Some engineers get their careers started in smaller markets, then move up to a major market. David Antoine was born and raised in US market number 1 - New York City - so that’s where he started! David’s story is both interesting and inspiring, so we’re bringing him to you on this episode of TWiRT.
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Kirk: Hey, welcome in to This Week in Radio Tech. I'm Kirk Harnack, your host. So glad you're here. This is the show where we talk about everything that has to do with radio and audio technology; typically in a radio station from this microphone where people talk into all the way to the beacon at the top of the tower and everything in between. I'm at a radio station right now. Kirk, where are you? I'm in your computer. I'm on your phone, your tablet. I'm at a very temporary setup here. I hope this is temporary. I hope this doesn't become one of those, we'll clean it up eventually. I'm in a room here; we're running a bunch of Rivendell computers, running, at the moment, three radio stations, and by later today, we'll be running four radio stations at Delta Radio here in Greenville, Mississippi.
Along with us today is Chris Tobin, and he is in a laboratory in an unnamed location. Hey, Chris, welcome in. How are you doing?
Chris: I'm doing well, Kirk. Thank you. This is actually my office space lab, whatever you want to call it. I thought I'd try something from here for today.
Kirk: All these times you've been on the show, and this is the first time that I've seen this lab.
Chris: Yes, yes, because actually, the last several times that I had an opportunity to try and do it from the office, I had some guys working on things, and it was just a mess. Visually, it didn't translate. Audibly, it would have been an enjoyable time. But the video and the audio just didn't match up, so it wouldn't have worked.
Kirk: I hope I can up there and see that the next time I come to New York.
Chris: You're always welcome. Yeah, absolutely.
Kirk: You know, David Antoine invited me to stop up at his new employer in Purchase, New York, at what used to be ABC Satellite Services; Cumulus got it and moved it out to Purchase, New York and built a big facility there. You want to see if we can go out there together?
Chris: Sure. Yeah, [Brian Wills 02:34] and I - I had lunch with him over the weekend, and he and [Greg Monte 02:37] and a few others from Cumulus Media said come on up. So if you're making it to town, let me know. I'll go for the ride. Yeah, definitely.
Kirk: I'm thinking right before the SBE National Meeting at Verona. I'll be there a day or two before that.
Chris: What date is that?
Kirk: That'd be early in October. Like around the 6th or something like that?
Chris: Perfect, okay.
Kirk: We'll call; see if we can arrange it. Okay, sorry, enough inside baseball talk, folks.
Our show is brought to you by the folks at Axia; the Axia Radius console. Also brought to you by Telos, and the Telos Hx6 phone system. And our show is brought to you by Lawo, makers of the incredible crystalCLEAR touchscreen virtual radio console. We'll tell you about each of those things here.
Actually, we'll start out with the Axia Radius console. This is pretty cool. There's one of them - actually this show right now is coming to you - the audio is coming to you through an Axia Radius IP audio console. And there it is. That is at the GFQ Network in New York. And that's handling all the audio, including all the mix-minus feeds. That's how the various talent that are coming in by Skype are hearing the other people, but not hearing their own echo coming back. Like all of the consoles that Axia makes, the Radius can produce an automatic mix-minus for every single fader input. If it's got a return channel, then the Radius will make a mix-minus channel for it.
That's the eight-channel version of the Radius console. And what you're looking at is really just the control surface. There's no audio going through that piece of equipment. All the audio is really conveniently located in the equipment rack. There's a DSP engine in the equipment rack. It has a built-in Ethernet switch so you don't have to buy an external Cisco or HP switch. You can just use the pre-configured switch that's inside the Axia Radius console.
And some of the ports on that switch have PoE, Power over Ethernet. So that means if you get a Telos phone system to go along with your Radius console, well, you just plug the phones in. No power adapters needed, no boxes like that; no PoE switch needed because it's built into the back of the Axia Radius console.
I personally have three of these consoles at my stations in American Samoa. And believe me, that is a long way to travel to go do some troubleshooting. We haven't had to. They've just been flawless. So I want you to check them out on the web. If you go to AxiaAudio.com, click on the Products page, and right there is a page just for the Radius console.
I also should point out, these consoles may cost a lot less than you might think. I had a friend of the show contact me on Facebook a few days ago and said, Kirk, we'd love to do these IP consoles, but man, we don't have $15,000 for what an Axia Element might cost. I said, get ready to pay a whole lot less than half of that, because that's what you'll end up paying for an Axia Radius console. I think it's still around the $6,000 mark for an IP audio console.
And easy to expand. You can add a six- or eight-fader expansion module to that; a phone interface or a phone controller module to control your Telos phone system.
So give it a check out on the web. AxiaAudio.com. Represented all over the world in most countries and represented in the U.S. by Broadcasters General Store.
All right, thanks to Axia for sponsoring This Week in Radio Tech.
Now, hey, Chris Tobin, we're going to talk to a good friend of yours, David Antoine. He spoke highly of you. You two know each other, don't you?
Chris: Yes. We worked together. I helped build his previous facilities at 4 Times Square for the public radio station he worked at. He and I worked together with other engineering firms around the metro area for the last 15, 20 years.
Kirk: Well, I got a chance to talk to him - and by the way, thank you for the tips on what to ask him. We did talk mostly about how he got started. I mean, growing up in Brooklyn, how do you end up getting involved with - I mean, how you do work toward being a broadcast engineer? What avenues do you travel to get that done? Which subway stops do you get on and get off to increase your chances of getting a career like this?
And so Dave is just a dear guy, and Andrew, if you're ready, why don't we just go ahead and roll that interview? And we'll follow up with a couple of comments and questions right after it.
Andrew, take it away.
Hey, it's Kirk Harnack. I'm talking to David Antoine. Hey, David, welcome in. Glad you're here on the show.
David: Glad to be here.
Kirk: David, you and I met - I don't know, it must have been some social event or something. I just remember chatting with you and it seems like my wife was chatting with you for the longest time about our kids and going to school?
David: Well, you guys came to New York, and I led a tour during - it was an [Ends 07:36] workshop that was in New York City, and I led a tour with you, your wife, [David Lehrer 07:42] and a couple other folks to the Empire State Building.
Kirk: Okay. That was it.
