Andy Laird’s resume includes a BA in Physics and a career of reaching positions of higher responsibility in television and radio engineering. What’s not on his resume are things like sailing the Drake Passage, getting shipwrecked on a small island, and being a champion weight lifter. Chris Tarr and Chris Tobin join me talking with Andy Laird on TWiRT.
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Kirk Harnack: "This Week in Radio Tech" Episode 243 is brought to you by Axia Audio and the new Fusion AoIP mixing console, packed with features refined from a decade of IP audio experience. By the Telos ProSTREAM X/2 and 9X/2 audio processing and stream encoding software with adaptive streaming technology. And by Lawo and the new crystalCLEAR virtual radio console. CrystalCLEAR is the radio console with a multi-touch touchscreen interface.
Hey, Andy Laird's resume includes a BA in physics and a career of reaching positions of higher and higher responsibility in television and radio engineering. What's not on his resume are things like sailing the Drake Passage, getting shipwrecked on a small island, and being a champion weightlifter.
Chris Tarr and Chris Tobin join me talking with Andy Laird on TwiRT.
Hey, welcome in to "This Week in Radio Tech". I'm Kirk Harnack, your host. So glad you're here. This is our 243rd episode.
You know, I'm going to be surprised by the number every episode we do here, because this has just been going on for, what, almost five years. And it's just been a delightful thing to do almost every week. We bring you some news from the radio technology industry, we talk about the technology itself, audio, RF, digital, analog, and whatever else we can find. And sometimes we get to bring you some really interesting guests who are nearly as interesting as our usual co-hosts.
First of all, let's bring in our two co-hosts. From his lair in Mukwonago, Wisconsin, the seldom seen but often thought of Chris Tarr. Hey, Chris. Welcome back.
Chris Tarr: Thanks for having me, Kirk. It's good to be back. You know, not as frequently as I used to, but hopefully we'll get that changed, since I have so many things going on in life right now. But here I am, Director of Engineering for Entercom Milkwaukee and Entercom Madison, as well as a contributing writer for Radio Guide Magazine and all-around good guy.
Kirk: And "the Geek Jedi."
Chris Tarr: That is true. "The Geek Jedi". Of course.
Kirk: Yeah. You know, actually, I heard a theory this last week that... well, you also call yourself "the Ninjaneer," right?
Chris Tarr: Yes. Yeah.
Kirk: Okay. Is it...
Chris Tarr: Actually, I didn't come up with that one. That was actually given to me. But yes.
Kirk: I heard a theory this week that actually, all countries actually have ninjas. It's just that the Japanese ones are so slow that we found out about them.
Chris Tarr: I think I would be that kind of slow guy. I don't... you look at me and you really don't think stealth, fast ninja. You can say it.
Kirk: Okay. Well, someday I want to talk about how you got that handle. That moniker.
Hey, also with us, the best-dressed engineer in radio, from New York City, at a building where I got to visit a couple times already, it is Chris Tobin. Hey, Chris. Tell us what's going on and where you're at.
Chris Tobin: Well, if you take a look at the mic flag, for those which are watching the video...
Chris Tobin: And for those who are listening, this is the WOR 710 AM studios here at the iHeartMedia Building, which is at Avenue of Americas, the former AT&T building. When you come into the lobby, you get to see all the art deco 1930s stuff from back in the AT&T days.
But this is one of the control rooms. There's one, two, three rooms. The other studio is currently running a sports show, I believe. And that's where I'm at.
So we're having an SPE meeting here in the theater, the iHeartMedia Theater downstairs. That's one of the reasons why I'm here. I'm not here to promote anything in particular other than SPE.
Kirk: You know, I see in front of you a good-looking SAS console. And yes, it's not one of our sponsors, but still, we have to recognize they're gorgeous and well-build consoles.
Chris Tobin: This...
Kirk: And also to your left is a phone that looks beautiful.
Chris Tobin: Phone? What phone? I don't know what you're talking about.
Kirk: [inaudible 00:03:45]
Chris Tobin: Oh, look, it's a Telos VX. Excuse me. Hello? John Gambling's not here anymore, sorry. [inaudible 00:03:50]
Chris Tarr: I thought that was a Panasonic. Is that a Panasonic there? Or a Coby, or something like that?
Kirk: Hardly. Hardly. If Panasonic built that phone, I tell you, it'd cost a lot less.
Chris Tobin: Hello? Joe Franklin? No, that's WOR-TV. Joe Franklin's not here either, sorry. Goodbye.
Kirk: Well, [inaudible 00:04:06]...
Chris Tobin: All right. [inaudible 00:04:07]...
Kirk: Chris and Chris, welcome in. Let's go ahead and bring our guest in, then we'll mention our sponsors real quickly. And that is Andy Laird. Andy Laird from Milwaukee. Welcome in. How are you?
Andy Laird: Ah, great. Thank you very much. I imagine I'm not the only one that's ever worked on a Panasonic phone.
Kirk: I seem to spend some...
Andy: And the last ones are history.
Kirk: Yeah. I seem to spend some time destroying them, like drilling holes and putting RCA jacks for tapping across the speaker. Put a little transformer in there. Back when I worked in stations that could not possibly afford a telephone hybrid. We would just tap off the speaker and run that to the console.
Anybody else do that? Or is that just cheapo me?
Chris Tarr: Oh, no, I've done it. I've done it.
Kirk: Ah, two of us are cheapos.
Chris Tobin: Well, we've all done it. I've done it.
Andy: I think those that are less maybe long in the tooth, that was a quick and dirty way without decent hybrids to just get a quick on-air. There was just no other way around it.
Kirk: Yeah. Yeah. So Andy, we gave you short shrift on the introduction. Now, I'm a little confused. Are you the, or the former, VP of Engineering and CTO for Journal Broadcast Group?
Andy: The former. I'm in my third week of retirement.
Kirk: I'm going to ask you how that feels in just a minute.
Andy: Oh, the first week was so weird. But even this Sunday, as we were kind of getting ready to go to bed, I'm like, going all, "Let's see. What do I have to get?" Then I was going, "Wait a minute. I don't have to get anything."
Kirk: Oh my goodness.
