A Nashville DJ, complaining about an inconvenient EAS Test, unwittingly activates more EAS alerts across radio stations and cable systems. Video streaming technology has a few radio stations becoming video providers. And “ransomware” has taken several radio stations hostage lately, destroying music and commercial libraries. How should engineers act to prevent their stations from getting hijacked? Chris Tobin and Chris Tarr join us for a fast-paced episode of TWiRT!
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Kirk: "This Week in Radio Tech," episode 233, is brought to you by Lawo, maker of the new crystalCLEAR virtual radio console. CrystalCLEAR is the radio console with the multi-touch touchscreen interface.
By Omnia Audio, and the incredible Omnia 9 and Omnia 11 audio processors. And by Axia, and the Axia Radius audio console. Radius is within your grasp.
An actual DJ complaining about an inconvenient EAS test unwittingly activates more EAS alerts across radio stations and cable systems. Plus video streaming has a few radio stations becoming video providers. And ransomware has taken several radio stations hostage today. How should engineers act to prevent their stations from getting hijacked?
Chris Tarr and Chris Tobin join me for TWIRT.
Hey, welcome in to "This Week in Radio Tech." You know the drill, you know what the show's about. If you don't, go catch up on a lot of the other previous 232 episodes. I'm Kirk Harnack, your host, along with a cast of characters.
We're going to do one of our fun shows today. We're going to hit a bunch of topics, bam, bam, bam, about radio technology. What's going wrong in the world? How do we fix it? What's right and all of that.
Our show's brought to you by the folks at Lawo, makers of the crystalCLEAR audio console, the touchscreen audio console. Also by the folks at Omnia. Got some cool things to tell you about that. And also brought to you by Axia. Axia connects to more other stuff than anybody else.
All right, there we go. Commercials coming up, we'll put them in there one by one as we go along. Let's hit our co-hosts. As usual from Manhattan-well actually he's not in Manhattan. He's in studio. He's in the studio at the GFQ network. The best dressed engineer in radio, it's Chris Tobin. Welcome in, Chris.
Chris Tobin: Hello, Kirk. Yes, and we do have a guest tonight. Chris Tarr. But anyway.
Kirk: It's been a while.
Chris Tobin: Come on, it's going to be a fun show. We've got to have a little humor.
Yeah, I'm here at the studio tonight. This is good, this is fun.
Kirk: Good. Glad you could make it. Chris Tobin is the proprietor of ipcodecs.com. Don't go to the website, there's nothing there, but you could email him. email@example.com. When he makes enough money, he'll get the website going.
Chris Tobin: That's the way it works.
Kirk: It's one step at a time. Like Dave Ramsey says, "Baby steps. Take baby steps."
Chris Tobin: Well, that's why I have a telephone.
Kirk: That's right. So you consult people, tell them how to make their IP codecs work, both for audio and for video. So we're glad to have you along and your expertise.
And now, you know, I forgot what this guy looks like, except he posts his picture on Facebook every couple days. Yes, the guy who hands out Halloween treats in Mukwonago, Wisconsin. It's Chris Tarr. Welcome in, Chris Tarr.
Chris Tarr: Thank you for having me. Good to be here.
Kirk: We're glad to be had.
Chris Tarr: I've heard that about you.
Kirk: Yes. So where are you?
Right now, I am in Hales Corners, Wisconsin. I think my position has changed since the last time we spoke. I am back at my old position at Intercom [SP] as director of engineering for the Wisconsin stations. That's Milwaukee and Madison.
Still volunteer for [inaudible 00:03:10] Milwaukee, but built their brand new facility, got them going, and then there was nothing else to do. There's plenty to do here, with six radio stations.
Kirk: You fixed them up too good.
Chris Tarr: I did too good of a job, yeah. I got it all done, it's like, "What now?" I was sitting there waiting for something to break. I needed something a little more challenging.
Kirk: I knew you'd get bored with that thing. That you'd run out of stuff to do.
Chris Tarr: You know, the project that we did, it was a huge, fantastic project. Wouldn't trade that for the world. Had a lot of fun doing it. Just turns out that the people here still had a lot of stuff for me to do, so I came back, and it was like I never left. It was like a weird sitcom episode where I woke up, there I was year and a half later, back at my desk with the same extension and everything.
Kirk: They probably never changed it. Did all the remote controls still call you? Did you have to reprogram them?
Chris Tarr: I was going to say, the whole time the remote controls called me anyway, and I wouldn't be surprised if my voice was still on the voicemail. So there you go. It was like deja vu all over again.
Kirk: Oh man. Engineering, it's just . . . The thing, in our comments, there's probably a lot more employees there to break stuff.
Chris Tarr: Oh yeah. Just like anywhere, they have new and creative ways every day to break things. There's always something going on. But again, what was great about this is in the time that I'd been here, I've put on a translator, I've done a bunch of out in the field kind of things that I really missed when I was away at Radio Milwaukee.
Again, they were great and I enjoyed what I did, but there's a lot of things now that are very much in my wheelhouse with what I do, with the RF side of things. So it was really good to get back and get going.
My employee of the month spot was still there and never left, so there you go.
Kirk: Cool, all right. Glad that you're back, and now that we've moved the time again, I hope you can make it back for more shows. Poor Tom Ray, he's driving or riding a train about this time. I dearly hope we can get him back on a show or two, too.
But we had plenty of guests over the summer. Chris, I don't know if you knew it, but while you were gone, the show gained an employee. We have a booker now.
Chris Tarr: Wow.
Kirk: Yeah, the show has a booker. It's a guy who works for Telos named David Sarkis [SP] . . .
Chris Tarr: Oh, booker. Booker with a "B." I thought I was going to get paid for this episode and I'm like, "I'm in."
Chris Tobin: Oh, booker. I thought it was a smoking machine. Never mind.
Chris Tarr: Geez. I completely misunderstood what that guy did. Okay.
Kirk: Geez. I think it's time for a commercial, so you guys can do your show research now. You have the email I sent you, right? You both have it, right?
Chris Tarr: I've already done it. I'm like you, I come ready to go.
Kirk: That makes one of us. Our show, "This Week in Radio Tech," episode 233, is brought to you in part by the folks at Lawo, L-A-W-O, pronounced "Lawo." The website is lawo, L-A-W-O, .com.
