Axia Interview: Blake Thompson, "The Dave Ramsey Show"
With its emphasis on personal finance and getting out of debt, Dave Ramsey, host of the nationally-syndicated talk radio program The Dave Ramsey Show is heard on nearly 300 radio stations throughout the United States, including XM and Sirius satellite radio. Knowing how important it is to spend and invest wisely, The Dave Ramsey Show recently upgraded its facilities to include a new Axia Livewire Audio Network and Element control surface. We caught up with Blake Thompson, the show’s producer, to get his perspective on the new gear.
Axia: Blake, please tell us a bit about the Dave Ramsey Show and your staff.
BT: Dave Ramsey offers life-changing financial advice as host of the nationally syndicated radio program, The Dave Ramsey Show. The three-hour live radio talk show focuses on life, love, and relationships, and how they happen to revolve around money. As Dave says, “It's where life happens...caller after caller.”
We have over 150 employees on staff, with each employee reporting to one of three divisions— Broadcast, Products/Live Events, and the Financial Peace University Course. We all work out of the same office in Brentwood, TN, and our broadcast studio is literally across the hall from Dave’s personal office.
Axia: Dave is involved with FOX News Channel's Dayside program and Your World with Neil Cavuto. We’ve seen Dave do a live video feed for FOX News Channel at the same time Neil Cavuto is on Dave's radio show! How do you make this happen?
BT: When Dave does any TV appearances live from our studio, we use the standard Vyvx fiber transport to send our video and audio feed to FOX, CNN, and others. Occasionally, Dave will do a live simulcast with Neil Cavuto on FOX during both of our shows. Neil is live on TV and we are live on the radio.
In order for this to work smoothly on both ends, we hook up via Vyvx during one of our longer taped network breaks. When they see Dave in the studio, we dial up the IFB line and have it assigned to a channel on our new Axia console. Dave can talk back and forth with the FOX producer, without going over the air (on the radio) during the spots. Once the spots are completed and it’s time to rejoin the affiliates on the network, Dave gets a countdown in his IFB and we time it to where we are back live on the radio and Cavuto at the same time. This way, you can turn on FOX News and see Dave split screen with Neil in New York, or you can turn on your local affiliate radio station and hear Dave and Neil on The Dave Ramsey Show. Prior to the installation of our Axia Element, this was a very tricky process.
Axia: Why did you choose Axia for your studio upgrade? What problems did Axia solve for you?
BT: If I had to choose two main reasons why we upgraded to the Axia system, it would be for its ability to handle remotes and Dave’s FOX News simulcast. Our Axia system has made the entire procedure very simple in both regards. With Axia, there’s no more “patching in the closet” to make it work properly. Now we can do our radio show, our local TV show, and a remote or simulcast with a pre-set programmed profile on the Axia Element console. With essentially one push of a button, we’re ready to go.
Axia: Dave just inked a deal with Cumulus Media. Did this impact your decision to upgrade to Axia too?
BT: The show is growing in its number of affiliates and listeners everyday—and with growth comes the responsibility to have the most fail-safe and efficient operating procedures as possible. Our new Axia Element gives us the comfort and security to handle this growth. Better still, it makes my job less stressful. The Dave Ramsey Show is heard by more than 2 million listeners each week on more than 250 radio stations throughout the United States.
Axia: We understand that you use a Telos Zephyr, connected via v.35 and a DDS circuit, to feed ABC Satellite Distribution in New York. How does this integrate with your new Axia equipment?
BT: During the summer, Dave likes to spend time with his family at their lake house because he travels extensively during the fall, winter, and spring. So that we wouldn’t be limited to a “Best Of” show on the Fridays that he’s at the lake, we installed an ISDN line at the house. Until recently, he was using a Comrex Matrix to dial up a Nexus in the studio. We just upgraded to the Telos Zephyr Xport (at the house) and a Zephyr Xstream (at our Brentwood studios). This new setup enables us to receive an aacPlus coded audio stream, so now, Dave literally sits at his lake house bay window and conducts his national radio show.
Dave uses two laptops—one for seeing his callers and the other for emails and instant messaging with the studio. All of the calls, production elements, and spots come out of the Brentwood studios and are mixed with Dave’s feed from the lake house, which are then fed back out to ABC via the Zephyr. Our new Axia Element makes it easy for us to set up a “Lake House” profile—so when it’s time to do the remote, all we have to do is hit one button to set the entire board.
Axia: How long did the installation take?
BT: We set aside roughly a week for the old console to be removed and the new Element to be installed. Looking back, the installation didn’t take the entire week. During this time, we ran a few “Best Of” shows on the radio while our studio engineer, Jim Gilmore, worked with Axia’s Kirk Harnack. The installation went very smoothly; Kirk did an excellent job teaching our team about the Element and he continues to swing by or call to check up on us.
Axia: So how do you like your new Axia system?
BT: The new Axia Element has been working extremely well. The new board is very user friendly; Dave loves the look of the new console and is happy that it makes things easier on his team in the control room.
Axia: What advice might you offer to other broadcasters who are considering IP-Audio?
BT: I would highly encourage those considering a true upgrade to talk with the Axia team. We plan on continual growth and my plan is to make Dave Ramsey a household name across the globe. In order for me to do my part in making this happen, I must have top quality, reliable equipment to make our operations in the control room come off without a glitch and, more importantly, to keep my affiliates happy. We really feel the Axia system will help us achieve this goal.