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Cumulus NASH Tour with Zach Harper

Posted by Kirk Harnack [TWiRT] on Jun 13, 2014 2:55:00 PM

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TWiRT 216Nationwide daily drivetime radio shows, plus a huge weekly countdown show all emanate from a remodeled studio building in Nashville. It’s the Cumulus NASH studios, home to American Country Countdown, America’s Morning Show and Nash Nights. These state-of-the-art studios are built for multimedia production including video streaming and live concerts. Cumulus Nashville IT Director and Engineer Zach Harper gives a tour to the Nashville SBE chapter, and we brought our video camera along!

 

 

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Announcer: This week in Radio Tech, Episode 216 is brought to you by Axia and the powerful, flexible, Live Wire AoIP networking technology. Consoles, mix engines, intercoms, phones, audio processors - only Axia connects so much so easily. And, by Lawo, maker of the new crystalCLEAR Virtual Radio Console. It's the radio console with a multi-touch touch screen interface.

The Cumulus NASH Studios are home to American Country Countdown, America's Morning Show, and Nash Nights. Plus, these state of the art studios are built for multi-media production including video streaming and live concerts. Cumulus Nashville IT director and engineer Zach Harper gives a tour to the Nashville SBE chapter and we brought our video camera along.

Kirk: Hey, welcome in. It's time for This Week in Radio Tech. I'm Kirk Harnack, glad that you're here. This is the show where we talk about broadcast technology, radio technology, studios, transmitters, towers, all that kind of stuff. Have we got a treat today. I was so excited when I found out we could actually put this show together, that I could go on location and record the bulk of the show and get an incredible.

Then the icing on the cake, the guy that gave us the tour is actually our guest on the show today. When we come up with questions about what we see in the video tour, we can ask and get right to the horse's mouth. We get those answers from Zach Harper.

Our show is brought to you by the folks at Lawo, makers of the crystalCLEAR audio console, a virtual audio console, which means you run it with a touch screen. Pretty cool. Our show is also brought to you by Axia Audio and the Live Wire AoIP standard. We'll also talk about how ADS67 works into that as well. But Axia has studios all over the world with equipment from Telos, Omnia, and other manufacturers that all talk to it. Check it out. Stay tuned. We'll tell you about both products as we move through the show today.

Now, let's go ahead and bring in our guest. I'm glad to have him on the show. First time here, it's Zach Harper from Cumulus in Nashville. Hi Zach. Welcome in.

Zach: Thanks. How are you guys doing?

Kirk: Good. Glad you could make it. Zach, as your job as IT director and studio engineer and you take care of transmitters too, tell us what you do at Cumulus here in Nashville.

Zach: I'm the IT director for all of the properties in middle Tennessee. That incorporates our radio property at 10 Music Circle East and our syndication property over at Second Avenue, which is where we took the tour.

Kirk: Cool. As IT director, radio stations, you walk through any room and there's more and more and more computers and networks everywhere. Give us a couple of thoughts about the role of an IT director in broadcasting today.

Zach: Here's the thing. It used to be an IT guy just maintained sales machines and maybe a web server in the studio. Doing what I do, it encompasses everything from our automation systems up to the STL. I've got IP equipment in our studios. I've got IP over audio equipment.

I've got all kinds of things that intersect in this weird area that used to be you were either just an engineer and you handled the transmitters and consoles and stuff, or you just handled the PCs. Now the consoles have become so advanced. Automation systems have become so advanced. The delivery methods for programming have become so advanced. It all intersects.

It's a pretty neat spot to operate in right now. A lot of things are on the horizon. A lot of interesting things are happening in the space. It keeps me on my toes, but it's a good place to be.

Kirk: I know I've mentioned this on the show, but years ago somebody said, "You know, Kirk, in 20 years we're not going have TV cameras anymore. We're going to have computers that take TV pictures. We're not going to have audio consoles anymore. We're going to have computers that mix audio. You could say we're not even going to have telephone hybrids anymore. We're going to have computers that manage and process telephone calls."

Oh my goodness, that has come true. Almost every piece of gear we have in a broadcast facility nowadays, if it's new, has an Ethernet jack on it. In many cases, that Ethernet jack does some really important stuff, don't you think?

Zach: Absolutely. A lot of it is driven by innovation from manufacturers like Telos and Axia, but a lot of it is driven by the market as well. Stations need a way to drive traffic to their website and they need an added value mechanism. Getting content to the web through these devices easily speeds up that process. That means the stations are saving money and we're creating more content for users to come to our site to consume, so it drives web traffic. It's all-encompassing and pretty interesting stuff.

Kirk: We're going to talk about that actually, after we see the video tour. You wanted to talk to us about the intersection of broadcast studios and multimedia. I guess that's a very clear example of this at the studios that we're going to tour here in just a minute, I promise. I'm building up to it, but I promise we're going to see that.

Our co-host who is often on the show, Chris Tobin, when he worked for CBS Radio would often remind us that the CBS radio stations in New York daily produce many hours more video than the CBS television stations in New York. You could say that one was highly produced and the other one was cameras pointed at a radio show, but still it was compelling entertainment/information on the radio side as well.

We're seeing a lot more of this. European broadcasters have been doing this for a while too. Even my little radio stations off in American Samoa, we've got five little lipstick cameras placed around the studio and we actually pay a guy to sit there and switch between cameras during the morning show and it goes on a cable channel. I guess you'd probably agree or could add to the fact that we as content creators want people to partake of our content no matter where they are; radio, TV, in the shower, in the car, TV set in the bedroom getting ready for work.

Zach: That's exactly right. It's all about driving traffic to your site. I guarantee you, if you're not doing it, the guy down the street is going to be doing it. If you don't get on the bandwagon soon, his ratings are going to go up and yours are not. The thing about a lot of these tools, to get content to the web, to get video up and to get that social media outreach, it's accessible to the mom and pops and also the large radio corporations.