Kirk: All right. Well, hey, are...
Kirk: I'm sorry. I'm sorry. Go ahead.
Andy: You know, I'm keeping my thumb in the pie, you know, with doing little projects, and did a little pro bono work with WTNJ to finish up a project that I'd been working on for some time that we weren't able to complete before my retirement. So that wrapped up yesterday.
Kirk: Got you, got you. Hey, I want to welcome our sponsors in. This is Episode 243 of This Week in Radio Tech. Our show is brought to you by the folks at Lawo with their crystalCLEAR console. Also by the folks at ProSTREAM. That's a Telos company, and they make this fantastic new software that does audio processing and stream encoding. Also by Axia, the new Axia Fusion console, now shipping. We're going to hear from each of those sponsors during the show.
Thank you for patronizing these sponsors. They really do, they put out money - real money - that helps make this show possible, both from my point of view and from Andrew Zarian's point of view at the GFQ network. So thanks very much for your patronizing of these sponsors.
All right. Hey, a few weeks ago, I got word that there was more to Andy Laird than I knew. Andy, I suppose I met you probably 12 or 13 years ago in Milwaukee, and I probably had an Omnia audio processor under my arm, and I walked up to the doors there at Journal Broadcasting, and somehow got introduced to you, and we may have even tried a processor on the air. I don't remember. So...
Andy: [inaudible 00:07:11]
Kirk:... tell us kind of about where you've come from there.
Andy: Well, and at that 12 years ago, I was Vice President of Engineering for the Radio Group. I joined Journal in 1998 to help them grow on the radio side. From that came, eventually, television and IT under my arm, also.
But at the time you walked in with the Telos, actually we did, at that time, I think we had a Telos AM. And I know that across the group, we bought some of the... I'm sorry, Omnia processors. We had also bought other Omnias through the years, and then recently quite a bit of the 11.
Kirk: Yeah. Okay.
Andy: We have some 9s, also.
Kirk: As we move to the interview, we'll talk a bit about your remodeling a few years ago with, you know, all new consoles and routing and that kind of thing. But, you know, we're not here to talk about all our sponsors' gear. I want to know what you're passionate about in terms of broadcast engineering, and the interesting things that you do outside of that realm of broadcast engineering.
It occurs to me, of course, Chris Tarr and you, Andy, are almost neighbors. You've probably been to many of the same transmitter sites. Chris Tarr, why don't you jump in here and chit-chat a bit with Andy for us?
Chris Tarr: Oh, no, I met Andy actually through Clay Freinwald from Seattle, who was at the time a regional engineer for Entercom. And he came to town, and the three of us went to lunch, and I got a tour of the WTMJ facilities, which are just fantastic.
I don't remember if that was before or after the remodel or not. But, you know, what's really cool and some of the things that, obviously in Andy's time there, they've rolled out AMHD and FMHD. There's been a lot of changes for the market.
But what's great about the Journal company is, you know, they've always kind of been a leader with that kind of technology. So it's been fun to watch and see what's been going on in the market with the radio stations that Andy has. You know, obviously for the company, for the Journal company, the TV, the AM, and the FM are the flagship stations for the Journal company. Which, actually now, I guess I don't know if the deal is closed yet, but it would be owned Scrips fairly soon. The Journal split their print and their media up.
But yeah, the stations, the Journal stations especially, Milwaukee historically, since I believe - how far back do they go, Andy? 1920-something?
Andy: Yeah, 1928, I think...
Chris Tarr: Yeah.
Andy:... was the start of... When they bought - I take that back. It was 1926 when they bought WTMG. And it's had the same call letters and the same owners since that acquisition.
So, yes, you're right. It is going to change in a few months, with all the broadcast properties, TV and radio, going to Scrips, and all of the newspaper side of Scrips going to the publishing side of a new company called Journal Media Group, which will include the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, etc. So it'll be a pure printing company, and Scrips will be a pure broadcast company.
Chris Tarr: Yeah. What's interesting is some of the things that... you know, I certainly obviously know a lot of the engineers who worked for Andy. You know, some of the technologies they've come up with, even some of the tricks, the AM is the flagship station for the Packers and the Bucks and the Brewers, and just some of the things you were talking about with dialing in delay to match what's going on on TV and that sort of thing. Some interesting learning things.
So, you know, first of all, by the way, congratulations on your retirement. Well-earned.
Andy: Oh, thank you.
Chris Tarr: But those stations are really fantastic, and they really have, in terms of media here in Milwaukee, have certainly been the leader for many, many years.
Andy: Thanks. It's been a lot of fun. I've got to say, I've had a long leash with Journal, and I've greatly appreciated that.
But I had that with Heritage Media before that for 10 years as their Vice President of Engineering, also. Which was how I met Clay when we bought some stations in Seattle, and then diplexed out an AM station on the towers with 1020. King owned them at that time.
Chris Tarr: What was also interesting is the stations I work for that Entercom bought used to be under the Heritage Media umbrella. And I think, Andy, you were there during that time.
Chris Tarr: So you actually had your hands in two stations in Milwaukee. [inaudible 00:12:12]
Andy: In fact, those stations that you own today, my former company bought in 1988. And then Entercom, they went to Sinclair in '98 when a Murdoch deal took place, and Heritage then exited broadcasting. Then I think Entercom got them from Sinclair.
Chris Tarr: Yup.
Andy: So, yeah, you... I know those properties well. In fact, that was part of when Journal was pinging me to join them, I knew Milwaukee a bit from all my travel, you know, coming in here and doing the facilities. So it was a very viable... Coming here, I had an idea of what I was going to face in terms of weather. So I was prepared.
Chris Tarr: Perfect.
Kirk: Hey, you're watching, or listening to, This Week in Radio Tech, Episode 243. We're here with Chris Tobin in New York, Chris Tarr in Mukwonago, Wisconsin, and Andy Laird in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Andy, the just-retired VP of Engineering and CTO for Journal Broadcast Group.
We're going to be talking with Andy as we move along here about some of his extracurricular activities, which are just amazing and surprising, especially to a guy like me. I think a lot of us broadcast engineers, we never seem to find time to do too many really wild outside activities. So Andy's going to tell us about that, and how his love for physical and interesting, almost extreme, sports and activities dovetails with his passion for engineering.