David: Yes. That's when it was. That was [indiscernible 07:51] musical.
Kirk: Yeah. It was a few years ago. But that reminds me, I've got a picture of me and my wife Laura on top of the Empire State Building, you know, in the caged-in area there where all the, you know, where the commoners get to go and look over the edge or close.
Wow. So that has been a few years. And you had a daughter who went to school in Nashville?
David: That's right. Went to Vanderbilt.
Kirk: Well, we didn't come to talk about that. We're here to talk about radio tech, because that's what geeks like us do.
Kirk: So, you're a broadcast engineer, and by all accounts, a pretty good one. Tell me a little bit about your career in broadcast engineering, and we'll finish up with what you're doing now.
David: Broadcast engineering, well, it was something that I guess I kind of always wanted to do, but took an interesting route to get there.
I grew up in Brooklyn, New York. Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn - Bedford-Stuyvesant for those of you that need to know what that means - Bed-Stuy, as we call it. Born and raised in Brooklyn; grew up in Bed-Stuy.
In my early mid-teens, I hooked up with a guy who was a mobile DJ. And for those of you who don't know, mobile DJ at the time meant this was a guy who walked around with his own system, a milk crate or two full of records, a couple of turntables, and promoters would hire them for dances. And at the time, there were no discos or dance halls or places like that. They were just like these places people would rent out and have their little affairs at.
So we'd come in, set up speakers and lights and everything, and it was a party. Well, at some point, we decided that we would add microphones to the mix, and I started doing live sound. And got to a point where me and my partner, a brother named Q.J., we would be doing live shows where the promoter would hire a band and we would play - spin music in between the sets that the band would play.
We started getting a reputation for doing good sound engineering. People started saying - the musicians were like, boy, you guys did a real good job. We'd like to use you again. So we started working with more promoters here in the New York City area doing concerts and clubs and shows and things like that.
And at some point in the mix, I decided that I wanted to get into broadcasting. I said, all right, doing live sound is nice, but I need to pay rent regularly. You know, you work with a band for six months, you tour, and then they take off for six months and you've got to figure the rest out. So I got tired of doing that at some point, and I said, all right...
Kirk: I want to interrupt you for a second. I've got to believe that doing live sound, especially if you had somebody who knew what they were doing to help you learn the ropes at the beginning - I've been to so many events where the live sound was just awful. Distorted, way too much highs, it would just impinge upon your ears. And so - but if you get tight with somebody - and what I'm getting at, you learn what good sound sounds like.
Kirk: And that's a skill that you just can't tell somebody about. You've got to experience that for hours and hours and hours so you get to know what it's like. Some guys who got their career in broadcast engineering by working in a recording studio also get that skill.
Kirk: So, I'm sorry to interrupt, but that is so critical. If you know what good sound sounds like and you want to achieve that, I think you can go anywhere in the audio business, including broadcast engineering.
David: Right. And that's part of it. Although, it's interesting, I've never been a processing guru as some of my colleagues are, but I do know what good sound is. And one of the things that is interesting is that my first job in radio was with a classical radio station. And that was after having come off the road with working with bands like The Trammps and Brass Construction and working in disco nightclubs until 4:00 in the morning for many years.
So I went to school called ATS here in town, and they basically were what most people would call back then a license mill. The difference for me was that a lot of what they were teaching us out of the books made sense because of my audio background. So for me, I kind of was now validating the things I already knew just from working. So the added factor was learning RF. And believe me, when I say about easily 50% of what I learned back there in that school, I still use on the job, especially when I walk into a transmitter room. I learn how to walk out of there.
Kirk: Yeah. So this school had some safety training?
David: Oh, they covered everything. They covered safety, they covered RF, they covered FCC regs; they covered everything. It was very thorough.
Kirk: So in your mind - to me, this is a little bit like - when I was in my 20's, I learned how to fly a fixed-wing airplane, and I never had a chance to transition to a helicopter, you know, a rotary wing airplane, but I always thought that that transition must be a bit like transitioning from the live sound world into broadcast. Or broadcast when you've got to take on these - now, there's RF2, you know? It's not just big speakers. In fact, we don't have big speakers and big amps in broadcast so much. The big amp is the transmitter.
David: Well, it's called RF because it's radio frequencies, and audio is just audio frequencies. It's all frequencies and waves and stuff. It's just that the RF waves are moving a lot faster than the sound waves. So you've just got to double up the principles, if you will.
Kirk: I like to think of this as the - the electronics are a lot the same. I mean, there's amplifiers and there's filters and there's high-pass and low-pass things, and there's oscillators. In a piano, your oscillator is your finger hits the key and the key strikes the string and that's the oscillator. In a broadcast transmitter, you've got different kinds - now, we have numerically-controlled oscillators, but we used to have crystals and such.
And so, when you move from audio to RF, the shape of the circuits kind of changes and some of the techniques change, but it's still taking a varying signal, whether it's digital on/off, on/off, on/off, or an analog signal or a frequency-varying signal, and doing stuff with that.
David: Right. You're just speeding it up when it comes to broadcasting. Hence, you're doing things at an RF rate, if you will.
Kirk: And then you think about the input and output devices. The transducers for audio are certainly different than the transducers for RF, but they're doing the same thing. They're converting the signal into a usable form - for RF it's electromagnetic waves; audio, it's air pressure vibrations.
So, how did you gain this RF information? How did you start to learn about that after you got out of ATS? What kind of on-the-job training?
David: Well, I got out of ATS, and the last thing they did with us was, I guess, job search techniques. They taught us how to put together a resume, how to put together a cover letter that stands out, and they said, look, the mailbox is your friend.
So I started sending out resumes. And for me, every time I got a rejection letter in the mail, I would send out 10 more resumes. And finally, one day, I landed with a classical radio station here in town, which is now defunct, called WNCN, which was owned by GAF Broadcasting Company. And that's the same GAF that puts roofs on your buildings back in the day.
The story behind that is that WNCN was an established classical station back in the '50s and '60s, and a group came along and bought them and turned them into rock 'n' roll. So the listeners' group got together, picketed, boycotted, made a fuss, and the Chairman at the time of GAF Corporation was an avid classical listener. The group persuaded him to buy the station. And hence, GAF Broadcasting. And complete with the GAF logo and everything. I've got my old business card with a GAF logo on it.
