Wisconsin Public Radio Engineer Kevin Trueblood and Chris Tarr of 88Nine Radio Milwaukee are talkin' metadata with Kirk Harnack on "This Week in Radio Tech."
But first, Tom Ray reports in and gives us a tour of the WJMJ-FM transmitter site near Burlington, Connecticut. Then, Kevin and Chris discuss the challenges of radio engineering for a statewide Public Radio network, focusing on metadata strategy from multiple sources to multiple distribution outlets.
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Announcer: This Week in Radio Tech, Episode 196 is brought to you by the Telos Prostream streaming audio processor and stream encoder. Prostream takes the hassle out of netcasting because it's a reliable appliance, and not a PC. The Prostream: on the web at telos-systems.com.
Kirk Harnack: We go live to an FM transmitter site in Connecticut, and we're focusing on metadata aggregation at a big radio network. Kevin Trueblood of Wisconsin Public Radio is our guest, along with Chris Tarr and Tom Ray, live on location.
Hey, welcome into This Week In Radio Tech. It's our first episode of 2014, episode 196. I'm Kirk Harnack, so glad that you've joined us. This is the show where we talk about radio technology, and I'm going to give some props to people who have supported the idea of doing this show. Now, for four years we've been doing this show. Yeah, we've missed a few shows, we took a summer off back a year and a half ago, but we are going strong and interviewing people left and right. This is the show where we talk about radio technology, streaming technology, all of the things that we do as engineers for content creators.
To get audio, and to get pictures in your mind, to get entertainment, and news, and information out to masses of people, no matter what the transmission medium is. We have a good time doing this. Our show is brought to you by the folks who are... employer. I appreciate Telos, the Telos Alliance, sponsoring This Week in Radio Tech. Our show this week is brought to you by the Telos Prostream, which is a beautiful 1RU appliance that does audio processing and creates audio streams for the internet, and we'll talk about that a little bit later on.
Hey, joining us on our show, we are pleased to have, first of all, let's bring in from... Burlington, Connecticut? Is that where you are? It's Tom Ray at a transmitter site. Hey, Tom.
Tom Ray: Hey, Kirk. I'm at the transmitter site for WJMJ Radio, the station of the Archdiocese, Hartford. I'm standing here, it's a little under 60 degrees in the building, and that's why I'm wearing the hat and the scarf. [laughs]
Kirk: 60? You ought to be able to put up with 60, it's when you go outside that's a pain.
Tom: Actually, it's not too bad today. It's about 25 degrees outside, it's been in the teens and the single numbers, and negative overnight for about the past week. My daughter, on the other hand, who goes to school up near the Canadian border, sits there, walks outside in a sweatshirt and a pair of jeans and goes, "Yeah, it's just like going to school, it's not a problem." It's like, "Really?"
Kirk: [laughs] Geez. Tom, you're going to have a report for us on that transmitter site, and some of the gear there, and what you're doing there, in just a few minutes. Let's also welcome our other guests, well, our other co-host we have here, a regular, Christopher Tarr. Chris, the Geek Jedi, glad to see you back, Chris. Hi.
Christopher Tarr: You know, Tom's got to man up a little bit. I was on my way out to a transmitter site the other night. It was 22 below zero when I left.
Chris: I actually have, the next war stories episode, I'll have a war story about that whole trip. That was a lot of fun. Yes, I'm here in the Radio Milwaukee studios, in downtown Milwaukee. That's why my face isn't really that well-lit, I'm in a studio for radio, and not for video, so the lighting is not showing my good side today.
Kirk: Radio studios tend to illuminate the copy that you're reading, and not the face.
Chris: Right, it does that very well, yes. [laughs]
Kirk: Well, you can see us really well. You can see your hands on the computer really well, I suppose. Oh, actually, I didn't mention where I am. Some of you know about this, I'm coming to you from the Kingdom of Nye, the only place in the US where prostitution is legal.
Chris: That's where you've met Ace.
Kirk: [laughs] So I've heard. I'm at a secret development lab that is part of the Telos Alliance here in the Kingdom of Nye, and we're working on some very interesting technologies. I posted on the Facebook a couple days ago, that we're working on a technology that will bring improved audio quality to broadcasters and content creators, and it won't cost you any electricity to do it. It won't cost YOU any electricity to do it, so, we're working on it. [laughs] I can't tell you what it is because we're under NDA, but it's so cool.
All right, that's enough of where I am. Let's bring in our guest. We have a terrific guest today, Kevin Trueblood from Madison, Wisconsin. Welcome in, Kevin, how are you?
Kevin Trueblood: Hey, I'm good, thanks for having me, guys. It's great to be part of the peanut gallery for a change.
Kirk: [laughs] We're glad you're here. We're going to find out all about Kevin Trueblood, and your unique take on broadcasting, engineering, and the talent side of things as well. You do voiceover work, and other such things, so I'm eager to find out more about Kevin Trueblood and your perspective on engineering since you cover the subject from several different perspectives. That's going to be very interesting.
All right, let's roll back to Tom Ray, in Burlington, Connecticut. Brr, your lips look cold, Tom. Tell us what's going on.
Tom: Well, I'm just doing normal maintenance. WJMJ is one of the sites I take care of, it's on 25 kilowatt FM here in Connecticut. I'll give you the quick tour. Excuse the mess, because I'm in the process of reconfiguring a lot of things. There's an older Harris HT5 transmitter, running at 4 kilowatts. The backup FM 5H3, which is an oldie but moldy, and works fine. And I apologize for the video.
