Two radio station licensees in Florida have received notices of violation from the Federal Communications Commission for spurious emissions.
In one case, the commission believes a low-power FM station was causing interference to aviation frequencies at Orlando International Airport. In that instance, the Enforcement Bureau issued a notice of violation to WBVL(LP) in Kissimmee, Fla., licensed to Sucremedia Inc.
The commission says the Federal Aviation Administration began receiving interference to aviation frequencies on Dec. 15, 2020. The interference was reported to the Enforcement Bureau on Dec. 26. The next day, the bureau’s Miami office investigated.
It said WBVL is licensed on 99.7 MHz at a maximum effective radiated power of 89 Watts, but the FCC said its agents measured excessive spurious emissions from the station transmitter on six frequencies — 114.145, 115.850, 118.385, 120.995, 134.585 and 135.765 MHz.
The rules in this situation require that the LPFM stop operations within three hours. The FCC says it made numerous attempts to contact the station but that WBVL didn’t go off the air until at least 41 hours later.
Once WBVL was off the air, the interference to the Orlando International Airport ceased.
In a separate case this week the Miami office issued a notice to Cornerstone Broadcasting Corp. for spurious emissions on 133.0626 MHz that the FCC attributes to Cornerstone’s FM translator at 97.3 in Deland, Fla. That translator serves WJLU(FM) in New Smyrna Beach.
In both cases the FCC has instructed the licensees to provide information about the emissions and any steps they have taken to resolve the situation, while reserving the option of taking further action.
Imperative Audio has launched its first product, the PVB, a portable vocal booth. The booth is designed to provide the space and acoustics of a typical vocal booth, but in a collapsible form factor.
Intended for podcasters, recording pros, singers, voiceover artists and broadcasters, the PVB sports a light aluminum cylindrical design with a circumference of 324 centimeters/127.5 inches and an opening of 80 centimeters/31.5 inches, making it spacious enough accommodate performers for extended periods without a claustrophobic atmosphere.
When its five legs are retracted, the PVB sits at 118 centimeters/46.5 inches and can be used for amp isolation and miking in the studio. At full height with its legs extended, the PVB stands at 210 centimeters/83 inches, and it can be used with an open top or with an optional acoustically treated roof that can be added securely. The roof features a channel which allows users to lower an overhead mic stand into the booth. The vocal booth ships with an accessory bar, bookstand, storage bag and for a limited period, a free LED light.
Inside, the booth features three layers of acoustic treatment; when used with the optional roof, the PCB offers a reported 0.07 secs reflection time (RT60 in accordance with ISO 3382-2 Measurements) and an average of 28.4 dBa reduction (One-Third-Octave Spectrum LZeq in accordance with IEC 61260).
The PVB runs $1,499.
The post Imperative Audio Launches PVB Portable Vocal Booth appeared first on Radio World.
Every two years, the Federal Communications Commission now is required to publish a Communications Marketplace Report that assesses the state of competition across the broader communications marketplace in the United States. The FCC recently released the second such report.
Broadcasting is one of the many market segments included. The report makes for interesting reading and I recommend you check it out. The discussion of the audio market, including radio, appears on pages 142–156.
Here I thought I’d share six charts from the report that capture various aspects of the FCC’s discussion about trends in U.S. radio.Station count
The FCC noted that the number of AM and FM stations licensed in the United States, below, has remained steady in recent years, while the number of LPFM stations has increased. It reminded readers that new stations are possible only through new allocations and award of licenses, either via an auction in the case of commercial stations, or a comparative system for non-commercial stations. (Also see my recent related story that compares the 2020 numbers to the year 2000.)Top 10 radio station owners
To secure the highest ad rates and to compete for advertising market share, the FCC reminds us, stations strive to gain the largest audience of listeners possible to maximize the price for ad time sold. Below it ranks the top 10 largest radio station owners, by revenue.
“These owners control stations that are not confined to particular geographic regions; they are spread out across various geographical markets.” (And here’s a link to what the list looked like in 2006, though from a different research source.)U.S. terrestrial radio revenue
The FCC observed that radio ad revenue had been virtually flat between 2010 and 2019 but that 2020 was expected to see a drop of around 15% due to the pandemic. “While these numbers are preliminary, the predicted decline in advertising revenue is substantial.”
The chart below also indicates that revenue never fully recovered from the recession following the 2008 financial crisis.
“In a recent report, S&P Global predicts that advertising revenue for terrestrial radio stations will face a tougher road to recovery from the pandemic-induced recession compared to broadcast television stations.”
The chart also captures the growth in revenue from online radio compared to OTA.Stations by market size
The next image is a scatterplot of the number of stations within a market against the market size, measured by rank.
“The number of radio stations available decreases as the market size decreases, suggesting more choice in markets with higher populations. Not shown in the table, however, are additional choices that listeners have that include satellite and online radio …”Programming formats for terrestrial radio
The commission said interference issues may have contributed to AM stations favoring talk formats relative to music; 63% of FMs identify with a music format, while only 34% of AM stations do. AMs favor Spanish and ethnic, news, sports, and talk. The percentages of stations that air religion are similar for AM and FM stations. Public and education format stations predominantly use FM. Nearly half of LPFMs are music; about 36% provide religious community programming.US terrestrial and online radio weekly audience
“While broadcast terrestrial radio remains dominant in some respects … the gap in usage between broadcast terrestrial and online audio has declined over time.”
Over the past decade, the number of listeners to terrestrial radio grew annually around 0.55% on average, while annual growth in online radio was 29%. (Though part of online growth was due to listeners accessing AM/FM broadcasts online, the FCC said the figure below “illustrates the dynamic nature of audio as listeners continue to access online radio across a diverse range of devices.”)
Radio One Licensees, part of Urban One, is the latest radio ownership group to sign a consent decree with the Federal Communications Commission over online public files.
The commission continues to announce settlements with owners large and small in an initiative that became public last summer.
These cases are all essentially the same. An owner files for a station license renewal, and the FCC Audio Division suspends the process because online public files aren’t kept up. The licensee acknowledges that and promises to takes steps including appointing a compliance officer, creating a compliance plan and reporting back to the commission by a certain date.
The commission for its part acknowledges that the pandemic caused a dramatic reduction in ad revenues, causing the industry significant financial stress, and drops its investigation. No money changes hands.
In the case of Radio One, the process was prompted by the license renewal application for station WHHL(FM) in Hazelwood, Mo. The FCC said Radio One was unable to certify compliance with the public file requirements during the past license term and failed to certify compliance in its applications because it did not comply with the Political Record Keeping Statute and Rule.
Two public media companies are celebrating the successful competition of a five-year, multimillion dollar fundraising campaign that worked to transform public radio in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) and American Public Media (APM) announced the successful completion of “Inspired by You,” a campaign designed to better serve audiences in Minnesota by making some transformative changes to public radio.
The campaign, which launched in summer 2015 and had a goal of raising $75 million by December 2020, passed that goal by raising $98.3 million in all. The funds raised were a combination of cash gifts and planned gift commitments to help transform the organizations’ public service priorities.