You don't have to have a lot of money to do this anymore. We've got a local independent station in town that is on their game in terms of social media. Now, I happen to think we do it better, but it's just the talent pool that we have to draw from. You're going to see a lot more competition on the digital front from a lot more mom and pops that wouldn't be able to get into the space earlier, but now they can.

Kirk: I want to hear about that. I want to hear about small stations... We took the plunge in American Samoa. We had a cable channel. We have a morning guy who is kind of there anyway doing some producing, so he had him push the buttons. I want to hear how we can get this on websites and so forth. We'll cover that after the video.

The video needs very little introduction. I want to say that we scheduled our Nashville SBE, Society of Broadcast Engineers, we scheduled our chapter to have a meeting at the new facility that Cumulus has for syndicated country music programming. There are also magazine offices in the same building.

We did actually tour this building some months ago on the TWiRT show and Gary Kline, the Senior VP of IT and engineering, he showed us through all of these studios and said, "This is going to be this, and this is going to be that." We showed that video here. It's on a previous TWiRT show. Now we've had an SBE meeting there, we had lunch, and then Zach, you walked us through the whole place. Any further setup for the video before we roll it?

Zach: No further setup. I'd just like to thank the engineers that help build this. If you think one guy built this facility, you are out of your mind. Kirk, you helped us immensely. It's much appreciated. Gary, Yancy, Dave, Robert, Bobby, JT in Charleston, Keith Bosworth - we have an incredible team of Cumulus engineers that travel to all these sites and get these places up and running. I was astonished that it went up as fast as it did and the work was done as well as it was. Everything in this facility is top notch. I'm very proud of it.

Kirk: That's a good point. We have one of your colleagues, Robert Combs, was on the show a few weeks ago and talked a bit about building these facilities. All right, our producer in New York City, Andrew Zarian, let's role the video. Pay close attention - this is really good stuff. We're going to break about halfway through it and chat a bit.

[video]

Zach: Hi, I'm Zach Harper, engineer here at NASH here at the SBE meeting behind me, as you can see. There he is. Finally, Mr. Troy. There he is. We're going to take the SBE on a small tour of the facility. I hope you like it.

Interviewer: Where are we going Zach?

Zach: We're going to our morning show facility, America's Morning Show. This is the second studio I put in the building after Kix, who we will take a tour of later. This is the nicest facility in the building as far as I'm concerned. Full suite of Axia.

Interviewer: That's a good start.

Zach: It's a good start. This was our first attempt at putting in some of the larger consoles. We went with two consoles. Full on Axia suite in here. Automation systems throughout the building are going to be Op-X based basically because it's a Cumulus product. For those that don't, we purchased BSI.

We've got nodes in this rack. Cisco routers. We've got a core router back in our tech center. Mike processing over that way. This is the spot where morning show producer does all of his work and he runs around like a crazy person. He does a great job every day. It's amazing he does everything that he does.

Telos VX phone systems. We've got an Orad video system in the facility, which is pretty neat. We've got a server in our tech center that monitors feeds from all of our HD cameras we've got placed around. We'll go take a look.

Interviewer: Zach, this is a radio show, right?

Zach: This is a radio show.

Interviewer: You do video also?

Zach: We do.

Interviewer: Is that streaming on the web?

Zach: We are not streaming yet. We have not had a rollout yet for streaming.

Interviewer: [Inaudible 0:11:56] microphones you're looking for?

Zach: Absolutely. This is the second studio we built in the facility. The first one we brought over was Kix's. I had a studio for him at 54 Music Square, the Roy Acuff building as a lot of people know it. After the merger between Citadel and ABC Radio Networks, the American Country Countdown became a Citadel property. We acquired them and their satellite distribution platform as well. After the Cumulus and Citadel merger, we moved them out of that facility and over here.

All the talent have had a hand in building their own sets. You might notice this looks a lot like a TV facility. It was designed to look like that to capitalize on multimedia opportunities and a lot of directions that Cumulus is going to be going in the future. These are HD cameras. They are going to look great on the air. They're not normal webcams. They are pan tilt zoom. They're controlled from in there. They run through an Orad system with a server I've got in my tech center.

That server will automatically change depending on who's on mike. It's picking me up now, probably. If we were to have those mikes on and our co-host Terry or Chuck were to start speaking, it would automatically switch to them. Blair Garner, who is the main host of the show, it would switch back to him. We're recording all of these. We are not streaming yet. We've got a rollout plan sometime this year, but we want to have all facilities online before we do that.

Interviewer: The camera switch is automated?

Zach: Automated by a system called Orad. They developed it.

Interviewer: Is it timed to the microphone?

Zach: Directly to mike processing.

Interviewer: So it's looking at whichever is the lead microphone? It's looking at gating?

Zach: It is. It's just sensing audio. It's got about a five or six second switchover so you don't have this: somebody talks, bang bang bang. This is used for our syndicated morning show with Blair Garner, Chuck and Terry sit over there.

Interviewer: Syndicates out over satellite?

Zach: Syndicates over the Legacy ABC satellite network which is now Cumulus owned and is their preferred distribution platform.

Interviewer: Satellite uplink is here?

Zach: Satellite uplink is not here. We feed T1 and a unit called Oslo. It's an IP-based unit. We feed everything to our TOC up in New York where Cumulus's main uplink facility resides. That's it. We had Clair Brothers come in and do all the rigging, all the truss, all the lighting, and all of the audio in here. This set splits in the middle. Although it's heavy, it's on wheels and it moves. It can be split in the middle, rolled against the walls, and I've got floor boxes where I can connect acoustic guitars for acts that come in.