Kirk: Is GAF out of the broadcasting business now?
David: Totally out, yeah. They were part of the whole Union Carbide thing over in India in Bhopal, so...
Kirk: Well, I'll bet you as long as you worked there that the roof never leaked?
David: Absolutely. So that was my first job in radio, and that was back in 1981.
Kirk: Well, we started about the same time.
David: Wow, okay. So, yeah, that was my first job in radio.
Kirk: See, I thought you were a much younger man than me.
David: Oh, no. And I was fortunate to work under a chief engineer who didn't mind me asking him questions and didn't mind showing me the ropes, and again, what was good was that the school that I went to prepared me with a lot of book knowledge, and practical knowledge followed.
Kirk: So you had the book knowledge; the concepts?
Kirk: So when you were shown the equipment and how things interacted and worked, it clicked at that point?
David: Absolutely. And let me tell you how much it clicked. When he took me to the Empire State Building and showed me my first live transmitter, it was an old Collins transmitter; it still had the grounding rod in it, which you don't find in today's solid state transmitters.
Kirk: Oh, yeah. Some people call that a Jesus stick.
David: The Jesus stick, exactly. So I remember vividly him saying, all right, whenever you work on a transmitter, you shut the power off and you take this rod and you touch everything. And I'm looking over his shoulder, and I'm like, really? And he says, yeah, you just touch it. And he's just kind of haphazardly touching this, touching that. So at one point, I asked him, I said, have you ever found any residual voltage or anything? He says, no, never.
And the very next thing he touched, I guess was a capacitor, and all of a sudden, pow! And my eyes were wide and I saw this chunk taken out of the stick, the grounding rod, and that was a lesson to me. Use that stick.
Kirk: And now, most transmitters are designed with some bleeder resistors if it was a high-voltage power supply [cab 19:49], but those bleeder resistors fail, and you have no indication that the resistors failed, unless it catches on fire. And so, you touch the Jesus stick to it, and bam! Oh, guess what didn't bleed off?
David: Right. Which is kind of unnerving when you have to work on today's solid state transmitters because they don't include a Jesus stick anymore. And, you know, guys like myself who open up the back of a cabinet and look at a transmitter go, oh, I don't know about this.
Kirk: Well, I guess the DC voltages in most solid state transmitters, the voltages are not lethal, typically, but the currents, of course, they're built with very high current power supplies.
Some of your early solid state transmitters did use lethal in that they were 150, 200 volts for the transistors. But I understand - and I haven't worked on a modern solid state transmitter personally in a few years, so - I haven't worked on a modern one, contemporary - but I understand they're down now around the 50-volt range on a lot of these.
David: Oh, yeah. In fact, I think the new Harris -what is it, Imagine Engineering, Imagine transmitter? Their power supplies are the same supplies you find in some servers.
Kirk: Oh, okay.
David: So, you know, you're talking about a server power supplier powering a transmitter.
Kirk: Well, there's some economy of scale right there.
David: Yeah. So, again, that was my first job in broadcasting. I learned a lot there; I learned how to survive a transmitter run by myself. Learned a lot about RF, about just what goes on in the studio. It was a good run. I worked there for five years, and then there were a lot of changes in the company and I got let go.
But down the road, I worked for paging companies and worked for some other stations in town, eventually - getting back into radio for a minute - I was working at a paging company and just doing paging transmitters and servicing stuff like that. And those transmitters, believe it or not, were more dangerous than the high-power transmitters that I was working on with FM radio, only because of the high frequencies. And those transmitters, you're talking about 900, 800 megahertz transmitters, and the only way to check certain things in them was to open up the cavity while it's hot and live. So it's not so much the voltage or the RF, but just the microwaves that you're being exposed to. But again, all leading up to me becoming a better engineer.
I managed to work for some stations here in town like Inner City Broadcasting, WBLS and their AM, WLIB. I worked for Emmis for a while as a project engineer. I worked with DSI RF Systems and built some transmitter rooms for a couple of stations and serviced some transmitter rooms in the Empire State Building. That's when I happened to lead the tour that I met you on some years back. And actually worked with your colleague, Tom Ray at WOR for a while doing some maintenance for him. So I've been around the New York market for a little while, and it's been good. It's been 34 years of having fun, being a radio [indiscernible 23:43].
Kirk: What prompted me to think I've got to get David Antoine on TWiRT and have a conversation with him - and you're pretty busy during the day these days and that's why we're recording this interview beforehand for playback on our usual show. But you were interviewed by Radio World - and a great picture of you, by the way. It looked like a very professional picture. Good work there. What was that article about? What did you and Radio World focus on?
David: Well, Paul McLane, the editor, called me up and we were just catching up one day, and he said, by the way, I do this little profile thing, and we'd like to talk to you. Let me shoot you some questions.
So he did, and I wrote back answers to the questions. And basically, it was just some of the very things we're talking about here; how I got started in radio, where I came from, how it all came about.
A couple of other questions that he did ask me about was my involvement in public radio. For the past five-and-a-half years ending this past August, I worked for WBGO, which is one of the few remaining jazz stations here in the country. They're based in Newark, New Jersey, 88.3 FM. And again, one of the remaining full-time jazz radio stations in the United States.
So, for 22 1/2 hours a day, you can tune into BGO and hear live jazz being played. There's somebody in the studio right now as we speak putting a CD into a CD player and elaborating on who played on drums and who was on sax and when was the date recorded and such. And that was a lot of fun and enjoyment for me, working in jazz and in public radio, pretty much because I have a jazz background. I grew up, as I told you, I did live audio for a while. And my introduction to live audio was putting microphones in front of people like Max Roach, Betty Carter, Freddie Hubbard, and Carl Saunders. So as a teenager, I was at a cultural center in Brooklyn, and because they didn't serve alcohol in drinks, I was able to work there and learn sound and learn audio, and that's where I learned audio at.
Kirk: Wow, that's cool. When I was 15, 16 years old, I was working in public radio, too. I was an intern at WEKU FM and I was playing jazz, and just butchering the names of all the jazz artists, I'm sure. But learning a little bit about it, I mean, a little bit was rubbing off, and a love for jazz music was brought to me that way. Wow.