“The ‘Inspired by You’ campaign has changed our trajectory as a media organization and accelerated our progress toward being a more equitable, inclusive, diverse and accessible public service,” said Jon McTaggart, president and CEO of American Public Media Group.
Even through the pandemic and recession, “the extraordinary gifts from individuals and institutions enabled us to invest in new ways of connecting with larger and more diverse audiences and with each other,” McTaggart said.
MPR and APR used $53 million in cash gifts to invest in new digital programming, technology and innovation efforts. According to the organizations, advancements in digital technology and on-demand programming have positioned the two organizations to deepen their relevance and connect with audiences in new ways. Planned gift comments that totaled $45.5 million will further strengthen the organization’s endowment.
The impact of the “Inspired by You” campaign has served audiences in many ways including expanding investigative journalism projects and better reflecting audiences in Minnesota. Specifically, campaign support allowed Classical MPR to identify new ways to introduce young people to classical music while the opening of the Glen Nelson Center, an innovation hub and co-working space, worked to boost diversity in Minnesota media.
The funding also allowed the organizations to raise awareness about critical issues impacting APM and MPR audiences through programs like The Water Main, which focuses on a variety of water issues, and the program “Call to Mind,” which fosters new conversations about mental health. Funding also allowed the organizations to increase media coverage of key issues including a program called “Color of Coronavirus,” which calculates the disproportionate effect that COVID-19 was having on people of color.
“I am amazed and humbled by the generosity we’ve seen since launching ‘Inspired by You’ five years ago,” said Randi Yoder, senior vice president and chief development officer of APM. “This is a recognition by our community and funders across the nation of the importance of public media in our daily lives and longevity of its mission.” In turn, Yoder said, this generosity allowed APM to redefine the role that a public media organization can play.
“We have the potential to form connections, introduce new voices, and inspire change — we are so much more than a radio station,” Yoder said. “This period of national rebuilding is when our public service is needed most.”
The post Public Media Campaign Raises $98.3 Million to Modernize Minnesota Radio appeared first on Radio World.
Monoprice has launched an expanded podcasting/streaming bundle centered around its Stage Right microphone. Augmented with an accessories package, the bundle is intended for entry-level use.
The Stage Right Complete Podcasting and Streaming Bundle includes a USB condenser mic, a pair of headphones, a mic stand, and other accessories. The headphones can be plugged into the USB microphone’s headphone jack so users can monitor without the need for additional hardware.
The headphone volume level can be adjusted independently of the microphone output level using the headphone volume knob on the mic.
The USB condenser microphone itself features a 16-bit/48 kHz sampling rate, and comes with a broadcast-style mic boom, pop filter, mic clip, mount bracket and windscreen.
Another legendary AM news station owned by Entercom is expanding its footprint via the FM dial.
The company said that starting March 22, KMOX(AM) in St. Louis, which broadcasts on 1120 kHz, will simulcast on an FM translator at 98.7 MHz. The translator previously simulcast KFTK, “97.1 FM Talk.”
The KMOX branding will be “News Radio 1120 AM 98.7 FM – the voice of St. Louis.”
In St. Louis, it said the FM frequency of KMOX “will be heard throughout the city’s business district including downtown, Clayton, midtown, Creve Coeur, Maryland Heights and Kirkwood.
The company also adds “The Dave Glover Show” to its afternoon lineup; the show had been on KFTK.
The announcement was made by Senior Vice President and Market Manager Becky Domya and Brand Manager Steve Moore.
Moore was quoted in the announcement saying, “It’s important that KMOX is available on multiple platforms in order to keep the listeners in the business district informed with the latest news throughout the city.”
It’s not easy running a low-power FM operation. Raising funds to build the station, construction of studio and transmitter facilities, growing and training a volunteer staff, creating a format that serves your niche and of course, the endless need for fundraising all have to be mastered.
One misstep in any of these areas can cause the organization to flounder. In spite of all these challenges, KUHS(LP) in Hot Springs, Ark., appears to have hit one out of the park.
Its combination of out-of-the-box engineering solutions, enlightened management and innovative fundraising has created a cultural resource for central Arkansas that has been operating successfully since 2015.
KUHS also holds the distinction of being the only solar-powered station in the state.Powered by the sun …
The station story began when Zac Smith, a tuba player and amateur radio operator then living in Winston-Salem, N.C., read about the FCC’s plans to allocate part of the spectrum to LPFM.
“I thought, ‘How cool would it be if there were a deejay booth in a coffee shop and you could drop a tune, or talk about your latest philosophical revelations?’”
That thought led to Smith partnering with broadcast engineer Bob Nagy and Bill Solleder, founder of Hot Springs non-profit Low Key Arts. Their 2013 application was approved by the commission, and they spent the next 18 months raising $35,000 and preparing for sign-on.
The first step was finding a transmitter site. Smith and Nagy scouted the peak of nearby West Mountain, which was covered with cellular, radio and emergency service towers. They found a long-vacant AT&T microwave relay building that was available.The KUHS transmitter is located in this former AT&T microwave relay building on top of West Mountain.
The power had been disconnected, and the two quickly did the math to calculate their LPFM’s power needs. They determined that a solar installation would be more cost-effective than restoring commercial power, and estimated a two-year payback period. The system cost $2.75/watt including batteries. Since the installation work was all volunteer, there were no labor costs.
Nagy designed a 2.4 kW solar system for the site, and took steps to keep as much of the equipment running directly off DC as possible, avoiding power-hungry DC-to-AC inverters.
The station purchased a Bext exciter that ran on 24 VDC. Nagy designed a system to convert the solar system’s native 12.8 VDC to +5VDC and other voltages for ancillary equipment.
Initially, the KUHS solar system used lead-acid batteries for power storage, which Smith admits was probably not the best choice.
“They were the least expensive option, but they turned out to be very high maintenance. Corrosion of the battery terminals was an ongoing issue, and the cells had to be kept topped off with deionized water. Even worse was the damage to our other equipment from the corrosive gasses they released.”
When it came time to replace these, the station used 200 Ah sealed lead acid batteries — more expensive but virtually maintenance-free. The battery system has enough juice to power the transmitter site through a cloudy winter week.
In 2016, KUHS also installed a 6 kW solar array on the roof of the Hot Springs studio. It powers the lights, studio equipment and a portion of the HVAC. The system has a grid tie, so excess power is sold back to the power company. For that installation, they paid $2.15/watt. There was a lot of volunteer labor in the project, but the switchgear was installed by a licensed electrician.
To get programming from the downtown Hot Springs studios to West Mountain a mile and a half away, they selected a Cambium Networks 5 GHz WiFi system with PoE (Power over Ethernet). A pair of Barix boxes provided the A-D and D-A conversions.… and by volunteers
KUHS took steps to upgrade in 2018. The frequency was changed from 97.9 to 102.5 MHz to reduce interference from other stations. A Pira P132 RDS encoder was purchased to add text to the signal, and a BW V2 30W TX exciter was purchased for better sound and remote management. The frequency swap was celebrated with a gala event at the local theatre.Station DJs do a dry run with remote gear prior to a live broadcast.
The station runs with a staff of 60 to 65 DJs. One of the key factors for its success is that everyone at the station, including Smith and Nagy, is a volunteer. Smith said the idea came from Nagy.
