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.


Five Questions: Gary Kline

Gary Kline is senior vice president of engineering for Cumulus Media Inc. He is been intimately involved with the enormous growthof the group owner over the last several years. He took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to provide detailed answers to Five Questions.

TechBytes: Who are you and how did you get to where you are today?
Gary Kline: I’m a guy who grew up in New York City and was always fascinated by radio. I loved listening to radio programs from other states late at night and fell in love with the medium. Growing up listening to New York City radio in the ’70s and ’80s was what shaped my future and set me on radio career that continues today. That “hobby” and fascination led to making my own 8-track and cassette tapes pretending to be a DJ by the time I was 10. I still have a collection of 45s in my garage from those sessions.

By 13 I had my ham license and was playing with my first computer. By 17 I was applying for an internship at NBC/30 Rock in radio promotions department (I got it). By 18 I was hired as an engineer there and readying to go to college for a degree in business. I helped pay my way through school by being an on-air talent and ultimately becoming a radio engineer in the Midwest. By 21 I was working at ABC Radio News in Manhattan, which just a few years ago, I was reunited with when Cumulus purchased Citadel. It was heartwarming to work again with some of the folks I had known for so many years.

My entire career has been centered around radio, mostly engineering or engineering management but I have also been on-air, in general management, and programming. I started with Cumulus almost 16 years ago as a contractor/consultant and worked my way up the ladder, as they say. I am very driven, very much in love with our business, and never stopped wanting to learn more, do more, and improve upon the way we do things.

Things have changed since touching my first piece of tape on the 9th floor at 30 Rock and that’s required a constant process to stay ahead of the game — both from a technology and management standpoint. Transmitters and studios are just one mode of transmission these days. Streaming, video, web, satellite, etc. are all integral parts of the job. If I had stayed focused on just a few things I know I wouldn’t have the job I have today.

TechBytes: How has the broadcast engineering plant and practice changed since you started?
Kline: Well, as I was just saying in my response to the previous question, things have changed, a better word might be expanded, quite a bit. To be fair, some principles of broadcast engineering have remained the same. We generally have studios which feed transmitters which feed radios. But the gear we use, the method in which it is all connected, and the various transmission methods have changed dramatically. Almost all plants are digital or have some form of digital in them. Playback origination is almost entirely digital in nature. Audio routing and connectivity is going towards an IP based plant more and more every day.

At Cumulus our standard studio design calls for AOIP in every buildout. Transmitters are highly technical now with footprints way smaller than we could imagine — think 10 kW boxes in just a few rack spaces. Audio processing is so far advanced from what it was 30, 20, 10, even just five years ago. Engineers typically handle way more than they did before. That now includes, streaming, Web, sophisticated and integral IT support, video, complex live remotes, etc. When I started we used Martis for remotes. Today we use iPhones and 4G. We didn’t even have cellphones when I started.

Engineering overall has transitioned to more of a media engineering job. We manage media plants. We just completed a complete studio and facility buildout in downtown San Francisco. We’ve described our rack room there as a “data center” that passes audio.

TechBytes: Cumulus has been in acquisition mode over the last few years. Tell us about trying to get the disparate elements onto the same Cumulus engineering page.
Kline: This could be an article all on its own. I think the short answer is that we have strong systems in place. We have systems for management, for purchase approvals both operating and CapEx, for engineering management (i.e. a strong regional engineering team), for engineering standards, for vendor selection and interaction, etc. I would also say that we’ve done a number of acquisitions over the years both small/medium and large and have experience with what needs to happen: everything from back office to engineering, legal, diligence, etc. Good systems and back office structure goes a long way. We have standardized billing and CRM systems as well as music scheduling, automation, and HR applications. Couple that with strong engineering processes and the disparate elements come together.

Some things happen on Day One and others take more time. I am very respectful, in our engineering world, of the systems and methods another engineer may have put in place. If we acquire a cluster that’s had the same engineer for many years and he or she has their way of doing things, to the extent we can learn from them and tap into their knowledge, I am all for it. I and my team have learned an awful lot over the years by walking into rack rooms and studios and transmitters sites across the country. There’s lots of great innovation and creativity out there. We have high standards at Cumulus but that doesn’t mean everything must go. I think the combination of working standards and a seasoned plan of action along with a case by case review of the engineering in a particular market is what gets everyone on the same page.

