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A Hot Mess of Nothin' with Vinny Lopez

Posted by Kirk Harnack [TWiRT] on May 29, 2014 12:33:00 PM

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TWiRT 213Vinny Lopez takes us on a dive into the waters of PC-based television production. Radio stations and syndicated radio shows are getting into producing TV along with their radio content. Vinny, Chris Tarr and Andrew Zarian join me for a look at what’s possible. Plus Chris and Vinny discuss remote-controlled production equipment and SBE educational opportunities.

 

 

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Kirk: This Week in Radio Tech, Episode 213, is brought to you by the Axia Radius IP Audio Console, Axia IP Intercom, and Axia Talent Panels, Axia tools that make your studio work for you and your most demanding talent, online at AxiaAudio.com.

Vinny Lopez takes us on a dive into the waters of PC-based television production. Radio stations and syndicated radio shows are producing TV along with their radio content. Vinny, Chris Tarr, and Andrew Zarian join me for a look at what's possible, plus Chris and Vinny discuss remote controlled production equipment and SPE educational opportunities.

Hey, welcome in. It's This Week in Radio Tech. I'm Kirk Harnack, your host for the show. I'm glad you're here. Yeah, you're the viewer, I'm the host, we've got a co-host, and we've got a great guest. How about that? It's This Week in Radio Tech, the show we talk about radio technology typically, everything from the microphone to the light bulb at the top of the tower and everything in-between.

But this week, we're going to go a little far afield and talk about stuff that radio engineers are going to have to learn more than just IT and Internet Protocol and things like that. There's stuff with pictures that radio engineers are having to learn, so we're branching out and bringing you Mr. Vinny Lopez as our guest.

First, though, let's direct our view up to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I'll bet you Chris is there. Chris Tarr, welcome back to the show. I haven't seen you for a while. I'm glad you're here.

Chris: Thanks for having me. I am in our palatial - in one of our palatial studios here at Radio Milwaukee in downtown Milwaukee. I am the Director of Engineering and Operations for 88.9 Radio Milwaukee and also a contributing writer for Radio Guide Magazine and co-founder of the radio engineering site, broadcastengineering.info.

Kirk: Well worth your while, engineering friends, broadcastengeering.info. Definitely check that out. Also, let me encourage you, if you go to the 88.9 website, Chris, what's the web address for your radio station?

Chris: It's radiomilwaukee.org.

Kirk: Radiomilwaukee.org. Let me encourage you to do what I did, at least once so far, and I may be able to do it again, and that is to donate a few dollars Chris's way. Like many or most community stations, they operate on donated dollars, and I think it's a good cause. They have some great employees there. One of your buddies, one of your colleagues, is a friend of mine on Facebook. Tarik Moody, is that his name?

Chris: Yes, our digital director, Tarik Moody. Yep.

Kirk: Digital directory? Okay, see, that title didn't exist . . .

Chris: He handles all our interweb stuff.

Kirk: Okay.

Chris: He understands the Googles and Yahoos and things.

Kirk: Well, I think your station is well worth supporting and I am appreciative of it, and especially the live programming you guys do. You said you've got a live concern coming up right after TWiRT. It won't be on this network, but you're going to go engineer it, right?

Chris: Yeah. And actually, we actually just received the Wisconsin Broadcast Association's Major Market Music Station of the Year Award for 2013.

Kirk: Wow.

Chris: Yeah, we're going to be doing every Thursday we have a local band in from around the area, put them in our facility which is a combination studio and performance venue, and give them an opportunity to perform in front of an audience and live on the air. So it's a great way to expose these local bands to a new audience, and also for listeners to kind of hear what's going out of our city.

Kirk: Awesome, Milwaukee, home of some pretty good homegrown music. And you have gorgeous studios there. You gave us a tour on a previous show, so I appreciate that. Folks can roll back and find that somewhere in the archives. You guys have got . . . I mean you've just built a fairly new facility there. Are you finding the need for any more upgrades now that you're in it, and maybe discovering needs you didn't know you had?

Chris: Yeah. Well in fact, it's kind of this ongoing process. You really don't know what you're going to do with the space you have until you get in it sometimes, and we're finding, for example, we just put in a new sound system in our performance space. We found the one we had really wasn't doing the job and well, you know, kind of looking at some of the things we're going to be talking about today, video. Obviously we have these artists in and we can record those and play those back. We're going to be soon launching a video channel on our website where you can watch the performances that we've had in our studio. But of course, that . . . then we're looking at upgrading our studios with lighting and video as well.

We got in, we got going, and we moved into this facility the end of August last year. In the time that we've been here, we've already done a couple of upgrades on some certain systems since we've been here, just now that we know kind of what we're dealing with and some of the things we can do. We added a projection system in the performance space because we found out we can let other non-profits use that for board meetings and things like that, so we put in a system with a projector and that sort of thing.

Another thing we did is we upgraded our audio mixer. We had a Personas, a 24-channel Personas. We upgraded to the 32 which allows our producer to use his iPad to walk around. Instead of hiring a bunch of people to engineer these performances, we can use one person with the iPad to walk around. And with that same iPad, because we're using the Axia system, we have control to start and end segments from that room without having to have a board operator in the studio. We can actually control the Axia through the iPad.

So we're finding ways to . . . we spend a little bit of money upfront in technology, but in the end kind of save us a little money because we're such a small staff. We have about 14 people. So it allows us to do some pretty big things using technology without having to really, outside the initial acquisition, spend a lot of money to maintain.