So I hope Andy's coming up with a really good story about that. Exactly what we can learn about that.
Our show is brought to you in part by the folks at Lawo. L-A-W-O, Lawo.com. And they're the makers of the crystalCLEAR radio mixing console. Now, they call it a virtual mixing console, because the part of the console that you touch, that the operators use, that sits in front of the disc jockeys, the operators, it's a virtual console. It's a PC running Windows 8, and running an application that looks exactly like a gorgeous radio console.
What's cool is when you design a console that way, when it's running on a touchscreen, you can make all the controls very contextual. They don't have to be a button that, "well, it doesn't do anything right now unless you're in this mode or that mode". Every button presented to you does something, and it does something that you're interested in, that's contextual for the mode you're operating in.
For example, if you've got a mic fader, you've got an options button, you punch that options button, and everything that it shows you has to do with that mic being - that fader being a microphone fader.
The actual mixing engine for the console, it's not in the PC that you're using. You can swap that out if you need to. The mixing engine itself is rack-mounted. It can be anywhere else on the network. It doesn't even have to be close to, physically, where the operator sits. It has a total of 24 inputs, 24 sources, any eight of which can be on the air at the same time. That's their eight faders on the console.
It has all the stuff that you'd expect an ordinary radio console to have. Several program buses, for example - Program 1, Program 2 - and a dedicated record bus, so you can record liners, voice tracks, commercials, even while you're doing an on-air radio show.
It has built-in, of course, cue. It has metering for that, as well. Programmable scene presets which let you recall every detail, so you can set that up for different shows, different operators.
It supports guests with talkback. So let's say you have a few microphones and you want to talk back to a particular guest in the room. Then you can just touch a button while they're on the air, touch a button, and the operator's voice is inserted back into the headphones of that guest. Probably confusing that guest, but at least you can get a word to him like, "Hey, we need to break really soon."
Also, it's a very intuitive controls. Gosh, it's been 20 years ago when running through my head was a dream of a touchscreen-controlled radio console, and the folks at Lawo have done it.
Now, Lawo is known for making really big consoles for recording studios, for remote trucks, for television studios. Now they have had a line of smaller radio consoles for a few years now, and this crystalCLEAR, the virtual console, is really something worth looking at if this kind of technology is interesting to you, and I think it might be.
Also, AESEBU inputs, analog inputs, mic inputs, redundant power supply. Of course it does AoIP. The standard built-in is the Ravenna AoIP standard, which includes, as a subset, AES67. So it's already AES67-compliant.
If you want to check it out on the web, go to lawo.com and when you're there at the website, look under "Products", "Radio Consoles", and find crystalCLEAR. There's also a video there to help explain it. Mike Dosch explains how the crystalCLEAR console works and what it can do for you.
Thanks to Lawo for sponsoring This Week in Radio Tech.
All right, we're here with...
Chris Tarr: Hey, Kirk.
Kirk:... Chris Tobin, Chris Tarr, and Andy Laird. Yes? Sorry.
Chris Tarr: I have a quick console story, since you mention it.
Kirk: Yeah, yeah, go ahead, Chris.
Chris Tarr: We have one of our Element consoles, I'm sorry. The radio station. We have for those of you who haven't seen the Axia Element console, they're really nice. They have these nice LEDs that label each channel.
Well, one of our DJs took out a label maker, typed out labels for each channel, and stuck them on the surface, as well as the LEDs.
Kirk: You are ki-... what?
Chris Tarr: No, I am not kidding you. I walked in and I said, "Okay". You know, I suppose that's what they want. But I just kind of shook my head as I'm looking at this. You know, when you look at the top of the channel, you know, there are the LEDs. I'm like, "Well what happens when you change the profile and that no longer matches the little sticky thing you put on there?
So I just thought... you know, I was just laughing because I thought we got, you know... that was the whole reason for getting, you know, the changeable labels, was that we could get away from Dymo and tape labels and things like that. But I walked into the studio the other day and I saw that, I just kind of just shook my head, turned around, walked out.
Kirk: The guys who designed the Element console, if they heard that, they would be crying in their beer, I'm sure.
Chris Tarr: I know.
Kirk: Did you find out, I mean, the only reason I could imagine somebody doing that is because they wanted the labels down at the bottom instead of at the top.
Chris Tarr: That is exactly what they did. We have monitor arms for our automation system, and they pulled the monitor arms down, because they're touchscreens, so they're right in front of them.
Chris Tarr: And it covers up the LEDs on the top row.
Kirk: Got you.
Chris Tarr: So they put it down there so they can see them. You know, it wasn't completely ridiculous. I just kind of laughed that we spent, you know, all this money for new equipment and everything, and one of the first things they do is they stick labels all across it.
Kirk: So the LED alphanumeric scribble strip was not good enough for them, so he had to make his own scribble strip.
Chris Tarr: Right, exactly. Something new.
Chris Tarr: And, you know, they're already starting to peel off from people's hands being on there, it just cracked me up when I saw it.
Kirk: Hey, Chris Tobin, you're in a studio that has an SAS console. Where is the label for each fader on that console, top or bottom?
Chris Tobin: Well, it's actually at the bottom, just above the on/off buttons.
Kirk: Oh, okay. So there's a readout between on/off and the fader.
Chris Tobin: There's a readoff... yeah. And then at the top is the router selector itself, so you actually have two units.
Kirk: Ah, okay, okay. Cool.
Chris Tobin: Yeah. And then you have [inaudible 00:19:50]...
Kirk: They're one of - I mean, we have so many sponsors. But Axia being a sponsor, you know, some of Axia's consoles have the "scribble strip", the electronic "scribble strip", between the on/off and the fader, so it's down low. So, different designs. Oh well.
Andy, what's your preference? You like the scribble strip above or below?
Andy: Well, I'd go below. I'd say...
Andy:... every scribble strip I've ever seen has been below. You lay it out and label your faders, you know?
Kirk: Sure. Sure. Got you.
Andy: For the everyday use. You know, the programmed strip is the way to go, obviously.
Kirk: Cool. All right.