TechBytes: Does Cumulus management provide enough resources for the engineering plant/do you have strong influence with corporate managers?
Kline: I report directly to Lew Dickey, our CEO. There is no red tape. There is no mid-level management. We roll our sleeves up every day and get down to work. I work hand-in-hand with the senior managers on the corporate team and I think it is fair to say we have a high degree of trust amongst each other as well as respect. There is a lot of responsibility that comes with sitting in this chair and there is equally a lot of responsibility in their respective chairs. I understand what our sales and revenue team as well as programming department must go through each day and I know how important it is to them that all of our signals operate at 100% every minute of every day. That includes not only our over-the-air signals but our streaming and satellite services under our Westwood One group.

I am based in Atlanta and, while I travel often, am here a few days each week. Every Friday I meet with the finance team. Every Monday I meet with the entire corporate programming department and go over any technical issues from their point of view listening to reports from every single station in the company. There are very few reported issues each week fortunately but this is an example of how we all work together.

You asked about strong influence. I think of it as strong relationships. If I need something done, I get it done with the help of my peers. And when someone needs something from me or my team, I am there for them. We communicate often, sometimes several times a day, to ensure things run smoothly and folks in the field get answers and the help they need. It is a constant process that requires focus every day of the week. The resources to get the job done are there. In this new economy, the key is to be creative and smart.

TechBytes: Where does Cumulus recruit its engineering talent from? Does Cumulus have any programs for the recruitment and training of young engineers?
Kline: Well, as everyone reading this knows, it is very hard to find unemployed top-notch engineering talent. They are not just sitting around. It takes effort and great networking. Luckily, I have engineers spread all over the country. Through that network we know of a lot of people and a lot of people know us. There’s also a strong pool of IT and tech-savvy prospects out there that we tap into when and where appropriate. You know the saying: “You should always be recruiting, even if you have no opening.” I am always recruiting. So are my team members. We have our eyes open all the time.

We also believe in promoting from within. We train constantly and have filled positions internally when possible. We’ve trained a number of our engineers on everything from RF maintenance to digital studio installs to network routing design. RF, digital, analog, Cisco, automation, desktop support, AOIP, live mixing, etc. We’ve kept the rental companies and airlines busy the past few years moving engineers around from one project to another for hands on learning as well.

I am on the national board of the SBE and believe strongly in their education programs and certification processes. I think that what Larry Wilkins (a former Cumulus engineer) is doing with the ABA [Alabama Broadcasters Association Engineering Academy] is magnificent. In fact, our newest engineering hire in Atlanta is attending class there as I write this — another promotion from within and from our promotions/remote department. We’ll turn him into a great staff engineer and hopefully someday, a great chief engineer.

Original Article: http://www.radioworld.com/business-and-law/0009/five-questions-gary-kline/337441
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Cumulus Media Settles In at New NTOC

Company focuses the design of its new 10,000-square-foot facility entirely on the needs of distribution

Scott Fybush | Jan 12, 2015

Brian Wilson, Greg Monti and Bob Mack, from left, are shown in front of the rack room at the Cumulus/Westwood One TOC in Purchase, N.Y.PURCHASE, N.Y. — You can’t see it amidst the neat wiring and gleaming surfaces of Cumulus Media Networks/Westwood One’s new network technical operations center north of New York City, but there is plenty of history underlying the facility that’s celebrating its first anniversary.

When Cumulus moved to its new home in an office park in Purchase, Westchester County, it closed out almost 30 years of network operations in ABC’s historic facility at 125 West End Avenue on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. By 2011, a series of ownership changes — first Citadel’s purchase of ABC Radio from Disney and then Cumulus’ acquisition of Citadel — had turned the former ABC Radio technical operations center into the New York hub for Cumulus. The aging plant and Cumulus’ status as a tenant in a Disney/ABC-owned building made relocation a priority.

“It was fairly obvious we needed a new plant that switched audio over IP,” says Bob Mack, vice president of engineering. “What did take a lot of time was figuring out where to build it.”

Master Control Operator Angel Bourdon is in the new Purchase network technical operations center. Even in a city with as much commercial real estate as New York, Mack says it was surprisingly challenging to find space that met all of Cumulus’ specialized needs: access to multiple fiber providers, southern sightlines for satellite reception and 24/7 cooling and power supply. To meet union requirements, the new master control had to be within a 25-mile radius of the old West End Avenue plant.