Kirk: Chris, you just touched on so many things in your soliloquy there, in your monologue, that we could spend a whole show on any one of these. I'll tell you what, let's go ahead and bring in our guest, Vinny Lopez. Vinny, welcome in, past president of the SBE, the Society of Broadcast Engineers, and all this time the director of engineering of a couple of TV stations in Syracuse, New York. Welcome in, Vinny. How're you doing?

Vinny: I'm doing good, Kirk. How're you doing today?

Kirk: All right. Tell us just a little bit about the TV stations. Tell us about your career in TV.

Vinny: It's WSYT and WNYS Television, Fox and my network here in Syracuse, New York. We used to be a Sinclair station. We're now owned by a much smaller company, Bristle Cone Broadcasting, also known as Northwest Broadcasting. So it was a big difference going from a group of hundreds of stations to a group of ten.

Kirk: Oh, yeah.

Vinny: But anyway, right now I am live in our studio using a little thing that I've built up here. This is a live stream studio switching software and the hardware control, as we look over the shoulder here. But it does a lot of things, and I figured this was a good opportunity to give it a whirl and try it out.

Kirk: Okay, so first off, I want to ask about this software and the hardware that you're using there. The first thing I want to ask is I tried building up a switching system like this early in the days of this net cast, This Week in Radio Tech. I sure had a lot of trouble figuring this out, and I thought is really my only choice USB-connected cameras? Although this one's not bad. I'm getting basically 1080p video out of this one. So here's my question, the first question, what cameras are you using and how do you get those into that PC?

Vinny: What it is, the software is designed to run on a PC. It requires quite a bit of horsepower. This is a hex core i7 running in this PC. I had the PC built because it was a difference of about $100, and I said I'll take the warranty with it, thank you much. It uses Black Magic Design cards. These are JVC Avira Pro Camcorders right now, just little 35 camcorders.

They're HDMI into a Black Magic Intensity card, and the other one uses an HDMI to SDI converter to go into a Black Magic Deck Link card, because I'm using the other Black Magic card as an output to go into the Skype machine which is a dedicated encoder. It has an Osprey Viacast card. So I'm sending you NTSC. We're down converting the cameras in the studio software because I didn't have time to really proof it and test it for HD, but it can do that.

Kirk: Okay. So the cabling between these cameras is HDMI cable?

Vinny: Right.

Kirk: One of them converts to SDI and the other one is straight HDMI?

Vinny: Right, HDMI going right into the Black Magic card in the box, and HDMI to SDI using a little converter and then going into the SDI in the box. This, strangely enough, not yet, but it will soon be able to work with web cams. It only works with Black Magic hardware right now.

Kirk: Okay. All right. Hey, if Andrew's there and wants to jump in and ask a question or two about the software, that'd be awesome. My experience had just been with stuff that only works natively with USB-connected cameras, and I guess I've never jumped into that world of using Black Magic or other capture cards. That seems like a whole world of incompatibility headaches.

Vinny: Yeah, well we had a little incompatibility here as I was trying to get this thing configured for this week. There was actually a Black Magic card in the Skype box, and I couldn't get it to take an HD signal out of the studio, so that's some more testing that needs to be done because the sausage wasn't completely cooked yet.

Andrew: Hey, Kirk.

Kirk: Yeah?

Andrew: Yeah, what Vinny's saying is absolutely true. It's a lot of finessing that has to go on to get this to work properly. Even though the hardware supports it, the software may not, and that's . . . well, even if they say it supports it, it may not at one point. So it's a lot of playing around and coming up with the right configuration and right combo to get it to work properly.

Vinny: Yeah, another thing that this can do, and this actually works quite well, it's called remote camera. If you have a laptop or a device, a cell phone, that's on the same network, you can bring it in as a remote source. This is a picture from my laptop. Hey, Chris Tarr, any idea what that is?

Kirk: Looks like lens flares.

Chris: No.

Vinny: It was on the air at the time. That's a resistor stack in an old pie transmitter that had caught itself on fire and was burning itself out.

Chris: Oh.

Vinny: And it was still making 25-percent power at the time.

Chris: Nice.

Vinny: But yeah, you can take pictures from a laptop or you can take a website like the GFQ website here and just feed it back in. Another interesting little thing you can do, is if you have the live stream app for a device, and I don't know if this'll work on the first try here but let's see if we can get it to go. You can take that item and let's see, ah, there it is. My cell phone is acting as a camera here over the Wi-Fi.

Kirk: Okay, so it's Wi-Fi connected. All right.

Vinny: It's Wi-Fi connected. And like I said, it's 640x360. It's not HD by any stretch. But like I said, as long as it's on the same Wi-Fi, they have the software for devices, Android, iOS. You can bring them in as a remote camera and go from there.

Kirk: Can you imagine covering an event like this? Give ten people cell phones. Put them on Wi-Fi on some venue, some event, like maybe in Chris's live performance space. Give a few people cell phones and the app, and you have all those as options for cameras.

Vinny: Exactly. You get a bunch of people sitting in the back with their iPhone and they're just acting as your eyes and ears, and you've got your main cameras that you're switching, and you can go to one of those people any time you want.

Kirk: Sorry, my brain just went to what if we could do this back in 1978 at a Grateful Dead concert or a Doobie Brothers concert, and somebody's back there rolling an adult smoke, giving instructions on how to do that.

Vinny: Well that's part of the problem with life today, there's too many cameras around.

Kirk: Right.

Chris: You're going to take the fun out of it, Vin.

Kirk: So Chris, you're planning a video in your live performance space. Why don't you and Vinny kind of chat a bit about what that might - what you're planning on doing, and grab some of Vinny's expertise in fleshing that out.