Hey, coming up in a few minutes, Chris Tobin's going to give us a bit of a tour of the room that he's in. Let's keep talking to Andy Laird.
Andy, now we're going to move ahead in history here pretty quick. But unlike a lot of engineers, like me, and I suspect like Chris Tarr and maybe Chris Tobin, you're a degreed physicist.
Kirk: And you got involved with college radio while you were getting your physics degree, right?
Andy: That is how it happened. In fact, my roommate, my freshman year, was president of the college radio station that the student body had voted to build. He was going, "What are we going to do? How am I going to do this?" I'm going, "Well, electronics is my hobby. Can I help?", and his line was, "Well, great. You're the chief engineer."
Tongue in cheek, I make a joke of it, but it's actually true. My freshman year, I built a radio station. My sophomore year, I built one that worked.
Yeah, but I was hooked, and I was on this plan with MIT. It was a three year/two year plan. Three years there, two years at MIT for a master's in physics. After one quarter my freshman year, I decided there was more to life than studying, so I went on to a normal four-year physics plan and then did my graduate work at University of Denver in mass communications, knowing, after a year or two of college radio, that that's where I was going to spend my career.
Kirk: So if you would, take us through a couple highlights of your career. And then I want to weave the story into these extracurricular things that you do, which are pretty amazing.
Kirk: So where'd you move from college radio...
Kirk:... and how'd you get involved to the point you are now?
Andy: When I went to grad school, one of the things I did was pick up a couple of weekend DJ jobs. Another passion of mine is music, and I perform, I'm a musician, and I'm passionate about classical and jazz.
So I wound up at a station in Denver, an FM, that was kind of a mix of classical on Sunday night and jazz on Saturday night, and I did those two shows. It was maybe three or four months later the all-classical music station called and said, "We want you to come and do our Saturday and Sunday nights, and we'll double your salary."
So I did that, actually, for a couple of years. Finished my degree work, went into the military, was based back in Denver, Colorado, Air National Guard, and found my first full-time job, which was staff engineer at Channel 2. What was a station that WGN had just bought, and changed the call letters to KWGN, and they were constructing production studios to do commercial work, all color.
This was 1966. I wound up on a construction crew. In fact, my first focus was putting coaxial cables together for color cameras, TK41Cs. Putting a connector on one of those things was a... one connector was about a day's worth of work. So they took the young people that had pretty good eyesight, and sat them at a table, and, "Here's your soldering station. Go to work."
I did that for about a year and a half, and I was getting tired of... well, let's put it this way. The production work didn't come. So I wound up on an operating crew. Occasionally I'd get maintenance, which was nice. But I thought if I saw one more rerun of "I Love Lucy," I'd explode.
My military obligations kept me in Colorado, so I thought, "What am I going to do?" I thought, "I'm going to devote my career to radio. And where will I do that?"
With my friends in Denver, it was like, "Wow, there's this guy. He was Gene Autry's announcer for the CBS network. He bought these stations out in Lakewood, and it's fascinating what he's doing." Now, they were very poorly rated. By the way, it was AM only. He later added simulcast FM to it.
I thought, well, I'll go check him out. In a way, I camped out on his doorstep. I kind of pestered him. "Ah, you know, I'm looking to do something." And he finally said, "Well, I need a remote engineer to go out to the car lot and set the Marti up and spin records for the DJ and would you like to try that?" And I was like, "Sure, I'll do that, no problem."
Several months went by, did that through the summer, and I got a call one day, and he said, "I'm having a party for our staff. It's our first-year anniversary, and I want everybody on our staff to be there. Could you fill in from 6 pm to midnight Friday night on the station?"
I said, "Well, sure I could." You know, I'll need to come in and understand what you do. So I did that. Well, it was an on-the-air audition, and I got a call Monday offering me a full-time job. That was Monday through Friday. Well, I started in the newsroom, did traffic reports, and then finished with a 9.00 to midnight DJ show, and Saturday - read the commercials from stage on a live country music show out of the theater.
So I did that, and then a few months later, they parted ways with the chief engineer and asked if I could fill in while they looked for a chief engineer. And I said, "Great, I'd love to do that. As long as I'm filling in, can I fix a few things?" "Oh, sure, you know, break a leg."
From that came the chief engineer position. Here I am now, working directly for the owner of the station. He's the person I report to. He was highly motivated to have an incredible radio station, and he might as well have been my dad. It was an amazing situation, and I engineered there for five years.
So it was from that that an amazing break came for me, and that was a chief engineer of a full-time 50 kilowatter...
Andy: ...in Los Angeles.
Kirk: I'm sorry. Go ahead, go ahead.
Andy: Yeah. [inaudible 00:27:20] But that was it. So it was from Denver in 1972 to Los Angeles, at a station - Well, it's one of those places where there were only three of them in all of a sudden California at that time, KFI, KNX, and KDAY. The only way you ever got a job like that was somebody passed away, and you were on staff, and you came up in staff or, that things were in such a mess that they had to go outside.
I thanked my lucky stars in many ways that that was the circumstance there. And, however, when I arrived, I couldn't believe the mess. So it was a blessing in disguise, though, because it was an amazing crucible. It was all co-located facility at the 50 kilowatt transmitter where all the studios, everything was done.
So I learned about RF fields, even though I'd been in a 5 kilowatt co-location before, you get into a 50, you can lay a wire out on the floor that's maybe three or four feet long and get little burns on it.
So in that environment, we fixed the radio station. I had an amazing opportunity at that job, also, in that the pay scale - and I had a large staff - as you can imagine. It was a union station from the '40s. The pay scale, though, was way below the responsibility for, you know, the #2 radio market in the nation.
The deal I got was that I could have every other week to run my own business if I take full responsibility for the technical operation of the station. So from that branched out to interesting consulting projects up until 1988. So I did a lot of traveling.
Kirk: Travel is a subject that we want to get into.
Hey, Chris Tobin, Chris Tarr, we're going to take a break in a couple minutes. Any follow-up questions from either of you guys for Andy to this point, before we get into the wild stuff?