The folks at Lawo want you to know about this console that we've been talking about ever since, not long after the NAB [SP] show this year. It's the crystalCLEAR virtual radio mixing console. Now, I've got to say, this is cool. This is cool technology.
I like this because folks, 22, 23 years ago, I wanted to see this tech happen. Touchscreens to make faders move. I thought wouldn't that be cool? Back then, hey, that was kind of the Dark Ages. I mean, not Dark Ages. There was good analog electronics going on, and some digital stuff. I was seeing touchscreens in a few applications.
I thought, wouldn't it be cool to have a touchscreen to run faders up and down and bring in new sources, and switch console feeds? Back then I talked to the folks at Auditronics in Memphis, Tennessee. Could we do this?
Little spark of light came on in their eyes. They thought, "Nah, we're too busy running a company. Not yet."
Well, the folks at Lawo have made it happen. The crystalCLEAR virtual radio mixing console. Your surface is a big, honking multi-touch touchscreen. It's actually made by HP. They crank these things out. They're not that expensive. So guess what? If you ever just destroy it, if you drop an old cart machine on it and it breaks, you can get a new one. And it's not the cost of the whole console, it's the cost of a touchscreen PC. At least the controller part.
It runs a terrific app that takes over the whole screen. You don't see Windows in there at all. Your jocks, your talent, are playing with a virtual radio console. You can touch with up to 10 fingers. If you've got more fingers than that, I'm sorry, you're out of luck. You're going to have to keep it down to 10.
But you can run faders up and down, several of the up and down at the same time, you can touch buttons. And because the whole console is software defined, that means that the folks at Lawo can make buttons very contact sensitive. Even more so than with other modern consoles that still have physical buttons you push.
Now you know, a touchscreen console may or may not be for you. But if you think it's for you, let me encourage you to check it out on the website. Go to lawo, L-A-W-O, .com and go to their radio consoles area. Then look into the crystalCLEAR. Remember that name, crystalCLEAR from Lawo.
It's got all the stuff you'd expect it to have. There's a one rack unit box that goes in the rack, doesn't have to go in the same room. There's no wire limitation that's short or anything. It's Ethernet connected over to the computer that's running your touchscreen.
It has three stereo mixing consoles, program one, program two, and a record bus. Of course it has cue. You can program different scenes and change scenes, as many consoles do nowadays. There's a panic button that clears any changes you've made to the current scene. So if your disc jockey messed something up and you just need to get back to where you were, you just hit the panic button. Bam, you're back to your normal console set-up.
It has AESEBU [SP] ins and outs, analog ins and outs, microphone inputs. It has optional Ravenna OIP interface, which includes the AES67 standard in that Ravenna. It has power supply redundancy and of course GPIOs for on-air lights, tallies, things like that.
Let me encourage you to check it out. It's on the web at lawo, L-A-W-O, .com. Look for radio consoles and the crystalCLEAR console.
Thanks a lot, Lawo, for sponsoring this portion of "This Week in Radio Tech."
All right, gentlemen.
Chris Tobin: The funny thing I keep thinking of when you're talking through this whole thing, it sounds like just really, really sweet tech. I'm picturing the studio, one of our jocks going, [eating noise]. "Hey, I got mayonnaise on this thing. How do you wipe that off?"
Kirk: I don't know that the Lawo has it, I would assume that it does. But at Scott Studios, I worked for them in the mid-90s, and we had touchscreens. We were the touchscreen automation company back in the mid-90s.
Somebody said, "How do I clean the screen? I'm firing all the jingles." Well, Dave Scott said, "That sounds like something we need to have." Alt-J, or maybe it was Control-J, for janitor mode.
Chris Tobin: You laugh, but I just recently got touchscreens here with Wide Orbit, and we had the same question. Although with these if you turn the screen off, it disables the touch. But we're all like, "How do we clean these things?"
My IT guy, who doesn't have a lot of history in radio, was like Captain Obvious. He's like, "Well, just turn them off." Oh. Yeah, that's what I meant. I was just testing you to make sure you knew what you were doing. Yeah.
Kirk: Well, on the Scott, it never occurred-I never thought of turning it off. I guess it would certainly work, because I think the touchscreen was an add-on. It was an Elo [SP] add-on touchscreen.
Yeah, I guess it got its power from inside. But yeah, there was Alt-J on the keyboard, and then you could wipe to your heart's content. Then forget to put it back on and your next source won't start.
All right, you guys ready to hit these things?
Chris Tobin: Oh yeah.
Kirk: Everybody's favorite subject to argue about, EAS. What went wrong with Bobby Bones and AT&T?
Chris Tarr: Well, nothing went wrong. It worked exactly as it was supposed to. He just initiated the wrong thing.
Kirk: So the story goes that on the Bobby Bones show, he was upset because an EAS test, a real one, a test, came through during what, some show he was watching. Was it a ball game?
Chris Tobin: Yeah, it was a ball game, World Series.
Chris Tarr: Wasn't it the national EAS test?
Kirk: Well, yeah.
Chris Tobin: A year or two ago?
Kirk: No, that's what he replayed accidentally. But he was upset because a real EAS test came through while he was watching a ball game. And he was upset about that. And the next day, or within a day or two on his show, he is flying off the handle, complaining about, "What is this EAS test? Why does it have to come in the middle of my ball game and switch my channel? I can't watch anything except 82 channels of this awful text and this awful sound."
He goes into, I guess, some archives they have at the station and plays for his audience, "Here's what I heard on the air. Here's a sample of what I heard." What he played, what he got his hands on, his producer got his hands on, was a recording of that national EAS test that was done back in 2011, I believe.
The FEMA, White House, everybody participated in to see how good or bad or broken or fixed EAS really is. So he played that. So it was a national level, White House, EAS thing, national-level emergency that was actually a test at the national level, which hadn't been done either before or for years. Never been done with EAS. Had been done with EBS.
He played that on the air, and it went over . . . he was syndicated over Sirius XM, and it was carried all over the place. And what happened then?
Chris Tarr: Here's the thing. First of all, I back this up to you can't regulate stupid. If you're on the air, I know here at Intercom, when we hire new employees, they have to sign a form stating that they know that rule and they will not do it. It's not like this has never happened before, and we're into uncharted territory.
