Monthly Archives: August 2011

Links from WHEAT:NEWS Volume 2, No. 16

WHEAT:NEWS

WHEAT:NEWS, Wheatstone’s twice-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 2, No. 16 published the following links:

  • Check out tutorials, courses and videos on web programming, web security, programming languages and other educational materials of interest to geeks and programmers at the Google Code University. Many courses were developed by Googlers themselves.
  • Textbooks are some of the most expensive pieces of disposable literature used today, easily costing over $1,000 per semester. Amazon’s new Kindle Textbook Rental service claims 80-percent savings when renting rather than buying.
  • An infographic from minyanville.com tracks the growth of streaming media in different cities, as cable TV does a slow fade to black.
  • A misbehaving transmitter performs well at mid-day, but not so well early in the morning. Sounds like another case for Sherlock Ohms.
  • Heathkit is gone, but interesting vacuum tube construction projects still surface. Build the 16LS stereo amp kit from Tube Depot, dock your iPhone on it, and get retro sound from a digital source. Plans are also available.
  • A South Korean court recently awarded $932 in damages to a man who sued Apple over the iPhone’s ability to track users’ locations and store the data for up to a year. Now, many more South Koreans are making the same complaint, and seeking the same award. NPR has details.

Best Practice for Setting Up an Audio Processor

Jeff Keith

Jeff Keith

As Vorsis Senior Product Development Engineer, Jeff Keith has not only designed audio processors for over 30 years, but also spent a lot of time in the field helping customers set them up properly. He shares some of his thoughts on the art and science of tuning up audio processing to get the sound you want.

His first bit of advice might surprise you: Listen to the competition in your market. If you have a frequency-agile modulation monitor, that’s great. Otherwise, pick a receiver that you know and trust. What you hear will determine what to do next.

“Lots of engineers want to be the loudest station in the market. But how loud is your competition, and how do they get that way?” asks Keith. “Some stations don’t play by the rules, and you’ll see 130 percent modulation along with deep composite clipping.” He adds that you too can break the rules, or choose a different path.

Keith explains that those who push their stations’ modulation beyond the legal maximum may not understand that the linearity of many receivers is doubtful beyond 100 percent modulation. This may cause distortion and listener fatigue to increase dramatically. “Gross overmodulation can create nasty distortion in listeners’ receivers that is beyond your control. Maybe you can’t stay legal and be the loudest, but you can definitely be the cleanest, and you’ll hold on to your listeners for longer periods.”

To set up audio processing for a great sound, you need the right tools. A calibrated modulation monitor with a multipath-free signal is a must. Peak flashers differ, even on calibrated monitors, depending on whether it has the 900 microsecond “forgiveness factor” peak standoff option. Some are adjustable, but it is important to understand how yours works. A call to the manufacturer may be in order.

An oscilloscope set in the X-Y mode is also essential. “There is no other way to visualize as many parameters of your signal simultaneously as with a scope,” adds Keith. The scope need not be expensive; a dual-trace 10 MHz unit will do fine, as long as both X and Y channels have equal gain and bandwidth.

“With a good stereo signal, you’ll want to see a big, round fuzzball,” explains Keith. “If it turns into a hard-sided diamond, there’s heavy clipping going on somewhere.” He adds that a mono signal, such as voice, should be a straight diagonal line. If it hooks on the ends or is more vertical or horizontal, there is a channel imbalance in the audio chain.

Finally, Keith notes that engineers need to have realistic expectations from a processor. “It cannot perform acts of magic or defy the laws of physics,” notes Keith. A clean audio plant is essential to great sound. “With audio processing,” he adds, “it’s a case of garbage in, worse garbage out.”

“Many stations haven’t performed a proof-of-performance in years,” notes Keith. “Some are under the misconception that modern audio gear is maintenance free, and proofs went out of vogue with vacuum tube gear. Emphatically not true.”

He adds that in analog signal paths, electrolytic coupling capacitors can dry out, resulting in degraded frequency response and distortion. Amplifier gains can shift, causing channel imbalances and degraded separation. Connectors can oxidize, especially seldom-used XLRs and patchbays, resulting in intermittents and gritty sound.

Digital plants need to be watched for cascading compression algorithms and multiple A to D and D to A conversions. It’s also important to check that all material in the playout system is standardized on linear digital audio, rather than compressed file storage such as MP3s.