So, before we got started here recording, you mentioned that you want to talk a bit about public radio engineers. Tell me about the plight of the public radio engineer nowadays.
David: Well, you know, the term 'bricks without straw' comes to mind. Public engineers oftentimes don't have the large budgets that our commercial counterparts do. We find ourselves having to recycle a lot of equipment, recycle cables, and really make do most of the time to get our audio on the air and make it sound pristine.
One of the things I've been blessed to be involved with is the Association of Public Radio Engineers. I've been a member of their board of directors for a couple of years now. It's an organization that really just tries to serve the public radio engineer and their interests, which tend to be unique.
A lot of us are managing stations that are NPR affiliates, so we do handle a lot of NPR programming. There's challenges. A lot of these stations, some of them are only like 100 watts. They're considered to be low-power FM stations, they find themselves at the lower end of the dial usually, and not sometimes having the best coverage in town. There's just a lot of challenges that we as public engineers have faced in attempting to do quality broadcasting.
Now, some of my colleagues work for stations that are owned by colleges where there might be a large budget that is available, but that's not the case for a lot of others that are in rural parts of the country. Again, the little 100-watt stations where sometimes the general manager is the chief engineer and the salesperson by day.
So the time that I spent in public radio the past five-and-a-half years, I just developed an affinity for these guys and what they're able to do with what little that they have and the resources that they don't have.
Kirk: It's interesting, I see - just as in the commercial world, though, I see a diversity of funding for public radio stations. Some of the nicest stations I've been in to were public radio stations, and some of the poorest ones were public stations. And for some, it seems like feast or famine. Like, they'll get a big grant or they'll get some money to do something specific, buy a transmitter, buy a studio, buy an audio console or re-outfit a studio, but then, as you said, they've got to recycle cables because the money ran out because the project was done and there's not a budget to maintain at that level. So you've got to scrimp and save for years until the next grant or project comes along. Do you find that to be true?
David: Oh, yes, absolutely. And in some cases, you find it's MacGyver radio, as my IT guy at WBGO used to say. You learn to make do. You learn to improvise.
Kirk: Yeah. Wow.
David: [Indiscernible 30:10].
Kirk: I'm sorry, we had a bad connection there for just a second. What was the last thing you mentioned?
David: The public on the outside doesn't notice because they turn on their radio, they hear pristine sound, it's in stereo, it sounds good, the processing is good, but how we got there sometimes is a back story in itself.
Kirk: Well, that's part of the magic of radio. It's sound, and there's an art to making beautiful sound. Right now, I'm remote at my stations in Greenville, Mississippi, and I'm in a messy, junked-up room right now, but you don't know that because I turned the camera to look at our Rivendell Automation Systems right now that will move into the racks as soon as we get the racks moved over here. Actually, I've got four radio stations running behind me on these old Dell machines.So do you want to move the conversation into the transition you've just made in your life?
David: Well, five-and-a-half years at WBGO. Talking transmitters, I built a transmitter project for them that was a lot of fun. They used to actually broadcast from a flagpole in downtown Newark. And I mean that in all the literal sense. They were an HD station that did space combining, so there were two ERI antennas mounted on a flagpole in downtown Newark at 400 feet, and the flag was waving at the top. So you had two ERI Rototillers on this flagpole, and that was their HD setup. They did space combining.
WBGO was always one of those jazz stations that played good music, but parts of the city where their core audience was, you just couldn't hear them. New York City, I'm talking about. So one of the things that I did when I first got there, they handed me the plans for a possible move to New York City, and they said, what do you think about it?
Well, I looked at the plans, re-tweaked it, reworked it a little bit, and ended up moving the station to 4 Times Square, and now, they're broadcasting from 4 Times Square. They've got the penetration into New York City that they want. They are reaching thousands more listeners than they had been before. The signal is pretty good. It's a directional signal, unfortunately, so we have some coverage that we lost to the east of us to protect another 88.3. But overall, it was a good project.
And one of the things that was fun about it was that it was a digital project in that 80% of the equipment in the transmitter room are all IP-based, meaning that I could, from my laptop, the same computers that I use in my house, I can control the radio station. I can go into the transmitter; I can switch the transmitters off and on. We use the Nautel transmitters which are very friendly when it comes to controlling them by computer; all solid-state transmitters. Again, it was a really fun project to set up. I learned a lot from it.
Some of what I learned on that project and what I've learned over the years about IP audio was attractive to a job that I just took recently with Westwood One. Westwood One built a facility in Purchase, New York, which is 20 minutes from my house, actually. And through a friend, I found out that they were looking for a broadcast IT person. I threw my hat in the ring and they gave me the nod. I started last week as their Director of Broadcast IT. What's nice about it is it's an Axia facility. The job is very computer-based, there's not a microphone in the place, not a console or a microphone in the whole place.
Kirk: Yeah. You don't create content there, you distribute content.
David: We distribute content, exactly. One of my roles is to help maintain the systems that are involved in distributing that content, and that's the Axia audio nodes and that's the servers that all of the audio is residing on.
Kirk: Actually, that's one location - a major AoIP, Audio over IP installation, that I haven't been to yet. I've been promising [Gary Klein 35:10] and others I want to come visit, and it just haven't worked out yet, and maybe I'll get to go there just prior to the - when I come up for the SBE meeting in Verona, New York at the...
David: Yes, in September.
Kirk: Maybe I can fly into New York and visit you guys in Purchase and then head on over to them. I'd love to do that.
But working for Telos and Axia and Omnia, I was involved in a lot of meetings about setting that place up and getting everything going. One thing I found interesting - I thought you'd like to know this - there's still engineers who speculate about can you send reliably audio over the public Internet, or even over WANs, you know? And so, just as an experiment, one of the support techs at Telos, Omnia and Axia is Bryan Jones. He used to work at BE. And so, just for fun, Bryan set up a stream going from one of the iPorts that's at the facility you work at now. And he streamed from an iPort across the public - and you know, they've got great connectivity there - but across the public Internet out to Bryan Jones' house in Washington State where he receives it on an iPort that he has and then he re-encoded it and sent it to an iPort at my office in Nashville, Tennessee.
