Author Archives: WHEAT:NEWS Staff

About WHEAT:NEWS Staff

Articles for WHEAT:NEWS and WHEAT:BLOG are written by a highly professional team of correspondents who keep their fingers on the pulse of the industry. If you have comments or questions about content here, please contact the editor, Scott Johnson, at Wheatstone Corporation's New Bern, NC world headquarters: (252) 638-7000 x166.

Go Ahead. Write Your Own Script!

scriptingYou could say that radio is going through the same thing we all are — getting thicker around the middle and, hopefully, a little smarter with age. There are more AM and FM stations on the dial, but there’s also far more to radio these days than just a tall stick.

We recently heard about a station in Colombia that broadcast Morse code to let a group of hostages know authorities were coming to free them, and about another station in Frankfurt that broadcast an entrance exam for a prestigious music academy there. Only those prospective students who could hear perfect pitch could make out the email address to enroll in the school.

Ingenious, huh? And, we haven’t even mentioned digital radio yet, which brings new radio opportunities such as map data and personalized mobile messaging.

We like where all this is going.

We can easily see how our WheatNet-IP Intelligent Network could do stuff we never designed it to do, or even dreamed it could do. Imagine an EAS signal comes in, and the system pauses the music for an emergency weather broadcast while triggering an RDS or HD data message targeted to a specific range of GPS coordinates that happens to track to your smartphone or smart house or, say, your smart coffee pot with a GPS chip in it.

We probably think about these things more than we should, because the above is not only possible today, it’s easily programmed into our WheatNet-IP system. We actually have a scripting program that just about anyone can use to write this kind of logic control into our WheatNet-IP Intelligent Network.

That’s right. You write your future – not your competitors, not some standards committee, not even Wheatstone. Because each component of the WheatNet-IP system is able to “see” and interact with other elements in the network, it’s a small matter to write conditional logic functions triggered by source, time, or event from anywhere and to anywhere with an internet connection. Right now, this is useful for things like wholesale station reformatting, switching between studios, and changing the settings on the audio processor when a certain mic turns on – all easily managed over a single CAT6 cable that is already in place for audio routing.
But, in the future, who knows what WheatNet-IP logic and scripting will bring? Whatever it is, we’re ready. That’s why we developed the ACI interface in cooperation with industry partners, so external equipment such as automation systems, processors, and schedulers can send control messages to our intelligent network, or receive status and control information from it as a result.

That’s why we put full-featured stereo mixers within the DSP of our BLADEs, so that the input and output buses of these mixers are essentially accessible anywhere for mixing, submixing, segues and fades.

And, that’s why we came up with an eight-processor BLADE for our WheatNet-IP Intelligent Network, so you can tap into multiband processing for eight separate streams, translators or HD channels direct from the network.

We like where this is going, and it all starts in the studio with an intelligent audio-over-IP system.


Of Processors, Pepsi, and Peru

Jonathan_ZevallosGrupo RPP’s audio engineer Jonathan Zevallos stopped in at the Wheat factory last week.  Grupo RPP is the largest commercial radio group in Peru, and it recently acquired four AirAura spectral audio processors for its main FM stations along with 27 VP-8 digital audio processors for the group’s FM translators. During Zevallos’ two-day visit, our Processing Systems & Support Engineer Mike Erickson spent some time getting to know Jonathan and Grupo RPP. A fan of Pepsi products, Jonathan was surprised to learn that New Bern is the birthplace of Pepsi-Cola. Of course, his friends at Wheatstone made sure he got a tour of the Pepsi plant before heading home to Peru.

Even though our North Carolina Spanish was hard to understand at times, we were able to communicate with Jonathan through translator Stephanie Weil (a Wheatstone factory test engineer who is from Colombia and also happens to be Mike’s wife) and through the universal language of audio.

WS: Now that you’ve had a chance to look around the factory, what do you think of it?

JZ: I am very impressed by the care and detail that goes into the manufacturing of Wheatstone products. It makes me feel confident that the products I purchase will be built well and last a long time.

WS: Thanks, Jonathan. Tell us about your stations. Does each of your stations have different audio processing goals, for example?

JZ: We have six music stations: Studio 92, La Mega, 102.1 Oxigeno, Radio Felicidad, Capital Radio and an online station called Corazón.  Our listeners come from all different backgrounds and demographics and we have different formats tailored to meet their tastes. Above all the goal is a quality audio signal. Each format has a different flavor, so there is some tailoring of the processing to meet the production values of each format. Some formats have more dynamic range in the source material than others and we adjust the processing accordingly.