We've had several stations and networks get fined for playing EAS tests as part of promos or on their programming. You are not to do that, it's very, very clear.
First you've got somebody doing that who shouldn't be, number one. Number two, you've got some units out in the field, some EAS units out in the field, there's an option called "strict time." What that does is it says to the EAS box, hey, if you hear something and it doesn't have the correct time, don't play it. That's a thing you can configure on the receiver.
Well, the stations that passed this along didn't have that enabled. They just heard that it was a national alert and forwarded it on dutifully even though it was from several years ago. Now if they'd had that strict time turned on it would've checked and said, "Oh, this is from two years ago. We're going to ignore it and log it and we'd be done," and that would've stopped it right at the door.
The two things we have in play here is we still have to go a long way with our staffs to say you don't ever do this, ever. I don't care what the circumstance is, you never do this. Number one.
Number two, we need to do a better job, at least with the vendors, of educating the people who are programming these boxes. Or at least make some smart default settings or something, where you don't have these things getting plugged in with that feature.
I can't imagine many instances where you wouldn't want strict time. I thought about that when that happened. Why is it even an option? If the time's not right, you shouldn't play it. Some people say well, the reason you do that is if your clock is wrong on your box. Well, don't do that. Do your job and make sure that everything's working, and then it won't be an issue.
That's my feeling about this. Now keeping in mind, at least at Intercom-and I can say this now. We were guilty of doing that promo long before this became a thing. This was shortly after the EAS system was really getting going with cap and things, and we had somebody put that in a promo and it got out locally.
It didn't play on any station, but it got received. We went to the commission and we did all this stuff. You just have to keep training people to say, "I realize it might be a funny bit. Don't do it."
Kirk: Yeah, and when you say, "Don't do it," don't play any recordings of the famous duck fart sound, and don't play the famous two tone. That awful, dissonant two tone sound that was part of the old EBS test, and it's still part of the EAS system as well.
You mentioned that apparently the default in some-and there are different brands of EAS boxes that radio stations, that cable head ends, that TV stations have installed. Different brands, and I'm sure each manufacturer has different default settings.
This notion of don't follow the strict time, let any alert that comes in be a valid warning. You might ask, why isn't strict time turned on? Why is that not the default?
Chris Tarr: Right. On some boxes it is, just some aren't.
We can back up even-I have a good example of how things can go wrong with programming from just two weeks ago, here in Wisconsin. In a little bit of news, we had the nuclear power plant up in northeast Wisconsin wanting to do a test with just their local stations, with the nuclear power plant warning. That's actually a thing. That's actually a code in EAS.
They wanted to test it with their local stations to make sure that if they sent it, the stations would get it and air it and everything. Well, they did it incorrectly, and it managed to start to propagate across the state.
Well, what happened was there were several boxes, again, where people just left the defaults. That code, that was only actually sent for that county, stations rebroadcast it and it kept going down the chain. Because some of these boxes selected the entire state for that warning.
Even though the reason they have the codes set up that way is you can say well, if it's not in a county that I care about, don't do anything with the alert.
I actually, it turns out it had gotten as far as Minnesota. It had gotten set along the chain because there was a station right on the border who sent it and again said all of Wisconsin, and then there was a station [inaudible 00:18:27] County, Wisconsin on their list, and sure enough it played there.
For something that, not only was it a test, but it was hundreds of miles away. What we get back to with strict time and coverage areas and things like that is with engineers being as busy as they are sometimes, they look at these boxes and just kind of load the defaults. They don't really take the time to understand what these functions do.
They say, "Well, if it's a nuclear thing, it should probably just need to be state-wide." You go well no, we don't have a nuclear power plant here, so why would I care? If there's something that we need to know about.
Strict time is that thing too. That's why in this situation not all stations rebroadcast that alert, it was just some. Of those stations, and I won't start mentioning brands, but there was a certain brand where strict time was disabled by default. Mostly those were the boxes that repeated the alert.
Kirk: This is actually something that Chris Tobin can probably speak to, having worked with the manufacturer, Chris. We talk about it at Telos when we're in design meetings and figuring out what should be the defaults.
We often refer to the phrase that's famously part of the computer world, "the tyranny of the default." Whatever you make the default is probably what's going to be out there in 98% of all units, because people often don't change the default. Too often.
There are still HD radio signals that are transmitting the station identifier, the call letters, whatever you want to be known by, as HD_1. And really? Isn't that one of the first things you do when you put an HD exciter on the air? Give it the call letter you want to appear on the radio instead of "HD_1"?
Chris Tobin, talk to us about the tyranny of the default.
Chris Tobin: Tyranny of default actually is handy. The problem I think we're experiencing, what you mentioned with the HD_1, as Chris pointed out with what shouldn't happen, is we as an industry no longer educate, teach, whatever you want to call it, mandate, embrace the new things, old stuff.
I can tell you, speaking from personal experience from working with radio stations, when it came to EAS, nobody wanted to touch it. No one was interested in playing with it, because if something went wrong it was your bottom that was on the grill.
Then when you moved to the default thinking, the tyranny of default from the manufacturer's side of things, a lot of manufacturers failed to try to talk with customers and learn a little bit of what the industry is doing and say okay, if we go with these defaults, maybe what we do is put a disclaimer with right across the front of the unit.
Not a disclaimer, but a piece of paper. Because I remember years ago, I used to get certain equipment that had this bright colored card adhered to the front panel, where you couldn't miss it. It would clearly state "do this, or do that, or beware."
Not saying that's the easiest solution, but I think a lot of it is Chris's point, it's educating the staff. We as the industry need to really embrace, what are we going to do?
I'll use an example. I worked just recently with a local law enforcement group on a couple of communication things. I asked them, I said, "Well, how do you make sure that the people in the radio cars know what's going on, how to handle this new thing they're working with?"
They showed me this little protocol book. I was like oh, interesting. First page, five bullet points was for the quick and easy, I don't have time to read the other 32 pages. I looked at it and I was like, wow. This really makes sense. They went in, and what they also told me was they went to the people in the field and said, "What don't you want the devices to do?"
They said this, this, and this, they went back and turned off or turned on the defaults they wanted. So I think it's a two sided approach.
Chris Tarr: I get the point of some of the manufacturers turning the strict time off. Thinking that if somebody's going to put in the defaults, it'll broadcast things that you probably don't want to hear, but at least it'll broadcast the things that should be broadcast.