“He was really adamant about that. He said that at every volunteer station he had been at, the moment you raise enough money to get one person on part time, everybody quits putting in the effort. They’re like, ‘Well, let the paid person do it.’’’ He adds that part of the KUHS culture involves urging volunteers to ask for help when they need it, but also emphasizing that no one is going to do your work for you.
Smith’s real job is brewmaster for the SQZBX Brewery and Pizza Joint, which is in the same building as KUHS. The two businesses sometimes fertilize each other, with visitors to the station patronizing the brewery, and brewery customers discovering KUHS.A KUHS promotion asked listeners to post pictures of their pets on Instagram. Favorites were posted by the station, and the first-prize winner was awarded a radio.
The programming philosophy for KUHS is providing community access and airing eclectic genres of music that are neglected by mainstream media. Smith uses a community garden analogy to describe the programming.
“We’re not maximizing our slice of the radio spectrum for money, rather we’re maximizing it for access.” Volunteer DJs have a love for a particular type of music that they think is underrepresented on the airwaves of Hot Springs. Each one stakes out a 1-2-hour shift to bring their musical passion to the community.
Planet Sounds, hosted by DJ Modest, features all genres of world music. Sonny Kay, Danny P and Operator OT host “Finally Friday,” where they play “motivational, agitational and otherwise propellent punk and pop” guaranteed to get a Friday night moving. And “Half Machine Lip Moves” is where you’ll hear “alien soundtracks from the industrial underground,” bringing you EBM, industrial, power electronics and noise, dark ambient, no wave, synthpunk, cold wave/minimal wave, noise rock, the experimental sounds of inner and outer space, and more.
Unusual for 21st century century radio, the KUHS studios have turntables, and several of the volunteers build their shows around various genres of esoteric vinyl.
Most vinyl DJs bring their own material. The station has a small library of around 200 LPs, 50 singles and approximately 200 CDs. Most were donated when the station started.
“With the internet what it is in terms of a musical resource,” Smith said, “I decided early on that being an archivist was not going to be our strong point. With 60 or 70 DJs, what would you collect with limited space?”
Holding down a full-time job while managing KUHS requires some thoughtful time management. One trick Smith utilizes is automation.
“One of our board members is a programmer, and he has been able to automate a lot of small tasks I need to do and glue them together with Python.”
KUHS is a member of the Grassroots Radio Coalition, an offshoot of public radio that focuses on community access and volunteer involvement in station operations. In 2016, the station hosted the annual Grassroots Radio Conference.
The annual budget for KUHS is about $12,000. That relatively small number is possible due to the combination of an all-volunteer staff and regular contributions from a stable financial base that includes several large benefactors, major contributors and numerous Hot Springs merchants. Additional revenue comes from music festivals. All of this makes Smith very grateful, “No one really wants the job of going door to door asking for money.”
The author is a broadcast contract engineer who has a unique way of measuring the carrier frequency of the AM stations in his care.
Making off-air frequency measurements of AM broadcast stations can be a bit of a challenge.
Unless you are at the transmitter site and have a high-level RF sample of the transmitter output available, it’s unlikely that you can use a frequency counter to make the measurement. Another method has to be used to measure the low-level (millivolt-range) off-air signal. I have found an easy, “zero-beat” method that works reliably.
I use the following complement of equipment:
- Field intensity meter (such as PI FIM-21/41, RCA WX-2 or Nems-Clarke 120);
- RF signal generator with 0.01 Hz adjustability (such as Agilent E4430B);
- GPS-disciplined 10 MHz reference oscillator (such as HP Z3801A) and antenna;
- Loop antenna (such as Chris Scott LP-3).
The physical setup is shown in Fig. 1, and the measurement procedure is as follows:
- Connect the equipment as shown. The loop antenna can be oriented in any way and should be placed about a foot away from the FIM.
- Tune the RF signal generator to the frequency of the station to be measured, then tune the FIM to that signal. It is not necessary to calibrate the FIM; it will only be used to receive the station and the actual field intensity reading is unimportant. You don’t even need to listen to the signal on the speaker or headphones. Set the meter to LIN mode, not Log mode.
- Disconnect the loop antenna from the RF signal generator or disable its RF output. Orient the FIM to maximize the signal coming from the station. Adjust the FIM’s Range switch and Gain controls for a mid-scale indication (3–6) on its meter.
- Reconnect the loop antenna or enable the RF output of the signal generator and adjust its output level so the meter swing remains within the limits of the scale. Set the RF output level based on the position of the FIM’s Range switch: for the 1 V/m range, start with –20 dBm; set it lower by 20 dB for each lower position of the Range switch. On my setup, I need around –10 dBm feeding the loop antenna for a usable indication on the FIM’s 1 V/m range. If necessary, change the RF signal generator’s frequency up or down by a few Hertz to see the meter swing back and forth due to the beat frequency.
- Adjust the RF signal generator’s frequency to zero-beat the station so the meter swing is minimized and eventually stands still. Go right down to 0.01 Hz steps. Take your time as you get near the exact frequency, as the meter will be moving up or down very slowly. Make sure you’re not at a maximum or minimum of the zero-beat cycle. You want a position where changing the frequency up or down by 0.01 Hz causes the meter indication to reverse direction, indicating you’re as close as you can get. With practice you can dial in the exact zero-beat frequency in less than 30 seconds. Read the station’s exact carrier frequency on the RF signal generator.
Stations running IBOC, most of which are locked to a GPS reference frequency, are usually very close to their assigned frequency, within 0.1 Hz. Most modern analog transmitters will show some seasonal drift with temperature.
I am currently checking the carrier frequency of four local stations. The IBOC station (that is not using an external GPS antenna) has drifted up 0.04 Hz over five years. The others tend to move up or down by as much as 3 Hertz as the equipment temperature changes. The FCC rules require the carrier frequency to be within +/- 20 Hertz, so a few Hertz won’t matter.
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I’ve been using this method for more than eight years with results that match or exceed the commercial frequency measuring company’s reports.
I have the equipment listed above, but you can make substitutions if necessary. For example, in place of the Chris Scott loop antenna, a couple of clip leads and a series 30-50 ohm resistor can be used to form a loop that can be loosely draped on top of the FIM’s loop antenna. Even a short whip antenna can be used on the signal generator if the FIM is close enough to it.
An RF signal generator that lets you specify a frequency within 1 Hz or better can be used as long as it can utilize a 10 MHz reference signal. The carrier frequency you measure will only be as accurate as the equipment you have available to measure it with.
The 10 MHz reference signal could come from a rubidium oscillator, which has been adjusted to zero-beat a GPS-disciplined oscillator (GPSDO). These can often achieve accuracies of 0.0001 Hz on the 10 MHz signal.
An AM radio with a VTVM or DMM on its AVC line can also be used as an indicator if you don’t have an FIM.
RW welcomes your Tech Tips, email us at email@example.com.
The author is an amateur radio operator (WA1MIK) and FCC licensed contract radio engineer in Southern Connecticut. Email him at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.
