, engineering managers and other station personnel operating from their homes. How are we handling the IT security and defenses of our operations?
Many of us had to scramble to facilitate multiple work-at-home solutions. Safe practices may have been ignored because the priority was saving businesses or informing our communities.
So now is a good time to assess and reassess. Remember, holes may exist now where they didn’t before, because of emergency actions you took to allow for outside access to systems in your building or transmitter site.
As I wrote in the original version of this article, cybersecurity is a top priority for businesses of all sizes; a lack of readiness and defenses can lead to serious financial and operational consequences. Cyber extortion (ransomware) is big business and is not going away any- time soon. The following questions and thoughts are a place to start in hardening your broadcast organization’s infrastructure and preparing for the worst case.

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

#2. Along with #1 above, when was the last time you had a serious sit-down with your IT team, administrator or outside contractor to discuss cybersecurity? How often do you meet? In that meeting, did you know what specific questions to ask? If not, it is time to put together a list of questions. This article can help you get started.
Given the current COVID-19 situation and the fact that you’ve made changes internally to allow for remote access, now is the time for a video conference with the team to inform and discuss any weaknesses. As a team, you can decide what loopholes should be closed now — prioritize any risks should they exist.

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

#4. Is your network segregated to minimize the damage if something should get through? I often find that networks within the station are combined, on purpose or by mistake. I’ve been in several facilities where they claim their networks are segregated, yet we find that’s not the case.
For example, a PC with a double-NIC (two network cards for separate networks) can be compromised and certain viruses can jump from one network to the other. So the machine that handles traffic but must connect to the automation system — and it is using two network cards — might not be as safe as you thought. Or that one PC that has Remote Desktop on it so someone can get into the network but only though that one “external” machine ... well, it may not be the “firewall” you think it is.
There are ways to handle remote access properly and securely. Your trained IT staff or outside security contractor can help you with this.
During the COVID-19 crisis many stations have found themselves needing remote access to their automation playout systems. Normally, as a cyber best practice, these machines are locked down and disconnected from the public internet. If remote capability existed, it was usually through very secure login and VPN methods. I’ve seen many stations in the past month or so that did not have remote access set up allowing their client and server playout machines to be connected to the outside internet. This was done in a hurry and under emergency conditions; some buildings were cleared out almost overnight. If you are one of these facilities, follow #2 above. Make sure management is aware of these temporary weaknesses and address a plan to close the gaps looking forward. You may need this capability in the future, but now you’ll have time to prepare better with more secure access procedures.

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

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

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

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

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

#10. Ask for help. I say this often. Do not be afraid to ask for help. Whether you are a managing director or engineer and IT director, it is OK to ask for resources to assist you with cyber-security. You have friends who know things. You have vendors who know things and who have internal resources to assist you with this. There are local IT firms with experts. Consultants. Lots of free advice on the internet. The United States and many other governments provide free information on ransomware, viruses and other forms of malware.
Now, more than ever, we are all coming together to help one another. I’ve seen hundreds of posts online (on the various broadcast-related social platforms) from broadcast engineers, offering advice and asking questions on every imaginable topic related to COVID-19. If you need help with setting up a SIP connection to a mobile phone, there are plenty of people who will help you. Do you need help with remote access to a specific playout system? Just reach out to your vendor or another engineer. Some vendors are offering free versions/use of their remote packages. Every manufacturer and engineer are working together to help one another. I’ve said this before: This is what we do every day; we help stations stay on the air. Even from home!

I walk into too many facilities that are not prepared defensively and that starts at the top. Go back to #1 above. Make sure you have a security-aware culture. Many stations have had to make tough decisions recently on what rules to relax and where the cost/benefit/risk balance lies. This is a decision that is unique to every facility. We are all having to do things differently now than before. Make sure you’ve kept track of what you’ve done so you can go back and close the loopholes. Prepare a list of necessary hardware/software that you can present for approval for things you may need to do this again but with additional security (if needed).

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

Original Article: VIEW PDF


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

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

By Paul McLane | Radio World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RW: What else should we know?

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

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

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


European Radio and Digital Audio Show Eyes Future

The 16th European Radio and Digital Audio Show drew to a close on Saturday Jan. 25.

The exhibition floor at the 2020 edition of the European Radio and Digital Audio Show.

According to organizers, the three-day event attracted 8,100 visitors, an 8% increase over the 2019 gathering. It also played host to 183 exhibitors.

Sporting the theme “Solid Radio. Liquid Audio,” some 500 speakers animated the conferences, workshops and masterclasses. Session topics ranged from virtualization to advertising and from media education to diversity in radio.

LOOKING AHEAD

While many of the sessions that made up the three conference tracks were in French, a few were in English. One such panel was “The Future of Audio Under GAFA Hegemony.”

The “The Future of Audio Under GAFA Hegemony” session analyzed the future of radio in relation to the arrival of tech giants such as Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon.

Moderated by consultant Gary Kline, the session looked at the future of radio and how broadcasters should adapt to changing consumption patterns and expectations with the arrival of tech giants such as Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon.

The panel also featured Alexandre Saboundjian, CEO, Targetspot;  Philippe Generali, CEO of RCS; and James Cridland, radio consultant and founder of Podnews.

In addition, the 2020 event showcased Germany and Austria’s work in the industry. More than 15 German and Austrian exhibitors were present, including Audi and its e-tron automobile, featuring its latest infotainment system.

NEW ENTRY

A new entry to this year’s lineup was the POD.Village, a space dedicated entirely to podcast professionals and podcasters.

There was also an In-car XP stand on embedded digital radio and audio experiments in the automotive industry, while the DAB+ pavilion offered updates on digital terrestrial radio around the world.

Charlie Gawlie accepts the “Product of the Year” award at the show. Also pictured are Alexi Saillant (left) and Paul Guibouret of SAVE Diffusion. The company is Tieline’s distributor in France.

As in previous years, organizers held a ceremony to honor notable talent and products. Tieline took home an award for its Via codec in the “Product of the Year” category and IP-Studio won the “Service of the Year” award for its virtualization studio.

The 2021 edition will take place Jan. 21–23 at Grande Halle de la Villette in Paris, where Italy will be the country of honor.

https://www.radioworld.com/show-news/european-digital-radio-and-audio-show-eyes-the-future


Tips for Interviewing the Candidate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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European Radio Show: The Future of Audio Under GAFA Hegemony

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

https://rainnews.com/should-radio-rename-to-audio-it-must-be-done-today-live-from-the-european-radio-show/ 


Ten Tips to Help You Create Your Best Studio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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10 Cybersecurity Questions to Ask Yourself

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

Gary Kline | CYBERSECURITY AND STUDIO DISASTER RECOVERY, Radio World | November 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ten Questions to Consider

Important points to take into account when implementing codec technology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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14 Questions to Ask Yourself

Thought prompts for the manager planning a visual radio project

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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