I understand the thinking behind it, because it's kind of a catch all thing.
Chris Tobin: It's a PR thing.
Chris Tarr: Yeah, and I'm imagining they never thought that somebody was going to sit there and mess around like that. It's the unintended use there. But I believe they kind of went well, if we put strict time on, there's a possibility someone will screw up the time zone or something like that, and the alerts won't run. There's a safety issue there.
So let's turn the strict time off, and we'd rather have the box by default pass things that aren't meant for it and go, oh, don't pay attention to that, but pass the things that are legitimate rather than not pass anything at all because of user error or something like that.
But that's kind of lazy. If anything, you're right. There needs to be kind of a bullet point. And again, EAS, they're not easy boxes to program. Now Sage does a pretty good job with their software, and they have... but even they could do better with tell us where you are, and we can at least program some important things for you.
But they don't do that. At least if you skip everything else, here are the things you need to know. By default, this is what this box will do. If you don't want it to do that, then you need to start changing these settings.
Kirk: How accurate are the clocks on these things? Are they settable to NTP?
Chris Tarr: Yes, the new ones are, yeah.
Kirk: Okay. Okay.
Chris Tarr: But that doesn't mean that somebody won't change that and set a time zone incorrectly or something like that.
Kirk: So do you think that strict time ought to be defaulted on?
Chris Tarr: I do not. I think that's a bad idea.
Kirk: Oh, okay. So strict time ought to be off?
Chris Tarr: Yeah, that's my opinion. Or no. No, no, I'm sorry, I'm backwards. I think it should be one.
Chris Tobin: Okay, okay. I was scratching my head. I was wondering...[cross-talk 00:24:41 to 00:24:43]
Chris Tarr: No, you would want it on. And again, because if you program your box correctly, the time will always be correct, and it will always be set to NTP because it's part of the cap specs. If you have everything set correctly, strict time on won't harm anything. It'll actually help, and it'll prevent things from being broadcast that shouldn't be broadcast.
Kirk: Should somebody at I Heart Media have to pay a fine?
Chris Tarr: Absolutely. I mean, the reason I say that, there's a precedent for it already. It's already been, stations have been fined for doing it. I mean it's not arbitrary or capricious.
Second of all, it's the only way to get the message across, apparently. Because people are still doing it. It is a safety issue. I was at the local SPE [SP] meeting the other night, and this came up. Sure enough, a couple retired guys go, "I never pay attention when that comes on anymore, because it's just whatever."
This affects that in a major way. People hear about these things and they stop taking it seriously, and that's when people get hurt. Now, we can debate all we want about EAS being the most effective way to do this. We can argue about the FEMA involvement. There's a lot of things about that, but you can't argue with the "boy who cried wolf" syndrome.
Even if it never got rebroadcast, the fact that it was on the air as a radio bit takes away from it when it actually happens. They have to know that this is serious.
Kirk: Yeah, our conversation here amongst us three engineers has been to look at the technical aspects. Which we should get right, of course we should get right, and I fear too often we don't get right. Speaking for me, not for you of course.
But the programming aspect, it took both to make all this happen. It shouldn't happen from either side, programming or technical.
Chris Tobin: Well remember, EAS, you can voluntarily opt out. If you choose, then you don't have to worry. If you opt in, it's part of the rules, and the rules say what you have to do and what the consequences are.
Chris Tarr: And if this was the first time, I would say absolutely. Just say use this as a teaching thing, and let's move on.
Chris Tobin: We . . . there we go. I guess we lost Chris.
Kirk: Just for a second. Oh, he's there. Chris, say something.
Chris Tobin: This is Chris Tobin in Queens.
Kirk: Ah, okay.
Chris Tobin: We've lost our connection.
Kirk: Let's move on, then, to the next subject as we get Chris Tarr back.
This is good for both of us, but Tobin, you jump right into this. I'm going to jump to number three. Is video destined to be a new part of radio via streaming? The reason I ask is a very successful equipment dealer for radio and television, based in Miami, a dealer that is a good partner with my employer, Telos.
They are selling a software system that uses multiple cameras. It'll take a video feed from your automation system. Instead of playing music only, you're now playing music video. You have great control over the whole thing.
When you get it set-up, it's easy to look good and have a video stream of your radio station with as much or as little involvement as you want from the songs. There are plenty of Latin stations in Buenos Aires and in Brazil and in Bogota, Columbia, there are stations in Mexico City.
Stations have put these things on the air. I believe the manufacturer's called Avra, A-V-R-A, and there are others too. But this one is one that I picked up on. They've got a really good promotional video on YouTube. It's in Spanish.
I helped to voice the English version of it. I'm not saying it's as slick as it should be, because it's still Spanish talent with overdubs of English, but you get the idea. This is pretty compelling. You look at the promotional video for this and it shows people listening to the radio, and being reminded about the video stream that the radio station has.
You may want to tune into it to see the talk show talent in the room, to see the song videos, to see commercials in a video format. It shows people picking up their iPad, picking up their phone, their smartphone, and starting their station's app and streaming video.
Yeah, I know there's bandwidth. Yeah, I know there's plenty of complications. I'm not saying it's easy to do. But it's pretty compelling. Chris Tobin, what do you think about radio stations doing more and more of this video streaming? At what point do you think it'll be something we just do of course?
Chris Tobin: Well, it's 10 years overdue. But yeah, absolutely. Radio, let's go back to the history books. Radio has always been about the experience, whether it was the 1929 broadcast from KDK in Pittsburgh, or the broadcasts you hear today in 2014.
It's the experience in the audience and what they get from it, and it's about that. The video component makes total sense, and it's just a natural evolution, but we as broadcasters are stuck in our ways. Why? We're in a comfort zone, trying to make the best number of dollars and pennies we can, and we're afraid to fail or do anything because that's the way things have morphed in the business.
What you described is something that should've been happening for the last 10 years, and it hasn't. They're absolutely right. In other parts of the world they're doing this as common practice.
I know in Europe I've seen a few sites, a couple radio stations that do the same thing. Excellent, and it makes total sense. I worked at a facility where we tried to do that, and we were told that it's all wrong, that we'll break the radio station. That was the phrase. "It'll break the radio station," because it'll cannibalize our primary audience.