I've got wireless mikes that I can deploy. I've got a mixing kit for Allen and Heath that I can roll out and deploy pretty quickly so this becomes a performance space. Clair Brothers also installed some of their speakers. We've got a sub or two up here in the rigging. It sounds better than any home theater I've ever been in when you crank it. It's pretty amazing that the went all out and did it, but they did.

When this started it was a New York based format so we debuted it on one station, our Cumulus station in New York.

Interviewer: Is that the reason for the time?

Zach: No, the reason for the time is because of syndication and we broadcast to the East Coast, so we run East Coast time so that when New York wakes up, we go live at New York's preferred time for the start of broadcast.

Interviewer: 5:00 a.m.?

Zach: Yeah. Our Axis satellite system will store and replay hours later for all the following time zones so that time calls are correct. "It's 6:10. Welcome to the Morning Show," so we don't have that going out at the wrong time in Central and Mountain.

When Clair Brothers came in, I worked pretty closely with them and they installed sound baffling panels all behind the wood slats back here to further diffuse any noise. Being set up as a performance space, we wanted the space to not really act like an echo chamber. When we brought in the brick facade, it was really starting to look that way. After the baffling, it's done pretty good. It's a really live sounding space with just enough reverb to sound nice so it's not completely dead like a studio.

Interviewer: It's a great natural sound.

Zach: Yeah. It's one inch, half inch veneer. These guys, they came in, they didn't even use a level. It was amazing. They just "pop pop pop," they had it done in half a day. It was the most amazing thing I've ever seen. That's it.

We've got lighting control. A lot of lighting is LED except for the stuff that we couldn't get away with. Incandescents in the Licos and [inaudible 00:17:24], the high powered lights you see up here. The LEDs haven't gotten to a spot yet where they can get that output, so we've got the old school incandescents up here still. I've got LEDs in my par studio up front that are coming close, but it's a much smaller space so they don't have to deal with what they have to deal with here.

Interviewer: When you run a radio show that's on a TV set, what considerations are there between the control room and this room that you might not find in a typical radio station?

Zach: Well, we have a makeup facility and a makeup room that the folks need because the lighting is so bright. When we get these things going, these aren't even all on right now, but when we do get them going and they're blasting in the talent's face, it will absolutely wash them out. We have a makeup facility around the back corner here which we can go look at. Additionally, we've got a green room for artists in the corner back here, which we can go take a look at as well.

When Cumulus built the facility as a NASH facility and started promoting the NASH brand, they wanted to bring in all kinds of media - print media, video, audio, the works. I've got Country Weekly magazine in the center of my building. Brought them in maybe six months ago. They're really now. When they have artists come in to do interviews or to write stories on them, if they come in to perform, they use this space. My morning show is typically out of here by around noon. They'll cut promos and spots and such after they go off the air.

[Cut to studio]

Kirk: We're going to continue with the rest of that video. It's got about 15 more minutes to go. You're going to see after this one, the next studios you're going to see are the NASH Night studio which has incredible furniture. That's coming up. And you're going to get to see the Kix Brooks' studio. Who is Kix Brooks? For those of you who don't know, remember Brooks and Dunn, the country music group? That's Kix, Kix Brooks. He's also the host of American Country Countdown as well as Kicking it with Kix.

Zach, are you still with us?

Zach: I'm still here.

Kirk: Okay, good. We're going to take just a minute here to chat about one of our sponsors. It's a good time to talk about Axia and Live Wire. I don't want to talk so much about the products, but I want to talk about the technology of Live Wire. I'll tell a little bit of a story here.

Back 14 years ago, almost 15 years ago, Steve Church and some other of the scientist level guys like Greg Shay and some guys that we had just met in Latvia started talking about how to eliminate the mass of wiring that we have, how to actually do a better job than AES digital audio does, how to make audio work a lot like a computer network does where we could actually route things and not have latency and not have collisions of the packets and all these kinds of things.

About that same time, IT LAN technology was getting better. We started to, instead of having hubs, remember networking hubs, we could have switches now that would actually not ever drop a packet as long as we didn't overload an input port or ask too much to go out of an output port. We had better networking technologies starting to be available to us in the early 2000s.

We, Telos, at the time, had looked at a couple other existing technologies, one of which was CobraNet. That was very interesting to us because there were already chip sets available for CobraNet. But at least at the time, CobraNet didn't allow routing and it didn't allow any other kinds of data to be on the network other than the CobraNet audio data. It was really weird. It was one way. You could insert stuff and take it back out, but you couldn't send audio back the other way.

It was just kind of weird. It worked great for the applications it was designed for, but it wasn't designed for a broadcast studio. Oh, and the latency was really long. You talk in the mike and you hear it back through your headphones 20 milliseconds or more later. That'll never do. That sounds really strange almost to be a slap echo.

We began to work with existing protocols and to see how we could get the latency of audio over IP down to something acceptable. The short story is, we found out a couple of things. You make the packets really small. Packets, what are we doing? We're taking audio and we're digitizing it by sampling it. It's digital audio now. It's a 48 kilohertz sample, stereo, 24-bit bit depth so it's state of the art, excellent quality audio. Matches about the limits of technology on the AES inputs and a little better than the limits of technology on an analog input or output.

We found out that if we made very small packets, it's rather inefficient, but hey, we don't need efficiency at this point. We're dealing with a local area network. We make really small packets and they take less time to transmit through input and outputs on network interfaces like on switches or on network interface cards. We decided to make Live Wire, real time protocol, UDP, user datagram protocol, because we don't need acknowledgements. We're on the same LAN. We have switches that are deterministic and don't drop packets as long as we don't overload them. I think I said we use real time protocol and we make the packets very small.

We also implement QOS, quality of service, in order to make sure that the audio packets get to go through first. You can still do email, FTP, and all kinds of things on the same network, but the audio packets and actually the clock packets go through equipment before other packets do.