WS:  Broadcasters tell us that so much has changed in broadcasting over the years, such source material but also listener expectations because of mobile devices, for example. Are you also experiencing the same changes in Peru?

JZ: Yes. But digital processing has advanced a great deal. There is more room with modern audio processors to actually create a sound that is unique. This is why we want to take advantage of the most modern hardware available.

WS: What did you like best about what you heard from the AirAura?

JZ: I was drawn in by the compressor. Most audio processors on the market don’t have a multiband compressor. Many go right from an AGC to limiters. Having the compressor and the amount of control in the compressor as it interacts with the AGC helps you create presets that are perfect for the different formats we have.

WS: We enjoyed your visit, Jonathan, and hope you come back to visit us again at Club Wheat.

JZ: Thanks to everyone at Wheatstone for giving me the opportunity to travel to the factory and see what goes on in the design and building of the hardware. I had a very good time in New Bern!


“It’s just paint.” Not at Wheatstone!

Paint Abrasion Testing

Paint Abrasion Testing

Every once in a while, we’ll wander to the back of the factory and find our dedicated Wheatstone engineers huddled around a product or part or some material or another used in the manufacturing process. If they’re wearing safety glasses, it’s never good.

We can’t be certain, but we suspect there’s a cannon back there.

So, in recent weeks, when our quality engineers seemed preoccupied with a certain paint, we decided to follow them around with our camera. We couldn’t believe the number of experiments they conducted on something as simple as paint. We watched them do a solvency test to make sure the paint didn’t dissolve or strip off easily. We saw an abrasion test to assess for durability, and then a scratch test to gauge for peel resistance, and even a silk-screen test to make sure the paint in question had the right absorbency factor to adhere to metal.

We were told the new paint had electrical conductivity properties, which our engineers were testing for use on our WheatNet-IP BLADEs as a way to streamline our manufacturing process. Almost a dozen tests were conducted to make sure the paint was Wheatstone-worthy and it would hold up to broadcast use and abuse.

The new paint passed all our tests with flying colors, but we’re still waiting for the cannon to go off.


Meet Dave Breithaupt

Meet Dave Breithaupt, human transistor. Dave was one of the first engineers to work with field-programmable gate arrays (FPGA) in the ‘80s, and is now the guy responsible for Wheatstone’s firmware designs. You probably have never met Dave, but you might know of his work.

His FPGA designs were married to a Linux microprocessor to yield the hardware needed to build the WheatNet-IP Intelligent Network, for example.

In the 12 years that Dave has worked with Wheatstone, he has been involved in just about every new product design at the firmware level on down to the switches and buttons of Wheatstone control surfaces.

Dave started out designing television cameras for RCA and has worked in electro optic imaging, X-ray imaging, and military electronics for companies like GE before landing at Wheatstone.

The only thing he enjoys almost as much as working on Wheatstone products is taking the motorcycle out for a spin. Which is saying a lot about his dedication to Wheatstone, because Dave has five motorcycles.


Links from WHEAT:NEWS Volume 4, No. 2

WHEAT:NEWS

WHEAT:NEWS, Wheatstone’s monthly newsletter, publishes a list of links of general interest in each issue. If you don’t receive WHEAT:NEWS and would like to, simply click the banner above and you’ll be led to a page where you can subscribe. We don’t sell or give away your contact info and we don’t SPAM, and we make it easy to unsubscribe at any time.

Volume 4, No. 2 published the following links:

  • Check out these photos of a studio rebuilt around a reconditioned Audioarts R-60 console. When we say they’re built to last, we mean it! (Engineering Radio by Paul Thurst)
  • Personality counts in life and in radio. (CBS News) (Video)
  • Here’s a web site where you can get a bit more than the FCC’s basic info on most radio stations. Check out your station here. (radiostation.org)
  • What if Google could think the way you do? Think about it. (readwrite.com)
  • Digital video is a fast-growing industry. Here are the top companies to watch. (fastcompany.com)
  • Community radio needs your support. Ready to commit? (CommitToCommunityRadio.org.au)

It Could Happen: Wheat Roadies!

WheatRoadCrewPassIf only we had our own reality show. We could call it Wheat Roadies, for all the bizarre and interesting WheatNet-IP audio-over-IP uses we’ve seen in our travels.