I'm like, what are you talking about? They're listening to the station. Now you're offering them an opportunity to see inside the box. What, are you kidding me? They didn't want anything to do with it.
Kirk: You know, I look at other networks. Like for example, well, this very network right here. This is audio and video, and a good number of people who enjoy this podcast, partake of it, get the audio only version. A good number of people do the video.
I think Andrew Zarian with GFQ started with video. But you go back years ago, however many, nine, 10 years ago, and that other network, the TWIT network, they started with audio only. They added video and at first it was pretty slocky video. Now they've got a big operation.
I've just got to believe that, and if you watch, you can enjoy Andrew's podcast. You can enjoy other podcasts audio-only. But if you've got the bandwidth, and you've got the eyeballs and you've got the time, the video's pretty entertaining. It's kind of compelling to watch people argue about whatever it may be.
Whether it's "What the Tech," and Paul Thurrott arguing about Windows and talking to Andrew about that, or whether it's "Mat Men," or "The Friday Free-for-All."
Chris Tobin: "Behind the Counter."
Kirk: Or whatever show it is. "Behind the Counter." It's interesting to watch people talk about things that you're interested in anyway. It does add a dimension. If you're driving, probably not a good idea. But sitting in your office, commuting on a train, in the backseat of a car, you can do this.
To me, radio is kind of the same way. If it's voice tracked, obviously there's not a lot of action going on. Some of the stations I've seen are simply cameras in the studio, and when there's a song playing, they're just playing a flipping logo, or just have a camera on the studio, which is pretty boring.
Chris Tobin: That's the cheap way.
Kirk: That's the cheap way, although that's the first entrance into that. In American Samoa, we've actually been doing this for about five years now. It's not an automatic system. We have four lipstick cameras in the room. A wide shot and three close shots. We pay a guy to come in, he's part of the morning show, and he manually video switches the show.
We don't have any music video. It's a traditional radio station. We're on the cable net, we're not streaming this. In Samoa, the infrastructure for Internet is not that great. It's on the cable. We have a cable channel. When the jocks are talking, you see the jocks. When they're not talking, you see textual stuff going by while the music plays.
The next version of this is what some Avra users are doing now. We'll put this in the show notes. You can see a few stations doing this, where when they have a video version of the song that they're playing, you'll see the video along with that.
And there's lower thirds, and you can have Twitter feeds and local weather and all that business going on on this video feed. I believe it's compelling if you just start simple, and I believe it's pretty darn compelling if you go whole hog with it.
Chris Tobin: Absolutely. It adds a dimension. It's sellable, it's a revenue source, and it also engages your audience. It brings them to you.
There was a place on the west coast, a group, I think it's Alpha Broadcasting if I remember correctly. They have a group of stations where they were doing a video component, and they did it very well. They had a green screen in the booth, and during the songs they would do shots, create little videos and vignettes that would play on the stream and be part of the video stream itself.
They created content within the radio show. [inaudible 00:34:36] what they were doing. Now, was it intensive and did it require a lot of labor? Yeah. But then again, that's what you do. That's what business is. That's the problem that we have in broadcasting.
As you pointed out, it's going to be costly. "Oh, I have to hire somebody to switch video. Really, is it worth my time?" Well, it is, if you then take the next step. Which is bring it out to people and make money from it.
Just like you did when you bought the radio station and brought the transmitter up and you said, "Well, is anybody going to tune in and listen?" I guess they will. That's what you have to look at. It's an adjunct to what you're doing, it's not an inconvenience.
I've worked with a few folks over the years that, when they talk video in the studio, it's like, "Ugh, that's going to break everything." And that's what's happened.
Then you have the other side of the coin where it's like, "Well, if we can do this and that with the stream, we'll just make oodles of money because we could automate it." And nothing happens. Then you get the phrase "you can't monetize the net."
Kirk: Chris Tarr, you got anybody doing video?
Chris Tarr: We don't right now. I think there's arguments for and there's against. One of the arguments against is, first of all, does it really bring anybody new into the fold and does it engage them anymore?
For example, morning drive, nobody would be watching. People are commuting, that's what they're doing. Then they get to work. The question becomes, do we lose anything by doing it or do we really-is there a whole lot to gain?
We've looked at both sides of the coin, we've kind of dabbled in it a little bit, and it just seems at this point it didn't really move the needle enough for us to dive in. Now, outside of doing that live, we do a ton of video. We have in fact where I'm sitting right now, there's a guy who produces all of our video.
We do a lot of video, just not the real-time of people in the studio. It's the like we call them, the viral video kind of things that we do. We do a lot of those, and those are impactful. Those are things that basically engage listeners outside of just listening to the radio. They'll see it off the website, or through Facebook, or through these alternative channels.
In those situations, that's where we're really getting the return. When we were just throwing the morning show up on the web with the camera and things, it was neat, and there were people who certainly enjoyed watching. But I think sometimes we had the people on the air more concerned about what's going on on the video than what's going on in the audio, number one.
And number two, like I said, it was one of those situations where there just wasn't enough people watching to really make that worthwhile.
It may happen down the road, and I've seen some people do it in a way that's just fantastic. But again, in a lot of ways, who's going to sit there and really watch that? There are some people, we just haven't found anything that goes on the air as compelling as some of these other things. The YouTube videos and some of these people who, that's their thing.
It's that whole, there's a reason they don't do radio, there's a reason we don't do real-time video. There's something to that. Now, having said that, again, there are some radio stations that are pulling it off and doing it in a very compelling way, but I think they're doing radio differently to accommodate that.
Kirk: In what you just said, somehow that old joke or phrase comes to mind. I don't know, I'm making this up, but the Italian baker said to the banker, "you don't make bread, I don't cash checks."
Chris Tarr: That's right, exactly.
Kirk: So stay with our core business. But I've got to tell you, sometimes I throw up on the TV in the bedroom, getting ready in the morning, going in and out of the bathroom, and I've got a news show on or "The Today Show" of some kind.
If one of my local radio stations with a wacky morning crew had a video feed on the Internet or on cable, I might watch it. I might very well watch it. If I got a little bit of news, little bit of weather, some songs . . .
Watching Fox 17 or Fox News or "The Today Show," I'm not getting any music. I am getting plenty of news.