One of the stranger media industry stories surfaced last week as a cautionary tale for any organization not taking its leadership role seriously.
Nonprofit news outlet FairWarning closed Feb. 20 after allegations of inflammatory remarks by editor Myron Levin came to light on Twitter. According to a job candidate, Levin brushed off concerns of FairWarning’s lack of diversity in its board and staffing, offering various questionable hot takes in the interview. Controversy ensued. The staff went public to say Levin, who had already been planning to step down after an executive search, should resign.
Those involved in media for any length of time have seen other scandals play out similarly. In most cases, the leader in question apologizes and steps aside, so that the media organization can continue its needed work and retain the trust of its audience. In a jaw-dropping move, Levin and the board penned spirited defenses of the editor and a rebuke of the candidate. While charging the candidate of distorting the interview and making a point of saying he wasn’t hired, Levin does not outright say the account is a lie, either. The board then told the aggrieved staff they were out of jobs and that the whole operation was dissolving. Current dives further into this bizarre turn of events.
What can other organizations learn from such a colossal governance and leadership flop? How can your radio station avoid such issues?
First, whether you are interviewing job candidates, volunteers or prospective board members, it’s important to remember that they’re interviewing you as much as you’re interviewing them. Word choice matters. Such conversations are formal exchanges about your organization, its values and your leadership style. When you’re looked at as a resource, it’s at times easy to forget those conversations are not simply between you and the person you’re talking with, but are a chance to convey your organization’s vision for how its workplace functions.
Second, no matter if you believe Levin is completely innocent, covering up, or falls somewhere in the middle, clearly the subject of accountability bears reflection. At times, our words may not have been heard as we think they should be when someone else hears them. And when they aren’t, the old-school go-to of blame the listener does not cut it in today’s world. Salting your response by presenting others’ accounts as an “attack,” or cloaking yourself in self-righteousness only makes you look guilty. Apologizing and humbly accepting how one’s words were heard and pledging to do better shouldn’t be so hard, yet people sometimes make it so.
Finally, governance training for media organizations, especially nonprofit radio stations, is essential. Nonprofit boards have historically been taught that they have three core responsibilities. Among those is what is called the duty of loyalty, or operating the organization in its best interests above personalities. Boards supervise executives and, when it is time, replace them to ensure continuity of services, so that the nonprofit keeps delivering what its constituents expect. It may be hard for any established media organization to comprehend how a nine-person board (including Levin) would simply shut down a media outlet in response to criticism. In many instances, a lack of board training may be the issue.
Matt Levin is chief engineer for River Radio in Columbus, Ohio, and does contract engineering for several stations. Our interview with him is from the Radio World ebook “Trends in Audio Processing for Radio.”
Radio World: We’re asking users and manufacturers for their take on key trends in processing.
Matt Levin: I think the biggest development in processing is the shift from conventional dedicated hardware boxes to software that can run on a server with an alternative method for the MPX audio to get to the transmitter.
By shifting to software, it allows you to do your processing on your own server hardware, either on a physical box or in a virtual machine, or in the cloud via hosted services. Virtualization is the direction pure IT infrastructure went years ago and now the radio industry is finally embracing this concept from automation vendors to now processing vendors.
One of the keys to allowing this to work fully was the invention of the MicroMPX codec by Hans van Zutphen and his employee Mathijs Vos, and now through their collaboration with the Telos Alliance, we’re seeing products employing this technology. We are seeing further innovation by Telos and Nautel to synchronize the HD Radio and FM audio across the internet, which was the last major problem to solve before this becomes the norm for processing moving forward.
The other major benefit to this model is that it brings the cost of good processing capability down, as there is no expensive hardware box to design, build, maintain and support by the manufacturers. It’s just a server that most IT savvy engineers can maintain on their own, so really it’s a win-win for everyone!
RW: What should we know about differences in processing for various types of platform?
Levin: The needs are very different.
The worst thing an engineer could do would be to take the OTA FM signal and feed it into a web encoder. Low-bitrate webstream encoders do not deal well with a lot of density, or clipping, both of which are employed for FM OTA.
For FM OTA processing we are trying to overcome both the inherent noise in the FM analog broadcast system, and the road noise in automobiles, as studies have proven that most FM OTA listening is done while driving. Even with FM HD OTA we want some density there to overcome the road noise I spoke of, although you obviously don’t want all the clipping designed for the FM analog system.
Streaming in my opinion always needs its own separate processing which uses gentle, low-ratio compression, mainly for consistency between each piece of audio, and with some light lookahead limiting for peak protection on the encoder.
The other thing I’ve discovered through my own experience with low-bitrate webstream encoders, both MP3 and HE-AAC, is that they don’t deal well with excessive stereo enhancing or excessive warm bass/low mid-range material.
This seems to muddy everything in the codec, and too much stereo energy also causes havoc in the encoder, so careful shaping of the audio to pull some of the muddy area out, and use of very light spatial enhancing should be employed here.
Since podcasts deal primarily with speech, but are still typically low-bitrate-encoded audio files, the same rules apply from my previous streaming comments with the added aspect to keep the voice region clean, intelligible, and consistent.
RW: With “hybrid” platforms, a listener might tune to an FM but then drive out of market and the receiver switches to the online stream. What “matching” challenges does this present?
Levin: As this technology becomes more prevalent, paying attention to your web stream processing becomes more and more important, as it won’t just be in homes and offices anymore, but now in cars as well and for the masses.
This is where creating your “sonic signature” on both your OTA and your stream is so important. While the needs of processing for streaming differ greatly, you can still create a certain “sound” for your station that stays consistent on all platforms.
Take the time to listen to your FM, HD and web stream and come up with something that sounds comparable on all platforms.
RW: Where might further dramatic improvements in processing power come from?
Levin: Unfortunately, I think the needs today are more about trying to repair the damage done to the music by poor mastering techniques used by the record labels, and/or the damage done by using lossy codecs in the distribution process. Processing has become more than just compression, limiting and clipping.
Modern processors of today also have to repair the audio before it ever hits the compression stages. Different manufacturers are finding different ways to do this; these tools aim either to declip and add dynamics to audio that the mastering process has over-processed and over-clipped, or restore missing spectrum and remove artifacts from lossy compression.
Those that implement these repair tools in their processors have a cleaner product going into the compression stages, and will end up with a much-better-sounding product on the output, and I think we will continue to see more of these kinds of tools.
Additionally, there has been effort put into preparing the output audio or processors feeding low-bitrate codecs (i.e. streaming or HD) to prevent artifacts from being generated in the codec itself; all in an effort to get the best sounding audio to the user.
RW: We’ve also been asking folks if radio processing has attained such a condition of “hypercompression” that there has been little further change in how loud one can make over-the-air audio.
Levin: I have actually seen a significant amount of development from several of the leading processor manufacturers to create cleaner and cleaner clipping structures. Each employs different techniques to do this, so each has different side effects, but as a whole, the loudness levels we are able to achieve today while still keeping the audio clean and free of clipping grunge, distortion, and artifacts out of the top boxes on the market is actually a huge improvement over the boxes of 10+ years ago.