Because while other studio AoIP systems have a rather ordinary existence, our WheatNet-IP Intelligent Network has made some extraordinary gains in network speed, redundancy, and agility.

Really. No other AoIP system has nodes that are self-healing to give you as many points of recovery as there are BLADE access points in the network. It’s why we easily have an entire season’s worth of mission-critical government applications, including a made-for-TV episode that involves a FEMA studio from which officials regularly update the nation on natural disasters. Our Wheat Roadies set up a WheatNet-IP system there just weeks before Hurricane Sandy blasted the east coast. In fact, the WheatNet-IP system is a regular fixture in D.C. We can’t talk about the nature and uses of WheatNet-IP in some federal agencies for obvious reasons, but trust us, this stuff is way more interesting than Honey Boo Boo.

WheatNet-IP also has a distinguished military career, including a WheatNet-IP-equipped electronic classroom for a U.S. Army base. We’re proud to offer the military the only intelligent audio network that distributes control and intelligence across all access points, unlike other AoIP networks that have a single point in the network calling all the shots.

No doubt, this is one reason why WheatNet-IP has found its way into some off-the-wall installations.  For example, a firm on Wall Street is using our WheatNet-IP Intelligent Network to bring in an audio feed all the way from a data center in New Jersey. True story. So, once again, our Wheat Roadies were on a plane headed for D.C. to meet the suits there and to set up a mission-critical WheatNet-IP system.

Then there’s the broadcaster who needed a way to monitor an on-air signal off the AoIP network, so he set up the Aura8-IP BLADE  – our BLADE with eight audio processors built into it — as a fake, pre-delay air feed for monitoring anywhere there’s an Internet connection.

WheatNet-IP also has a reputation as a useful studio-to-transmitter as well as studio-to-studio transport system, in part because it’s able to run at ten times the network speed of other AoIP systems. Clear Channel in Charlotte, for example, didn’t have the line-of-sight needed for all the usual STL options (not to mention there was an airport in the way), so they made the hop by feeding BLADE IP audio into a DragonWave microwave unit, which piggybacks all BLADE IP audio plus input auxiliary and HD data to four transmitter sites. (See this WHEAT:NEWS article.) There’s no noticeable audio delay here, or at Clear Channel’s Portland cluster either, which is running WheatNet-IP audio out to four transmitter sites through dark fiber on a wide-area network. WheatNet-IP’s network speed of 1 gigabit/second  is one reason why ESPN in Chicago is able to connect a street level talk studio to a control room on its seventh floor, and more precisely, why they’re able to operate in near real-time for all mixing, talkback and intercom functions between the two.

It’s WheatNet-IP all the way for Skyview Networks too, which uplinks 44 channels of audio onto satellite from main and backup uplink sites divided by a mile and a half but unified through the WheatNet-IP audio network – all synchronized and automated by customized software on the network.

Our Wheat Roadies have seen it all, from D.C. to Portland and back again, and for all sorts of interesting WheatNet-IP applications. We couldn’t make this stuff up. Really.

Let us know your unusual WheatNet-IP application! Email us your WNIP story at wehearyou@wheatstone.com. We can’t wait to hear the cool and unusual uses you’ve discovered for our WheatNet-IP system.


Beasley Las Vegas Distress Call

Lamar Smith

Lamar Smith

We’re suckers for a good studio renovation project. We tend to gawk at new studios like others rubberneck at cars on the side of the road. We’ve been involved in our share of studio projects as engineers working in the field before our time with Wheatstone, and some of us still help out with new studio installations.

We know all too well how difficult these projects can be. Before anything remotely like WheatNet-IP audio-over-IP networking, we pulled cable until our arms came out of their sockets. We probably hammered down enough subflooring in our time to cover the New York City underground system. So when we got the distress call that Beasley Broadcast in Las Vegas needed to move two of its five stations before renovation on new studios even began, we had to really feel for engineer Lamar Smith.

We secretly wondered what horrible thing Lamar did in his recent past to deserve such a punishment. As we soon learned, though, the lease ran out on the two stations’ existing facility, which made it far more cost-effective to move them into makeshift studios before renovation on the new facility began.