Now, I've just got Comcast home Internet. I pay for a speed bump. But he was feeding me this CBS Radio Sports Network. So I had my own personal feed to the CBS Radio Sports Network for, I guess we kept it going for four months. And I never heard it burp. I never heard it go out at all. I'm not a big sports fan, but every time I tune it right in, there it is. It's working fine, sounds great.
It impressed upon me that, of course, if your IP connection goes away, then you've got no audio. If a thunderstorm covers up your Ku-Band Dish, you've got no audio. There's lots of ways to stop audio, no matter what your methodology is. Enough birds land on your 950 megahertz microwave dish, you've got no audio. So anyway, I keep showing myself that this audio over IP, not only is it here, but it's going to be...
David: It works.
Kirk: It works, and as our connections get better, as companies offer more and more ways to connect to each other - hey, I'm working with a station group right now that has a dozen O&O affiliates, and they've got MPLS IP connectivity to all of them. They're deciding right now between a product from the company I work for and a different product, they're deciding right now - we're going to do an AoIP, no question about that, it's just, whose codecs are we going to use?
David: Absolutely. These days, I don't think it's a question of if you should, it's just a matter of when should you, or which infrastructure are you going to go with to make it happen? To me, there's no other way to do it. Especially with the maturity of the technology these days, I don't see any reason not to go that route. You find more often than not, it's cheaper to maintain. It's definitely cheaper to install.
I work with a little college station up in North Jersey at Ramapo College, and I got them to spend about $20,000 and refit their main air studio with Axia, and they're now audio over IP. So there's no reason why you can't go from the microphone to the transmitter with audio over IP connections these days.
Kirk: So, I've maintained, David, that one of AoIP's biggest impediments - the biggest thing to more roll-out and success is engineers like me who don't know everything - I don't have a formal education in computer networking. But like Edison, I've found out all the ways it doesn't work, so that I'm finding out the ways that it does work. I have a keen interest in it, obviously, but here's my point. There's plenty of engineers out there who honestly feel like, well, I don't know how to make it work. I've had too many times when the salesperson presses the Print button on their proposal and the printer doesn't work, and therefore, how can my audio can be reliable?
I'm not intending for this show to go entirely off in that direction, but I guess my point is that, yeah, but there's so many things out of your control there. When you understand how to make the packets work for you, then they really can and they really do.
Tell me how you got to be confident in this technology in your own heart, for your own self?
David: I guess the best way that I got confident in it was - my first experience with audio over IP was to replace an aging ITC audio router.
Kirk: Oh, yeah. I remember those. You had one?
David: At WQXR. Myself and...
Kirk: Oh, I saw that one, yes.
David: Yes, with me and [Rodney Bell 40:34] was here...
Kirk: [Rodney 40:35] - I remember when [Rodney 40:36] bypassed a lot of that with some Axia - early Axia gear.
David: That was my first exposure to Axia and to audio over IP, and my first exposure to it, it just made sense, you know, to push to audio over a Cat 5 cable. You know Steve Lampen from Belden?
Kirk: Oh, sure.
David: Well, I had heard numerous presentations by him just touting that the cable can support the audio and the technology. And my comfort level was listening to him and having him really convince us as engineers in these presentations that you don't need a lot of multi-pair cable to push audio these days, that the technology is in place that will support pushing audio packets over a Cat 5 cable.
And at QXR, when we replaced the routing system and it worked, it was like, wow, this was really simple. The hardest part of making it work was running the cable through the ceilings and the floors. That was the hardest part.
But as we went along, we started figuring out ways to solve problems and solutions using the nodes. And mind you, we didn't have any consoles. All we had was nodes to replace the routing system. We were routing audio in and out of our plant using the nodes. And we came up with so many creative ways to solve problems, even existing problems, that we said, okay, we need to simplify a way of doing this. Heck, we stuck one in our phone room, we stuck one node in each studio, and it made it all talk to a Cisco switch. Guess what? We had now connectivity. And that's about as hard as it was.
And my comfort level just came from the fact that it was reliable and it worked. It sounded good. We never had a complaint from any of the announcers or the listeners about the audio coming out of our studios. In fact, WQXR back in that time was known for having pristine audio. So the comfort level really just came from the ease of use, really. I don't know how to put it any other way.
Now, as far as reliability of it, again, I've had to reboot a computer more times than I've ever had to restart an audio node or any audio over IP devices themselves.
Kirk: Yeah. Sure. Well, most of them are made with Linux embedded as the operating system, and certainly, the devices have been going for seven, eight years. The only time they get rebooted is if the power goes off, and if you've got a UPS, then the power might never go off.
Kirk: Wow. [Rodney (sic) [David] 43:46], this has been really enjoyable talking to you. I'm sure we've missed something important, some important subject to you. Is there anything you want to make sure we get to talk about before we close it out?
David: Well, I guess the only other thing is, you know, I mean, I don't know how many young people might be viewing this broadcast, but even if there aren't any out there, you guys that are older, find some young person and mentor them. If you're a young person, find a guy in the studio like Kirk who's got three stations down in Mississippi and needs some help. Just go in there, I'm sure he'd love to see you walk in the door. If you don't do that, find a local chapter of the SBE. They generally have meetings once a month, they're free, and they'll be happy to see you walk in the door.
Kirk: Yeah, that's true.
David: If you're in school and you're interested in broadcasting, learn the sciences that support and complement broadcasting.
You look at me, you look at Kirk, I'm going bald, Kirk's going grey. We're not getting any younger, but we need some young blood, some new blood in this industry to keep it going. Radio is not dead, in spite of what others might say, and it is a fun technology. You can get a lot of satisfaction and enjoyment out of it.
Kirk: David, I'm convinced that even as other media whittle away very slowly at what has been traditional radio, we're still going to have content creators, no matter what the transmission medium is.
In 15 years, if AM and FM is not even in your car anymore; if it's all streaming, mobile streaming by 6G technology, whatever it may be, somebody has got to make that content. A lot of folks don't want to just listen to a jukebox, they want to be talked to. I mean, the John Tesh's of the world and the Delilah's of the world and all the talk and the NPR kind of news and the in-depth stuff, you want to be entertained. And listening to a jukebox like an iPod, there's a place for that, but it sure isn't everything.