Chris: Well, we actually . . . because I'm not totally involved in that project, actually. I'd be more than happy to. Actually, we have a video guy who does video for Foo Fighters and a lot of those bands, and he's actually helping us design the system. Right now, it's pretty simple. We've got a couple of Go Pros and we've got those hanging up, but I'm actually going to be reconfiguring one of our audio production studios to do audio and video, so it'll do switching and things like that in that sense.

But it's kind of, because it's so far out of my expertise, I brought in somebody else from the outside to kind of lead that charge since I'm just slowly now learning when you're talking about the various kinds of connectors, I was like "Okay, I know those initials. I know what they mean; I'm getting there."

Kirk: I'm the same way.

Chris: Yeah, but you touched on something. I am by no means the only radio station where that's happening. I know the Intercom stations here and all over the country, radio now is really starting to get into video, especially with websites and content with i-devices and things. So I'm watching as intently as I'm sure a lot of radio guys are, because these are all things I think that we're going to have to really know. Maybe not as much of a deep dive as Vinny would do, but obviously we need to be familiar with these things because that's where it's going. As radio people, we're going to be doing that.

Now even five, six, seven years ago, I was setting up machines with Final Cut and Vegas and things like that for our producers to put together video just for streaming, for promotional stuff. Now we're getting to, with the performance space and things like that, actual live video. We'll be streaming these events. I do think that as a radio guy, things that we're discussing today are going to be more and more important and more directly related to what we do down the road.

Kirk: Vinny, you come from the television world, and normally I guess you're dealing with full-size TV cameras and big switchers and all the pro gear which is exactly what radio probably can't afford to do, that radio needs to do stuff like what Andrew Zairian is doing and other net casters who are switching cameras. What's the best bang for the buck? What technologies give us the best bang for the buck for producing video that at least looks acceptable and maybe even compelling? Do you have some advice to hand out about that?

Vinny: Yeah, there's a lot of devices out there right now that go this route. There's the live stream stuff that I'm using here. You've got your New Tech Tricasters which do a wonderful job, but those are the Cadillacs of the world and they demand a pretty large price. There is Black Magic Design makes a nice little one-rack unit switcher that you control from a soft keypad on your computer. A-10 TV Studio. There's a lot of choices out there. I think, Andrew, you use Vid Blaster, right?

Andrew: No, we did and we abandoned Vid Blaster and we headed for the hills. We went over the Wirecast.

Vinny: Ah, okay. Wirecast is another option that I was going to go with, Telestream Wirecast. There's a ton of them out there if you just walk around. I mean walking the floor at NAB this year, there were all kinds of solutions for this. All kinds.

Andrew: Gotcha.

Kirk: So no matter which one you pick, Vinny, can you think of what's the biggest gotcha? As an audio guy who knows a little bit about video, I'm always thinking oh, what about lip sync? What might I do wrong to really screw up the audio/video relationship, and what tools would I have to correct that if I need to?

Vinny: The biggest problem you're going to run into, and we touched on this a little right before we started, is interfacing whatever cameras you have to the computer because there's still only a few ways to do that and get full bandwidth video out of it. Aja makes cards; Black Magic makes cards. Going a little deeper than that, maybe not the best idea, because those are consumer-level cards. I think Matrox has just come out with a broadcast-quality card as well for Wirecast specifically, but I don't know how long it would take to integrate that with other devices.

So that's one of the hardest parts. Most of the software or hardware solutions do you have some delay control and adjustments in them. I know that the live stream box here that I'm using does have a delay adjustment and things like that as well to change that around. You could also resort to delay lines or things like that. Of course you've got your Axia Console you can do your automatic mix-minus with, too, you know?

Kirk: You know, considering audio and video and the various latencies involved, thinking about your broadcast studios there at your TV stations and then thinking about the live stream software you have and other similar, which usually needs to get delayed to stay in-sync with the other?

Which one natively takes longer to get through typical broadcast gear so you have to delay it so that the other one - or you have to delay the other so it'll catch up?

Vinny: Usually the video takes longer to get through, just because of the bandwidth that it consumes. So more often than not, you end up delaying the audio or doing something with your audio to make it happen right.

Kirk: So at least expense-wise, audio's probably a cheaper thing to delay purposely than video is.

Vinny: Exactly. Exactly. It's the trial-and-error of figuring out how much and adjusting to that that really can drive you nuts.

Kirk: How much . . . okay, if we think about the amount of difference, I'm sorry I'm stuck on this lip sync thing because it is kind of an issue. Even in the HD broadcast world, there are issues with different TV sets and all that. How much is the amount of time that's considered okay difference between audio and video? And I realize in one direction, the leeway is probably better than in the other direction.

Vinny: I find most people can see five or six frames. It's that close. They can see that little bit of delay or offset in lip sync.

Kirk: How much is that in milliseconds? Any idea?

Vinny: Five-thirtieths of a second. I guess I need some Common Core math here.

Chris: One sixth, carry the three, plus seven . . .

Vinny: Divide by two, divide by seven . . .

Chris: Not very much, Kirk, to answer your question. Not very much at all.

Kirk: 30 milliseconds? Is that too much? 50 milliseconds?

Chris: Sure, we'll call it 30 milliseconds.

Vinny: Call it 30, yeah. It's probably less than that, though.

Kirk: So you want to keep your sync, audio and video, within 30 milliseconds of each other. And that will . . .

Vinny: Yes.

Kirk: To the human eye, that looks okay for lip sync purposes?