Now, how the engineers are turning the knobs on these boxes at their individual stations is another story. I think in some cases engineers are still abusing even these modern clippers and driving them past the point of sounding good, and further damaging the end user experience by over modulating significantly, causing massive amounts of distortion in modern DSP receivers.
I’m finding as I travel that most modern DSP-based HD capable receivers start to induce distortion on anything over 110%, and while many markets and engineers stay below this and can maintain clean audio, there are others that choose to carelessly overmodulate by as much as 140%, and you can imagine how bad that can sound on a modern receivers.
As much effort as the manufacturers have put into cleaning up the audio and providing a better product for the end user, it’s still up to the engineer installing and setting up their air chain and processing to make sure that they are using the tools at their disposal to provide the best possible product to their listeners.
I remember a day when radio sounded better than the music you would buy and listen to on your own, when processing actually improved the sound. With the power of modern processors, this is still possible today, but so many markets I’ve driven through recently this is sadly not the case. I long for the day when we as an industry strive for that goal once again, to sound better than the other streaming services and listening options out there.
RW: Could radio see loss of potential audience due to listening fatigue?
Levin: We as an industry are driving listeners away by bad practices, not only by overcompression, overclipping and overmodulating, but let’s add overusing Voltair to that list as well. I’ve traveled to some markets where all I hear is PPM tones adding flange effect and reverb effect to everything going over the air.
We have to do a better job of caring what our product sounds like if we hope to stay relevant in the future. Now sure, there may be some listeners out there who don’t care; but there are a lot that do.
While they may not be able to tell you why they can’t stand to listen to a particular radio station for more than a few songs or a few minutes before it drives them crazy or makes them want to turn the volume down, I wager that if you had the same content on a much cleaner-sounding delivery system, they would suddenly find it much less annoying and actually find themselves turning the volume up, instead of down or off.
Give listeners a reason to turn the volume up, make your station sound good!
Comment on this or any article. Email email@example.com with “Letter to the Editor” in the subject field.
The author is sales, marketing and PR manager for 2wcom Systems GmbH.
This article appeared in Radio World’s “Trends in Codecs and STLs for 2020” ebook.
These days most studios run their AoIP networks to produce audio content. In theory, keeping the studio’s contribution separate from distribution offers flexibility at all sites; and separating the audio portion from transmitting sources such as satellite, DAB+ or IP provides various benefits.
Practically speaking, it’s now necessary to change perspective: IP offers broadcasters significantly more flexibility for the transmission of content, so more and more broadcasters and recording studios are deciding to expand IP-based networks.
But broadband and fiber optic are growing at very different rates internationally. So in addition to the use of IP-based structures, flexible alternative distribution paths must be available.
This leads to the question of how best to link contribution and distribution. The answer is to keep it in segments, because an increasing number of stations are multimedia, streaming audio and video along their facility’s networks.
First Segment: Studio Sites
To connect the studio’s networks with the headend and finally all transmitter sites, we should consider several aspects for our audio setup. The AoIP codec chosen for this should meet at least five key requirements.A typical facility distribution following the audio, left to right, from a studio through 2wcom digital audio IP encoders into the 2wcom multimedia over IP network cloud (MoIN). It then moves into available distribution channels — internet, DAB multiplex or satellite — and then onto broadcast transmitters.
First, it must be stable even when operating in WANs. This can be achieved by providing features for transmission robustness like redundant internal or external power supplies; software redundancy, e.g. forward error correction or SRT; and dual streaming or parallel streaming with different audio bitrates. Also, please consider a backup with an alternative source to ensure that your content is transmitted, say, via satellite in case IP lines fail.
Second, the codec must provide all audio formats normally used in a studio, like Enhanced aptX, most ACC profiles or MPEG formats, Opus, Ogg Vorbis, PCM and Dolby. Moreover, compatibility of the different frame sizes of AAC Profiles and Opus is important. Put each manufacturer through its paces to ensure that its products support all possible variants of an audio algorithm.
Third, the codec must support all common protocols as well as standards for internet interoperability such as Livewire+, Ravenna, AES67, EBU Tech 3326 or SMPTE ST2110 full-stack.
Fourth, flexible stream management must be possible in means of channel scalability and MPEG multiplexing facilities. This includes perfect network synchronization by supporting PTPv2 and 1PPS. Especially for audio description of live events, synchronization down to the microsecond is essential.
Fifth, management and control of each audio over IP codec of all studios in a network should be available remotely via PC web interface, supporting SNMP, Ember+, JSON or NMOS. The main system control should be accessible hands-on via local hardware control in case a WAN becomes inaccessible.
As a result of the above, all studios in a static or mobile network can fall back on a unified codec solution while keeping their independence. From a budgetary point of view, a system as described above provides the chance for all studios of a network to rely on existing AoIP setups.
Second Segment: Headend
The demand for the perfect link at the headend implies all of the requirements mentioned above, plus NTP (Network Time Protocol) for network synchronization. Moreover, the solution should just collect the forwarded studio programs to make them available by simply transcoding the streams respectively to the different distribution sources — audio over IP, DAB+ or satellite. This could be achieved by a multimedia-over-IP network server software, flexible, integratable into existing structures in hardware, VMs or as a containerized cloud service.
A system setup that fulfills the requirements described above ensures a “non-locked-in” arrangement. The headend/multiplexing system and studio systems are not hosted on the same network but kept separate from each other; thus, it is possible to replace one or the other if needed without bringing the companion operation down.
An aside about virtualization. We are at the beginning of the use of virtualized products. Be aware that virtualization counts on maintenance. This goes along with the wishes I have often heard from our customers that a broadcast network should be expandable as easily as possible, add new services with a mouse click and mirror the configuration of one device to another.
Scalability can be notably improved by using virtualization strategies. The possibilities that have been introduced by Docker or VMware to copy instances, take snapshots or run them across multiple hardware devices are a great improvement to scale and maintain networks.
That also has a major impact on needed rack space. Thanks to virtualization, applications can share the same hardware or even run as a swarm across multiple hardware units with different hardware configurations.
As a result, the number of devices needed is reduced to a minimum, because server hardware has in most cases a lot more processing power than the specialized hardware of codec manufacturers. Thanks to AES67 and other AoIP standards, the requirements for real hardware interfaces are slowly disappearing, and that is opening the door for virtualized solutions dependent on an all-IP infrastructure. With high bandwidth and robust IP lines, audio processing in the cloud becomes possible. In consequence, manufacturers have to pick up the pace and offer their solutions as virtualized software.
Third Segment — Imagination
With a little imagination such networks have been utilized for a variety of transportation duties. Here’s a beginning list.Web-based programming streams are taken in by a 2wcom multimedia over IP network. They can then be routed to a satellite program distribution path or down an IP path to transmitters.
Icecast/HLS to DVB Transport Stream Transcoding: This is used by a number of customers who want to make webstreams available on a DVB transport stream that can be sent in cable networks or via satellite.Audio is directly fed into the 2wcom MoIN digital multimedia network, where it can be routed to a streaming encoder or directly to a content delivery network and then into web streaming.
Streaming Encoder: Software can also be used to feed a streaming encoder, for example, the Wowza streaming cloud; or the solution transcodes the audio signals to adaptive bitrate protocols like HLS that can be distributed to the end customer by using a CDN.