The result? We came out with Live Wire. It's now been 11 years since the first Live Wire products were put into motion, put into place. I installed the very first installation of a console. That was in Auburn, Alabama at the University of Auburn there in Auburn, Alabama. It's still on the air. The original snake that was made by a station in Ashtabula, Ohio, that's still running.

Of course, the rest is history. There are now over 5000 Axia consoles on the air around the world. There are something on the order of 50,000 or 60,000 Axia nodes converting Live Wire into AES or analog and back from AES or analog into Live Wire. There has got to be close to half a million or more audio streams running right now. I've got a few running right here in this office.

Now you know something about the technology carrying this around, carrying high quality audio from place to place. It's totally routable. That means that if I go into a facility and I put a piece of equipment somewhere that's Live Wire enabled, I can just subscribe to the audio stream that I wish to receive.

That's what I'm doing here, for example. Right behind me there are some pieces of audio gear. There's a Telos Zip One. It's receiving audio over my Live Wire network. I've got a source of playout in my server room. On the input side of this Zip One, I just go into it and tell it what channel I want to subscribe to and click enter. That audio, bam, immediately starts showing up at the input of that Zip One.

That means that whatever you can do with a computer network in terms of convenience, locality, getting what you want, where you want, connecting to something that's across the building or three floors up or even somewhere else if you have the right connectivity, you can connect to it and it becomes that easy. That's the benefit of audio over IP.

There are other standards out there now. Live Wire kind of set the pace for all of this. A few years later, along came some other standards like Weed Net and Dante and Ravenna. Now we've got this standard called AES67 which most manufacturers have signed onto including Axia, and by implication Telos and Omnia as well, Linear Acoustic, and 25-Seven - all part of the Telos Alliance. Our next generation of products will all have AES67 capability in them. That'll mean a future where you can connect different brands manufacturer's equipment to your Axis Live Wire system for example, or any manufacturer.

Hey, the future is here. It's been here now for 11 years as far as we at Axia are concerned. We're moving forward. We're just getting better and better at connectivity, convenience, intercoms, routing has become so easy and convenient, GPIO. It all makes sense and it makes sense to build your next studio with. I want to thank our sponsor Axia audio and the inventors of Live Wire for sponsoring this portion of This Week in Radio Tech.

All right, Zach. We're going to get back to the video now. Tell us what we're going to see. A couple more studios, I think.

Zach: We've got a couple more studios coming up. I've got NASH Nights Live coming up and one of my favorites which is the Kix studio space where we do a lot of recording during the week.

Kirk: All right, let's roll it. Andrew?

[video]

Zach: I've got with the acquisition of Westwood One, I've now got Westwood One staff in this flank. I've got affiliate sales folks. I've got ABC e-prep folks, other e-prep services running out of this building. Of course, you saw Country Weekly in the center.

This is our NASH Nights Live facility.

Interviewer: Looks like the same PTZ cameras.

Zach: Yes. We are trying to use the same make of those throughout the plan. Wouldn't you know it, there's more Axia stuff in here. It's amazing. Surprise.

Interviewer: You say that like it's a good thing.

Zach: So I've got nodes and ex nodes in here along with a little bit larger console, a little bit larger frame. Op-X again. Pretty much standard studio stuff with the addition of LED lighting in here. I was able to do LED lighting in here because it was a smaller space. I didn't have the issues.

Interviewer: Zach, where did you find your counter?

Zach: We had those custom made. Those were a request from Mr. Shawn Parr, the host. That's what I was talking about. We let the talent pretty much design a lot of the space. That was his idea. They did it. We had Clair Brothers come in a light it with LEDs that will change color here in a minute probably, if I'm got them set right. There you go.

Interviewer: The Morning Show, is Robin connected?

Zach: She is. I've got an APT unit, an IP based unit between here and CNN studios in Atlanta. She's really on HLN but it all come out of the CNN plant.

Interviewer: So when you start streaming, will a video appear, will a video connection also appear?

Zach: We don't know. We haven't worked that out yet. That's the kind of things that they are working on.

Interviewer: You've got some talent designing the building? Is that what you said? A news anchor?

Zach: Robin Mead from HLN breaks in with topical stories and such. While she's on her TV break, when they go to commercial at HLN/CNN, she can talk down the line to us and we can either record it or go live. With next gen APT boxes, they're pretty handy little guys. One rack unit, stable, solid, and it's all IP based. As long as you have a good connection, they'll work for you.

Interviewer: You mentioned several times about your connections. What do you use here for internet connectivity?

Zach: I've got a 100 meg pipe in the building, I've got a 40 meg pipe between here and our TOC in New York, and miscellaneous Comcast drops. That's really about it.

Interviewer: The phones coming here are PRI and then you convert them, is that right?

Zach: Yes. We are running an Asterisk server which I was able to get up in 2013 and distribute the WoIP through to the Telos VXs and to all of our office phones.

Interviewer: You built the first studio for the American Morning Show, you set up the Telos VX phone system. When you built this studio some months later, what did you have to do to add this show to the Telos VX?

Zach: I literally went in to the Telos VX and filled in miscellaneous passwords and numbers and that was it. It was that easy.

Interviewer: And plugged in some phones.

Zach: And plugged in some phones and set those up on an IP, set them up with a show profile, and that was it.

Interviewer: A testimonial.

Zach: I'm telling you. The same Orad system runs in here as runs in AMS. The same type of server, just not as many video inputs. The control room is over this way. This is our control room. Shawn Parr, everybody.

Shawn: Hello everybody.

Zach: Shawn Parr, he's our host.

Shawn: Amazing. We bow when Zach is ever in the building.

Zach: Oh no.

Interviewer: Zach, during the NASH Night show, how is this room used?

