Two decades of hands-on radio engineering prepared Gary Liebisch for important roles in radio transmitter design and management at Harris Broadcast. Now he’s educating and finding technical solutions for customers at Nautel. Gary talks with Chris Tobin and Kirk Harnack about 4th generation HD Radio gear, plus tight IT integration into today’s lower-maintenance transmitters.
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Announcer: This Week in Radio Tech Episode 275 is brought to you by the Axia SoftSurface Virtual Console. SoftSurface gives you remote control of your Axia Fusion or Element mixing console from home, office, or anywhere. By Z/IPStream audio streaming processors and encoders. Choose hardware or software, and optional Omnia.9 processing. And by Lawo and the crystalCLEAR virtual radio console. crystalClear is the console with a multi-touch touchscreen interface.
Two decades of hands on radio engineering prepared Gary Liebisch for important roles in radio transmitter design and management at Harris Broadcast. Now, he's educating and finding technical solutions for customers as Nautel. Gary talks to Chris Tobin and Kirk Harnack about fourth generation HD radio gear plus tight IT integration into today's lower maintenance transmitters.
Kirk: Hey, welcome in to This Week in Radio Tech. I'm Kirk Harnack, your host, delighted to be here today and glad that you've joined us. This is the show where we talk about radio, RF, and audio and digital engineering, everything from the microphone to the light bulb at the top of the tower.
Of course, now we're getting into a different kind of a transmitter and that's internet transmission. So, streaming on the internet and getting your signal out in all kinds of ways.
I've got a feeling there are more technologies coming along soon that will bring additional interactivity between listeners and content creators, whether they're traditional broadcasters or non-broadcast content creators.
We'll try to cover those kinds of things here on the show, as well as keep you up to date now and then on the basics of RF and audio, some how-to shows and stuff like that.
This is show number 275, so, man, we've done a whole lot of shows and covered a whole lot of ground. Today, we're going to cover even more.
We'll get to our guest in just a minute, but first, let's go out to New York City and the best-dressed engineer in radio. Yes, here he is from high over the city overlooking the papal parade, it's Chris Tobin. Hey, Chris.
Chris: Papal parade. Oh, I haven't heard that one. That's good. The pope is arriving, over 170 diplomats to the UN General Council this week. The skies are clear. The sun is just setting to the west. It's going well.
As a matter of fact, the pope arrived at JFK at 5:23. He shook hands, did the press to flesh type of thing, and they were going to whisk him into a motorcade or vehicle to bring him to the helicopter to bring him to Manhattan.
He decided he was just going to walk over to the helicopter. You should have seen the look on the faces of the security people. He just turned away from the car. It was the funniest thing. I'm watching the news live feed. I'm like, "Wow. He's not going towards the motorcade." Doors are open, they're all standing there and he just turns and walks the other way.
They were talking about how he sometimes will just make changes on the fly. So, if you're a security detail for the pope, you must be nerve wracking. God knows what he's going to do next.
Kirk: Whenever I hear about the pope and motorcades and vehicles, I always think of that joke. It's the joke with the punchline of, "Well, sir, I don't know, but the pope is his chauffer."
Kirk: The pope was tired of the slow driving apparently, that's what the deal was in the joke. Chris, thanks for the report. Glad you're here. We're going to pepper our guest with questions. So, let's bring him in. My friend and yours, a great educator a fabulous engineer, and a great salesman too. It's Gary Liebisch from Nautel. Hey, Gary, welcome in. Glad you're here.
Gary: Hi, how are you? Good to see you Kirk and Chris.
Kirk: Good to see you. Gary, I want to say I think I just missed you visiting WPTF and WQDR in North Carolina. I visited those guys early in my Telos career, but you weren't there at that time. This would have been about in 2001 or so, 2002 maybe.
Gary: I was there for 13 years. What took you so long?
Kirk: I don't know. Telos just hired me. I didn't have a choice. I've known you, Gary, as a guy who I have heard you speak a few times. It feels like I've just gotten educated about AM technology in particular from you, but I know you cover all kinds of subjects.
First of all, welcome to the show. Why don't you give us a little hint as to your background and then we'll jump into some questions and technologies after our first commercial. Tell us about Gary Liebisch.
Gary: I'm originally from New York City. I live in Ohio now. We're just outside Columbus, Ohio. Like a lot of engineers, I started out as a Top 40 DJ in the '70s. I had been a ham radio operator in high school. I found myself in the late '70s at a radio station that had no engineer. They needed somebody to install an audio console. I said, "I know Ohm's law, so I know some of the basics of electronics."
I took it upon myself at that station to install the production console and I just started taking on more and more of the technical responsibilities at the radio station, cut my teeth on some transmitters that were always down and always breaking down and so forth, and then decided that I wanted to be a chief engineer full time at the next job that I went to, which was down at WSPA in Spartanburg.
Then I had about a 30-year career as a chief engineer mostly in Raleigh, also in Cincinnati. Then I joined Harris Corporation for about eight years and have been with Nautel now for about eight and a half years. That's the nutshell version anyway.
Kirk: Whenever I go to a show and see the Nautel booth, often you guys are, of course, showing off all your transmitters and you're demonstrating various things. You guys tend to have a working transmitter at each booth. One of the curious things that we saw a the NAB show in Las Vegas last April was this idea of multiplexing a number of stations on to actually multiple carriers, but filling up the space of one FM transmission. I want to hear about that in just a minute.