AES67 to WAN Bridge: With a great number of supported audio over IP protocols, a “multimedia over IP” network server can transcode signals from studio networks that use AES67, Dante, WheatNet, Ravenna or Livewire+ to a format that is suitable for wide-area networks. For example, the studio signals can be transcoded to Opus for a low-bitrate transmission with SMPTE 2022 conform error protection or using Secure Reliable Transport (SRT). That enables a studio-to-studio bridge that can overcome even stressful network conditions.The author says solutions that support standards, protocols, multiple audio formats and redundancy enable the most use cases.
On-Demand Transcoders: The multimedia over IP network server software offers scalable activation of codecs in means of number and time. This allows flexible handling of alternative audio streams such as an audio description of a video, to guarantee accessibility for blind and visually handicapped persons. Or, when a multimedia contribution is produced, operators are enabled to process simultaneous audio commentaries for the video, station website, social media and the radio broadcast.
The author is chairman of the WorldDAB Automotive Working Group and head of Development Entertainment & Car Functions at Volkswagen Car SW.Org Wolfsburg AG.
The EBU’s Digital Radio Summit took place online in February, featuring a wide range of speakers and presentations outlining radio’s multiplatform future.
Radio’s place in the car was high on the agenda throughout the day and I got the opportunity to share — in my capacity as chair of the WorldDAB Automotive Work Group (AWG) — some insights into the uptake of DAB+ digital radio in the car and highlight some of WorldDAB’s recent initiatives in this space.Strong growth for in-car DAB+ across Europe
The European Electronics Communication Code (EECC) came into force at the end of 2020, meaning new passenger cars sold throughout the EU are now required to include digital radio capabilities.
As expected, this has led to a surge in the number of new cars factory-fitted with DAB+ in Europe since the start of the year, and this growth is set to continue as more countries introduce national regulation reflecting the EECC.
Italy —which introduced national regulation mandating digital radio in the car at the start of 2020, well ahead of its European counterparts — is leading the way in this respect, with 90% of new cars sold now including DAB+ as standard.Creating a great user experience
Getting DAB+ into cars is merely the first step of the process — in order to guarantee radio’s place at the heart of the connected dashboard, we ought to provide drivers with a great user experience.
Through WorldDAB and the WorldDAB AWG network, we bring together radio broadcasters and auto makers and facilitate cross-industry collaboration with the aim of continuously improving the in-car multimedia experience.The importance of metadata
Metadata plays a key role in providing a positive user experience in the car, as it enables the visual information, text and graphics (such as station name and logo, presenter, song title and album artwork) to be displayed on the dashboard while a specific station is playing.
The WorldDAB AWG recently launched a campaign underlining the important role visual information now plays in providing a positive digital radio experience for drivers — and offering guidance to broadcasters on how to use information they already have in the form of metadata to provide a richer experience for the driver.UX guidelines
Having a common understanding of the user interface in the car is essential, which is why the WorldDAB UX Group — a subgroup within the WorldDAB AWG — published the user experience (UX) guidelines.
Aimed at broadcasters and manufacturers, the guidelines are updated regularly to reflect the changing dashboard and radio’s place in it as well as creating this positive user experience for drivers.Keeping up with new technologies
Voice control and speech recognition are now essential features in the car dashboard, enabling drivers to search and change stations seamlessly while keeping their eyes on the road.
With that in mind, this year WorldDAB and its members — both vehicle manufacturers and broadcasters — will develop within the UX guidelines guides to using voice control along with providing further clarity to broadcasters on phonemes and their importance.
As well as voice control, the extended guidelines will include new information on hybrid radio and how hybrid, with DAB+ at the heart of it, provides a great digital radio user experience in the car.
Other key areas of focus for the AWG are Android Automotive — and specifically, determining how these new technologies and operating systems will integrate hybrid radio — as well as radio’s place in electric vehicles.DAB+ at the heart of hybrid
On Wednesday 10 March, WorldDAB and the European Broadcasting Union will co-host a two-hour session where experts will share their insights on how broadcasters can keep radio strong in the car, with DAB+ at the heart of the hybrid radio experience. Register here to attend the virtual event.
iHeartMedia is realigning its business operations by creating two new segments. The media company says it is making the adjustments to better reflect its increased focus on digital and improve visibility into the underlying performances of each segment.
The Mutliplatform Group will include the company’s 860 broadcast radio stations, Premiere Networks and its virtual and live events business. This group accounts for 75 percent of iHeartMedia’s revenue. Greg Ashlock will be its CEO.
The new Digital Audio Group includes podcasting and the company’s digital sites, digital services and digital advertising technology companies, including its pending acquisition Triton Digital. Conal Byrne becomes this group’s CEO.
“The company expects the Digital Audio Group will continue to grow as an increasing proportion of its business in the future,” it stated in its announcement, though it said the Multiplatform Group “remains the foundation business that has been at the heart of the company’s success, playing an important role in building its successful digital and podcasting businesses.
[Related: “For Radio, Audio Is the New Now”]
The divisions will report their financials separately and be run by different management groups, according to an iHeartMedia press release. Both segments will report to Bob Pittman, iHeartMedia chairman and CEO.
A separate Audio & Media Services segment includes Katz Media Group and software provider RCS.Continued shift
“iHeartMedia is positioned to benefit in the continued shift of the broadcast and digital advertising marketplaces to data infused electronic platforms,” Pittman said during an earnings call Thursday.
The company reported fourth quarter 2020 revenue of $936 million on Thursday, a decline of 8.8% from a year earlier. It says it quarterly revenue deficits are narrowing as skittish advertisers return and the COVID-19 pandemic eases in parts of the United States. iHeartMedia previously reported a drop of 22% in revenue for Q3 2020 year-to-year.
iHeartMedia’s broadcast specific revenue was down 19% in Q4 2020 and down 26% excluding political, according to the financial report filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
The company reported significant political advertising, totaling $168 million for the year, its best year on record. Digital continues to standout for iHeartMedia, according to Pittman. Growth in digital the final quarter of 2020 was 53% year over year, according to the company’s filing with the report.
For the year, the pandemic caused a significant decline in revenue of nearly 20% compared to 2019. Total revenue was $2.9 billion in 2020 compared to nearly $3.7 billion in annual results the year prior.
Pittman said the company hopes to return to 2019 revenue levels by the end of this year but a lot depends on the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines and the return of more advertisers.
Corporate expenses decreased 23.8% in 2020 compared to the year prior, according to the iHeartMedia SEC filing, resulting from cost reduction initiatives that resulted in lower employee compensation. In addition, the company’s modernization efforts delivered $50 million of in-year savings in 2020.
“The total operating expense savings resulting from our modernization initiatives and the operating cost savings initiatives that were developed in response to the impact from the COVID-19 pandemic generated approximately $250 million of cost reductions in 2020,” according to the financial statement.COVID-19 takes its share
Pittman on Thursday’s earnings call said: “Like every ad supported business we were hit by the pandemic. We responded quickly to the downturn and used this to speed up our adoption of new technologies and best practices while making lasting changes to our company’s operating structure.”