Chris Tobin: My question for Andy - this is Chris Tobin - just out of sheer curiosity, with all the years that you've put under your belt. And, again, congratulations on your retirement, enjoying the freedoms that it brings. How have you enjoyed or viewed the changes in technologies from the early days that you described to where we are today, or just to the last weeks of your retirement? I'm just curious, when we come back after break, you know, how did you enjoy watching it and learning it and understanding it and staying ahead or staying up to the minute with the changes that took place in the industry?
Andy: Sounds good. Are we going to break, or shall we go into this?
Kirk: I'll tell you what. Why don't you go ahead and answer that...
Kirk:... and we'll get the break after you update us on Chris's question.
Chris Tobin: Fair enough.
Andy: Great. For me, doing something better - my definition of "better" was how things sounded. With a musician background, I was, from being a kid with a record cutter, playing the piano, five years old, wondering why, when I recorded something, it didn't sound like the piano I played. That curiosity has driven my career in the radio field.
And from that, always trying something new to achieve more of what I was after, for clarity or better reception to the end user, was my drive.
Yes, I came into it at the end of the tube era. Solid state, that was built a lot like tubes, came in, and then along came the first ICs.
That was a big disappointment for me, by the way. It was a major step back in audio quality. You had lower noise, but in came slew distortion, elements like that.
As that side got better, the processing continued to improve. I worked on building my own processing quite a bit, starting in the late '60s, up until about 1980, '81, I rolled my own. So there in Denver and in Los Angeles, we ran on custom stuff.
Then the manufacturers themselves really started building products that addressed the issues that I heard in my ear. Today, I'm amazed at what audio processing can do for just any format.
Of course, as computers have come onto the scene, getting great audio quality through a digital facility became a passion also. Learning how to clock everything and not use bitrate converters.
Then that also brought me into the whole idea of digital broadcasting, and I got very involved at the NRSC level in the development or the testing of various vendors' products, to come toward a national standard for HD radio. Then I've truly enjoyed implementing it across our company.
Then I wound up with HD television in my lap, which was another phenomenal thing to have for the last eight years of my career. So we grew, too, as a TV company, with 15 TV stations, and converting them all to HD production has been terrific.
So to me, the advancements in technology has had an incredibly great effect on what we can deliver to viewers and to listeners on a regular basis, compared to the analog world that I was in 40, 45 years ago.
Kirk: Well said.
Hey, we are talking with Andy Laird. He's our guest, and just-retired VP of Engineering and CTO of Journal Broadcast Group. With me, Chris Tarr from Mukwonago, Wisconsin, and Chris Tobin, who is making his appearance from the iHeart Studios in New York.
Here's why you want to stay tuned. Right after the break, we're going to be back, and Andy Laird is going to talk to us about a few interesting things, like getting shipwrecked, and also climbing ruins in Cambodia and Thailand. Going to Antarctica, Galapogos Islands, Tonga, Fiji, and Indonesia, and doing power lifting. That's right, power lifting. So I've got to hear about this, and how all of this relates to his passion for broadcasting, if it does. Maybe it doesn't.
Hey, our show's brought to you in part by the folks at the Telos Alliance and a new product line there called ProSTREAM. Here's a commercial to tell you all about it.
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Kirk: Check it out on the web on the Telos Alliance website, TelosAlliance.com. Just look for "Streaming" and you'll find the ProSTREAM, the X/2 software that you run on a PC, and the ProSTREAM 9X/2, which has Omnia 9 processing built into it, as well. And thanks a lot to Telos and ProSTREAM for sponsoring This Week in Radio Tech.
And, by the way, I'm a user. Got them at one, two, three, four, five... five radio stations, soon to be seven, using ProSTREAM software.
All right. This Week in Radio Tech, our show 243. Andy Laird is our guest. And by the way, we've got a quick tour of the WOR studio coming up in a few minutes. Chris Tobin, you're going to be ready to give us that in... after Andy tells us about being shipwrecked?
Chris Tobin: Absolutely. I'm going to get my steadicam control now.
Kirk: All right. All right. Well, I'm going to sit back, have a stiff drink, and have Andy tell us about his extracurricular activities, and Andy, well, I don't know why you got involved with these crazy extreme sports. I call it, for me, they're extreme. Maybe not for you. Tell us about what you do outside of the broadcast studio.
Andy: Well, thank you. I have to tell you that in my early days of broadcasting, I lived at the station, because that really was my life. And I suppose if there had been a cot there, I would have used it.
But I began to realize that I wasn't taking my vacations. And then I learned the value of that, in being more productive after you go away, and get out of the forest, and out of the trees, so you can kind of see the forest.
I started adventure travel, it was about 20 years ago. This kind of went parallel with a lot of the sports I enjoy doing. I was a swimmer in college, and then needed a way to stay fit for my skiing, which was one of the reasons for going to University of Denver, to be honest. So I took up weight training, and that would have been in 1965, which was really early, I think. Just as kind of the health club thing started coming along.
From that, it made the base where I could do other competitive sports. I played racquetball. I ran short, you know, 10k, stuff like that. Was very avid in motorcycling. And in fact, when I got to Milwaukee, I took up MotoGP racing, and did that up until about seven years ago.
But meanwhile, I started branching my diving out around the world. Skiing, too, but the diving was something new as far as going somewhere other than southern California, out to Catalina. So I've been to Galapogos a few times.
The shipwreck you're referring to happened to me in 2011, and I was in Indonesia, and we had chartered a it was like a sampan, 110 foot. It carried 20 people and a crew of 18. There were 19 of us, and we left the way far east side. On the first day, we were anchored having dinner at night, and a squall came through around 8:30. We were outside this little island. Unknown to us, we broke anchor.
I had hit the rack about 11:15. And 11:30, pound pound pound on the door. "Pack only the essentials. We've punctured the hull. We're sinking. We're abandoning ship."
I was like, [inaudible 0:40:41]. I thought I had had a dream. "What was that again?" You know, and, "Pack only the essentials. We're abandoning ship."
So I had a day pack, and I'm going, well, what do I have? Okay, long sleeve shirt, pants, all the bug spray I can take. I will take my camera and the toiletries, and that was it.