Chris Tarr: Right, and here's the thing, is that's a situation where that would probably work. Now, we have a sports station, and I think that probably throwing cameras in there would be pretty fun. But for a music station, I just don't see-there's not a lot going on there in the two minutes that they're talking and then the 10 minutes of everything else.
I just don't see a lot of compelling things there that you wouldn't just get from having the radio on in your bedroom. But like a sports talk station where you'd actually have guests on, and you would have some things that could be pretty visual, I could certainly see that as being something you could pull off.
Let's be honest, when these guys are on the air, what are they doing? They're doing just what we're doing right now, and talking. If that's something that you can hear in real time, would you really want to see that in real time?
Kirk: Mike Francesco [SP] came to mind, Chris Tobin, that you had on your CBS stations. Lot of video came out of that. Are they still doing that?
Chris Tobin: Yeah, yeah. He's doing it with Fox now, but yeah, we had Boomer and Cardon [SP].
Kirk: Oh, so that turned into a real network show?
Chris Tobin: Oh yeah. That started out as local stuff, and then with local cable and just moved on. [inaudible 00:40:03], sports, you could definitely do a lot with that. Music, you might have to be a little more creative and try stuff.
What radio station did I pass through last year, was it? They were doing music videos in between the jock breaks, and then they were creating as you put it the viral, or what I called "vignette," videos interspersed to break it up a bit.
They had a local sports guy do a quick sports update during the music. It was interesting. I think they were trying to figure out where their place was, but it was definitely an attempt to make things happen. Mike Francesco, Boomer and Cardon at the CBS stations, do a show both on radio and on TV.
Just as you pointed out, Kirk, with Boomer and Cardon, Mike Francesco, Boomer and Cardon in the morning, people would put it on just in the bedroom or the kitchen, wherever, and walk around and do their thing and listen.
Kirk: Maybe it's just me, but I've always been very intrigued by the different visualizations that come with Winamp or iTunes. I'm sure there may be even better ones than I've seen. I don't have to have the music video to go along with the music, but I'd like to have something visual. Something besides an empty chair in the control room.
Chris Tarr, you mentioned a green screen. You'd have a green screen behind some talent, and whether they were there or not, you could have it look like there's a visualization going on. Whether it's the station logo spinning around or real, real time computer generated visualizations that go along to the beat of the music.
That would be something on the screen to at least have a reason to keep it on until they actually came on the air and said some stuff and you were looking at it.
Chris Tarr: Well, it was actually Chris Tobin who said that, but my two cents on that is that's great, but then we're getting back to, that's not really compelling. That's not a compelling offer for video. "Here, let's look at a visualization while we play radio."
That's what I'm getting at, at least on a music station. Now again, there are a few who invested a lot of money into making their studio video-friendly, and in a way that made sense. In those rare instances, there is something compelling to watch in between the breaks and that sort of thing.
When you get into throwing a visualization on, then really all you're doing is talking about video for three minutes every 15 minutes. In that case, what's the upside to that? Are you going to make money off that? Are you going to get more viewers?
It's like that whole, if we're going to get away from our core of what we do, let's make sure that we can do it as well as the core things that we do. First and foremost, we're a radio station, so let's do that well.
Now as we try to branch off into these other things, like streaming and video, we need to do those well too. We can't be a radio station that also kind of does video, and kind of does this. Like what we did when we started with the Internet and streaming audio and things like that, we're just throwing it out there.
"Oh yeah, we've got a website. You can click right here to listen to us," and that's about all we do. Or Facebook. "Yeah, we put something on Facebook. Like us." You have to do it as well as you do radio, and that's what concerns me about the video component.
That's great, and in sports and those things it's a really compelling thing. I just don't believe it's for everybody in radio.
Chris Tobin: It's not for everybody, but you definitely have to take it seriously as though you were doing business. As you point out, Chris, that's exactly the way to go.
Kirk: Let's stop and do some business now ourselves. Great segue, that was just awesome.
This is "This Week in Radio Tech," episode 233. It's Kirk Harnack along with Chris Tobin and Chris Tarr. We're talking about a few technical subjects. EAS, video for radio, and coming up we're going to be talking about ransomware. Good topic here, just before Halloween.
Chris Tarr will update us on the Wisconsin Broadcasters' Association, some of the things that happened there. What did he learn?
Our show is brought to you in part by Omnia. We haven't talked about Omnia in quite a while and oh my goodness, there is so much going on at Omnia that you've got to go to the website and check it out.
Here are a few headlines in the news. If you click on these links, you're going to be just delighted with things like Leif Claesson explaining Undo at the AES 2014. This is a great webinar with Leif explaining what is Undo?
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Not unmusical, but absolutely gorgeous. Frank Foti has a YouTube video about this. All these things, so much information is on YouTube. If you go to omniaaudio.com, go to that website, and click in the lower right-hand corner. There is the Omnia YouTube channel.
It's actually a playlist of YouTube videos about some of the latest thinking about audio processing, and how we can make things solid, consistently good, consistently beautiful, tonally balanced, and not distorted.
Also it just kills me how we have this thing that Leif Claesson does with injecting the stereo pilot into an FM station, where your left and right channels are over 100%, and yet your total modulation is under 100%. It's like a building that's bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. I'm just so tickled about this stuff.
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Again, check it out on the web at omniaaudio.com. The YouTube channel is worth your time. Just start that playing and find out what's new.
All right? Thanks to Omnia Audo for sponsoring "This Week in Radio Tech."
All right, gentlemen, let's move on. Chris Tarr, Chris Tobin are both with us here on episode 233. A big thing in the news lately has been ransomware. A number of radio stations have been hit with one of the ransomware, malware programs that are out there, turning an entire automation system into just gibberish.
What do we do about this? What causes this? What can stations do to keep this from happening? Does it boil down to stupidity again? Does it boil down to things engineers can do to assist in protecting against ransomware, and turning your station into a big blob of random numbers?
Chris Tarr: Here's the thing is I think a lot of the engineers, and I can speak for myself, for years have been banging the drum about don't put your automation system out on the Internet. However, the push back you get from the air staff a lot of times is just brutal, because it makes their life easier.
If you're not good at networking, you almost have to do that in order for them to do what they need to do. Otherwise they're speaker-netting [SP]. But I don't know how many times somebody said, "We need to get the studio automation playback machine on the Internet, so that we can log into it remotely."