We didn’t envy Lamar the extra headache in what was already a big project ahead of him, but we were able to assure him that the WheatNet-IP Intelligent Network was going to make life a whole lot easier in any case. “They were right about that. The WheatNet system is why we were able to move two radio on-air studios and two production studios in three weeks,” said Lamar, who racked up a couple of WheatNet-IP BLADEs, moved in four E-1 control surfaces, and let the system do the rest. (WheatNet-IP configuration is done automatically; all Lamar had to do was unbox the units and plug in the Cat6 cable.)

“We literally have three Ethernet cables between the rack room and the (makeshift) studios,” he added.

With full renovation just getting underway this month, Lamar will be building out and networking six new control rooms, four production studios, a news room and several production/news booths to house the two existing stations as well as Beasley’s three other Las Vegas stations that will move over later this year. He’s bringing in 24 WheatNet-IP BLADEs, repurposing four E-1 control surfaces and adding several new LX-24 consoles for the control rooms. He’ll also be using some powerful WheatNet software to get the job done in time, including our X-Y System Controller for tracking crosspoints and our Glass-E virtual mixer as backup remote control of surfaces, while construction is being done in several phases.

All of which he’s putting to good use … now. ‘’We had an incident where the cleaning crew came through and must have turned down the faders while cleaning the (E-1) board. Good thing we’re set up already with WheatNet, because through Glass-E (a virtual mixer) I was able to go online and turn all the faders back up without leaving my house,” commented Lamar.

At least the emergency move came with some benefits.


Meet Dick Webb

Dick Webb

Dick Webb (click to enlarge)

If you don’t recognize this face, you might recognize the voice. Dick Webb has been Wheatstone’s voice of reason for more than a decade as an in-house support technician. He’s the guy on the phone who gave you those helpful scripting suggestions, the very same who solved that persistent network switch problem a few Saturdays ago.

He is always at the factory, it seems. Or, at least, his voice is there a lot. That’s good because studio issues tend to happen when you least expect them to, especially if you’re in the middle of a large, complex network project. Dick can talk you through technical issues because not only is he one of the best technical troubleshooters in the industry, he’s also into audio. Big time.

Dick has performed in more rock, country, and jazz bands than he can count on two hands (or feet, even with his socks off). Like most of us at Wheatstone, he plays guitar (although he insists he doesn’t own Garage Band). He also worked for a recording studio before he started his stint in broadcasting. He knows audio and he definitely knows audio gear. In fact, Dick started at Wheatstone years ago as a test technician and then became one of our top design engineers. He knows his way around C programming, and could probably design logic circuitry in his sleep. We bet he’s put together his share of Heathkits when he was a kid, too.

For the last couple of years Dick has been on the front lines of customer support because, well, he is good at it. We actually uprooted him, and his family, from Syracuse, New York, and moved him to New Bern along with our factory some 14 years ago – he’s that good.

If you get a chance to talk to Dick, we think you’ll appreciate him for the straight-talking guy that he is. You might even appreciate some of that dry humor he’s known for, but we can’t guarantee it.


Links from WHEAT:NEWS Volume 4, No. 1

WHEAT:NEWS

WHEAT:NEWS, Wheatstone’s monthly newsletter, publishes a list of links of general interest in each issue. If you don’t receive WHEAT:NEWS and would like to, simply click the banner above and you’ll be led to a page where you can subscribe. We don’t sell or give away your contact info and we don’t SPAM, and we make it easy to unsubscribe at any time.

Volume 4, No. 1 published the following links:


Sample Rates and Interoperability

What would you say if someone tried to sell you a new car that didn’t run on gas or battery? Exactly.

We thought the same thing, which is why we designed our AoIP with selectable sample rates. The WheatNet-IP Intelligent Network has selectable audio sample rates of 44.1kHz or 48kHz, which is critical to music creation, storage and replay now as well as under any proposed interoperability standard going forward.

Sure, it would have been easier to insist broadcasters go with one sample rate.

cd_digital_audio_logo2_28351But, locking broadcasters into sampling at 48kHz, for example, would mean that every bit of audio originated on a CD would have to be sample-rate converted in order to pass through the system. As it is, 44.1kHz is the Red Book audio CD base sample rate, and therefore the sample rate already used for most radio music libraries. An AoIP system that requires the majority of radio broadcasters to convert their entire CD libraries to 48kHz sampling just seems cruel and an unnecessary loss of audio quality.

Besides, sample rate flexibility is in the true spirit of studio interoperability.

Wheatstone is a proponent of studio interoperability as well as an active member of organizations such as the AES X192 task force.