First, we've got to hear from our first sponsor on This Week in Radio Tech. If it weren't for the sponsors, I don't think we could pay for the bandwidth and the occasional camera purchase and a microphone purchase now and then. So, let me tell you about Axia and a very cool product from Axia. They're one of our sponsors.
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It's a virtual console software and it gives you the powerful real-time control of your Axia Element or your Fusion mixing console. You can do it from your home, your office, anywhere you have an internet connection available. You can get connected to the mixing engine of that console and take direct remote control of the console.
You can pair it up with a physical console or you can use it instead of a physical console. There have been some radio stations that have realized in a production room where they're really just doing a lot of dubbing, they just need different sources on and off and here and there, and some level control, instead of purchasing an actual hard surface, they'll purchase the mixing engine as usual, but then they'll purchase the SoftSurface from Axia.
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I'm working hard to think of anything you couldn't do with the SoftSurface. Maybe there is something, but I'm not thinking of it right now. Being on the network via Wi-Fi or wired, it is also NTP capable. So, you can keep the clock exactly up to date. You can do your network joins and time exact network breaks if you need to do that, breakaway for sports, get back in exactly on time and things like that.
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We're here with Chris Tobin in New York City, high over the papal parade. Gary Liebisch is with us too. Chris, like so many other engineers, it sounds like Gary got started the way a lot of us did: started out as a disc jockey. I was the only one around at a public radio station. The disc jockey at the time said, "Man, I've got a hot date tonight. Would you spin some records for me?" I said, "Yeah, okay," and I did. I got interested in electronics about the same time as that too.
Chris, does Gary's experience match yours at all early in life?
Chris: Yeah. It's pretty much similar. I did a lot of early radio work on the radio, on the air with, interestingly enough, some of the pirate days. That was fun stuff. Then I worked at a couple of commercial stations part time. For some reason, one of the stations, the program director thought I'd be a good person to have as a talk show cohost for the tech talk, Ask the Engineer, once a month. That was my entree into broadcasting.
Kirk: Really? You had an Ask the Engineer segment?
Chris: Not really talking to the public in the early days in my career. I will say it was an interesting test and it made me appreciate considerably talk show hosts of the day. Back then, we had Bruce Williams as our evening from Talknet. So, after doing this half-hour stint once a month, I was like, "This guy does it five days a week for several hours a night. It does take a certain type of person to do this."
I will say I did learn something from that experience. That was I realized how the studio was poorly laid out and I needed to make some changes for the jocks to work in and for the guests when they would sit at the side of the table that I was on. It did pay off. Walk a mile in someone's shoes, that's what I did.
Kirk: You're right. We've done whole shows on the subject of studio design. Your own experience with observing, even some well-known household name talent, and to see, "Wow, he needs a headphone jack over here," or, "Yeah, I can see how that site line is a problem. Let's move the cart machines down a little bit." It's so helpful for the engineer to actually spend time with the talent and see how they can make life better.
Chris: There's a lot of truth to that. When you talk to folks in industrial design in the early days A friend of mine got a job at Grumman and was working on the Tomcats, the F-14 out in Bethpage, New York. I was talking to him about the work he did and the designs and how they did stuff. He would explain to me what they go through to get to a certain design in a cockpit or of anything on the plane.
I sat there going, "That's interesting. So, you actually sit with the pilot. You throw him in a simulator or you throw him something that looks like a simulator and you say, 'Have it and tell us what you don't like,' and you get prepared for the very negative response." He goes, "Absolutely. The more negative, the more fun we had." I was like, "Wow."
I took the same thinking in the broadcast studio. I said, "Let me talk to the program director. Let me talk to the jocks in the studio and say, 'What don't you like about the studio?'"
Let me tell you, the response I got from folks after they realized I was serious and not just kidding with them and I actually made changes after they made suggestions, it's paid off handsomely. I really recommend folks to do that today, even if you're in the IT world, in IT applications. Understanding how a computer is used by an end-user is key and the layout of the desk or studio itself.
Kirk: Gary, your work at the stations we mentioned earlier, WPTF and QDR and also WKIX, these are call letters that are familiar to me just because they're well-known stations. One of the things I know your stations from was there was an EAS training video that was done, I guess at PTF and QDR, those call letters came up quite a bit.
I want to ask you, Gary, what parallel experience did you have in terms of watching talent and figuring how you could help them do their job better as their engineer?
Gary: When I made my first transition to being just a chief engineer at a station as opposed to being on the air, it was made known to the staff there that I had been on the air before and they really loved that. They felt that the engineer that I was replacing was a retired guy from the old school. He's kind of like the guy that whenever the on-air talent complained about something, he would just grunt at them and say, "These DJs."
But I came in and I was fairly young at the time and they said, "Wow, you've been on the air," and then they even let me do fill in periodically. So, the ergonomics really works into it if you've been there and done that and you know how important at that time something simple like a count up timer is. Count up timers were relatively new back then. You know how important it is to have everything within reach.
My experience on the air was invaluable in the succeeding years where I found myself having to design studios for good on-air ergonomics.
Kirk: Then after your stint, and 13 years is a long stint, at those stations, you became pretty well known and you took a job, I believe, with Harris. Is that right?
Gary: Yeah. I was working in Cincinnati at the time. I had moved after Raleigh. I had been there for 13 years, and Jeff Littlejohn hired me to be the market engineer in Cincinnati. It was Chancellor Broadcasting at the time and owned four stations in Cincinnati. He was moving to the corporate position there and needed somebody to replace him as the market engineer in Cincinnati. So, I took that job and moved to Cincinnati.