Or, "We need to be able to play audio off the web." All kinds of things. Or, "My computer at my desk, I need to be able to access the automation system." That's where a lot of this is coming from.
I've always been very good about saying "no, no, no" and doing some different things with physical LAN separation and dual networks, or intermediary servers or things like that to do it. It's never been easy for them.
I can totally see how this happens, and I know of a lot of stations where their primary automation machine is on the Internet for whatever reason. I think everybody is aware of the dangers, but I think in a lot of ways, it's either they're not sure of the best way to get it off the Internet and still be able to retain some functionality, and probably also there's some pressure from the staff to not do that, to make things really easy for them.
That generally requires putting everything on the same network. Then what happens, it just takes somebody to open up an email or an attachment that they shouldn't and it gets onto the network and that's it. You're done.
At the very least, make back-ups of everything. Your automation system has just got to be separated from everything else. It just has to be. There are ways that you can make the two networks talk together that will reduce the risk. There are things you can do to make things at least a little bit easier.
Nowadays you can't do that. We're going to keep seeing this.
Kirk: I'm going to go to Tobin in just a second. Let me thumbnail this just a little bit, because from my understanding, and I do follow this news quite a bit, typically what happens with ransomware is somebody gets a file in their email or they're encouraged to go to a website.
You can get drive-by malware just by visiting a website, not having to click on anything, depending on how the malicious attack, what vector it's designed to come in on. The point is, a salesperson, a secretary, an engineer maybe, a program director, a disc jockey, somebody clicks on something they shouldn't have.
A pop-up comes up and says, "Your computer might have a virus. Check here to find out." Well, that's the virus. That's what does it.
Ransomware has been extremely lucrative for a couple of companies so far, because what it does, it quickly installs on your computer. The people who write ransomware go to incredible lengths to remain anonymous. Like, "You must pay with Bitcoin."
The servers that are used are just so randomized, all over the world. It's taken months and months of companies checking into how this works to even come close to finding out who these people are.
But the malware gets on your computer, and it goes and encrypts every file it can find, or every file in certain categories. Doc files, photo files, movie files. It doesn't necessarily encrypt everything, but files that are important to you, that you can't go replace some other way, like redownloading an installation file.
It goes and encrypts all these files that you only have one copy of. Then it also does this for any attached drives. Network attached drives. If you're a salesperson and one of your attached drives goes to, I don't know, the traffic department? Or heaven forbid some automation drives that are common to your radio station? Maybe you have some network attached storage? It'll go encrypt those files.
This happens pretty quickly. Then you get to pay a bunch of money to try to get these files back. I'm told sometimes it doesn't work. Sometimes it does. Of course, our government and authorities tell us, "Don't pay the ransom."
These files are no longer useful to you, and if it's shared files that other people like automation system or traffic department or billing department uses, then you're really up the creek. So Chris, you were saying about separating networks. Sometimes that's not even entirely possible.
After explaining all that, what I want to get at is this. Plenty of engineers use freeware to access, remotely, their computers. VNC and its various derivatives are very popular. But typically VNC remote access, the way it's typically done, is by opening a port on your firewall. Maybe using a high port number to obscure it, not using the standard 5900 port number.
Point is, a lot of people use freeware to remotely access internal computers. But it's fixed, and the only thing protecting you at that point is a password. I don't know how well VNC can be hacked otherwise if you don't know the password.
Here's my point, and I'm finally getting to it. If you use some of these paid services, like Team Viewer or Go To My PC, that where you have a full-time rendezvous server, and you have full-time, encrypted connections, and the ports if not randomized, they move around, they can change.
I guess what I'm saying is I haven't heard of cases of people remotely exploiting these paid services like Team Viewer or Go To My PC and other similar ones. Log Me In. I haven't heard of those being exploited, or at least proven that they're exploited.
What are your feelings about free things that you set up permanently, versus these dynamic ones? Go ahead.
Chris Tobin: Let me stop you right there. The minute you say those free services, that means that computer's got to be on the Internet, so no. Absolutely not. Because in order for Log Me In, Team Viewer, any of those things to find the rendezvous server, that machine needs to be able to get onto the network.
If it can get out to the network, that means it's got to be networked with other things, and therefore can be infected.
Kirk: Are you really saying that because a computer is signed up for Go To My PC, it can be infected?
Chris Tobin: Absolutely, because that means it's touching somewhere else. That's what I'm saying. Your automation system needs to be on an island that can't see those things. If it can see those things, then other things can see it.
What you're really looking at is you're looking at what you really want to do is do a VPN into somewhere, and then from there launch an internal connection. So you're secure that way.
That's the thing. Just because that vector hasn't been exploited doesn't mean it can't be, and that means that if Team Viewer can get on the Internet, then your end user can use that computer to get on the Internet and download that thing that will encrypt everything.
Kirk: Oh, sure. People doing their job have to get on the Internet, absolutely. They have to get their email.
Chris Tobin: That's what I'm saying. When we're dealing with automation systems, that's what I'm getting at. You can't do it. As much as you want to, and as much as it makes life easy, at some point that's how it's going to happen.
Kirk: How would you handle then the following? A lot of programming now, I assume at your stations too, comes from FTP sites. John Tesh. Dick Bartley and his oldies show, and plenty of other shows that we run in Greenville, Mississippi, we have to go download them every day.
Now we don't use an automation computer to do that. We use an intermediary computer that's also running a program that downloads FTP stuff. There's Mr. Master, Media Shooter Pro, Web Gopher. These are all the programs that either receive, or go out and download FTP files. Then they format them for your automation system, whether it's Wide Orbit, or Rivendell in our case, or others.
Then that computer has to be looking at both networks, the business network with Internet and the automation network, without Internet. Make those formatted, finished files available to the automation system.
Chris Tobin: How you do that, that's where you get into that computer should be a server that doesn't have people accessing it, those things going on. It should be segmented from-it should be able to see your Internet, but not the rest of your building, and then also your automation networks.
What's going on there is that computer is downloading the FTP stuff. That's all it can do. That's all it's doing, and then dropping that into your automation system. The people who are opening these files that are going to scan for network shares aren't going to see it.Now you have a machine that is as secure as it's going to be and see the Internet.