Zach: We've changed the way we operate it. Originally, this was going to be the sole control room for video and audio and whatever multimedia we were sending out. That's the thing about the Orad system. It will frame your video output with banner ads. It's another revenue stream for Cumulus. We can sell ad space on the side of the video system.

Interviewer: A rare look.

Zach: A rare look inside the American Country Countdown facilities. Free M&Ms. It's the only reason I come in here. All of my syndication is live. This is not because we re-air overnight and on the weekends. These are the facilities for the American Country Countdown. I think we're up to 350 affiliates now, and Kicking it with Kix which is our overnight product.

We track in here Mondays and Tuesdays. Kix is on the other side of the glass. This is a closed facility really. The only in or out from this room, I've got an Axia node that handles audio from our VX phone system. Then we've got miscellaneous ISDNs and such but no real network connectivity in terms of audio ins and outs. It's all analog. That's the way they wanted it and that's what they got. It all runs into a simple Mackie board. It's solid. It works. The record into what's called a SADiE recording system.

Interviewer: I didn't even know that was still around.

Zach: I didn't either until they put it in here. I think it works well for them and that's what they wanted. They know how to use it. It's fine. I hope there's enough light in here for you. We've got light behind you if you would like to turn it up. You okay?

Interviewer: Yeah. I'm just a little out of balance.

Zach: Yeah, that's a little bit better.

Interviewer: Zach, what other shows are produced in here?

Zach: We produce the American Country Countdown in this facility. This is by far my favorite studio in the joint. It was designed to be very conversational. Kix will sit in one of the chairs. We deploy boom mikes when we have bands come out. Guests will sit on the couch. That's where the interview will take place. Really easy.

A lot of people are surprised believing that it's going to be later used for broadcast because it really just seems like a very easygoing set. I've got floor boxes in the floor. Clair Brothers did this as well for me. I've got floor boxes all around just for different analog options in case we have artists that want to bring in guitars or play.

Interviewer: This is his camera?

Zach: He uses this as his office when he's not recording. This is his desk. That's his computer. That's his hat. That's his letter opener. A lot of these things, a lot of the decorations actually are his, a lot of the stuff on the wall, a lot of the art. We brought it over from the other facility at 54 when we came.

I've got LEDs in here. I just recently got the room lit for video. They are doing a lot more multimedia type production out here. I just had Clair come in and hang truss and put in our lighting as well.

Interviewer: So you're saying that the cameras, that you don't have an Orad system in here. What do you do with the cameras?

Zach: We don't yet. We have a manual switcher now. We film a web broadcast out of here.

Interviewer: For the same Country Countdown?

Zach: Yeah. It's a Country Countdown type of product for placement on Cumulus site. You'll notice all of the cameras are lower. It's to get up under hat brims. We've got little LEDs that we put in the floor to get some light up under those same hat brims.

Interviewer: Hat problems.

Zach: We do. We have all kinds of cowboy hats in here.

Interviewer: Country television.

Zach: It is. Something you never ever think of. So that's it.

Interviewer: If Kix were in here right now giving the tour, what would he point out that he likes about the room?

Zach: I think just the fact that it feels like a living room. It's a really easygoing space. He can get things out of artists here that you can't get out of them in a normal radio space because they feel like all the lights are on them. They feel like the cameras are on them. Here, it's a completely different animal. A lot of great content is created here.

He'll typically stand over here and record the count down. Then we break up the count down and intersperse that with a couple of other parts and use that to fill in our Kicking It with Kix nightly show that goes out. That's put together every day and goes out for broadcast on XDS. ACC is a weekend product typically for a lot of stations. It'll be Saturday, Sunday.

Interviewer: The countdown is delivered to the station as an IP download, a file download?

Zach: You can do that, but it's played on XDS. They can play it on XDS and net catch it with whatever their automation system might be, or record it in the XDS for playback later.

I heard you talking about when the tower went down. You're right, it was wind shear. A lot of people think it was tornado related. It wasn't. It was just wind shear from the storm. Took it down. Luckily it landed where it did in the parking lot. It didn't hit the building. After that, we put the self-supporter up.

Interviewer: You weren't here during that, were you?

Zach: I was not. The bays on that tower out there are tuned in between 104.5 and 103. I've got a backup transmitter for each in the small house at the base of it. Here is the rec room. Keep your photos to a minimum. This is it. Come on in.

Interviewer: Is 12:40 a.m. still on the tower?

Zach: 12:40 a.m. is still side skirted on that tower. It is. We've got the line. This is the midpoint on a hop from the ten building out to GFX in White's Creek and 103 in Brentwood. I've got a T1 between 10 Music Circle and here. We're still shooting out of this building just like we did when KDF and GFX were still in the facility.

Interviewer: But only to GFX?

Zach: GFT and KDF.

Interviewer: I looked at the other building. It looked like it had a [inaudible 00:39:01], KDF.

Zach: It probably does. Yeah. All of our Op-X machines are located in the tech center. All of our talent machines are here as well. We're completely audio over IP for NASH Nights and America's Morning Show, which means all the audio is handled by another [inaudible 00:39:27]. We don't have sound cards in these. It's all completely over the network, Axia drivers and the like. A lot of the gear we were able to get has got Live Wire built into it, so it made connections pretty easy.

Interviewer: Like the profanity delay?

Zach: Like the profanity delay. Very important, the profanity delay. We've got our core switches here. We run Ciscos. We've got Studio Hub in the facility for a lot of our AS analog connections. I've got a wall of Studio Hub back there. I've also got a wall of Studio Hub in the backup transmitter site out there. That's all running through that conduit down into that building.

We ended up pulling miles and miles of cable out of the ceiling, just unused stuff. There was an old token ring network up there.

Interviewer: Just pulled out those 27 pairs and put them back into IP cables?

Zach: Yeah. We just didn't need all that copper anymore. We pulled a lot of it out. After my mike processors, it's all IP based. I didn't need all the wiring. We still ran copper wire to and from the studios, but we did do runs with new multi pair and new cat six.