The company said it will continue to centralize resources into what it calls Centers of Excellence.
The company’s capital expenditures for the year 2020 were $85.2 million compared to $112.2 million in 2019. Those capital expenditures last year consisted primarily of investments in its programmatic platforms and IT software and infrastructure, according to the company’s SEC filing.
The company is more optimistic about spending as it projects cap ex of $165 million to $185 million in 2021.
iHeartMedia’s fourth quarter results fell in line with most of the mega radio group owners in this country. Entercom reported earlier this week its 2020 revenues in the quarter fell 23 percent year-to-year. Cumulus Media fared a bit better reporting fourth quarter revenues in 2020 declined 13.1 percent compared to a year earlier.
iHeartMedia President/COO/CFO Rich Bressler said during Thursday earnings call the company projects “its first quarter 2021 revenue will be down 11 to 13 percent when compared to the year prior.”
The biggest commercial radio operator in the United States — which has been acquiring audio technology companies in the past couple of years and just announced the planned purchase of audio measurement company Triton Digital for $230 million in February — failed to make a significant dent in its overall debt in the quarter, according to the SEC filing.
As of Dec. 31, 2020, the company had just over $6 billion in total debt, virtually unchanged from the end of September.Honeycomb investment
Also in February, Honeycomb Investments Ltd., an investment vehicle funded by Global Radio investor Michael Tabor, announced it had taken an 8.8% share in iHeartMedia, according to SEC filings. Honeycomb’s investors own Global, the largest radio and outdoor advertising company in the UK.
The investment totaled $117.6 million, according to several reports. Just last year the FCC gave approval to iHeartMedia’s petition to increase its foreign ownership beyond the 25% limit.
In its 10K annual report to the SEC filed Thursday, iHeartMedia said: “Honeycomb filed a Schedule 13D with the SEC reporting ownership of more than 5% of our voting stock and equity. Honeycomb acquired its interest without our knowledge or control, and we are fulfilling our obligations under the Declaratory Ruling and the FCC rules with respect to Honeycomb’s interest.”
The latest report from Nielsen offers new insights into podcast listening trends — particularly when it comes to tune-in trends and category ad spending among diverse audiences.
Study after study has found that after a decade of audience growth, podcasts have become an appealing and reliable advertising platform. With more than 1.7 million podcast titles available for listeners to choose from as of the beginning of 2021, podcasts are boasting a track record of strong listener engagement — offering advertisers a means of more personalized connection, the Nielsen report said.
Specifically, the February 2021 Nielsen report found that podcast advertising — and notably, those podcast ads delivered by the podcast host — were driving stronger brand recall punch than more traditional forms of advertisements. A series of podcast effectiveness studies by Nielsen has found that host-read ads drive a brand recall rate of 71%, a scenario that subsequently creates high levels of consumer interest, purchase intent and recommendation intent.
The result is an estimated ad spend that is expected to eclipse $1 billion this year, the report said.
The growth seen from podcasts is good news to everyone — consumers, content creators and advertisers, Nielsen said — but as the podcast landscape broadens, “content creators and advertisers will be increasingly tasked with ensuring that their programs and messages align with who’s listening,” the Nielsen report said. “And when we look at audience trends, creators and advertisers should be focused on where the growth is.”
Specifically, the report notes that Hispanic and Black listeners are leaders in podcast consumption. Black consumers are more likely to take action such as visiting a retail location for more information as a result of listening to a podcast, the report said, compared to 8% of all podcast listeners. Hispanic listeners, on the other hand, have gravitated to podcasts more than any other, as the reach among this group increased from 1.1 million in 2010 to 6.8 million in 2019. That represents a growth rate of more than six times.
In addition, the report details that podcasting is also managing to withstand the effects of COVID-19. While the pandemic has altered traditional audio listening habits, when U.S. consumers were forced into lockdown, commuting to work decreased and audio consumption dropped. As the year progressed however, audio use — including podcasts — rebounded as consumers modified their media habits in the wake of life changes brought on by COVID-19.
The new Nielsen report also suggests that podcasting is ideal for brands looking to engage the right consumers with a well-tailored message as opposed to simply casting a big net and hoping for the best. “As the base of podcast listeners rapidly expands, those well-tailored messages depend on having a full understanding of who’s listening and to what,” the report said.
The report also tracks listening by age group, listening location, time of day, median age, median household income and gender breakdown.
The post New Report Reveals Podcast Trends Among Diverse Audiences appeared first on Radio World.
Bauer Media Audio said it plans to acquire Communicorp Group, pending regulatory approval.
“Through this transaction Bauer Media Audio enters the Republic of Ireland and extends its audio business to eight countries, further developing its position as Europe’s leading commercial radio operator with more than 55 million weekly listeners,” the organization stated in the announcement.
It said Communicorp is Ireland’s largest commercial radio group with a weekly audience of 1.75 million.
“The group comprises of Ireland’s only two national commercial radio stations Today FM and Newstalk, alongside local stations Spin 1038 and 98FM in Dublin, and Spin Southwest in Limerick, as well as leading digital radio sport station Off The Ball, digital audio exchange audioXI and aggregated listening platform GoLoud.”
The announcement was made by Paul Keenan, president of Bauer Media Audio, and Communicorp Chairperson Lucy Gaffney.
The Irish Times reports the sale is “understood to be for more than 100 million Euros.” It quoted Communicorp’s billionaire owner Denis O’Brien saying his decision was influenced by changing listening habits of consumers.
But in the announcement, Paul Keenan cited radio’s popularity in Ireland and said. Communicorp’s radio stations “are reaching record listening highs.”
Bauer Media Audio has broadcast radio, online services and podcasts also serving the UK, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Poland and Slovakia. Its brands include KISS, Mix Megapol, Absolute Radio, Radio Norge, Radio Expres, Radio Nova, Radio 100 and RMF.
The Federal Communications Commission has issued a reminder that anyone involved in the change of ownership of a wireless communication tower must follow a certain notification process.
“This reminder is necessary because of inconsistent compliance with this process, and it reflects the importance of maintaining accurate records in the FCC’s Antenna Structure Registration (ASR) System, which functions to protect aircraft navigation safety,” it stated.
In February of 2019 the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau put out a notice announcing that the FCC was revising its ASR System with a new process for reporting changes in ownership of towers and other structures registered in the system. It made changes to FCC Form 854, Antenna Structure Registration, and the commission’s ASR website at that time.
“The ownership change application procedure is a two-step process that requires both the assignor (current owner of record) and the assignee (new owner of record) to take several steps,” the FCC now reminds us.
Those steps are to log into ASR, complete their respective portions of the application, and provide the signature of an authorized person.
“In the time since these changes were enacted, there have been a number of instances where ownership changes were not properly completed because one of the parties failed to complete the process. These failures made it difficult to identify the owner responsible for compliance with our Part 17 rules, led to complications in subsequent transfers, and resulted in other administrative inefficiencies.”
Part 17 of the rules covers construction, marking, and lighting of antenna structures.
The commission is reminding all parties to transfers of ownership of registered towers that they must comply with the process in the Ownership Change Public Notice.