I was there for a couple of years. In fact, while I was there, Harris announced that they were opening a plant locally in Mason, Ohio. I thought, "Gee, that would be a great place to work and get away from the pager and so forth and get on the vendor side of things." So, after just a couple of years being a market engineer in Cincinnati, I went to work for Harris.
Initially, it was when they bought Jack Williams out for Pacific Recorders in about 1998. Then subsequently, they started tooling up for the big push for HD radio. I was more interested in the RF side. So, I moved over to the product development side of transmitters in around 2000. The HD radio rollout started a year or two after that.
Kirk: I'd love to hear about your work in forming or being part of product development at Harris. Is that something that you can relate any stories about or any features or comments from customers that you brought into the mix?
Gary: There's so much more that goes into product development that the end-user really doesn't really know about or see. It's a fairly rigid and long process. From start to finish, it's about an 18-month process to develop a product. You probably know this from Telos as well. There's a lot of time spent on paper before even the first screwdriver or solder joint is put together. You pretty much have to know with a documented plan exactly what you're going to do before you get started.
There are various stages that you go through that have to pass approval by different departments and, of course, there's a lot of documentation and everybody has to know what everyone else is doing.
Most importantly, you have to stay on schedule. You can't have distractions that are going to throw They make an extensive use of things like Microsoft Project and Gantt Charts and so forth in respect to when a product is going to be released. Even then, of course, the products are very often late, even with that kind of planning.
So, there's design and specifications. There would be a product line department that was kind of the interface between sales and engineering. In other words, sales might have a concept of what they need as a product in the marketplace, and it was up to product line or my department or perhaps as the project lead on a particular product to come up with the specifications and what features.
Cost control is a big part of it too. There's always a cost target. We want to sell this product at a particular price. In order to do that, it has to come in under some certain cost target. So, every element of that cost, and not only the cost of components and assemblies, but the cost of assembling them and the cost of testing them and the cost of repairing them, all those costs have to get built into the plan as well.
On a monthly basis, you'd have to report back on where you are in meeting your targets. Hopefully, about 18 months later, or two years in some cases, a product comes out the other end.
I was heavily involved in the development of the FlexStar Exciter when that was released in 2005 and a few other transmitter products during that period as well.
Kirk: Wow. Chris, you're welcome to jump in. The stations that I have worked at haven't had too many later model Harris products. Chris, if you've got questions or comments about any particular ones that happened in the early and mid-2000s, please jump in.
Chris: The ones I worked with were the VistaMax and the later DX series transmitters. So, that's the stuff I was working on and the early MW1As. That was a classic.
Kirk: There's a story that I guess I can relate. I may have related it before. During one of the Hamventions in Dayton, Ohio, I got a chance with a bunch of other hams to go to the WLW transmitter site north of Cincinnati. Is that in Mason, Ohio?
Gary: Yeah. I was there last week. They had a great SBE meeting from Cincinnati. They did a presentation. Jay Adrick from Harris and now GatesAir did a great presentation on the history of WLW from start to finish. He had 195 slides to show.
Kirk: Oh my goodness.
Gary: Many of them going back 60, 70 years. It was an excellent presentation. He had everybody mesmerized for two hours.
Kirk: My story was I was pretty impressed with the diligence of the Harris engineers. This would have been back, I guess, in the mid-2000s. I guess the 50-kilowatt transmitter that was out at the time, which one was that, was it a DX?
Kirk: It seems that they had some customers with higher frequencies and higher dial positions, maybe something over one megahertz. They had some issues in the field and they were trying to reproduce the issues and solve them. So, the folks at WLW had a great platform there and they had a DX-50 there. Apparently, what the deal was, was that WLW would switch to a different transmitter late at night because they have like five of them there.
The Harris engineers would come in and use WLW's DX-50 and put it into a dummy load. They would tune it to a frequency of interest trying to reproduce the problem they had been seeing.
The reason the story got related to me during a tour of the LW transmitter site was there was a piece of paper in a trashcan. The paper was lying face up. Anybody could look in the trashcan and see it. The paper said in big block letters, "Remember to put transmitter back on 700 before returning to air."
On the one hand, it's a funny story. On the other hand, it shows you the diligence of the engineers trying to reproduce the problem as much as possible, like another customer had seen it in the field.
Gary: The very first prototype 3DX-50 was at WLW. It was just very convenient because they were in Mason and the Harris plant was in Mason. Typically, during product development, you want to take the first unit and put it in the hands of somebody who can give you some good feedback. So, the very first unit went to WLW. Yes, initially they put it on part time and then ultimately later on they put it on full-time.
Actually, that transmitter eventually was replaced with a production unit so that it would be up to speed with everything else that was being manufactured in the mainstream years later. In fact, that very first unit doesn't even exist anymore, I don't believe. This would put it around 2000, 2001 was when that very first unit was in there undergoing some tests and that could have been the period that you were talking about.
Kirk: Oh, yeah. It may have been earlier. Sure. It may have been.
Let's move on to some of the things that you and I talked about earlier this week, advances in HD radio. Now you're with the Nautel team. Nautel is certainly recognized as a leader in transmission technology and helping to bring the latest advances in efficiency, amplitude modulation, FM amplification, HD radio, and DRM, other digital radio designs, to bear.
I don't know what you want to talk about first in advances in HD radio. Do you want to hit on this interesting and really intriguing subject of multiplexing a number of stations onto the same HD, getting rid, I guess, of the analog all together, all HD and what you can do with that if you want to?