Vinny: For most human eyes, yeah. The end product, all TV sets are different. And while they all say "Yeah, we conform to the DTV standard," well the way they get there is not always the same. We have people that call all the time regarding lip sync, regarding captions that aren't quite correct, regarding languages that aren't supposed to be there that show up. It's a mess. It really is.

Kirk: Wow.

Vinny: A hot mess.

Kirk: A hot mess. The working title of the show, a hot mess of nothing. So thinking about - one more thought about lip sync is if you're watching a television program and the audio is leading the video so that you hear the words and see the guy's mouth move, that's more disturbing than if you... because if you're standing 50 feet away from somebody and they're talking, you see the visual instantly and the audio's delayed by 50 milliseconds if you're 50 feet away from somebody. It's about one millisecond per foot. So we grow up in a nature, a world, where audio often is delayed from the visual by a few milliseconds.

Vinny: Right, and we're conditioned for that, so when we see it, it doesn't bother us as much as the audio coming first, then the video. We hear . . .

Chris: It sounds . . .

Vinny: Chris, go ahead.

Chris: It sounds to me like TV's way too difficult. We should just go back to just radio. No pictures, maybe a couple of stills. This whole syncing things up and switching, too much work.

Vinny: It's radio with pictures. Complicated pictures.

Kirk: Complicated pictures. So hey, I want to move on to a different subject. It's something that Chris Tarr had touched on, and that is this notion of controlling devices within these consumer things like iPads. I guess Tricaster has this available. I've seen people on other networks use that. Chris Tarr mentioned doing some control of Axia gear, and Axia does have an app that puts a whole console, an audio console, on. Well, not on iPad; it's not written for iOS, it's written for Windows, so you can have a Windows tablet and run your whole audio console there. And same thing for video switching.

So let's riff on that notion for a minute. Number one, it's just kind of cool to hold a tablet and to control something with it, especially guys. Guys like to remote control stuff, whether it's DJI helicopters or AR parrots or whatever it may be, we just love to remote control stuff.

So Chris, you were talking about not having enough employees, and this makes it possible for one guy to do a couple of jobs, do a live mix, take care of the EQ and sweetening in the room in the live event and also handle the broadcast, beginning of the show, end of the show kind of mixing and getting in and out of it.

Chris: Absolutely. By the way, you mentioned the remote control of planes and stuff. It brings me back to watching Barry Thomas's video of his quad copter, landing it into the trees and the house. There's some funny stuff with Barry. Yeah, you know, it's interesting. You know, I was kind of, even a few years ago, on the leading edge of trying to remote control things out of necessity with Intercom and all those radio stations that I still to this day take care of.

I came up with ways to . . . I've tried pretty much every remote desktop client on the planet for iOS and for Android, and I think it's just kind of a natural extension of where things are going with remote control, be it transmitters or video or audio. I even have an app that I was playing with that uses an iPad and iPhone where you can set one of the devices up as a camera and remotely see the viewfinder hit the picture from the other device.

So I think it's in our nature to kind of make things portable, because it just makes it a lot easier to multitask rather than being tied to a chair in some studio pushing buttons remotely. And that even goes back to the days of remote wiring switches. So I think as we see time go on, we're talking not only from the video side but the audio side, being able to do these things remotely.

Now I wish I could remember the vendor, because you've got me thinking about that. We had a recent SBE meeting. A vendor came out with a small little video switcher that uses SDI or HDMI and again has a remote control app for iOS devices where you can walk around and preview and take sources, and you can have it setup where audio follows video and that sort of thing. You can literally just walk around during an event or whatever and do all the switching and previewing from wherever you are on the network with your application.

I think that's . . . I like to call it the great equalizer. Vinny was talking about how some of these consumer companies are getting into this game, and I think while we can't get the same kind of video quality as say a TV station or a big production house, for doing web-based video production, I think we're getting to the point now where you can get one or two guys and be able to get close to a network quality, or at least close to the TV quality, through these devices where you have one guy walking around with an iPad controlling the cameras and things and you can get a pretty decent production put together for, relatively speaking, very few dollars.

Kirk: Vinny, in the TV environment, and you're playing with live stream, tell us your thoughts about remote control and using tablets. How does this or how could this make TV operations better?

Vinny: If the app is written correctly and it doesn't fail all the time, it could be a huge bonus. Like Chris was saying, he's building out his studio there. He could have one guy sitting in the back, or up in front, or anywhere, just switching the whole show like that. What you want to watch out for is if the app tends to crash, you're going to be in a hurting way quite quickly. You've got to make sure the apps are stable, they're written well, and that the company has support that you can get a hold of them via email or phone and just say "Hey, what's going on here?

Why is this crashing?"

Chris: What I think too, I like to call it the pain point with all of this. Obviously in a perfect world, we'd afford the high-quality manual switching with somebody there who's experienced and has expertise doing this and handling those situations. So you're absolutely right. These things can and probably will happen with crashes and things like that, and that's where you have to understand where your pain point is going into this.

I talked about that. In fact, I wrote an article a while back about using IP codecs for studio transmitter links and I always mention that as part of the spiel. What's your pain point? Know that they're going to fail at some point. Are you okay with that? Do you know what to do if it happens? Do you have a plan? As long as you have all that, it's really not a bad deal, but you're absolutely right. Keeping in mind that these are I don't want to say entry level, but close to entry level devices, it would never take the place of a skilled person in front of an enterprise-class console. These are lower-end devices. And as long as you're okay with that, you'll get good results most of the time.