Interviewer: When you were wiring the place with IP audio, what was your biggest fear, concern, or learning curve? What surprised you?

Zach: It's typically to standard LAN cabling installation. We were really cognizant of 90 degree bends. We were really cognizant of cabling connections. We also bought a bandwidth tester that will actually show you throughput, not just connectivity. There are testers that will show you if you've got the thing wired right, but the one that I've got will also tell you what speed the cable is actually operating at. If you have issues with that cat six, you could usually go in there and twist it a little bit better and get your speeds up.

Interviewer: Did you find any surprises like, "Oh, I thought that was a perfectly good connection," and no it's not going to qualify.

Zach: All the time. 20% of the cables were connected correctly. We run 568B in here. It was all done to spec. If you were to put Studio Hub on it, analog Studio Hub, it'd work fine. AES might give you some problems, but when you start actually testing it for bandwidth and getting printouts of actually data throughput, 75 megabit. These were gigabit cables. They're cat six. They should be nowhere near that.

We would take them down and usually it was a twist. The person that would put them in would untwist them all the way. There'd be this much stray cable between the end of the foil jacket and the punch down. But yeah, a lot of it was twist.

Interviewer: Did you have RF issues on the IP cables?

Zach: You know, on IP cables on the audio side, no, but I've run IP based GEP ends extenders back and forth between here and the morning show. Well, they're IP based now. They were just analog over cat five video extenders. The RF caused such an issue coming in from the AM in the backyard. When it would rain, the ground connectivity would go up to the point where the screens would actually move. We went with IP based GEP ends and it negated a lot of that.

We still have some issues, but not as bad as it was. We had them change around the grounding system when we had the morning show put in. That helps negate a lot of it, but it's never really perfect.

Interviewer: They redid the radios in the ground?

Zach: No, the grounding system in terms of where it connects from the building into that studio and how we can figure the start ground and all that coming out of that studio to try and negate some of the RF issues.

Interviewer: Did you use shielded cable? Shielded, twisted pair?

Zach: We did, we used shielded, twisted pair which is actually not that hard to find online. In town, it was kind of a hassle. Cat six was an issue. We wanted shielded cat six, but we did. We got shielded cat six with a drain wire.

Interviewer: I heard you're going to build another studio.

Zach: We are. This used to be KDF. That's slated for construction later in the summer. We don't know exactly what it's going to be. Details are spotty but I'm sure we'll find out the Friday before building begins on Monday.

Interviewer: We have a couple of production rooms in the back here.

Zach: They're still there. One of them is slated to be a control room for this, but there is still production right now. Kicking it with Kix comes out of a back production studio. I've got another SADiE back there and I've got a guy that sits and edits the show every day and gets it out. Thanks for joining us. Much appreciated.

[Cut to studio]

Kirk: What a great tour. I included the part at the end there about the RF challenges because I want folks to know that here is a national level studio, producing both audio and video that's got transmitters right there on site. That's got to be extra challenging too. Zach, you still with us?

Zach: I'm still here.

Kirk: Good. So Zach, that tour occurred just this past Tuesday. After watching yourself on video and I know that's always uncomfortable - I never watch my own shows back...

Zach: It's rough.

Kirk: I know. It's, "Oh do I look like that? Do I sound like that?" What do you have to add now that we've watched that together? What would you add now that you didn't say then?

Zach: Every time I see that Kix facility, it looks better and better. The amount of time and effort that Cumulus has put into the building to build that out, the platforms for these shows, has been amazing. It's nice to work at a place where the company is behind what you're doing.

We've got a really good product on the air right now. Technically, the entire plant is wired top notch. I'm just really proud of the facility. It's one of those places where you go into work and you can't believe you actually work there. It's a very cool place.

Kirk: Your other facility in Nashville, the one that I think you call it 10 Music Circle, is that the address?

Zach: 10 Music Circle.

Kirk: Yeah. That one, that's been in place for what, about 12 or 13 years now? Ten years?

Zach: Yeah, about that. That's what we call our radio property. I've got radio entities and some syndication that operates out of that facility, things like Titan's Radio and Phil Valentine, things like that.

Kirk: Oh yeah, Phil Valentine is there, yeah. We never have gotten to take a tour of that facility. Hopefully we could sometime. I don't know if there are any plans to refurbish it. It doesn't really need it yet. Let's side bar for a second and talk about a 10- year-old facility, the headaches you have there engineering wise as opposed to the headaches you have in a brand new facility where you have, [inaudible 00:46:48] and you're trying new things. This didn't work, that didn't work, but ah, finally that did.

In a 10-year-old facility, you've got, I believe, a Wheatstone TDM system there. That's been very reliable for you, as I understand. But you've also got some automation there that 10- year-old computer start to cause headaches.

Zach: Yeah. It's a different way of thinking. Globally, the thinking doesn't change, but your approach to how you think about handling the facility changes. I've got Scott automation systems in my radio property at 10 Music Circle. When you have a 10-year- old facility, you need to start lifecycle planning, planning for OS upgrades, planning for software upgrades, and planning for hardware as well.

Just because the hardware ran great under one OS, you can't just go and upgrade to another OS and expect the same hardware to operate as well as it did before just because many things aren't compatible with Windows 7. You have to plan for things. You can't think what's going to fix this for the rest of the week. I try and think a year out. Any changes that I make, I want to make sure that I don't have this same issue a year from now.

You can never perfectly plan for that, but you can negate a lot of things if you change your mindset and start adjusting your budgets and plan for failures. If you have free time, plan for a disaster. Get your backups set. Buy things on eBay when they're cheap. I've got servers running that I get on eBay, I can refurbish them, put an OS on them, and turn those into a NAS relatively cheaply. I can do it a lot cheaper than I can buying a NAS off of the shelf.