Gary: First, a little bit of background on our delving into HD radio. We certainly make no claim to being first there because, frankly, Nautel was rather late to the party with respect to HD radio. When it began to be rolled out in 2001 or 2003, our FM transmitters were not really ready or designed to be able to handle digital.
So, we got into a little bit heavier around 2005 or so when the generation that utilizes importers and exporters became widely used. It really wasn't until about 2009 with our NV transmitters that we started moving ahead on the technology.
We all had a recession, everybody remembers, in about 2008. We found ourselves in a situation where we were being extremely aggressive on product development. Some of the other companies were kind of cutting back understandably because of the state of the economy. We were moving ahead with some very heavy product development and a significantly sized development team and some very brilliant people in that department as well.
We came up with a few unique solutions and some things that nobody else was doing. Not only did we come out from an analog standpoint with the very first 40-kilowatt solid state FM transmitter, but on the HD radio side, we were doing some things that nobody else did.
For example, we have a brilliant research engineer named Philipp Schmid. Anybody who's been to tradeshows, he's delivered a lot of papers and he's done a lot of great things for us. He had something called reliable HD transport because one of the issues that was occurring back then was there was diversity delay drift, which has become the subject of a lot of articles recently. There were packets being dropped.
He developed an encapsulation protocol called reliable HD transport that nobody else was doing to make that E2X stream a bit more reliable.
A few years later, he developed what we have come to know as Power Boost, which is a peak to average power reduction technique that we now build into our transmitters.
So, we've always tried to differentiate ourselves from what everybody else is doing on the HD front with some very unique and interesting development. This HD multicast that you spoke of that we demonstrated at NAB is the latest of those.
This is not a product. This is a technology demonstration. We came to show it to everybody to say, "Here's something that we can do today and here's how it works. Do you, the buyer of these products or the implementers of HD radio, see any use for this in the marketplace?" We don't have a product to sell. It's a technology demonstration.
Essentially, what he did is he has leveraged some of the new flexibility that Ubiquiti has put in release four of the Ubiquiti code, which is being released now. We wanted to do some interesting and different things to differentiate us from some of the other products.
He came up with a way to stack up to 15 multicast signals across three FM channels, each 100 kHz apart, not 200 kHz, but 100 kHz. So, for example, 98.1, 98.2, 98.3. He uses one Exgine system to do this, three importers, three exporters.
By spacing these 100 kHz apart, he was able to aggregate about 123 kilobits from each of those signals to get about 370 kilobits aggregated. Then he's able to basically take as many as, depending on the bandwidth of each channel, 15 signals.
Now, the first reaction a lot of people might have is, "Why do we need 15 channels on an HD signal? People can't even figure out now what to do with HD2 and HD3." But it has some other implications, particularly internationally, for example, we've heard from some countries where they just don't have any more FM channels. If you can come up with a way to put more streams on the air, they're interested.
I took one take. When I do SBE presentations on this topic, I diverge from what some of the others in the company do when they present on this topic. I took the market that I live in, Columbus, Ohio, and I showed in my presentation how you could take the Columbus, Ohio, market and, through restacking of the FM signals, you could not only reduce the population and the band, a number of RF signals, but you could also have plenty of room to put AMs.
Obviously, there's a lot of re-regulation associated with this. There are existing legacy broadcasters who would have to buy into it. We're simply saying here's a technology that along with all the other technologies that are out there... Everyone's talking every day about where you can fit in translators and low power FMs and where can you put the AMs.
This is just one other solution that may or may not go anywhere, but we're saying, "Here, you can do this today. You can do it in the existing FM band without any additional spectrum and you can do it with existing receivers." We demonstrated at the NAB in the spring Philipp did this with stock existing receivers. The only stipulation being that he had to go into the backdoor to make sure they could tune 100 kHz apart, like 98.1, 98.2, 98.3. That was just a very minor thing. But he was actually able to scan from one to 15 and demonstrate that you could do 15 different channels.
So, in a nutshell, that's it. So, in a couple of weeks down at the IEEE Broadcast Symposium in Orlando, Philipp is giving the paper again. He's rewritten it and refined it. If you're not going to be at the IEEE, which most people are not, there's a webinar that we did a couple of months ago that explains the technology and it's on HYPERLINK "http://www.Nautel.com/webinars" www.Nautel.com/webinars. It explains the whole HD multicast concept in about a 30-minute webinar that Philipp did with Chuck Kelly.
So, it's a conversation starter. It's not a product that we're selling. There are different entities that are interested in exploring the technology with us to see if it has an application in this country or elsewhere around the world.
Kirk: I think it's a great idea. Again, I'm having a little trouble thinking, "How would I put that to use?" With my stations in Greenville, Mississippi, there are no HDs in a little market like mine or in our little market, but we keep hearing how there's more and more HD radios out there in cars. A lot of folks may not even realize they have it if they live in Greenville, Mississippi.
It will be interesting when we really feel like there's enough and we could, our little group of stations, could do this kind of thing, somehow get three channels together.
Again, it's just a thought starter. I agree with you. It could be good for countries where they maybe do have real control over where their stations are allocated and spaced out and go all digital that way. It's pretty intriguing.
Chris, you got any ideas for what you'd do with 15 audio channels?
Chris: You can come up with programming for it, but I think the key is you need receivers for people to enjoy it with. So, I think you're right, Kirk, about the more people know there's a product available, the more it becomes available, greater chance of moving in that direction.
Gary: One of the concepts here and the way I do my band scheme, so to speak, my hypothetical band scheme for Columbus, is that I took the non-comm band from 88 to 92, where I think in Columbus there are like 11 or 12 signals. I restacked them onto three channels. So, that means a lot of channels get vacated. I took the three best non-comm facilities on which to put these.