Vinny: Right, there was a real broadcast, one of the first broadcast news automation systems that came out a few years ago, and they had told a friend of mine whose station bought one of these you can expect to lose one newscast a month because the thing will crash on you.

Kirk: Wow. That's . . .

Chris: To me, that's how much money are you willing to save?

Kirk: That's a great line.

Vinny: Exactly.

Kirk: How much money are you willing to save?

Chris: I'll save you a ton of money if you don't mind losing one newscast a month. You'll save a ton of money. Now if that bothers you, then you want to spend some more.

Vinny: But nowadays, things are a lot more reliable, a lot more stable, and that doesn't happen as much anymore.

Kirk: Vinny, at your stations, do you have a newscast automation system?

Vinny: We do not have a newscast. We are, Fox and my network, we don't mess around with that stuff. We used to have newscasts done by other stations in the market, but currently we do not.

Kirk: As you know, I do some part-time work at the Fox affiliate in Nashville. It is a Sinclair station, and it's one of the Sinclair stations where they've decided to take local news pretty serious.

Vinny: They just rebuilt that.

Kirk: Beautiful studio, six HD cameras, all robotic. None of them ambulatory, none of them move. Still a floor director. But the cameras - there's six of them; you don't have to move them around. Any shot you want, it's probably already there. But my point is they were using, or they are using, Ross Automation for their news automation. And yeah, at first, they had plenty of issues.

Now honestly, most of them - a couple of them I think were Ross issues, but most of them were just getting to learn all the stuff you've got to put in and think about. It's interesting how automation . . . if you've got live operators there, so many things get handled just because people are smart, they're clever, they kind of know what to do.

An automation system like the Ross Automation or any other one doesn't know everything you've got to do until you tell it you've got to do it. To this day, at the TV station, when we do a bump shop which is cameras way up high in the ceiling, wide-angle lens, it shows the whole studio including the cameras and the green screen and everything, just a bump shot in or out of the spots, for some reason our mics are all hot during the bump shot. Every mic is hot during the bump shot. So the director always reminds us, "We're coming back on a bump shot. Your mics will be hot. Your mics will be hot."

Really? Why do they all have to be hot? So you've got to be careful. Can't pick your nose.

Chris: I also think where humans - I think where humans do a good job is with error recovery, when those things do happen.

Kirk: Yes.

Chris: Typically when an automation system goes south, recovering from that's a lot more difficult, whereas if a human screws up, usually recovery. . . chances are the only person who ever knew there was a problem was the people sitting in the control room. But I mean, that goes with broadcast automation as well. Broadcast automation, 98 percent of the time, works beautifully on radio. I mean, you never know. It's that two percent where things go really bad that things are horrible, because we get kind of dependent on that. So when it stops working, it's like what do we do? Where do we go?

So I think you're right on with the TV automation, and as Vinny would say too, with producing live video. Hey, 98 percent of the time things are going really well. It's that two percent that you either know are going to happen and just accept it, or have some decent planning in place to make sure that when that does happen, you can jump right in and take control, because I've heard of stations where Overdrive or whatever failed, and then what? What do you do? You're dead. It's only in those stations where there is actually still live people around that we're able to recover from that and make something happen. Now if that hadn't been the case, it would've been dead in the water.

That kind of goes to I think any industry where automation has come into play. You know, you do kind of lose that human factor of okay, things are falling apart. However, I've been here before. I know what to do, no problem. I can make this work. Computers don't know that. And, you know, computers will only do exactly what they're told to do. They won't make those decisions when things are starting to go downhill.

Vinny: You're right.

Kirk: I want to remind our audience you're watching This Week in Radio Tech. It's episode number 213. I'm Kirk Harnack along with Chris Tarr, Chris in Milwaukee today, and our guest Vinny Lopez, engineer, past SBE president. We're going to get to talking with Vinny about SBE, why he wanted to run for president, and his thoughts about where we're all headed as a collective group of engineers and how we can make our industry better and our careers better, and how SBE can be part of that. So I look forward to Vinny's comments on that.

Right now, I want to tell you that our sponsor is Axia Audio, and I've got a couple show-and-tell items here with us right now. First of all, thanks to Axia for sponsoring our show. This . . . did you know Axia also makes intercoms? A lot of folks don't know this, and so many radio facilities that could use an intercom don't have one. Now when I was doing full-time engineering at radio stations, I never worked at a station that had an intercom system. We always thought yelling down the hall was probably good enough for what we needed to do in radio.

Well, if you have an Axia system, adding an intercom is easy. You basically plug them into the same Ethernet switches that are handling the Axia Livewire audio, and you browse into the intercom.

Here's an example. This is a big one. This is meant for a desk. This could sit on the manager's or a news producer's desk, somewhere where they may not have an audio console or an equipment rack nearby. So you can plug this in. It's a 20-station intercom. You pre-program these buttons. The microphone plugs in right here. A headset could plug in right here if you choose to use a headset. Functions are available from this knob. And on the back, well, there's just a couple of plugs. There's a power plug and there is a Livewire plug. So this is one way to do intercom.

Axia makes intercom panels in all kinds of form factors, 1RU and 2RU units that sit in the equipment rack. Here's a simple one. This is called the IC1, the Intercom 1, IC1. Here's the little gooseneck microphone you can get for it. You can get these in different sizes, and you can get them for various sources. These would be - you'd program these buttons and label them. They're all film cap buttons. So that's one style of intercom. I don't have one right in front of me here, but there's other ones that have OLED readouts. You can have either ten or twenty in a 1 or 2RU rack unit.