David: It sure isn't. Plus, look, you and I are talking on microphones. We're listening to speakers. We have headphones. We have a console. There's still those support pieces of gear that are going to be involved in creating that content. Somebody needs to know how to manipulate it and to make it work and to put it all together as a system and make it produce just what we're doing right now.
Kirk: Hey, you know, there's - boy, there's people doing content like Tom Leykis. He used to be on the radio, but now, he's all on the web. He's got a fantastic studio. He's got a Telos VX phone system to take phone callers from people - I guess so he can yell at them - for a web-based stream. So you have content, content, content. It's going to be there. Don't get stuck in - don't be the last expert in the world on AM directionals, although I guess we'll need the last expert in the world on that. But someday, we probably won't have that, or at least not like we know it now.
David, thank you so much for your time. This has been just a delight, and I'm glad you're able to make the time to talk to us on This Week in Radio Tech.
David: Glad to do it. It's been long overdue, and I've enjoyed it. Hopefully, we'll do it again sometime on another subject.
Kirk: Sure glad that David Antoine was able to talk to us last night and do the interview for us on This Week in Radio Tech.
You're watching Episode 226 of This Week in Radio Tech. Kurt Harnack here, along with Chris Tobin. And Chris and I are going to continue a conversation - hey, Chris - and take a tour of what's on Chris Tobin's desk.
Chris, are you going to be ready to give us a tour after the next sponsor break?
Chris: Sure, why not?
Kirk: All right. I want to see what's there, item by item, in excruciating detail.
Our show is brought to you in part by our friends at Lawo. Lawo, makers of the crystalCLEAR virtual radio console.
This is an incredible idea. We had Mike Dosch with Lawo on our show some weeks back. If you want to go back and watch that show, you can. The crystalCLEAR is a virtual mixing console for radio, and by virtual, what I mean is you have a multi-touch touchscreen in front of you that looks like an audio console, except it does so much. And then, it's connected just by Ethernet, just on the network, to a mixing engine that has all the audio ins and outs and then all the guts that run the virtual mixing console.
It's a gorgeous device. The surface, what you see on the screen is absolutely beautiful. It's unmistakably an audio mixing console for broadcast. And one of the things that I guess really separates a console like this from a hardware console is that it has fewer buttons, and yet, more control. Software control is much more flexible than hardware buttons and knobs found on traditional consoles and control surfaces.
For example, assigning a DJ microphone to a fader on crystalCLEAR changes the button above the fader from Cue to Mute. So what was a Cue button now becomes a Mute button. So it's context-sensitive. And this applies to so many attributes of the crystalCLEAR console from Lawo.
It has a smart auto mix and auto gain. So let's say that you change the microphone here or there, or you have a guest who's particularly loud or a guest who is shy of the microphone. Before you start interviewing that guest, you just push the Auto Gain button and you have the guest say a few words, and the gain is set automatically for that guest and that microphone.
Auto mix also lets you set the way the mix sounds, so that you don't have to sit there and ride gain with the faders all the time. The mix can intelligently take care of itself.
Of course, the crystalCLEAR console is available with RAVENNA audio over IP, so it's compatible with a whole range of other devices, and that includes AES67, the new AES67 standard for audio over IP. And all the manufacturers are getting in that direction to make those devices all talk to each other.
So check it out on the web if you would. Go to Lawo.com and look under the products. Look under the radio products. You'll see other consoles as well there. Lawo makes some great, big, huge consoles for television, for live sound. They were really into the technology of building consoles, but they also have a range of radio consoles. So the crystalCLEAR virtual radio mixing console from Lawo.
We thank Lawo for sponsoring This Week in Radio Tech.
All right, Chris Tobin. Glad you're here. You've got this beautiful lab there with all these IP audio projects. You know, there's something to this IP audio, isn't there?
Chris: Yeah, there is something to it. It does work, as David pointed out. I have to remind everyone - and you know this, Kirk, in the [indiscernible 51:03] that you work with. We have been so spoiled by the performance of TDM-switched networks that we've forgotten that the phone company or the phone carrier, depending on who you get your provisions from, ISDN, POTS, T1/E1, ATM, SONET rings, all these things, they were managed from point A to point B, or in the case of broadcast, from studio to transmitter. Everything in the middle was taken care of by a third party. Fast forward to today, and what's behind me, and what you have at your place, are IP devices. IP now puts the onus and responsibility, the accountability, on you. You now have to manage those spots in between studio and transmitter.
Kirk: That's a great way to say it.
Chris: And that's what makes it so powerful if you really are into it. Now, if you're an old dog and you've decided not to learn new tricks, God bless you, take your retirement and be on your way. That's cool. Or, if you're an old dog who likes new tricks and sits down and reads the book and says, wait a minute, I can do this, this and this - and I say this only because I recently spoke with someone yesterday in a part of the country who is an old dog learning new tricks, and has taken advantage of IP and TDM in one package and figured out how to make it work for his operation, and he'll be uplinking his audio in about three days to satellite for distribution to a small radio network.
So he's future-proofed himself with codecs on the IP side of things. He's maintained his TDM network connection for the time being while he still gets it at a cheap rate so that he can exploit the IP when the time comes to just move off to MPLS or metro Ethernet, whatever you want to call it.
So, just a point of, you know, that's what we're looking at behind me as these technologies, I'm working with folks to help them out as we spoke...
Kirk: You know, you're so right. And I've tried to say it other ways, but you just really said it well. And that is that we used to buy ISDN and T1-type connections; things that were managed by somebody else.
Chris: There you go. Adtran 2x64, that's a staple of the industry. We all know it, right? If you don't know it, that means you've been around too short a time.
Kirk: Or you lived in small-town America where the services that connected to that weren't even available.
Chris: Okay. Yes, we can go that route, too.
Kirk: It happened to me. I tended to work in small markets. But what you said about now with IP - let me back up a second to hit what you said.
You know, a T1 circuit 40 years ago was 1.5-some megabits per second. It's still the same today. It hasn't gotten any better. It may be more or less expensive now than it was 40 years ago. ISDN, you bond two B-channels together and you'll probably get 128 kilobits per second in total, and it's the same now as it was 20 years ago. And it costs more and it doesn't do any more.