“A lot of places met most of those objectives, but not all of them,” said Mack, recalling what turned out to be several months of visits to more than 40 buildings scattered through all five boroughs of New York City, northern New Jersey, Long Island and Westchester County. Among their stops, the quest took the team out to the Lodi, N.J., transmitter site of WABC(AM), where Cumulus inherited space that had been used to store and maintain ABC Sports remote trucks — and where field-strength meters showed several volts’ worth of RF field strength from the nearby 50 kW transmitter.

Gary Kline, Cumulus’ vice president of engineering and information technology, sent Mack and Greg Monti, senior VP of operations and engineering, out to examine data centers in hopes of finding the right combination of fiber, cooling and power. That ended up leading to undesirable rent structures — “data centers charge by the watt, not by the square foot,” Monti notes — but it did get the Cumulus team on the right path to the site they needed.

“You want to find the promised land, you follow the fiber,” Mack says. That thread of glass led up to the I-287 corridor across Westchester County, 20 miles north of the city, where multiple fiber providers all converge to link New England to New York City and points beyond.

“We have better connectivity here than we had at West End Avenue,” Monti says of the Purchase location, which is served by six fiber providers.

Look, Ma, (almost) no wires! Each codec connects to the router with a single Cat-6 cable. This is a far cry from the nest of wiring found in the previous NTOC.MOVING ON

Unlike the old ABC space, which put the network master control at the center of a floor filled with studios and the ABC Radio newsroom, Cumulus was able to focus the design of its new 10,000-square-foot facility entirely on distribution. Visitors enter into a hallway alongside a wall of windows looking into the rack room that makes up the heart of the facility. In Manhattan, master control operators worked right in the rack room, scurrying back and forth among the racks to check on incoming feeds, dial up ISDN connections and move patches around in bays. But times have changed: Now that codecs and satellite receivers can all be controlled remotely by IP and patch bays are a thing of the past, Cumulus Corporate Engineer Michael Gay was able to separate the control room from the rack room. Operators in Purchase enjoy outside light from a wall of windows behind them; in front of the Omnirax furniture that fills the control room, another wall of windows looks across a hallway into the rack room.

When it came time to decide how to fill the rack room, one decision was easy: Mack and Monti say there was no question the new facility would continue to use the Harris (now Imagine Communications) automation that had been at the heart of the old Manhattan plant, where it was originally installed under the McCurdy brand name in the 1980s. In Westchester, the Harris Series D automation serves as the ringmaster to control systems that may be more familiar to a typical radio station: Axia’s Livewire audio over IP system transports audio around the plant through a Cisco 4510 router. Netia automation stores and plays out audio, and Telos, Comrex and Harris Intraplex IP and ISDN codecs bring in live audio from the dozens of providers who distribute their programming through this facility. (Instead of trying to get new telco-based ISDN service, which is becoming more challenging, the plant uses T1s through Adtran modules to generate its own ISDN service.)

Behind the racks, Radio Systems’ StudioHub connections tie everything together through 48-jack panels of Cat-6 connections back to the router. “You never have to pull a wire,” Mack boasts of a plant designed so that analog audio never travels more than seven feet before hitting a digital node. Axia’s iPorts extend connectivity to locations outside the building, including Cumulus Media Networks’ production center in Dallas, which can also serve as a backup network TOC in an emergency. Dallas is one of two uplink points; it and the main uplink in nearby Stamford, Conn., are both fed directly by fiber from Purchase. There’s a 750 kVA generator serving the building, and more than six hours of UPS capacity before the generator even needs to kick in.

Brian Wilson, senior director of technical operations, highlighted the capabilities of the AoIP system. For instance, with the ability to switch 200 audio buses, “we need silence sensing,” Wilson says. “You’ve got one guy in master control, and we need to be able to pinpoint where there’s a problem.” In Manhattan, that meant a forest of hardware-based silence sensors all wired back to warning lights in master control. In Purchase, it’s done virtually through Axia, which creates its own software-based silence sensors.

Wilson and the Cumulus team studied the workflow at West End Avenue to determine how to lay out the new master control in Purchase, with an eye toward providing as much control as possible to operators without ever having to leave their desk.

Greg Monti and Bob Mack look at the codecs that deliver programming from outside producers to the Purchase network technical operations center.TOP CREW

It’s an experience Wilson and his management colleagues got to take on firsthand as construction was underway. After the site search wrapped up in the summer of 2012, a year passed while the space was readied for occupancy and equipment was purchased. Cumulus went on a crash course in the summer of 2013 to build out its new plant, bringing in six to eight engineers at a time from local Cumulus stations as far away as Dallas, Houston and Reno to work in shifts alongside vendors and a systems integrator to get everything in place and wired up.