In essence, a number of those signals become nothing more than tenants on the landlord signal, so to speak. In other words, they're really not licensees anymore. They become tenants. They become one of the multicast channels. So, you're really not faced necessarily with having to come up with programming for 15 channels.
You have to stop thinking like a conventional broadcaster and think more like, "Here's the landlord station. Maybe they get a little bit more data bandwidth or they get as much as they want." Then the tenants can pay, based on their lease, for bandwidth. They can pay for injection. They can pay for number of channels. They can all negotiate all of that and they can get whatever they want within the realm of negotiation.
Then once you get all done with that in my example, there are channels left over. And then you can figure out, "What can we do with these others?" Who else wants a channel? Who else wants to lease a channel?
So, it's endless possibilities, but I understand, it's up there in the cloud now for us to come up with applications and uses for.
Kirk: I can see it now where every small town in Texas will be able to have their high school football game on a different channel. Every game will be covered.
Hey, folks, you are watching or listening to This Week in Radio Tech Episode 275. Kirk Harnack here along with Chris Tobin in New York. Gary Liebisch is with us, talking about advanced digital communications. We have more topics about HD and other RF items to come up. So, thanks for tuning in and watching. Our show will continue.
We're going to hear now from my friends at Telos and the Telos technologies that produce audio processing and audio encoding for streaming. I'm having to say that in a large way because it used to be that Telos had one product to do audio streaming with. Well, you've got to think of the internet as another medium onto which you can put a transmitter, if you will, and hit more and more listeners.
We're finding that streaming is now hitting between a third and half of people in the US every week. If you look at every month, it's well over half. More and more millennials, for example, are not tuning into traditional AM or FM broadcasting, but they're tuning into the web, apps, things like Pandora, iHeart, RDO, and all kinds of other apps like that.
So, you want to get your radio station, your cluster of stations, on the web. You want to get the content you're producing, maybe you're not a radio station, but you want to get out there on the web, like this podcast is from the GFQ network.
You're going to need a way to, first of all, do audio processing that's appropriate for the web to get the most out of the psychoacoustic encoders that are used, typically MP3 or AAC.
Then you want to have an encoder that's of high quality. There's no degradation in your audio quality. Maybe you want to be able to produce audio streams at different bitrates. Maybe you even want to do multi-rate streaming, which is going to be the next thing coming along.
I'm already doing that at one of my stations as a demo. We're using Apple's HLS or HTTP livestreaming. The good news is that some of the Telos products now already do that.
So, if you go to the Telos Alliance website and click on a link for processing and encoding for streaming audio, you're going to be a little bit amazed. It now fills up the screen here as to how many different products we have at Telos that do audio processing plus streaming.
There's the Z/IPStream X2. That's software that runs in a Windows environment. You buy licenses for the number of inputs, and for each input, you can do more than one stream. You can do streams at different bitrates and you can run different audio processors. There's the Z/IPStream 9X2, which ads Omnia.9-style audio processing to the Z/IPStream X2.
The X2 comes with our standard three-band processor. I love it. It sounds great for most things. But if you really want to be out there and have the ultimate audio processing, Leif Claesson's Omnia.9 processing is available too, so, the Z/IPStream 9X2.
There are other products too, like the Z/IPStream R1. That's the box formerly known as the ProStream, like the one behind me over here. The Z/IPStream R1 is a one-rack unit box. It takes one audio input and produces as many as two different kinds of streams and sends to several locations.
There's the Z/IPStream R2, brand new product, just introduced at IBC a couple weeks ago. It can take in up to eight audio programs and it's also available with Omnia.9 processing as an add-on. So, it can produce more than eight streams, actually, eight programs coming into a one-rack unit box. So, it's an appliance that does all the streaming.
Then there are other products like the Z/IPStream S4. It's a PCIE card, actually, that does all the audio and streaming inside a computer. It's really only using the computer for power if you run audio in externally. It's not dependent upon the operating system of the computer to create your streams. Bottom line is it boots up in 15 seconds and it's producing streams for you.
There are other products, the Z/IPStream A/XE and Z/IPStream F/XE. The A/XE, our first original basic stream encoder and the Z/IPStream F/XE, and this is really interesting for podcasters, it's a file-based audio processor. So, you can just drag a file into Z/IPStream F/XE and process that file and have a processed file ready to stream for your podcast or on demand listeners.
So, a whole range of products now are all using fully licensed Fraunhofer reference code for the encoding and just a variety of options, including metadata. That's built into all these products, where you can add the appropriate metadata to show up on your listeners' screens.
Check it out if you would. Go to TelosAlliance.com, processing and encoding for streaming audio. As we say so often here, stream like you mean it, because that's your next transmitter right there added onto the transmitters we're talking about. Thanks, Telos, for sponsoring This Week in Radio Tech.
We're here with Chris Tobin in New York. Chris, you still there with us?
Chris: Absolutely. Just the noise you may here behind me is the NYPD helicopters flying overhead. I've just found out the pope is on his way down 5th Avenue toward St. Patrick's Cathedral for the 6:45 services. So, things are amove.
Kirk: Wow. Do you need to break in for any breaking news there?
Chris: No, I'm fine.
Gary: I have an idea.
Chris: I'm working with a couple of people tonight and tomorrow night. They're covering the papal visit at the UN. So, I'm going to be very busy for the next 48 hours.
Kirk: Yes, Gary?