So we had 20 years go by, and it doesn't do any more. And you know what? Audio compressed to 128 kilobits per second is okay, but what if we want to do better than that? Well, IP can do better, but now, you've got to manage it. You've got to make sure that it's right at each end. And yeah, there's a certain amount of trust of the part in the middle, but there are some things you can do to mitigate that part, too.
I'm sorry; I stole your thunder, but I just really appreciate the way that you said that. You, Mr. Engineer, have got to learn how to manage that part that you didn't used to have to manage.
Chris: Yes, that's basically it. And the nice thing is, there are many products like the Z/IP Codec that gives you the tools that you need to make that work. Many other products do the same thing. There are many management tools you can get for a LAN/WAN metro Ethernet connection so you can monitor the traffic.
As you were talking with Dave Antoine about the various things that were going on and how stuff has been going with IP, you manage your network in the office for your automation systems. You have Cisco switches or maybe you have Nautel or HP. You have tools that check that. Those same tools can check your IP audio, IP video. And that's what's cool about it.
But it takes time. And also, don't be fooled by the marketing, remember, because we all remember back in the day, we can get ISDN anywhere. Here you go, it's real cheap; it's easy. And then you go to connect, and they're like, it's not working. I don't know what to tell you.
Same thing happens with IP. I can get you this great DSL, you'll get 3 Mbps down and 1.5 Mbps up, you're all great to go. Yeah, they don't manage it very well, and there's a lot of jitter and a lot of latency and you're saying, what's going on?
But today, you have tools that you can actually test it and check it and go back to the phone company and say, guys, come step up to the plate. You didn't do it right for me.
Kirk: You know, one of the things that does come to mind to me is that if you ordered ISDN and you got to the ballpark or wherever it was, the Ford dealer, and you hooked up to it and it didn't work, you had but one option: call the only people in town who could provide it, who could fix it. And in many markets, that actually worked out okay. The phone company was on top of things. But in many other markets, like here in Greenville, Mississippi, we had ISDN at a studio here 10, 12, 13, 14 years ago. But if something went wrong with it and they couldn't fix it remotely with their computer technology, they had to roll a truck from Jackson, Mississippi, a two-and-a-half hour drive to send an ISDN tech here.
Now that we're in the world of IP, in most places, you've got more than one choice for your IP. For example, last week, we did the show from Universal Studios in Orlando. And [Bob Page 56:44] made arrangements for a high-speed connection from the IT department at Universal and it worked when we tested it and then it didn't work when we actually went to use it to do the show. And that was disappointing. And it couldn't be fixed right away; it's probably fixed now. But it was like 70 Mbps up and down; it was wonderful. That didn't work. So we had to back up and punt. And guess what? We tried the Xfinity Wi-Fi that was on site, the AT&T Wi-Fi, and then some other park Wi-Fi for Orlando's theme park, and it turned out, we used the park Wi-Fi and, you know, the show was a little block-y looking, it wasn't perfect, but we got the show on the air. And if we were depending upon ISDN or T1, we wouldn't have had a show at all. We would have no option.
Chris: This is true. And I can tell you, it's now four years ago, I was doing a remote broadcast, and our ISDN services were not working properly. I did have a backup, thankfully. It was a very helpful tech manager for a TV network. I called the phone company and said, guys, for whatever reason, the ISDN was just working fine literally, last night; everything was good, we had codecs dialed up and tested, and this morning, here we are, three hours from broadcast, and all of a sudden, nothing. Literally, no voltage, nothing. It was just dead. There was nothing there. No clicking from the clock, the [sync bulbs 58:03].
The lady on the phone at the service desk said, well, it's a holiday weekend. We don't have anybody available. I'm like, well, this is an enterprise account, you should have somebody available for enterprise accounts. Needless to say, after two hours of calling every number we had, nothing could be done. This was July 4th in New York City. Carrier was Verizon. It's the new world we're in.
So thankfully, I was working with the NBC television network folks and my buddy is the tech manager there, and we got our audio on the fourth channel audio of their digital satellite uplink back to 30 Rock, and there, we had ISDN dialed back to our studios downtown and the broadcast went according to plan that evening. Granted, it was a very large link between the studio and remote, but 25,000 miles, what the heck? You always have a Plan B.
But this is where we are today with IP. You now have, as you pointed out, many choices. I, last week, was at the New Jersey Shore; you were in Orlando, Florida. I had a cable modem connection, my backup was my Verizon USB LTE modem stick, which I've tested, and it does work very well. So I have two choices. If I relied only on ISDN at that location, or if it's all I had, the only next best thing would have been POTS. Maybe. If the ISDN went out because of a wiring issue, most likely, the POTS went with it. Because why? They travel the same path. Something to consider.
Kirk: You travel around some; I do, too. One of the things about IP connectivity, and with all those IP codecs behind you there, you know this, and I know you probably advise your clients to this, have more than one way to get IP. And one way to do that is to carry something as simple as a smartphone with a data sharing plan, or a cradle point modem or something like that, a travel modem, a travel router as they're often called, and have a Verizon or AT&T or T-Mobile USB data stick that you can plug in there.
At the hotel I'm staying at right now, the Internet is really slow. If I want a faster Internet, I've tried it, it works great, I've got a cradle point with a Verizon 4G modem, and I was getting 32 Mbps down and 18 Mbps up. That's better than the wired service I have right here in this building.
But the interesting thing is, for some reason, in the downtown area, Verizon's 4G LTE doesn't work very well, but T-Mobile's does. This tells you, when you go out to do a broadcast, a remote, you've got to have a couple of backup plans to get your IP there.
Chris: It's true. I travel with a cradle point as well. That's exactly what I do. It's a nice backup. It works very well.
Kirk: So, hey, real quick, you've got a Comrex access there, the portable unit.
Chris: Yes, I do.
Kirk: That is one of the big industry standards; folks love to use that. It'll take different USB cards, right? Plus Wi-Fi or wired?
Chris: Yes. This is a first-generation, so it's a PCMCIA card slot, and also - yeah, a USB. I can do both on this one. The newer version has the USBs on the top.
Kirk: Yeah. What's the purple-looking box that's right behind you there underneath the Z/IP?