I can increase storage on that to the limits of the hardware and start backing up a lot of the audio data in this facility. It's all about how you think and your approach to it. Plan on a machine upgrade, hardware, software, everything every three years. That's a good rule of thumb. If you do that, 90% of your problems won't bother you.

What you don't want to have happen, and with both of these facilities and having to take care of both facilities, the last thing I want to have happen is have an automation system go down in ten at the same time my morning show goes off the air. Then I'm in trouble. Big trouble.

I can't be in two places at once. We don't have the manpower to handle large scale disasters like that. I don't think anybody would if two entire plants were to go down. There is not enough manpower to do it. It's impossible. With life cycle planning and software planning, you can negate a lot of that.

Kirk: That lifecycle planning, that's actually a new concept, especially when it comes to me. When it comes to three years for a computer, I've got to ask you a question about that in a minute. I just realized, I dealt with a couple of computer issues. I've dealt with them over the last three or four months. Computers just all out failing and I've got to rebuild them at my own stations in Mississippi. I just realized, those computers were eight years old.

Zach: Yeah.

Kirk: Of course they're going to fail. You may plan for a three year life cycle. By the time the budgetary process happens, it may end up being four or four and a half years before you do something. Tell me how you jive that with buying a server on eBay? How do you freshen that up so it may last you three years?

Zach: Server hardware is pretty hardware. If you buy something recent, I'm only buying two or three year old servers at most. As soon as I get them in, all the hard drives are ripped out. I've got new hardware in terms of hard drives. The thing about server level machines for building backup purposes is that they don't have software RAIDs. They'll have hardware RAIDs in them, which are infinitely more robust. They were designed that way. They were designed for a data center, a call center where they're serving and retaining massive amounts of data.

Dells, for instance, have the PERC 5i and PERC 6 controllers. Incredibly robust, incredibly reliable, and very easy to rebuild. Also with server class architecture, you also get RAIDs built in. I can have my OS on a RAID. I can have my data on another RAID in the same chassis, spanning over six drives.

I built a NAS for the NASH facility last year that booked out at seven terabytes, a little over seven terabytes. The drives were 70 bucks a piece. The hardware was 250 bucks. Then you have to pay for the OS. You get redundant power supplies. You get RAIDS. You get a hardware RAID on top of everything else.

The other thing is, as soon as you get a new piece of equipment in the facility, that doesn't stop and take care of your problem. "Okay, I've got new equipment. I can stop dealing with this station now." No. You immediately need to start planning for the failure of that device. This quarter, maybe next quarter, buy a motherboard. Buy a processor. Buy a chassis.

Or to start out, buy something that typically won't become useless in a couple of years like redundant power supplies. We're pretty stable in terms of connectors now. It's not like it used to be with an ATX power supply and then you moved to serial ATA drives and now you have to update your power supply. You can get a redundant power supply now. Start building these things into your budget. Start thinking a year from now.

If you do it in small chunks and pieces, it'll pay off in spades because not only will you have the original machine you just installed backed up, but when the next station down the hall starts failing, you've got parts on hand and you can go out of crisis mode and start planning for these things when the little blips happen.

Weird things start to happen with your automation system. You can plan your down time and it becomes controlled by you. You are not at the mercy of a weekend 3:00 a.m. automation failure because you've planned for it. You can take a lot of the instability away from all these systems through life cycle planning.

Kirk: Good advice. We've got more good advice coming up in a minute. We're going to finish wrapping up talking with Zach Harper who's the IT director and engineer at Cumulus here in Nashville.

I want to talk about one of our sponsors though and that's Lawo and this really cool console that Lawo has. We talked last week with Mike Dosh. He's in charge of virtual radio projects.

This is the crystalCLEAR virtual radio mixing system. The entire control surface is software. It's driven by a multi-touch interface on a high resolution computer display. Without the limitations of physical knobs, buttons, and faders crystalCLEAR presents the user with only the relevant controls and information, hiding anything not needed for that task at hand.

Here are few of the interesting specs. It does have a multi-touch enabled mix and control, intuitive GUI optimized for fast paced radio workflows, we've all got that going on; three stereo mixing groups, program one, program two, and a record bus, integrated queue or pre-fader level with metering. There are five programmable sing presets that recall every detail. Precision stereo PPM meters, both Euro and US operating modes for fader start or button start, a large time of day clock that's synchronizable to NTP.

An event timer can count down or count up and be automatically selected by selected channels, or started by selected channels. Talk buttons automatically appear on mix minus channels. If it's not a mix minus channel, you don't need a talk button, you don't get a talk button. That's one of the cool things about a software defined mixing surface, a virtual mixing surface. It can be set up for just the things that you need at the time that you need them.

Support for guests with talk back. Twenty-four sources available, eight can be simultaneously active and online and on the air. There is advanced DSP for microphones and external sources. It doesn't just consist of the virtual surface; that is, the touch screen display. It's got a core, a DSP core. That's where all your audio IO goes. Broadcast grade, rack mount engine. All the audio, it stays in the engine. PC is for control only. It has low noise mike pre amps, two separately amplified headphone outputs, balanced analog inputs and outputs, and of course AES EBU digital inputs and outputs.

Integrated Ravenna AoIP interface. It's AES67 compliant. That means it'll talk to other consoles and other peripherals that are also, either Ravenna or 67 compliant, and an option for a redundant power supply. Plus, there's GPIO of course to run your on air and telly lamps. Check it out on the web at lawo.com. Look for the crystalCLEAR virtual radio console. Glad to have Lawo as a sponsor on This Week in Radio Tech.

Lots of high tech stuff here. Hey, we're talking for a few minutes about life cycle planning at an older facility, a 10-year-old facility. Zach, a lot of folks wish they had a 10-year-old radio facility.