Final tweaks may be made via a laptop connection back to the processor, and in a more controlled listening environment such as a production room, but even here there can be pitfalls. It is important to know your monitoring gear and what sounds normal, both for your station and the competition. “The worst thing that you can do is buy a new amp, speakers and headphones and start playing with the processing, because you have no point of reference,” explains Keith. Two other “bads” are adjusting the station’s processing to fix one nasty sounding record when everything else sounds great, and trying to adjust audio processing by committee. We all hear things differently – pick one “golden ear”person who knows what the goal is and give that person the final say on the station’s sound. Then comes the hardest part for most processing “tweakers”: stop adjusting when they tell you you’ve nailed it!

Finally, Keith concludes that sometimes station personnel can obsess too much on nuances that only “radio people” hear or even know to listen for. “Listeners tune in to a station because it has the content they are interested in. They usually don’t know or even care who is the loudest, who is winning the bass race, or who has the most sizzle in their high end.”


Astral Radio Chooses Wheatstone

Astral RadioAstral Radio, a media company which operates 83 radio stations in 50 markets across Canada, has recently purchased a Wheatstone networked digital audio system for their radio facilities in Val d’Or, Quebec. The system was purchased through dealer Marketing Marc Vallee.

The Val d’Or facility will be the first to combine Wheatstone’s E-series consoles and WheatNet-IP networking with the all-new IP-12 console from Audioarts Engineering.

The 20-fader E-6 control surface will control an ip-88e mix engine BLADE, and will be connected via WheatNet-IP to a network with seven ip-88a analog I/O BLADEs. A Sideboard 8-fader mixer and a rack-mounted X-Y controller will also be part of this network.

The Audioarts IP-12 mixing consoles are compact, 12-fader control surfaces provided with ip-88cb Console BLADEs that provide their mixing and audio routing functionality as well as several channels of I/O. Based on WheatNet-IP technology, these surfaces will connect to the network and will have access to all of the system’s I/O resources.


Artificial Intelligence Meets Automation

DeniseWhat’s the next great thing going to be in broadcast automation? According to Guile Lindroth of Guile 3D Studios, it may be an artificial intelligence-based voice-over announcer named Denise. Originally created as a virtual assistant to perform a variety of personal tasks such as manging your schedule and answering phones, she may be coming to a station near you. In fact, she’s already completed her first air shift.

San Antonio radio personality Dominique Garcia discovered Denise in early 2011 and followed her development closely. “While the software was not designed primarily for this purpose,” says Garcia, “it can in fact perform the occupation of talking on the air.  I was sure that I had come across something that could greatly impact the radio broadcasting industry.”

As a test, Garcia persuaded Tommy Calvert, general manager for 91.7 HD-2 KROV, to give his specially-trained Denise a try on the air. Denise made her debut on the urban contemporary station, created by the San Antonio community, on Wednesday August 24, 2011, from 1 PM till 4 PM CST.

Garcia’s pitch to broadcasters is purely financial. In a recent blog he posted, “Would a human work an entire year straight, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for only $200? Clearly the answer is no. Would a human work 5 years straight, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for a one-time fee of only $200? It is easy to say absolutely not. Depending on the market and how much stations pay their on air talent, the money saved over the years easily adds up by not having to pay humans an annual salary.”

He acknowledges the idea may meet a lot of resistance from announcers whose jobs may be at stake, but adds, “The idea and concept [were] never meant to blatantly disrespect any of my colleagues by creating a situation [which] would place their jobs in jeopardy. My intention was solely to reinvent a possible new method of automation.”

Purchasing Denise is surprisingly inexpensive. A premium version runs around $99, the platinum version is around $180, and the business version is a few hundred dollars. But the concept is not completely hands-free. Denise requires human assistance to be on the air, but this is no different from an on air shift that has been voice tracked by local talent. Garcia notes, though, that this is the difference between a full-time salary with benefits and a part-timer at $10 per hour.

Economic gains aside, it remains to be seen if listeners will stand for that much perfection. Will artificial intelligence really be able to hold its own against natural stupidity?


Radar a Bright Spot in the RF Engineering Market

Modulation Monitor & ScopeIs it time to give up wiring rack rooms and those 2 AM trips to the transmitter site? Even in a down economy there are areas of growth; defense electronics, and radar in particular, is on the upswing.

Military & Aerospace Electronics recently reported that Department of Defense (DOD) spending on radar should grow by 1.6 percent each year through 2016, according to analysts at market researcher Frost & Sullivan in Mountain View, California. The 2011 DOD radar budget is about $2.47 billion — a $211.8 million increase over 2010 enacted levels — and represents about 5.7 percent of total U.S. military spending on command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR).