Gary: I have an idea. Everybody wants to know where the pope is at any given moment. Apple could come out with an app. They call it Find My iPope.
Kirk: Or just iPope. That's a great idea. I wonder what the pope uses for streaming. Vatican Radio is legendary. I bet they do streaming nowadays. I know Vatican Radio has some Omnia audio processors because Frank Foti went there. I don't know if he got to meet the pope, but he got to meet the radio guys.
Gary, let's move along here. You were telling me how transmitters are getting smarter nowadays and that it's getting to the point where, and I'd like you to tell the story, actually now transmitters are going this way, IT guys are going that way, and they're meeting in the middle where IT guys may be able to take care of the transmitters, especially when all the RF guys retire. Where is that headed?
Gary: That's right. It's all going in that direction. It's all aimed at allowing engineers to do more with less. More engineers have more stations to take care of. There are fewer engineers to do it. If you could resolve a problem without making that one-hour trip out to the transmitter site or at least know what's going on out there and be more informed about what's going on at the site, then that enables you to do your job better and enables you to do more with less time.
So, along those lines, yes, transmitters are now getting smarter and are able to diagnose themselves. We introduced that in 2008, 2009 with the NV. The generic name for our graphical user interface, a GUI, we call ours an AUI or an advanced user interface.
We introduced that on a couple of the AMs and all the FMs in 2009. Granted, in 2009 and even today, there are not probably even the majority of transmitter sites that have internet connectivity, but boy, if you do have internet connectivity, what you can do with this AUI in terms of having connectivity.
What I always would tell customers is anything you can do in front of the transmitter, short of physically pulling out a module, you can do remotely through the AUI.
You remember years ago, we would go through and we would do a weekly transmitter inspection. You go and you'd switch through all the multimeter positions to read all the meters that you can't normally read from the studio. You'd log them down typically. I used to do that religiously and save all those logs and then I could spot trends if things were going south on me. Well, all of that can, in essence, be done now remotely. You don't have to go to the transmitter to do that kind of thing.
The story I told the other day was about how we were selling, I think, five transmitters to a station in Upstate New York. It was a non-comm group. There was a new young IT guy. He was intrigued by our use of the AUI and the user interface and so forth. There was an older engineer who was in the process of retiring.
The IT guy took such a liking to the transmitters that he ended up They basically passed the baton from the older engineer to the younger IT guy during the process of buying those transmitters.
When you think about now, with today's modern solid-state transmitters, and this is true of our competitors as well as ours. I'm just talking now about a trend in the industry. When you go solid state up at high power, you're talking about no more high voltage. There's no more soldering for the most part. There's no tuning required. There are very few, if any, single points of failure. And the diagnostics is done through a web interface. So, the IT guys say, "I've got nothing to fear anymore. I can handle this."
You might have to teach him the difference between copper and brass on the antenna and you might have to teach him what 50 ohms means and what VZMR means, but the point is that it's a lot easier for the IT guys to move into this.
We're finding that as we sell more and more of these transmitters into stations that are in this process of passing the torch from the guy who's been there for 30 years to the younger guy, the younger guy, who very often has come in through IT, feels very comfortable with our transmitters. And the fact that he can now maintain five of them all at different sites allows him to do more, again, with less time. That's where the industry is going now. Of course, the reliability has gone up significantly.
I always like to tell a story. You mentioned the fact that I spent some time at WPTF. It's one of those old 50-kilowatt AM sites that had a lot of history. So much had been preserved there that I'd go in there and I'd look at maintenance logs.
I remember a bound book that they had there, which was the maintenance logs from 1944 during World War II. They had all one year and one volume. You could randomly open up this book to any given page and on any given day, the activity that occurred at that site easily filled two pages. There were probably four engineers doing all that work and, yes, they were all wearing ties as well.
But the point is that transmitters were much less reliable back then. I think stations measured reliability in hours uptime. It was probably measured in hours and perhaps days, whereas now we measure uptime in months and years. So, we've come a long way since 1944. It takes looking at some historical documents like that to realize how far we've come and how much one guy does now compared to what four or five or more guys did back then.
Kirk: Wow. On the one hand, my emotion tells me, "I don't want to believe that the IT guy can take care of the transmitter." That was always something I needed to do. I need to be at the transmitter site. There are still physical things about the transmitter site that either an RF guy is going to have to do or an IT guy is going to have to learn.
But you're right. A couple of my own owned transmitter sites, and we've got small radio stations in Mississippi, but the couple of them where I've got a Nautel transmitter and a Nautel exciter, I have remote control and remote monitoring that is just amazing. I can see your point where the equipment and transmitter site can become more and more, if you will, a computer that transmits.
Gary: An RF server we call it.
Kirk: Yes, an RF server. You're right. With the solid-state technology and the lower voltages In fact, let me ask you about voltages. It seems like in some older Nautel transmitters that I took care of, there were still some voltages not high like tube plate voltages, but in the neighborhood of 175 or 200 volts. Has that changed now? Is it now lower than that?
Gary: They are at that level in AM transmitters still because the fact that they're amplitude modulators. You have to have the dynamic range of voltage to amplitude modulate a higher power transmitter. But in the FM transmitters, typically you certainly can see AC voltages in any transmitter of 240 volts. That goes without saying,
Once it could get converted to DC, everything, for example, in our FM transmitters now works off of a 48-volt bus. So, everything is converted to 48 volts. There's not even 120 volts AC in the exciter. It's working off the 48-volt bus as well. So, it's all pretty safe in low voltages now.