I came out through the galley. By the way, we had three chefs and a wine cellar on the ship. So I grabbed a bottle of wine and got into the Zodiac. And it took us an hour and a half to work our way through this reef onto the shore. It was an island like out of the movie "South Pacific," with the palm trees doing their thing. Of course, it was totally dark. There was no moon. We were out there with lights. And we had seen the beach and everything, because we were maybe anchored 400 yards off the beach.
But the great thing about the story was that on the back side of the island was an eco dive resort that could accommodate 20 people. There was nobody there. And it was huts on stilts, and you had a rack about four foot square that you had on four rocks that you could throw fish on and cook, and the bathroom was down the path in the jungle.
The thing that made this incredible was, of course, we had gone to bed in a nightmare, and the next morning woke up in paradise. It was the most beautiful thing.
You know, you talk about technology. I had proposed to a lady in Milwaukee for my second time around on the marriage side, and I had my world phone with me, and we were texting back and forth. Then we had an uplink on the ship, and everything with wi-fi, and sharing things. Of course, all of a sudden I went silent.
And in the group there was one lady. She was from Quito, Ecuador. Her cell phone could send texts. So we each sent texts. I sent one to Donna, you know? "I'm okay." Of course, it was labeled Cisneros [sounds like 00:43:14] on whatever, you know, in Spanish.
Andy: And, "We're okay, I'm on an island, we... the ship sank, and all's okay. You know, when everything's together, I'll text you when I've been rescued." And it was 10 days.
Andy: And she came apart. Yeah.
Kirk: Ten days?
Andy: It took 10 days to get us off this thing.
Kirk: Oh, Gilligan, my goodness.
Andy: Oh, yeah. The great thing, though. It was high tide when the ship hit the reef and punctured the hull, so it didn't sink. It rolled over, and it was caught on the coral. So we got onto the ship the next day and literally... I didn't lose one thing. I got all my dive gear. I got everything. So there was no loss of stuff.
The owner of the eco resort brought in his dive masters, and they got fuel for the boats, and starting the third day, we were out diving, and they were bringing food in, and took care of us. And, of course, the company that we chartered from paid for all that. So it turned out to be a pretty interesting adventure.
The other thing was, you mentioned Antarctica. I've dived Antarctica. I sailed a 55-foot boat with seven other folks across the Drake Passage for a month, and we dived, hiked, and kayaked. Did a lot of video and photography. The video is interesting because we went to an Ecuadorian TV station, and they made a 60-minute special out of it.
We had a leopard seal adopt us for two days, and we got a lot of underwater video of playing with the leopard seal, so that was really a special one.
Kirk: Oh, wow.
Andy: Then you mentioned the weightlifting.
Andy: I crashed my MotoGP bike seven years ago out on Black Hawk Farms. Turn three ate my bike. It didn't eat me, though. My friends were going, "You didn't come around," you know? And we were... "But the ambulance didn't go out so we knew you were okay."
It got me to thinking, "Hmm, let's see. I'm late 60s here. Maybe it's time to hang up the racing leathers. And I wonder if there's another sport I could do in competition and not look like a fool."
So I checked out if there was something around weight training, and got with a group in Phoenix. They said, "Well, we think that not only is power lifting something that you are really capable of doing, but we think you can set a national record in a deadlift meet that's in six months, and we've signed you up for it."
Andy: So that's how it got started.
Kirk: All right.
Andy: And so I've taken the national title now three years in a row, the last time in November in Dallas. That's the Master's Nationals, and I'm lifting in a league called NASA, Natural Athlete Strength Association.
It's been fun. It's just a whole new side of me that I didn't know I could do. You know, found out I could do it, so I have been. It's great.
Kirk: Man. You know, if I'm ever in a dark alley with Andy Laird, I want him on my side. Wow.
Chris Tarr: Yeah.
Kirk: Chris Tarr, what do you make of this? This power lifting and sailing and shipwrecking.
Chris Tarr: Well, I'll tell you what. It is probably the exact opposite of what you would imagine from a guy who does radio engineering.
Kirk: Yeah. Yeah.
Chris Tarr: No, it's fascinating. It does bring up an interesting, to bring it back around to tech, it does bring up something interesting. And Andy actually kind of touched on it a little bit, is, you know, find a hobby and take a break from radio life. Because I am probably the most guilty of this of anybody, with all the stations I consult for, contract for, and I very rarely take vacations, because I enjoy what I do so much that I kind of live it. It's worthwhile to find something that you're passionate about that has nothing to do with broadcasting.
Kirk: Oh, Chris Tarr, we lost you. Well, Chris Tobin, [inaudible 00:48:00]...
Chris Tarr: [inaudible 00:48:00]
Kirk: Oh, there we go. He's back. Sorry, Chris. Go ahead.
Chris Tarr: Ah, there we go. So, you know, it's interesting, because I didn't know these things about Andy. It's very fascinating. But I think there's a good tale in there about finding something that you're passionate about outside of what you do, and get out and do it. It's fantastic.
Kirk: I guess for some of us, that's our kids. You know, Chris Tarr, you post a lot about your kids and what you do with them and how much you care about them. Kids are, well, a necessary pastime if you've got kids.
Chris Tarr: Well, yeah. No, we do our geocaching and, you know, we have things like that.
Chris Tarr: But, you know, it is a good tale - I know there's a lot of guys in the position I have that don't do those things, that don't have a pursuit outside of working. And, you know, sometimes with this job, that's easy to get caught up on. So find something you like to do and get out and do it.
Kirk: It sounds like it's a good subject for the topic of work/life balance. And I know plenty of engineers... Chris, I'm like you. I love what I do. But sometimes it crosses my mind, gee, should I be, you know, spending some time finding something else that I enjoy?
Andy, obviously you did. Andy, how do you feel that... ? You said you were good at multitasking, when I talked to you a couple weeks ago. I mean, does what you found that works for you, would you really recommend it to anybody else, everybody else? Or you've still got to just work and find what works for you?
Andy: Well, I think that's what you have to do. You have to find what works for you. You fall into it. It's being aware, though, about, "What do I want to accomplish?" and then having in your mind be some measurement method so that you can see whether you're actually progressing with what goal you want to set.
Then find a way to have fun doing it. In other words, you're not strictly on this path. You're wiggling along it. You're making your progress.