“Further, we recommend that parties complete the change of ownership in ASR as part of the sales transaction, rather than leaving the ASR ownership change to be completed at a later date. If the ownership change application process is not properly completed by both parties, the ASR system will identify the wrong entity as the owner, which may result in the wrong entity being held responsible for a tower it no longer holds and may slow down future transfers of ownership for current owners. It could also impact aviation safety by preventing or delaying lighting outage reports from reaching tower owners and thus delay subsequent FAA notification and repairs.”
It noted that its Licensing Support Hotline is available on weekday business hours to help with the online application process at (877) 480-3201 option 2; TTY (717) 338-2824.
The pandemic has changed some priorities in the global audio business, according to IABM.
In its latest “Audio Sector” report, the association writes that pandemic lockdowns have had “significant and sometimes surprising” effects in audio, which it calls an “important, but sometimes unheralded” sector of broadcast and media.
- COVID-19 “has led to a realization of the importance of audio quality, as disruptions hit production standards.”
- The pandemic has “incentivized consumers to increasingly stream audio-only content,” prompting growth in areas such as podcasting.
- From a technology perspective, “audio virtualization and remote production deployments have accelerated out of necessity, while other trends such as immersive audio have slowed down.”
- Some audio business drivers such as the move to easy-to-use products have accelerated.
- Demand in live sectors such as music and theater has plummeted “while other buyers such as streaming, smaller audio content creators and some adjacent markets have increased investment.”
- The audio supply chain has been hit by the cancellations of events and productions more than it has been helped from new waves of spending from remote working, production, streaming and small audio producers.
- And “some audio technology suppliers have pivoted to cater to the needs of new segments, as well as to accommodate the health and safety requirements of the pandemic in some sectors.”
IABM quoted its Head of Knowledge Lorenzo Zanni saying that while live events took a back seat, and stay-at-home viewers accepted lower-quality video, “the importance of high-quality audio really came to the fore.”
He said the pandemic also saw a “huge increase in the streaming of audio-only content, particularly podcasts and audio books, particularly among younger audiences.”
Broadcasters invented whole new workflows when COVID-19 sliced through the industry.
But almost a year later, Radio World now looks ahead — to ask what our industry’s new normal for remote audio will be, and how future workflows and infrastructure designs might be different because of the pandemic experience.
Find out what we learned from broadcasters like New York Public Radio, Saga Communications, Gimme Radio, the University of Southern Colorado, Los 40 Principales Granada, Relevant Radio and Silver Lake Audio.
And learn what manufacturers such as AEQ, Comrex, ENCO Systems, Lawo, Prodys, RCS, Telos Alliance, Tieline and Wheatstone are doing to support these new workflows.
Dan Gunter is principal of Alabama Broadcast Services LLC, a contract engineering firm headquartered in LaFayette, Ala. He saw a presentation that I did for the Alabama Broadcasters Association’s Engineering Academy in which I discussed infrared cameras made by FLIR.Fig.1: The FLIR One Pro, bottom, is a thermal camera for smartphones.
Last year, Dan bought a model that plugs into his smartphone. He says it has more than paid for itself. (The FLIR One Pro costs about $400.)
Here’s what Dan wanted to share with Workbench readers. He was at a client site to check a Harris SX-5A AM transmitter that had repeatedly blown the silver-mica capacitor in the output third harmonic filter section. Those cost about $800 apiece.
Dan got the FLIR camera ready so he could quickly shut down the SX-5A, open the rear door and grab an IR temperature reading to see how hot the capacitor was getting. He attached the infrared camera to his phone and activated the app so he was seeing real-time IR imaging.
But in getting ready to inspect that transmitter, Dan happened to sweep the camera over the rear door of another rig, a BE AM5E, and discovered a potentially serious problem there. He saw a “hot spot” in the image indicating much higher temperatures at one of the twin cooling fans at the bottom of the BE transmitter’s rear door.
Measured with the FLIR One Pro, with a measurement “box” as defined in the FLIR PC software (Fig. 2), he saw that the cabinet over the blown fan was as hot as 96.8 degrees Fahrenheit, while the temperature was only 76.6 degrees in the area of the working fan.Fig. 2: The back of the BE5E transmitter. Note the uneven color between the left and right fan grills.
Because these fans are behind a metallic filter in a recessed area of the door, they’re normally out of sight. And you would not see them in operation if you opened the rear door of the transmitter’s cabinet because, for obvious reasons, the transmitter must be powered down first (or the interlocks will shut it down for you).
Dan notes that this AM5E had a history of repeatedly blowing PA modules. The latest suffered a major burnout that charred the components beyond recognition on about a third of the circuit board, even melting the casing off a relay. That repair cost around $1,500.
So Dan began to investigate. He discovered that the “hot” fan was not running. In fact, he had to take a hammer and reshape the perforated metal portion of the door where the fan mounts, because it was pressing against the center of the rotating fan blade/spindle. This had apparently caused the fan to burn out. In looking at Fig. 3, the suspect fan is to the left, just above the copper strap.Fig. 3: The left-hand fan was not working; Dan replaced it.
Before and after replacing the burned-out fan, Dan used the FLIR camera to measure the temperature of the transmitter’s cabinet. By replacing the fan, he decreased the temperature of the cabinet by around 15 degrees Fahrenheit in the areas adjacent to and above the PA modules. Dan suspects that the actual temperature of the PA modules and of the area inside the transmitter dropped by that much and more.
When he places his hand on the transmitter cabinet, it now feels to be at or very close to room temperature instead of noticeably warmer than ambient room air. The temperatures were notably different after replacement of the fan and resolving the fan motor binding issue, as seen in Fig. 4.Fig. 4: FLIR imaging shows both fans are cooling properly.
All this to say that Dan now makes it a habit to “scan” his transmitters, especially in the areas of air exhaust, intake and fans in order to spot problems such as blown fans or blocked air flow.
In the case of transmitters and transmitter rooms with lots of noise (I bet you’ve never encountered such a problem!), IR imaging can catch a lot of things that would otherwise be almost undetectable until the transmitter goes down.
We’ll tell you next time how his repair to the first transmitter turned out. Dan also said he is looking forward to producing more “how to” and technical videos on YouTube after a brief hiatus. We look forward to them.Flashback
Last weekend I came across a YouTube video of The Seekers, in the Abbey Road studio, apparently recording their song “I’ll Never Find Another You” in 1964 (“There’s a new world somewhere, they call the Promised Land …”)
Posted by Rich963, it’s a pretty neat video featuring 1960s recording technology, though I noticed that the console VU meters weren’t moving for part of the video even as the group sang! A nice job of lip synching. Nonetheless it’s a fun peek inside a music recording studio of nearly 60 years ago.
As you watch, there’s one other apparent “flaw.” See if you can pick it up as you view the video.
John Bisset has spent over 50 years in the broadcasting industry and is in his 31st year writing Workbench. He handles western U.S. radio sales for the Telos Alliance. John holds CPBE certification with the Society of Broadcast Engineers and is a past recipient of the SBE’s Educator of the Year Award. Workbench submissions are encouraged, qualify for SBE Recertification, and can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.