Chris: That is a Road Warrior Musicam portable mixer IP/ISDN codec, second generation. The new ones are actually black in color.
Kirk: It's one of the few boxes that had both ISDN and IP, which is technically a bit of an unusual combination because they are very, very different in their implementation.
Chris: Yes. It was designed to bridge the gap for folks who already had ISDN infrastructure that they weren't looking to get rid of, but were willing to make as a backup, so they didn't have to pay the per-unit costs. And then, with the IP, that was their main link. And also, the box would allow you to go IP failure, switch back to ISDN. So there's your Plan B -that was your plan B.
Kirk: And then you've got a Telos Z/IP ONE, which will do wired or Wi-Fi or hook it to a cradle point travel router, and you've got 4G.
Chris: Yep, absolutely. I have some legacy ISDN boxes, an X21 generator and stuff and things like that for testing. And then there's also the AES boxes so we can check those things, for those Monty Python listeners.
Kirk: We're going to take a quick break; have a final comment when we come back. Chris, hang tight.
Our show is brought to you in part by Telos and the Telos Hx6 phone system.
I've got one here at the studios here in Greenville. Just down the hall, I was giving a little training session, just showing folks how to use it today. The Telos Hx6, I've got to tell you, folks, this is an awesome little phone system. Six lines, and of course, you can divide them up into hunt groups or set aside a separate line. You can make one of them or more of them a hotline. Have it flash, a ringer differently than the others.
It has, of course, XLR connectors on the back for mix-minus going in and caller audio coming out. It has the ability to create its own mix-minus - or its own conferencing signal, I should say. You feed it a mix-minus, just one mix-minus that's devoid of either caller, either hybrid, and it will take your mix-minus, mix it with the other hybrid, like hybrid A, and feed it to hybrid B. And then it'll do the same thing; take the mix-minus, combine it with hybrid B, and feed it to hybrid A.
The bottom line is, callers can hear each other, even if you have a console that is only capable of making one mix-minus. Now, if you have an Axia console, it's no problem. It makes mix-minus for every single input coming in.
The Hx6 will take six POTS lines coming into it; worldwide standards there. For the USA and Canada, it will take ISDN lines as well. Three ISDN BRI channels coming in gives you six phone lines for the U.S. and Canada.
The hybrids inside are really Telos' fifth-generation of telephone hybrids. Really great separation of send and receive audio. It has a longer tail, if you will, to do proper nulling for connections that have a longer round-trip time such as cell phones and VoIP phones. So if you're talking to somebody out in the world who's calling you using SkypeOut or they're calling you on some other VoIP-based phone that's got a little more delay in it from end to end, well, older hybrids don't have a long enough tail on their nulling period. Well, the Telos Hx6 certainly does, just like the Hx1 and the Hx2.
So it works great from all those points of view. We're going to be using it here. We're going to be turning VoIP into six POTS lines using a little Grandstream box that turns VoIP into POTS. So that'll be a great solution. Costs will go down to almost nothing. I think we're going to end up paying less than $20 a month for four phone lines. That's a great relief for a little radio station. And we'll have request lines for all of our stations here, and also a hotline. So it's just a terrific solution.
The other cool thing about the Hx6 is that it does have a Live Wire jack on it. You can turn Live Wire off, that's how it comes default. Hook it to your regular business network and hook up your controlling phones, the Telos VSet phones. Just hook them up to your network. Tell them what the IP address is of the Hx6, and bam, they're connected. Your shows show up, the phone lines show up, they're named convenient names. You know, WIQQ request line, WLTM request line. Those are the ones I've got set up here, the hotline. WNIX Talk 1, WNIX Talk 2; I have some roll-over lines. It all connects over your business network, over your Ethernet network. And it works just great.
If you do have an Axia Livewire set up, as we do here, then you can just turn Livewire on and get phones and audio over one connection in the back.
I've got to tell you folks, it is so convenient to hook it up. I mean, the toughest part was punching down the POTS lines that I had to wire in, the legacy POTS lines that we have to wire in the back of it. The rest of it was just RJ-45 and a little bit of typing.
Check it out if you would on the web. Any Telos dealer can give you information about the Telos Hx6. And of course, you can get information on the web as well. And there's a video I did a few months ago about the Telos Hx6 and some great ideas for hooking it up and saving money. So check it out at Telos-Systems.com. I'd be really grateful if you did. You're going to do yourself a favor. I love that box.
All right, Chris Tobin, we're about out of time, buddy. Any last parting comments on engineering career or your IP audio technology?
Chris: I would just say as far as careers go, if you have a passion for what we do, go after it. Learn what you can. Understand there are reasons why things are done a certain way in the business we're in. And once you grasp that perspective, you're in good shape, as Dave pointed out in the conversation you had with him earlier. That's all I can offer up.
And if you're a student and you're looking to do something and you have a hankering for this kind of thing, find someone, an elder, who's been around for a while and see if you can get involved and learn a little from that so you have an opportunity to make a decision. And SBE is definitely a choice you should make to find out more - SBE meetings, that is.
Kirk: That's very true. You'll find some good Elmers from the Ham world at SBE meetings, and good camaraderie and professional education, too.
Hey, we've got to go. Chris, I hope on an upcoming show, you can give us a longer tour and maybe some how-to's of some things that you do in the lab there. How to make this codec talk to that one, or, hey, I'm not getting any audio, what should I look for? That kind of thing.
Chris: Okay, I can do that. I'm working on a how-to for a customer for two different dissimilar codecs.
Kirk: Yeah, there you go. I do that, too. What to do when your audio sounds like that? What do you look for, that kind of thing. Because it does happen from time to time. Once you get it figured out, it goes away. The problem goes away, not the audio.
Our show has been brought to you by the folks at Axia, makers of the Axia Radius console. Also by Lawo, makers of the crystalCLEAR virtual radio console. And by Telos, and the Telos Hx6 multi-line phone system.
Our producer is Andrew Zarian, proprietor, owner, founder of the GFQ Network. I encourage you to check out all the shows on GFQ at GFQNetwork.com or GFQLive.tv.
That's it, folks. We've got some great shows coming up for you. Very interesting guests in future weeks, and we'll see you next time on This Week in Radio Tech. Bye-bye, everybody.