Kirk: You're right, in that nobody uses that machine except me and the technically adept station manager. Nobody is surfing the web or opening email on that machine.
Chris Tobin: Right, and that's what I'm saying. If that machine only sees the Internet, and that machine only sees your automation system, and you've got virus protection and those sorts of things on there, and all it does is use port 21 to connect to those servers and download things, then you're probably going to be okay.
But when that PC is something that's sitting in a traffic office or something, people are going to use it to surf, and they're going to use it to open their email. That's where you're going to have this infection.
You have to be smart about those things. It makes it easier to not do that, I get it, and that's the fight I always have with these stations that I do work for. I totally get it, and I don't want to make life more difficult.
But trust me. When that happens and you lose everything, you're going to go, "Why didn't I do that?"
Kirk: Guys, we're going to run out of time here pretty soon. I do want to hear a couple of notes from Chris Tarr about the Wisconsin Broadcasters' Association, so Chris, if you'll get ready for that.
Our show, "TWIRT" 233 with Chris Tobin and Chris Tarr, is also brought to you in part by my friends at Axia, and the Axia Radius console.
Now there it is. It's this gorgeous little console. You can expand it. You can add more fader, if eight is not enough, you can add more faders to it. You can add a telephone controller. You can add six faders and phone controller.
There's one right there. There's Andrew, smiling with his beautiful Radius console. There's Chris Tobin touching it, because it feels good. And every bit of audio you hear on this network comes through that console.
The same is true for some other podcasting networks too. And for literally 5,000 radio studios around the world-well, not all of them are using Radius. Some of them are using Axia Elements, or the Axia IQ console, or the rack or the desk. Or even the original Smart Surface console.
Point is, this proven technology, IP audio, is just amazing. It's so easy to hook up. The difference between connecting all those wires that you used to have to with all those inputs and outputs and mess and hooking up IP audio, it's such a pleasure.
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The Radius console has features galore. Processing, EQ for microphones. Again, easy to network with others. It'll network right in with other Axia consoles. In fact, I was in Dallas at a big facility where they have big Element consoles from Axia in every control room and most of the production rooms.
But in the news area, and in little dubbing stations, they've got the Axia Radius consoles there. They all network together. They could do a traffic report. They can bring up any common source to any of these consoles, and guess what? Any of these sources will talk aback to that common source.
You've got a satellite report coming in, or a traffic report, something coming in over an IP codec or an ISDN codec, even a POTS codec, you can bring it right up on any console and talk right back to it from that same console. That's the flexibility of IP audio.
If you don't understand IP audio and how the system works, no problem. I'm with you there. I had to read over this stuff, like Steve Church's White Paper, five times before I even went, "Oh, this might work." Then installed a number of studios myself, and I think I'm finally getting it.
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Check it out at axiaaudio.com. Point your browser there. Axia, A-X-I-A, audio.com. And if there's only one console you'll look at, check out the Radius. As we say, "throw your budget a curve and meet Radius."
Thanks to Axia for sponsoring "This Week in Radio Tech." Chris Tarr, all right. Man, we haven't talked to Tobin in a while. I'm sorry. Chris Tarr, tell us about Wisconsin Broadcasters.
Chris Tarr: All right, looks like we've got about a minute left, so I'll wrap it up really quick. WBA, probably the best one they've done in the 10 or 11 years that I've gone. They went over the testing with the all-digital AM in HD. Turning the analog component off and showed some of that.
Speaking of IP audio, that has really been the focus of this last session. A lot of discussion about AES67. Logitech mentioned that they're licensing LiveWire now. Some great discussions on audio codecs.
Went through de-tuning AM towers, some of the rules involved with that. Really, again, was just a fantastic conference. They do a fantastic job every year in the fall. Three days, one day radio, one day both radio and TV, and one day TV. If you're in the Midwest and you haven't gone, what are you thinking?
Sign up for it. They do it every year. Great trade show. Again, just a bunch of really good, good solid technical programs.
Kirk: Thanks, Chris Tarr. You know what? You and I need to talk about who put on a presentation there that we need to have on the show as a guest. So let's think about that.
Chris Tarr: Okay.
Kirk: Chris Tobin, any final thoughts from Queens, New York?
Chris Tobin: Well, I was going to show off a new toy that I picked up, this little guy here, but it'll have to wait for next week. All I can tell you is it's from Sprint. It's pro-live, and that's it. It's an interesting device that uses cellular technology and a DLP projector. That'll be next week.
Chris Tobin: Yes. And as far as securing your facilities and trying to keep things going, it will be difficult, but try to use a unified threat management system at the front door. And also consider VLANs. There's a few other things.
VPN is probably your best bet, but use your own VPN appliances and approach. It's worth the trouble and effort that you go through. Team View and the others are good. Ad hoc if you need to, but Chris is right. It's still a vector for trouble.
If you control all factors of access to your facility, you have a better chance of maintaining some semblance of sanity. And also what I used to do, and I know it can be time-consuming but it was well-worth it, I would make mirror images of all my machines and just keep them on the shelf.
Every two weeks, we'd make new images, and just keep track. Let me tell you, we had a few times where things went bad. Brought out the image, popped it in, and 20 minutes later we were back up and running.
Kirk: And all it takes is a mirror. We'll have you explain that next time.
Chris Tobin: Yes.
Kirk: We need to have an expert on VPNs. Dave Anderson implements VPNs all over the place in microtech router board routers. He might be one guy who could give us a good show on that. We'll work on that. We will get the information to engineers. This is a good place to get it.
Thank you for watching "This Week in Radio Tech." Thanks to Chris Tobin to making the trip to the studio in Queens, New York. Appreciate you, Chris. He's available at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you've got a project you need to understand video, audio over IP, he can make it happen for you.
Chris Tarr from Mukwonago, actually Hales Corners, Wisconsin right now. Chris Tarr, thank you. Good to have you back. Appreciate it.
Chris Tarr: Good to be here. Be sure to check me out on Twitter @TheGeekJedi.
Kirk: @TheGeekJedi, all right. We've got more places I'm sure that you're at to talk about. We'll have to do it another time.
Andrew Zarian, thank you for switching and producing this episode of "This Week in Radio Tech," and thanks to our sponsors Lawo, Omnia Audio, and Axia. We'll see you next time on "This Week in Radio Tech." Bye-bye everybody.