We also have a fairly cool feature, I don't know if it's released yet, but now we can have an intercom also talk to or register with a SIP telephone, a SIP server, so now you can make a phone call to or from an intercom panel using a session initiation protocol, SIP, or voice-over-IP.

Here I have in my hot little hands another Axia product. This is an Axia Radius control console. Now you don't have to wire this thing. The only thing that goes to it is one can bus cable right here on the back, just one can bus cable, and that carries all the high-speed serial data that runs the meters. It lets all your button controls go to the engine and all your fader controls.

In fact, if Andrew Zairian has his camera ready, he can show you his Axia Radius console that's actually mixing this very podcast right now. All the audio on the GFQ network goes through that console, including our automatic mix-minus. And this is just a dream. It's just a dream come true to have automatic mix-minus.

No matter how Andrew would try to screw this up, it can't be screwed up. You bring a source up, and it creates mix-minus as a back feed for that source for any source that you want. So Vinny Lopez right now is being fed mix-minus audio of me and Chris and Andrew. Chris is being fed mix-minus audio, that's me and Vinny and Andrew, and I'm being fed mix-minus. So I'm hearing Andrew and Chris and Vinny, but not myself back. It's just amazing how well that automatic mix-minus works.

I've got one thing I want to show you. I've got to drag it over here. If you have an element console, there are a variety of panels available. This thing's kind of heavy, but you can see here talent panels. Here's a producer panel that if you have a show producer that doesn't have or doesn't need telephone control but they're listening or they need to talk to somebody, this panel can be mounted in the furniture right next to them. This is a fancy talent panel. It lets them choose what they're going to listen to and set the volume of it, turn their own mic on and off. There's a mute button if they have to cough, and a talk-back button.

So somebody on a panel can push this button and tell the board operator

"Hey, can we break pretty soon?" just by pushing that, and it won't go on the air. Then there's other panels also, too, a film cap button panel and an LCD panel that works with our Pathfinder software to make those LCDs read out and change colors and do functions.

So a whole slew of accessories are available for Axia products including intercom, talent panels, and as I showed you there, the small Radius Console. Just a wide variety of stuff to build your broadcast facility out. So if you want to find out more, go to axiaaudio.com on the web, axiaaudio.com, and hey, check out the intercoms. They're pretty cool. Plug them in. By the way, all the intercom audio is full broadcast-quality. You can put it on the air. Yeah, Chris?

Chris: So I always don't want to feel like I'm doing the Axia commercial, but I pass this along just because I find it real interesting and also kind of a testament to the Livewire standard. I'm in the process of building a translator, an FM translator, for an AM station. The AM station in the studio uses Axia. It's an Axia network. So in planning putting this station on the air, it's surprising how simple it is. Now the Notto [SP] transmitters, the S one, has an option for built-in audio processor plus it takes Livewire. So how do we get from point A to point B?

It's real simple. I've got the Axia network going into . . . the audio coming from the studio with Axia into a Zip One, the IP codec. So that's Livewire into that. Then that talks to the other side via IP, Livewire coming out of that directly into the transmitter. You're done. How easy is that?

I was planning this facility out. It's a no-brainer. So I just want to say one of the great things about Livewire and how Livewire has started to kind of show up in all these kinds of devices. We're putting a new automation system that has the Livewire drivers in them, so it's getting to the point now where literally two pieces of cat-5 and I've got audio directly from our console into a transmitter. It's unbelievable.

Kirk: Amazing. It is, it's cool. I'm amazed at how it was so difficult for me to understand at first. Gee, 14 years ago or 12 years ago, Steve Church wrote a whitepaper about audio over IP and Livewire and how this would work. I swear, I read that document five times before the light turned on in my head. "Oh, I get it now!" So thanks, Chris. I appreciate those good comments and first-hand experience about how easy it is. And I'm paid to say that and you're not, so thanks for adding your comments. I really appreciate it. Axiaaudio.com is the website. I appreciate Axia for sponsoring This Week in Radio Tech. All right, we're on episode 213 with Vinny Lopez, and Vinny, you are a past president of the Society of Broadcast Engineers.

Vinny: Yes, indeed. Yes, indeed.

Kirk: What in the world could cause you to run for such a political . . .

Vinny: My reign of terror at SBE began in 2000 when I was elected to the board. I served as board member, secretary, vice president, president, immediate past president, and now has-been.

Kirk: Okay.

Vinny: And you do realize we have on the show today a current board member, a past board member, and a past president?

Kirk: Yes, that is correct.

Chris: Oh, wow. Mr. Ty was on the board a couple of years ago, yeah. In fact, I just got elected as the vice chair of my local chapter here three weeks ago.

Kirk: Every chapter needs somebody in charge of vice.

Chris: That's right, and I am perfect, a perfect man for the job. Exactly.

Kirk: Chris, you know, I had forgotten you were a board member.

Chris: I was, yeah. Unfortunately, the rules have changed now that would make it a little easier for you, but back then, unfortunately - not unfortunately, but one of the requirements for a board member was you had to attend at least one of the national meetings each year, and it involved travel, and I couldn't afford it. I'm just a working guy. So after my first term, I had to step down and not run again. But yeah, I have very fond memories back when we got to Vinny's town there, to their yearly convention out there.

Vinny: Seroni, yeah, that's coming up October 8th of this year at the Turning Stone Resort and Casino, the broadcast and technology expo. I hope to see you all there.

Kirk: I'll be there.

Chris: It's a fantastic show. Fantastic show.

Kirk: I think I'm doing a paper or something.