“We had a whole crew of the best and brightest chief engineers Cumulus had to offer,” Mack says. “Everyone was given a plan and told, ‘Do it,’ and that’s when the cardboard started to fly.”

By September of 2013, the first services were beginning to originate from Purchase, but Cumulus needed to continue to staff the Manhattan master control as well. So while the regular master control staff did their jobs in New York, it was up to Mack, Monti and Wilson to keep up a 24/7 rotation among themselves to oversee the new facility in Purchase.

Wilson says it was a valuable experience to be back in the operator’s chair where he’d spent his first 15 years with ABC. “As systems change, there’s nothing like sitting in the seat, answering the phones, to evaluate the workflow.”

INSIDE THE OPERATION

Courtesy of Bob Mack, here are the “main equipment pillars” for the Purchase network technical operations center:

• Process and control automation: Imagine Communications (Harris) D-Series automation
• Audio and GPIO switching: Axia Audio
• Audio content management and storage: Netia
• ASI transport: Evertz
• Satellite Distribution: XDS
• Servers: Dell
• Switches: Cisco
• Backhaul equipment, importing audio and control from other locations: Axia iPort, Telos xStream and Z/IP, Comrex Access, APT Oslo WorldNet IP, Harris IP100, Harris Intraplex, CCS Suprima

Wilson, Monti and Mack spent more than two months on full-time master control duty at Purchase, all while working to move more services from Manhattan to Westchester. By December 2013, the last of Cumulus’ clients had been relocated, the West End Avenue facility was closed down and the master control operators were settling into their new home in Purchase — just in time for another big change.

Its merger with Westwood One means more than just a new sign on the door outside the Purchase NTOC. Inside, the services Westwood One had been offering on its IDC satellite system, including CBS Radio News, were transitioned to the Cumulus XDS system, though the existing Westwood/CBS TOC also remained in place in the CBS Broadcast Center in Manhattan. But, it should be noted, that at the start of 2015, Westwood One will begin distributing Westwood One News, a customized news service powered by CNN, cutting the last of its ties with the ABC network that was once the cornerstone of the operation.

Scott Fybush is a long-time contributor to Radio World.

Original Article: https://www.radioworld.com/news-and-business/cumulus-media-settles-in-at-new-ntoc

 


Cumulus Partnership with Telos IBC Innovations Award nomination

Cumulus Partnership with Telos, Axia leads to IBC Innovations Award nomination
June 04, 2014
Cumulus Radio’s technical collaboration with the Telos Alliance’s Telos Systems and Axia Audio brands has helped put Cumulus on the short list for an IBC2014 Innovation Award, the annual prize given at the IBC in Amsterdam for “clever new technology … in real-world applications.”

The project was an outgrowth of the annual preparations for “Radio Row” at the American Music Awards, presented each Winter in Los Angeles, California. In looking for a more efficient way of dealing with the assembly of 20 separate interview stations (each with its own set of multiple mics and headphones, IFB, audio mixer and other ancillary equipment,” Cumulus Senior Vice President, Engineering and IT Gary Kline, working with Telos Systems VP Kirk Harnack, hit upon the idea of using a “Virtual Mixer” app, written by Cumulus’ Broadcast Software International subsidiary, running on touch-sensitive tablet devices, to eliminate the physical mixing consoles and directly control the mixing capabilities of Axia StudioEngine mixing platforms. Final audio was distributed to local stations using Telos Zephyr iPort codecs, each capable of “pushing” up to 16 stereo MPEG or AAC streams to separate remote locations.

Original Article: https://www.telosalliance.com/News/Cumulus-Partnership-with-Telos-Axia-leads-to-IBC-Innovations-Award-no
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Study Shows ‘Robust’ Coverage for Digital-Only AM

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

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

Original Article: View PDF


Cumulus Propels Sports Radio Into 5.1 Era

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


FM SSBSC Faces Questions

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

Thomas R. McGinley | July 2, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Orban offered ideas regarding how testing should proceed:

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

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

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

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

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


September 2011 NAB Radio Show Bio

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

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

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

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

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

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Cumulus Cincinnati reinvents by rebuilding and reusing

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

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

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

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Open Mic: Gary Kline

RadioMag | May 1, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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