One of the driving forces is that today’s systems are becoming obsolete. The Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS), and the Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System (Joint STARS) are approaching the end of their useful service life. As they plan and develop replacements, military radar manufacturers will see a growth in positions such as maintenance, logistics, engineering, integration, and training, especially for deployed systems and software upgrades.

Another concern is that many systems have been in continuous combat operations since 2001, and are simply worn out. On the political side, the escalating military presence of China is driving a proposed increase in DOD spending.

For these reasons, the U.S. military will continue relying on large systems integrators to build and manage complex radar systems. According to analysts, research, development, test & evaluation (RDT&E) is the largest radar contracting category with $1.21 billion in 2011, but radar RDT&E in the DOD budget is shrinking at 0.3 percent each year.


Sirius XM Cancels BBC Radio 1; Disco Rules

DiscoIn a move that outraged many of its subscribers, Sirius XM has dropped BBC Radio 1 from its lineup. The move follows a six year partnership that began in 2005. A BBC spokesman added, “This agreement has now unfortunately come to an end, and BBC Worldwide is in current discussions with the satellite radio station to find ways to continue to bring popular music channel, BBC Radio 1, to the US audience. We will keep you posted.”

Listeners were disturbed both by the decision, and by the fact that it came with no advance warning. They responded almost immediately, both on Twitter (#bringbackBBCR1) and on the Sirius XM Facebook page, where they already have over a thousand “likes.” Once again, the power of social media was demonstrated, and Sirius XM responded.

One week after the announcement of the cut, BBC Radio 1 has returned as a Sirius XM Internet radio stream. The catch is that unless you have Sirius XM Internet Radio, you can’t listen. Subscribers now complain that BBCR1 is already available free on the Internet from the BBC’s own website, and they really want it back in their cars.

As it was on satellite, BBC Radio 1 will be time-shifted by 5 hours so Americans can enjoy the channel’s lineup as it was intended, with Chris Moyles in the morning, Scott Mills in the afternoon, and Pete Tong on Friday nights. Some special BBC Radio 1 programming will still be broadcast on the satellite service at various times throughout the year coinciding with major events in BBC Radio 1’s programming schedule.

Replacing BBCR1 on the satellite channel is Studio 54 Radio, a Sirius XM-produced channel which airs dance and disco favorites played at the legendary New York night club of the same name. Studio 54 doorman Marc Benecke and Myra Scheer will also host The Marc and Myra Show, which will feature interviews with Studio 54 insiders from the iconic era.


Links from WHEAT:NEWS Volume 2, No. 15

WHEAT:NEWS

WHEAT:NEWS, Wheatstone’s twice-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 2, No. 15 published the following links:

  • Bill Hammack has been called the Mr. Wizard of the digital age. On the videos in his Engineer Guy website he tears apart cell phones, LCD monitors, Geiger counters and other devices to demonstrate how they work. His humanistic approach always envelops the human dimensions of technology.
  • In the latest installment of Sherlock Ohms, the detective visits a radio station to solve the case of the missing 13,000 watts.
  • Cybersecurity was supposed to be one of the top priorities of the Obama administration. Yet the position of National Cyber Advisor has been a revolving door. Beta News has a take on the issue.
  • Mapping software is a topic broadcast engineers need to at least be familiar with. Nokia has kicked it up to the next level with 3D maps. Nokia Maps 3D shows you the world in a full 360º perspective – or at least certain cities of the world, for now.
  • Say goodbye to Silicon Valley and hello to Berlin. A recent report from Reuters notes that the German capital is becoming a global hub for high-tech startups. And of course, Germans have long been recognized as leaders in technological innovations. Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit.
  • The next amateur radio satellite is set to deploy from the International Space Station early this month. Follow along with the Chips in Space blog, which recounts some of the challenges in getting the project off the ground and into orbit.

KFRG Phases In WheatNet-IP

K-FROG LogoK-Frog (KFRG-FM), a CBS radio station in San Bernardino, California, recently began a phased installation of Wheatstone’s WheatNet-IP audio-over-IP digital audio network. The station, serving the Riverside – San Bernardino market in southern California, broadcasts a country music format, and also carries NASCAR races via the Motor Racing Network (MRN).

The first phase of the installation included a 16-fader Wheatstone Evolution-4 control surface with optional meter bridge. The digital audio network components include five IP-88a analog I/O BLADEs, two IP-88d digital I/O BLADEs, an X-Y control panel, and WheatNet-IP Navigator software.