Vinny: Yeah, we're going to corral you as long as you're in town to do a paper. We might as well go for the heavy hitters while we've got a captive audience.

Kirk: So privately, off the air, I need to talk to both of you about how to best stir the pudding at the meetings.

Vinny: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. We have plenty of pudding stirring stories for you.

Kirk: So Vinny, I'd like some more thoughts on SBE - has-been, okay. A number of people who watch this podcast are members of the Society of Broadcast Engineers. We can use a lot more members, too. It's the organization built by and for broadcast engineers or others interested in broadcast engineering. Give us some of your views and thoughts, then we'll drill down into that about SBE.

Vinny: Well, what we need to do is expand on the term broadcast. Let's take Andrew here for a minute. Andrew does his own engineering of his own studio and he is broadcasting one-to-many, right? Broadcast? So we could consider Andrew a broadcast engineer, so let's get Andrew signed up first.

Kirk: Yes, let's take Andrew, please. Take Andrew.

Vinny: No, we need to expand where we're headed with the society. We need to involve more guys like Andrew with the podcast and things like that. We need to offer them meaningful education, meaningful presentations, just meaningful information that they can understand and that's not the big stuffy call letter station kind of thing, otherwise our ranks are getting smaller in the call letter world. That's not a problem of anybody's; it's just reality of the situation. Am I right?

Kirk: Yeah. You mentioned stodgy, and unfortunately, as friendly as everybody in our chapter is and other chapters I've gone to, which has been a ton of them, the word stodgy comes to mind, but I'm not blaming anybody in particular. It's kind of endemic to the culture, and hey, new, younger engineers who are learning and doing, and maybe they're doing things that aren't transmitters. In fact, they probably are doing things that aren't transmitters. They're probably doing more things like live stream and Tricaster and Axia Consoles or Mackie Consoles or wireless mics and venues and streaming.

Vinny: Exactly.

Kirk: Those folks, we need to make sure they're welcome.

Vinny: Right, and we also need to make sure they're served. We've got to give them something to make them want to join and to make them stay around.

Chris: That's exactly it. And I think that's a discussion we're having in a lot of the chapters, is how to bring those people in and get them into the fold, because broadcasting has taken on such a . . . for a long time, it was such a narrow term, and it really has expanded. The SBE's done a pretty good job of trying to bring them in with the Broadcast Network Engineering certification and things like that. But I think part of it is even the members, getting the members to understand that these other disciplines are on equal footing with what they do. In fact, in some cases, it's a lot more difficult than what we do and we can learn a lot from them.

A lot of these new technologies that broadcast is using, a lot of them start in those other industries and then get to us. So I think there's a lot that these people can bring to the table for us, and vice-versa. I think there's a lot of sharing of technologies, and I think it also can be helpful to the new technology guys to kind of get an indication from us, even historically. It's real hard to know where you're going if you don't know why we've been where we've been. I think that the more we can get together, especially through meetings and these sorts of things, and learn from each other, I think we're all better off in the end.

But I think, again, the big step that we have to take, is to get people outside the broadcast industry to know that we're not this small little cadre of transmitter guys who really couldn't care less about non-broadcast entities. I think maybe there's a small group of people that applies to, but I think in general, I think we're all open to doing that. It's just I think we're having a struggle knowing how to reach out to them and how to get that message out.

Vinny: Right. What we need to answer is where is the next generation of us going to come from? And it's going to come from the ranks of the young people getting into the business that want to, and we've got to make it worth their while to continue down the road.

Kirk: It just crossed my mind, and maybe you guys have been kind of saying this or implying it, but the next generation of engineers, and we do talk about that, remember they may not be doing what we do in the business. I don't know when the demise of big honking transmitters will come along. It seems a while before that'll happen. But it will happen someday, and the Internet and wireless technologies through cell carriers and others will end up being a predominant, or a large portion of what we do, and we've got to know how to deal with that. So yeah, the next generation of engineers may not look like us.

Chris: However, there's a whole bunch of history that feeds into what they do today. A very bad example, but a good example - a bad example in terms of it's kind of meaningless, but a good example in terms of history, is how many automation systems in radio do you know that still use the word cart to describe an audio file?

Now if you're a new engineer, you have no idea why people . . . I had somebody say that to me. Why are these called carts? What does that mean?

Or sec tone or those sorts of things. I was able to say historically, we've played these tape cartridges. But in all of these types of devices and mediums and things, there are those little historical things in there. Even some of the standards we use are based on pretty good reasoning from many years back to why we went that way.

There's a whole - I had a discussion with a younger engineer a while back who basically kind of sometimes has the impression that anything that wasn't discovered by his generation is inherently bad. "Why should I need to learn that? This stuff's much better." It's like well, there's a lot of history there that kind of leads you to where you are not.

Even if you don't need to know it, like oh, why do I need to know how to align a tape machine? Because there is some science there and there is some history there, that while you don't need to do a deep dive on it, you really should be aware of how those things were done because you may still A) run into them, and B) some of the things you see today are based on those paradigms.

So I do think there are some things that historically we can bring to the table to the new generation of people, just like there's a whole bunch of new technology out there that I'm just learning that some of these people have mastered that I can certainly learn from. So I think, again, that's kind of the key there is I think each party has something to offer the other. It's just how do we get together and do that?

Vinny: You're right, Chris. You nailed it right on the head, and that's the looming question that we really need to figure out is how to get together and how to do this. That's why we've got to rely on Kirk and the other sitting board members to come up with a plan to go in that direction.