Kirk: Choosing 48 volts as the industry standard, one reason is because that qualifies as low voltage in many jurisdictions and may not require certain inspections or certain qualifications to take care of it. Choosing 48 volts, did that factor into it or was it just a matter of convenience where we can get enough power and the current is not too high at 48 volts? What plays into that decision?
Gary: A lot of that has to do with what's available with respect to commercially available switch mode power supplies. For example, the switch mode power supplies that we use, we had a lot of input to their design, but a lot of them are, to a large extent, off the shelf commercial or industrial platinum-class switch mode power supplies that might be used in other communication industries. By using a standardized 48 volts, that's one less thing that we have to invent and design when the wheel there has already been invented in that case.
Kirk: Chris, there's a question I think you had about some advanced features.
Chris: Gary, you were talking about earlier the ability to service. It's easy, the web and everything else, the knowledge base is so much improved with the solid state. Talk about the service PhoneHome, I believe it is.
Gary: Sure. An interesting thing happened after we implemented the AUI. We had an install tech from Nautel out on the west coast. He was installing a 50 kilowatt AM. I think it was for Crawford Broadcasting. He installed a 50 kilowatt AM transmitter and it was, I think, a long holiday weekend and he headed back home back to Halifax, and since it had the AUI and it was connected to the internet, he wanted to check in on the transmitter as soon as he got back home.
He gets back home and checked in and he noted that there was an infant mortality in I think it was a low voltage power supply or something. It was a holiday weekend, so it did not affect the operation of the transmitter at all because it had redundant power supplies.
So, he went through whatever he had to do in order to get a power supply out to that station. Monday morning, he calls up the engineer and he says, "When I got back, I noticed that you had a failed power supply. There's already one on the way out to you. You'll get it tomorrow."
We started to get to thinking, "How can we leverage this ability in service about our ability to do proactive service for customers?" That's where the concept of PhoneHome was born. It probably went under at least a couple of years or more of development. We had beta sites and so forth.
What it ended up doing is it's an active program now that we don't charge any extra for and it's purely voluntary. A station can voluntarily participate. Nautel does trend blogging back at the factory of all the critical parameters in a particular station's operation and it measures any events that occur. An event not necessarily being just an alarm, but any on/off or even routine events get logged.
We look at those trend logs. If we see something, it's not meant as a real-time notification for, "Hey, you're off the air, did you know it?" It's meant more as, "We've noticed for the last three or four days that this alarm is showing or this fault has occurred. Are you aware of it?" The degree of monitoring that stations do from one station to another varies significantly, particularly if they happen to have contract engineers. It's a proactive kind of a service thing.
Now, it's not really a firewall risk. Some people might think, "Wow, Nautel is getting into my transmitter." Because of the way the system is designed, it is only is only sending data out. It uses SNMP protocol to just send data out. In order to allow ingress from Nautel, a customer actually has to go into the transmitter. That can be useful as well.
You might, for example, call in a trouble report from Nautel and very often you'll get the service administrator arrange to have someone call you back. It's conceivable that the technician can check the trend log and call you back and he might have a diagnosis for what's wrong with your transmitter before you even open your mouth if he's seen anything in the trend log.
We have this huge map that we usually demonstrate at shows like NAB Radio next week and we have a big map, and all the participating stations are shown on the map. Of course, it will have green dots where everything is fine. It might have a yellow dot that indicates the transmitter is on the air, but it's showing some type of fault, or it might show grey if it's offline.
It's been received very well. So far, it's only in the US that we're doing this, but there are several hundreds of stations participating in Nautel PhoneHome. It's worked out very well for us.
Kirk: That sounds pretty amazing. Let me ask you, Gary, I'm looking at one of my transmitters right now. It's a 2.5 kilowatt VS series. We've got it doing 2.65 kilowatts because we need to get everything we can out of it.
Gary: That's okay.
Kirk: It doesn't have any built-in history logging, right? That has to be done externally, right?
Gary: All of our transmitters will do what's called event logging, which means that if anything changes state or any alarm is generated, it will retain those event logs. It can handle thousands of events. It can retain them.
Now, what we do not do yet at this point in time is regular parameter meter readings. If a parameter goes out of tolerance, it will certainly measure that.
For example, if a heat sync temperature gets higher than it's supposed to be or an air filter gets clogged to the point where something gets hot or a current goes too high, or if things are out of tolerance, it will log that as an event. But it's not doing parameter logging in the sense that the way people would log PA voltage and PA current and power output every three hours or whatever. We're not doing that currently.
But with the exhaustiveness of what it is monitoring, you can pretty well be confident that if you're not getting an alerts or alarm, and it can send emails out to you as well, but if you're not getting any of those types of alerts, everything is copasetic.
Kirk: Cool. Hey, we are to the point we're running out of time. We're going to take one more break. When we come back, Gary, often we do a little tip of the week. So, if you have an engineering tip that you can think of in the next couple of minutes, that would be awesome. A tidbit you'd like to pass along to our listeners and viewers, that would be great.
Our show, This Week in Radio Tech, is brought to you in part by our friends at Lawo.com. They're the makers of a lot of audio consoles. A lot of them are networked audio consoles. They're doing the Ravenna standard, which includes compatibility with AES67.
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Thanks to Lawo.com for sponsoring This Week in Radio Tech. I appreciate it very much.
Chris Tobin, have you got a tip for our viewers and listeners?
Chris: It's a simple tip. Since we were talking about internet connected, Ethernet connected transmitters and going from RF world and high powered tubes to Ethernet connectivity and IP, recently this week, actually, I was working on a couple of projects. What came in handy was having an Ethernet crossover cable with my laptop and a USB to serial adapter, which worked out very well, and a couple of applications for telnet sessions and things of that sort.