But for me, well, my first wife accused me of never working a day in my life. She says, "All you do is go somewhere and have fun." Now, I recommend that, okay?
Kirk: That's great. Oh, that's great.
Chris Tobin, do you have fun doing what you do? You sure seem to.
Chris Tobin: Absolutely. I absolutely do. And I was just talking to a mutual friend of ours, Mitch, and we were talking about the fact that he enjoys what he does and he gets time in with the family, takes time off, and I agreed with him.
Two things I take away from Andy's stories. One, interestingly enough, when he's awoken about the fact that the ship is sinking, and he's in a, you know, state of mind that's just like, "What, what are you talking about?" Doesn't panic, just grabs what he has in the day bag, gets up and goes. Sort of like what you would do when you get that phone call from the transmitter being off the air.
The other item is just getting away and taking a break from your rigors of the day and recharging the batteries. I think that, that, I think, was the best, is the fact that, you know, ship is sinking, you're stranded somewhere, and he's just like, "Okay, yeah, I'm going to get my day back, and go out, and see what we do." Wake up the next morning, "Wow, this is great." And 10 days later, he's still there. I mean, what better way to do things?
Kirk: So Andy, we're going to have a final segment of the show, and this is the part where I'm looking for sage advice. We'll do this right after our last break here.
So here you are. What, you're on the order of, what'll you be, about 70 years old or so? You've just retired.
Andy: 70... I'm closer to 72, I guess.
Kirk: Okay. Think about, you know, 50 years ago when you got started in broadcasting, you know, what advice now would you give to somebody who's either starting, or has been doing it for a little while? Now, you know, guys like me and Chris Tarr and Chris Tobin, you know, we may not be so open to advice. We're pretty well along the way.
But guys who are starting out in engineering, probably they're starting out, they're in IT, and they're learning about audio and learning about RF. Because that seems to be, you know, the way that people are going. What inspiration, advice can you give them?
Think about that, if you would, and we're going to take a break and be right back. We're also going to have a quick tour of the new WOR studio in New York at the iHeart Radio Complex there in the former AT&T building.
Hey, our show's brought to you in part by the folks at Axia, and they have a brand new audio console that is finally now shipping. This console is absolutely gorgeous. And I'll shut up and let Clark Novak tell you all about it.
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Kirk: Thanks, Clark. Clark Novak, speaking for Axia and the new Fusion console, now shipping. Contact your nearest Axia dealer for information on Fusion.
By the way, your Axia dealer is going to be receiving training about Fusion within the next couple of weeks. So, ask him now, but save your really, really tough questions - or, you know what? Ask him the tough questions, and then your dealer can ask us during the training, okay? How about that. Good deal. All right.
Fusion joins the whole line of Axia consoles that are just all over the world and very popular. I've got some... in fact, I think everybody on this podcast probably has some Axia consoles.
All right, we're talking to Andy Laird, just retired from Journal Broadcast Group. On the show with us is Chris Tarr and also Chris Tobin.
Andy, the advice I was looking for. What do you have to tell somebody from your sage position here?
Andy: Well, you bet. This covers a lot of white area, so the first thing, I think, for me, anyway, the foundation was learning about sound, and the overall sound of things, and then having a goal for what you're after through the transmission system to the end listener. That'll serve as the overall driver for your career in radio.
Then, don't ignore all of the training materials that are available to you from SBE. I'd recommend that, while you may have your IT background, that you start chipping away at the materials that you can learn that are specific to broadcasting that will bring the picture of what goes on in a station into your mind, adding some clarity to the function that you bring from an IT side, to achieve the results of what we need in a broadcast facility.
Don't be hesitant to put together a network of experts for your opportunity to ask questions. So go to meetings, go to the NAB in Las Vegas. If your employer won't fund that, try to fund it for yourself. The opportunity to meet with manufacturers and your peers is phenomenal for an education. Do that.
Then I would also suggest public service. That there are committees involved for the standards of the United States broadcast system, namely the National Radio Systems Committee. I would look at joining that committee and attending the meetings. You can do it all by phone. If you can do it in person, of course, you're going to get the opportunity to meet with your peers again, understand what they're working on. But your education of the industry will grow as a result of that effort.
I think that's how I would go about it as a, you know, starting person with an IT background.
Kirk: Great advice.
Andy, thank you very much. Chris Tarr, any last questions? You're the closest guy to Andy there.
Chris Tarr: No, I think really, I was really looking forward to this episode, so I'm glad I was able to make it. You know, Andy is, I guess I've known a lot about Andy's work for a long, long time, so it's great to learn more about the person.
Kirk: Well, speaking of learning...
Andy: You know, and...
Kirk: I'm sorry, go ahead.
Andy: We've had a thaw here, too. We've had a thaw. So maybe it makes you want to go to Mukwonago.
Kirk: There you go.
Andy: You're about 20 miles away, I think.
Kirk: Andy was talking about learning and keep learning. I love that advice. I just love to learn, as long as it's not too confusing for me.
So right now, Chris Tarr, excuse me, Chris Tobin is going to take over the teaching position, and the three of us are going to, and everybody watching the podcast, we're going to take a few minutes and learn about the new WOR studio in New York at the iHeart Radio... iHeartMedia complex there in New York City.
Chris Tobin, it's all yours.
Chris Tobin: Uh-oh. Yes, I am here at the WOR studios in what is known formerly as the AT&T Long Distance Building, or AT&T Long Lines.
Chris Tobin: And I'll use the term that goes back a long ways. Transatlantic communications was done here in this building. It's not done here anymore. It's now the co-location for what they call carrier neutral ISPs, and people do selling and buying of bandwidth. About 50 of them are here in this building.
So it was back in 1932. It's a 27-story building. It's the 369th largest building in New York City. Those are the fun facts of the building for learning experience folks. It's an art deco building, so when you do travel through Manhattan and you're touring about in lower Manhattan, you'll see a large building with two spires. That's the building I'm in right now. That's all I'm going to tell you. The rest is up to you to research.
So we're in the studios, WOR. This is a Rubicon console that you'll see. And I'll move the camera in a moment. And the Rubicon console's very nice, simple setup. We'll turn on some meters so you can see some little movement there, and I'll move the camera. And there you go. Let's see. All right?