Chief Engineer Phillip Vaughn recently completed installation of this first phase of the system, and K-FROG is going live to air with their new E-4 console today. “The factory commissioning went very well,” says Vaughn. “In fact, I now feel even more confident for having chosen WheatNet-IP over other IP systems.”

Phase 2 of the project has been submitted for approval and is expected to be ordered and installed by the end of 2011.

Other Wheatstone divisions are also contributing to the project. Vaughn recently ordered a Vorsis FM-4 audio processor, which will be used as an AGC and look-ahead limiter in the digital air chain for STL protection.


Vorsis Rises to the Challenge

Jeff Keith

Jeff Keith

Today’s audio processors face many challenges that didn’t exist a few years ago. One of the most pressing is dealing with audio from a variety of sources, not just material produced within the station. All efforts at quality control go out the window when over-processed CDs, news feeds, syndicated shows and satellite programs are thrown into the mix. A processor that sounds great with live programming can be overwhelmed when hit with material which has no dynamic range to begin with. It may try and squeeze it even more. The end result is usually an over processed sound or at the very least, high distortion. Unless, of course, you own a Vorsis processor.

Vorsis Senior Product Development Engineer Jeff Keith explains how their Sweet Spot TechnologyTM (SST) has the brains to handle difficult program material being thrown its way. He likens it to a brain and central nervous system. “SST knows what’s going on inside the 5-band AGC, and it even knows where the user has set the controls. Given this data it can predict when distortion might occur and not compound it by doing more processing.”

Most processors have a broadband AGC in front of the multiband AGC in order to keep audio in the multi-band’s “sweet spot,” but Vorsis doesn’t need it. “We designed the SST to manage the operation of the multiband AGC, and it provides the benefits of a broadband AGC without needing the additional stage of processing,” explains Keith. He adds that “SST reacts to the density of the input program and its spectral balance and manages the multiband AGC in real time to do more processing, nothing, or anything in between.”

Vorsis’ ability to anticipate distortion and not re-process over-processed material is due in part to the use of overall “feed-forward” control technology. “Other audio processors use conventional feedback technology which is typically constrained to each processing stage,” notes Keith, “resulting in a slight delay between the audio to be controlled and the control signal. This makes the processor work harder”.

Vorsis’ overall “feed-forward” technology, on the other hand, samples signals before processing and makes adjustments just as the audio arrives. When this technology is combined with the smart algorithms controlling the limiters and final clipper, magical things begin to happen in the audio. “You end up with a processor that can process audio with a much higher degree of accuracy than was previously possible, while at the same time revealing subtle details in the audio that other processers mask with distortion,” says Keith. He adds, “All Vorsis processing sections are really being controlled by a sophisticated form of ‘virtual hearing’ located inside the SST algorithm.”


Stability and Optimism Returning to Public Radio

USAllianceThe Public Radio Local Economic Impact 2011 Update conducted by the University Station Alliance (USA) seems to suggest that stability and optimism are returning to non-commercial radio, with fewer stations considering new governance/ownership structures. This is the fourth year for the USA survey. 141 stations responded. The survey was sent to multiple listservs and all licensee types.

When questioned on whether their station was considering a new governance/ownership structure, 88 percent said they were not considering changes, while 5 percent added that they are considering options such as purchasing a new station, discussing partnerships, or entering into a license management agreement (LMA) over another station. The results suggest that university-licensed stations are both purchasing new and selling existing stations in order to fulfill their missions.

Only 38 percent of respondents anticipate cash support reductions from from their university, college, school system, or state licensee. 62 percent have not received such notification. Of those that are receiving reductions, the majority, 28 percent, say that cash support will be reduced by their licensee by up to $49,999.

Economic issues seem to be having little impact on programming, with 7 percent stating that they anticipate no changes in their programming or public service offerings. However, 13 percent said that local programming will be reduced or eliminated, and 3 percent note that website services will be reduced or eliminated.

The biggest reductions, not surprisingly, came in the form of technical and staff reductions, with 11 percent reporting reductions in technical upgrades, and 17 percent reporting reductions in equipment purchases. 10 percent also anticipated reductions on planned HD upgrades. 30 percent reported staffing reductions. The good news is that these numbers are down from surveys taken in the previous three years.

The USA was founded in 2001 to assist university-licensed stations with the challenges and opportunities associated with their licenses. University-licensed stations make up 63 percent of public radio broadcasters.