So, I would say when you're traveling about with your laptop or if it's an iPad with an adapter on it, make sure you have a crossover cable. This week alone I used it at least four times. Thank goodness I didn't have to worry about using a switch or try to hook up with somebody to use an intermediary-type device in order to talk to two computers.
I used a crossover and I was in and running. It was actually a TV transmitter, a Harris TV transmitter, HDTV, and it has an Ethernet port. It was much easier using a crossover cable than trying to go through the switch there. For some reason, it rejected connectivity from laptops that weren't part of the domain.
Kirk: Good advice. One thing to have in your toolkit is a crossover cable. Gary Liebisch, our guest from Nautel, can you provide us with a tip that engineers can maybe put to use this week?
Gary: I can. It's going to be an analog tip instead of a digital tip.
Kirk: Good deal.
Gary: I would like to encourage people to discover DIN connectors, particularly for low power transmitters like translators and everything up to a few kilowatts. We make our transmitters available at that power level, the 7/8 and in some cases end connectors for the really low power stuff, but the 7/8 EIA that people have known to come and love for years competes with the 7-16 DIN connector.
Now, a 7-16 DIN is not a fraction. It is measured in millimeters and it's 7-16. It's an indication of the diameter of a couple of the concentric contacts in one of these connectors.
The point is these can be about half the price. When you're trying to buy a mating connector for a piece of cable and you find that these brass connectors are a couple of hundred dollars, you can find DIN connectors that you can put on that same cable for about $70.
DIN connectors are very popular in Europe, but they're just catching on over here. We have a few customers that always buy their VS transmitters, for example, with DIN connectors.
The other advantage to a DIN connector, in addition to being less expensive, is instead of having to take wrenches to it when you have to disconnect it in order to do service, it just has a spinning barrel like an end connector and you spin that barrel and then you can disconnect it for service. So, it's much easier to service as well.
The next time you have to order a transmitter at that power level, consider using a DIN connector. At our end, it makes no difference and no difference in cost, but I think in a lot of cases, you'll find them a lot more user friendly than the typical 7/8 inch EIA.
Kirk: That's a great tip.
Chris: DIN connectors have a better IM. They are a better passive intermodulation specification. Cell companies are starting to use them more and more now for that reason.
Gary: That's right.
Kirk: Gary, I want to clarify for slow people like me. When you first said DIN connector, I thought you meant the barrel connector that Radio Shack would sell and it had all kinds of little pins in there. I'm thinking, "Oh, no. I don't want Gary to talk about stuff I got to solder little pins on." No, you're talking about RF connectors that are of the DIN standard.
Gary: I think it's Deutsche Industry Normand or something like that. It's a German electrical standard.
Kirk: You're absolutely right. I've got to tell you, probably a lot of people have the same trepidation that I do. I see a DIN connector and I think, "Oh, that's a European standard. That's not for me. I'm going to an EIA flange because that's what I know about."
I'm really glad that you broke down the barrier just now for me understanding that there are advantages to this DIN connector. They are available and it's probably something I should familiarize myself with.
I'm going to put a link in our show notes to some explanation of DIN connector, whether it's Wikipedia or elsewhere, that show these things. I like the lower cost because prices on EIA flanges seem to have skyrocketed. The fact that you don't need wrenches Do you not need wrenches for even larger sizes or just the size you're talking about?
Gary: You can use a wrench to tighten it, but it might not really be a wrench. It might even be just a pair of pliers to tighten them down.
Kirk: Cool. We've got crossover cable and DIN connector. If I had a tip, it's gone out of my head because I'm so excited about the DIN connector. I really need to investigate that. We'll put something in the show notes. Guys, we're out of time. Thank you so much both of you for participating. Chris, any update on the pope parade?
Chris: The pope is in St. Patrick's Cathedral and he's doing the services as we speak. I'm watching it on a CBS newsfeed right now. He's doing his thing. The helicopters are flying overhead. Henry Kissinger is in the audience and it's going to be one of those nights. Motorcades are going back and forth in the neighborhood right now.
Kirk: Hey, Chris, as we get more into fall and into winter, it's going to get dark there. It already is dark. Are you going to bring lights back out?
Chris: I'm going to bring that lights back out. Yes. I was hoping I'd get past it tonight, but I was wrong.
Kirk: That's okay. You look comfortable. You look good. Gary Liebisch, thank you for joining us from Columbus, Ohio. I appreciate you being here.
Gary: Chris is on the eastern edge of the Eastern time zone, so his sun is setting. We're in the western edge of the Eastern time zone, so it's probably another hour here. Our sun is still shining, but you're certainly right about the coming fall. I enjoyed it. I had a blast. This was great. The hour just flew by. Thank you, Kirk.
Kirk: You're welcome to come back on, especially next time you've got something to say or some technology to talk about. I sure appreciate you.
Thanks to our sponsors, including Axia and the Axia SoftSurface, also Z/IPStream and the whole range now of audio encoders for internet with some fantastic capabilities, including adaptive bitrate streaming, either HLS or smooth streaming from Microsoft, and also to Lawo and the Lawo crystalCLEAR audio console.
Thanks to Suncast for producing our show this week on This Week in Radio Tech. Join us next week as we're going to be live at the WSB transmitter site, the AM site, 750 kHz, 50 kilowatts worth from Atlanta, Georgia. We'll see you next week on This Week in Radio Tech. Bye, everybody.