This is the Rubicon. Very straightforward console. And then you have your automation systems, and I'll point this way. That's a next gen automation. And we have here our call screening. WOR 710 is a talk station. Talk, news, and sports. And then there's a guest position here with a phone. Oh, that's a VX Telos, in case you didn't recognize it, just to remind you.
Then the several monitors at the guest positions, as you can see, and the microphones and the short mic booms. So the sightlines from the host position can be easily attained, and you can keep eye contact with your guests.
If you look carefully in the background there - I'm trying to get the camera to focus - that is the on-air studio currently for the evening sports show. It's 7:06 p.m. Eastern. That's the clock you see. It's an ESC clock. And it's another set of Rubicon consoles in various positions for people to broadcast from.
The console, the furniture is a Forecast console. So for those asking, because people always ask what the furniture is.
Kirk: Yeah, yeah.
Chris Tobin: And then we'll just take a view back here from the position. This is where Len Berman and Todd Wadzinski do their shows from. That's a pretty hot little setup there. Let me see if we move around.
Of course, if you need to see what's going on around the world, we have right now two TV monitors. I'll bring up one of them here. We'll do this. Turn off the microphone. Not sure if you can hear that very well.
Chris Tobin: Okay. That happens to be France 24 TV. So right now we're watching television from France. So keep up on what's going on in the world around us.
Let me put the microphone back on. As you can see, we have lights, standard sound-resistant doors, walls that are nice and thick, and that's pretty much it. Then as a producer's studio position, not sure if you can see it very well. Maybe you can. That has a smaller version of a Rubicon console there, and monitors, call screening, and the sort.
All these rooms, from what I'm told, can go to air, as you'd expect. So they're all routable...
Chris Tobin:... through various routing systems. That's pretty much it here. I can't go anywhere else at the moment. I don't have a mobile setup.
Chris Tobin: Maybe the next time we come back, which we will. Let me do this. I'll get down here. There we go.
Kirk: Something I actually... this is before, and the color scheme didn't really speak to me. But now that you're showing it, I'm paying attention to the wall color and the colors of the sound panels there.
Chris Tobin: Yes.
Kirk: The sound absorption panels. It actually looks like... it's brighter than... so many radio studios seem to be dark. A lot of times, because acoustic foam is charcoal gray, and it just... it looks like that room is bright and cheery, and you can just have a good feeling and good energy working in that room. Do you feel that way?
Chris Tobin: Yes. Actually, I remember when they built the facility some years ago, part of the design was to use earth tone approaches and to make it lively, cheery. As you were saying, not dark, but bright and warm. And the wall panels are a light color. There's only one wall in the room that's dark. It's a blue, a navy blue for, I guess, contrast. Same is true in the other studios, as well. The walls are very light colored. However, there's one shade of darkness just to sort of give a contrast.
But it's very, very warm, very lively. You definitely do not feel like you're, you know, isolated from the sunlight being up. I mean, it's a really nice setup.
The layout, the room to work, everything that you would need for a nice flow, workflow in the studio is well thought out here at the studios at WOR.
Andy: Chris, do they do...?
Kirk: I said I'd love to get Josh Hadden on the show to tell us about the design of those studios.
One thing that I remember from being there is the freaking labyrinth you had to go through to get to some of these rooms. I always had to get, at the time, a Clear Channel employee to walk me around, because I got so lost.
Chris Tobin: Yes, there are, you are absolutely correct. The hallways, it's sort of like walking though the Pentagon. You basically can get lost and find yourself in a place, and the doors are secure in some areas, so if you trip the alarms, people will come and find you eventually.
Kirk: There you go.
Andy, I'm sorry. You said something.
Andy: Oh, I was going to ask Chris if they had the studio set up for video. For, you know, webcasts.
Chris Tobin: Actually, they do. Not the studio I'm in, but the studio that I was showing you to the other side, there are lights, LED lights, set up for video. Yes, they do have that. Yeah, this is not a primary studio. I believe the primary studio has all the video gear.
Kirk: All right. Chris Tarr, last comments?
Chris Tarr: Nothing. I got nothing.
Kirk: No? "I got nothing."
I'm going to be looking up some of these places that Andy's been to. I've got to remind myself where Galapogos is, and I think it's somewhere...
Andy: West of Ecuador, about 600 miles.
Kirk: Okay. It's...
Andy: And it's an absolutely amazing place, because it is where Darwin did some of his research on the species, and there's all these currents that come and spin around the islands. The wildlife, both the bird and sea life, is just amazing there.
In fact, on this trips, my whole plan was never to repeat any, but the first time I dove at Galapogos, I... well, let's put it this way. I went back and did it again.
Kirk: Yeah. Wow. All right, well, I guess it's not driving distance from Nashville, so...
Andy: No, no.
Kirk: I'll make other arrangements.
Our guest has been Andy Laird. Our show has been This Week in Radio Tech, with Chris Tobin in Manhattan. He's been broadcasting to us live from the new WOR studios at iHeartMedia there. Chris Tobin, thanks for being with us. I appreciate it.
Chris Tobin: Oh, you're welcome.
Kirk: And also Chris Tarr from Mukwonago, Wisconsin. Chris Tarr, glad you could make it back. Hope to have you back a little bit more often here on This Week in Radio Tech.
Chris Tarr: As always, thanks for having me.
Kirk: All right, and Andy Laird, thanks again to you, too. Thanks to our sponsors, Lawo and the crystalCLEAR console, ProSTREAM and the new X/2 and 9X/2 audio processing and streaming software products, and also the folks at Axia with the Fusion console.
Also thanks to Andrew Zarian and the GFQ Network. Stay tuned to the GFQ Network for lots of good things to watch on all kinds of crazy subjects. I mean, this has got - this is probably the boringest show they have. So you've got to tune in to Matt Men and the Friday Free-for-all. Oh, and they have a tech show or two or three.
Chris Tarr: What the Tech.
Kirk: Yeah, "What the Tech". They've got "What the Tech". So tune in to those, and you will enjoy it.
We'll see you next week on "This Week in Radio Tech". Bye-bye, everybody.