Zach: Yeah.

Kirk: Let's move back to the new facility where you just built the America's Morning Show studio about a year ago, less than a year ago, NASH Nights as come online. Of course Kix Brooks has been there for about a year I supposed. We've got just five minutes left. Hit on when you're building a new facility, what kind of disasters of [inaudible 00;57:16] or finding stuff out should you plan for when you're doing something brand new?

Zach: With these new facilities, you are usually outfitting with brand new technology. In some cases, we're trying things that haven't been tried in any markets yet. Not only do you have to figure out how it works, get it installed in a timely fashion, but the learning curve for a lot of these things is immense.

It was the NASH facility for one thing, we had certain products that we installed that no one in the company had ever used before. If somebody in the company did use it, it was one or two folks. You were relying on manufacturers for support and maybe a couple of your radio brethren somewhere in the US. The learning curve on a lot of this stuff is pretty substantial.

I will say with Axia, once you get the theory behind it and how it works, it becomes incredibly easy to navigate and to add and take things off of the network. The difference with the new facility is, for me, was definitely just the learning curve in general. I already have knowledge from this other facility and now I have to find space in my brain for all this new stuff and be ready for the 3:00 a.m. phone call, which is coming, and be able to walk somebody through how to repair it if I can't get in remotely and can't get on the site quick enough.

Kirk: Got you, yeah. I know that you and all the other engineers from Cumulus who were building that facility, we found out some things together. "Well, guess that doesn't work that way. Well, this is supposed to work that way. Let's call the manufacturer and find out what we're doing wrong here." That happened a few times.

Zach: It did. That's all part of it. You just have to expect stuff like that. You can't approach it. Everybody's got deadlines and I get it. You have to approach it as a learning process. That's it and that's all. While you might have somebody breathing down your neck, "By goodness, get this thing done," the process of learning about the new equipment, all the possibilities that become available with the new equipment, and how to integrate all that equipment into your facility and make it all work with everything else, that's the part of it I really like. It's like I went to school every day.

Every build has been different. While I'm dealing with the same types of equipment, we might not use it the same way that we used in a previous facility. I have to figure out a new way to connect this equipment and make it do thus and so. And then hey, I just figured out I can also do this. I'm going to go back to the first facility and maybe initiate some of that over there as well.

Kirk: Ah, so there's some serendipity involved when you have some new technology, especially one that's flexible. Audio over IP, no matter who, I think people end up finding out cool things that they didn't think they could do or hadn't thought to do. They couldn't do it before and they find cool, serendipitous things to do.

Zach: It is, especially with the routing alone. I don't have to tone it out on a punch block, punch it down, hope the punch works well, route that somewhere else, and spend my time. I can get into a web interface and route my audio any manner I wish as long as I have the ins and the outs available. It's a piece of cake.

Kirk: Awesome. Cool. Hey, just one more question for you and that is: those studios have lot of what you might call flash. There's just a lot of flash going on there.

Zach: They do.

Kirk: You guys have more big screen TVs there than I've ever seen in my life. It's like a sports bar in there. That's got to be fun. Once you get the things hung up and they're lighter now than they used to be, thank goodness, you've got pretty displays going on there. That's got to add some fun to the job.

Zach: It does. Once you get the hardware installed, then you get to add the pretty. The pretty is very important because we want artists who come into that space to start to consume multimedia in the space before we even generate new multimedia to place on our sites. NASH Nights Live is one example. It can be something simple.

Just an Apple TV interface, if I have an iPad or an iPhone or any type of Mac device, I can throw artists pictures on that device and have it displayed on a 60 inch TV. They open the door and they see their latest album cover. They see pictures of themselves at a concert that maybe we took from a concert in Nashville last year. Nobody else might have those photos.

It immediately sets the stage for the artist and all the artists handlers to know that we're serious. We know a lot about you. This is going to be a great interview and we care about your product that you're bringing to us that we are re-airing. It sets the tone for the interview and lets the artist know that we care about what they're putting out and we appreciate the time that they're giving us when they come by our studios and sit down for an interview. We want them to know that. It helps with all that kind of stuff.

Kirk: This has been fabulously interesting. If you missed part of that video tour, we'll have this show reposted, or posted, in a couple of days at the most. You can go back and watch it there. Zach Harper, I want to thank you for taking the time both with the SBE chapter, you getting prepped to show everybody through that, showing off what is both your handiwork and that of plenty of other Cumulus engineers, and then taking the time today to talk to us. Thanks very much.

Zach: Absolutely. Happy to be here. Thanks for having me.

Kirk: All right, Zach Harper. He is IT director and an engineer at the Cumulus facilities here in Nashville, both their radio facility and their new country lifestyle NASH nationwide network facility where they produce several shows now including Kix Brooks's Kicking It with Kix and American Country Countdown, America's Morning Show with Blair Garner, and Shawn Parr and Elaina with NASH Nights heard nationwide on many, many affiliates. Exciting to have all that around. Glad to be part of it.

Our show has been brought to you buy Axia and the Live Wire AoIP standard and al the cool things that plug right into it including some Telos gear that I've got right here behind me. Also brought to you by Lawo and the crystalCLEAR Virtual Audio Console - a multi-touch on a very cool screen that lets you control a mixer, eight faders, and just have to be bothered with the things that you need right then. On the web at lawo.com. Look for the crystalCLEAR Virtual Radio Console.

Thanks to Andrew Zarian for being our producer in New York. Thanks a lot to Suncast for getting the show posted every week. I appreciate that very much.

Next week we have a very interesting guest - a fellow named Philip Mollivar. He's got some interesting things to say about radio history. That can teach us about where radio could be going. You won't want to miss it, next week on This Week in Radio Tech. We'll se you then. Take care everybody. Bye-bye.

Topics: Radio Technology

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