Chris: I'll be listening for your answer. I'll be calling tomorrow to find out what your answer is to that, Kirk.

Kirk: I've been enjoying some of the education webinars that SBE has been putting on, the ones that Wayne Pesina has been doing about networking, especially, some advanced networking. I guess I'm signed up for whatever the next one is there; folks should look into that. But in that same vein, you know what? We could use webinars on how to do streaming in all its various forms and formats.

You know, NPR just recently decided they're going to go I believe with iTunes radio and the HLS protocol for multi-rate streaming, so that's something that manufacturers, including Telos, are jumping on that opportunity to help those stations out with that. But maybe someone should explain that. You know, there are several of these multi-rate streaming protocols, MPEG-Dash, Microsoft Smooth Stream, and Apple's HLS.

There may be others as well. I think Adobe may have one as well. So these are technologies that wow, we've all got to get up to speed on very quickly. It seems like this is a great place for SBE to jump in and offer education on those technologies.

Vinny: Yeah, last year's NS workshop, Jan Oser did the opening segment on streaming and I thought that was really well-received. If we could find a way to get that out to more people, we've be in pretty good shape.

Kirk: And we've done some on that on this show as well. Chris Tarr and Chris Toben have been a big help on sharing knowledge of how to get that done. Yeah, we've only got a few minutes left, Vinny, and I'm sure it seems like we've only covered a few subjects. I'm sure there may be something else that may be on your mind that you wanted to make sure got talked about. What's Vinny Lopez passionate about in engineering that you'd like to share with us?

Vinny: Vinny Lopez . . . there I go talking about myself in the wrong person again. Stop that. I just like learning new things, like this whole deal here that I'm sitting behind, I said let me put this together and it came together in about a week because I had the box in one place, the cameras in another place, and I just said "Let's see if it's doable."

We do a lot of remotes at the expo especially. We're going to be in fact streaming the SBE membership meeting this year. I want to do the awards dinner as well, so we'll get that out for the first time, and that takes a lot of work, just setting this stuff up, run and gun and figuring out ways to come up with creative solutions when something doesn't work or something's not the way you should.

That's the stuff I love doing. You know, stuff here at the station is pretty much predictable day-to-day, and that's a good thing, you know what I mean, in and of itself, because I know how things are going to work or are expected to work. But I just love getting out there and doing things like this.

Kirk: Good, yeah. Chris? Go ahead, Chris.

Chris: The Chris agrees with you.

Kirk: [Laughs]

Chris: One of the things I love about this job is learning new things, or even just tackling new things, that I may not be in the mood originally, initially, to learn something. But as soon as I start getting my head around it, it's exciting. Learning Axia was a big thing for me. Now I can't wait to get my hands on the next one to play around with all the things we can do.

Just recently, I had to configure a matrix KVM switcher thing which was just a real kind of daunting task, but I dove right in and learned it and it was great. I agree with you completely, Vinny, that one of the great things about this line of work is outside the day-to-day stuff, there's always an opportunity to learn something new. The things that I learn everyday are fantastic, and I look forward to that.

Vinny: We had the chapter 22 meeting last night. We had John Kowalski from Clearcom in talking about intercoms, and the things they're doing with these matrix intercoms, hit one button and it shifts all the panels anywhere on the network that you've got the things programmed to do what you want to do, it just boggled my mind.

Chris: And there you go, it's an intercom. Talk about the bastion of boring right there, it's an intercom.

Vinny: Exactly.

Chris: How exciting can that be? And then you start adding all these technological leaps to them, and all of a sudden it's this fascinating world of intercoms. Who knew?

Vinny: And someone had made a request, "Well can my automation issue a command to the intercom system to setup the next IFBs for the next segment of the newscast automatically when we come back from the break?" Yeah, anything's possible. You've just got to write the software and the code to do it. That's not where I am. I'm not a software guy. I don't know about you, Chris.

Chris: Eh, you know, I'm dabbling in it. I usually am the guy who tells the software guys what I need. "Here, if you can do this, that'd be fantastic."

Vinny: Yeah, I never had the patience to sit there and code continuously. I do little bits here and there, but like I said, after about an hour of sitting there, my eyes just start going like this, you know? It just goes nuts on me.

Kirk: Guys, we're going to draw the show to a close. Man, this has been fun. I appreciate Chris Tarr being able to take the time. Chris, I know you've got an event to run to. And Vinny, thank you for taking the time to build up that switching system and show it to us. I love the remote camera. That's cool, from the cell phone.

Vinny: Yep. It's, like I said, it's the new technology. It's quite the new thing. And like I said, I always love new things, so it was great being here.

Kirk: All right, thank you. We'd like to have you back again soon, and thanks for the thoughts on SBE as well. You've been watching This Week in Radio Tech, episode 213, with Vinny Lopez and a hot mess of nothing. I think that's our show title, unless we get a different one.

Our show's been brought to you by Axia Audio and all the accessories and the Radius Console, and you ought to check it out on the web at axiaaudio.com. Thanks to Andrew Zairian for producing today's show and the GFQ Network for distributing it. Remember, we're here every Thursday at 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time, and that's usually what, around 1800 UTC. Check your local listings for times.

You can always watch the show online, download it, download the audio, or you can subscribe to the RSS feed of the audio and just have it automatically downloaded to your net casting device or net-catching aggregation program. That's what I do with this podcast and others so if I'm in the car, in the airplane, I've got something good to listen to that's educational. I appreciate you being with us. We'll see you next week on This Week in Radio Tech. Bye-bye, everybody.

Topics: Radio Technology, Television

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