And of course, way over here, we have a Burkart [SP] Plus Touch, and the Omnia 11. So this station does go all the way to 11, and let me tell you, not to be a commercial, but it made us sound really, really good, and that includes even at night when they do the classical stuff. We just push it at night and it sounds good, that's all I can tell you. Burlington is located about 15 to 18 miles to the west of the capital city of Hartford, here in the foothills of the Lynchfield Hills.
The studio is in Prospect, Connecticut. Two microwave links up, we have a microwave link up here, and we also use Comrex BRIC-Link as a backup for IP audio, so even though we're out in the middle of cow country, we've got proper facilities. Well, almost proper facilities, I have to go up to Dunkin' Donuts to use those. Anyway, here's where I am, and this is what I'm doing. I'm in the middle of maintenance day.
Kirk: Tell us a little bit about the transmitters there. That Harris, the older one, the backup, the FM5H3. I've taken care of a number of those, and once you learn their quirks, they're pretty solid transmitters. And then, your newer one. Tell us a little bit about both of them, a little bit about the history and what you need to do on a regular basis to maintain them.
Tom: Well, the station itself went on the air in the early to mid 1970s. The Archdiocese wanted the station to bring their message to the state, and they put in the 5H3. It's an old transmitter, but it's a workhorse. It works really well. It has the RF stages, a halfwave cavity, fairly broad, easy to tune. The transmitter works. My guess is that this transmitter started its life with the old Gates TE3. This is actually a Gates transmitter. It's now running with an MS15 exciter. I've got a THE1 to put on it very soon. The HT5 FM went in, early 90s, about 1993 I think is the date on the back of it. Right now it's being fed by a Harris digit exciter, which is the gray box, hang on a minute here, there we go.
Kirk: Oh, yeah.
Tom: It's the gray, on the center of the screen. For those not familiar with broadcast equipment, the exciter, at least at the FM station, actually produces the FM signal. The box is just an amplifier. The primary difference between the two boxes, this one, the older one, has the halfwave cavity for tuning. It's also strictly relay logic, so if there's overload or whatever, it's all on relays that are set up on various sensitivities. The newer transmitter has a quarter wave cavity, which makes it a little more efficient, and also, it's got a bunch of digital circuitry to monitor the transmitter. Not digital circuitry as we'd have in a brand new one if we installed one today, but it's a lot faster and a little more accurate for its monitoring than the older transmitter is. They're both tube type transmitters. The older transmitter uses a 4CX-250B as the driver stage. The final is a 4CX-5000. This guy has a solid state driver stage, and the final amplifier tube is a 4CX-3500. It runs at about 5000 volts, at 1.2 amps on the tube for about 4000 watts out.
Kirk: So that's well under the transmitter's rating, so it's rolling along pretty comfortably.
Tom: Yes, it's been rolling along for twenty-something years, and it just kind of sits here. Once every 15 months or so you change the tube, and if you don't, it tells you it wants its tube changed by blowing its screen breaker. Did that to me a couple of months ago. [laughs]
Kirk: Hey, on that older transmitter, the FM 5H3. Seems I recall that it has an interesting step start mechanism, whereby there are two relays that apply typically three phase power to the plate transformer. The first one pulls in, and it supplies three phase power through two or three resistors, big power resistors. But just a second or so after that relay kicks in, then another relay kicks in and supplies AC power directly to the primary of the plate transformer. Is that one set up the same way?
Tom: That's set up the same way, the HT is actually set up the same way, and actually most transmitters like this, high voltage supplies, are set up with this, you're right, Harris calls it a step start. The reason for that is, the high voltage capacitors, when you first apply voltage, tend to look like a short circuit to DC right before they start charging. So you put the resistors in line, that way you don't pop a circuit breaker, because the initial surge current is limited by the resistors. Then the second relay drops out when that capacitor gets a little bit of charge, and off it goes.
Kirk: Gotcha, gotcha. So you mentioned that there's an Omnia 11 there, you've got some newer technology there. How do you work with the station, when is the time to introduce some new piece of technology, and how do you evaluate what's right for this station's needs?
Tom: Well, actually, in a couple of months, I may have some more interesting things to talk about over here. When we're looking at the station, for, gosh, for most of its life, this station has just been kind of a novelty for the Archdiocese, for the Archdiocese to have its own station. Right now, they're trying to bring younger listeners in, so they've dropped a lot of the older classical music. It's an interesting format. They'll play everything from the Backstreet Boys to Bing Crosby.
At night, they play their classical block, and overnight they run some, oh gosh, I can't think of her name. There's a nun who was on the air, and they just go to a satellite for that. What we do is, we take a look at things. For example, we want them to get better control over it. I can't get here really fast. This is out in kind of a little corner of the state of Connecticut, so we put the burkin. We have IP connectivity here. As far as the processing goes, well, even though the station's in the non-commercial part of the band at 88.9, Father John who runs the station is competing with all the commercial stations in Connecticut, and there are quite a few of them. He's trying to win some audience from those commercial stations.
We said, "Why don't we change the audio processing? You're running an older [SP] opthomon. It doesn't have the punch, doesn't have the oomph."
It's a nice unit, but let's put something better in, so we put in the Omnia 11. Matter of fact, the studio location, I probably should do a show out of there one day because the studio location's all Axia. When they moved the studio location to Prospect, that's another story in and of itself, they put the digital microwave link in, which is a Mosley link. SL900, I believe it is.
Then for backup, just in case, because every now and then you do get frequency inversions that come through, and the STL won't quit for a couple of minutes here and there, we put in the Comrex BRIC-Link, which uses IP audio over the internet connection. They actually have run on that for a couple of days when they had problems with the Boston STL transmitter, because we do have an STL relay point on Rattlesnake Mountain here in Connecticut.
The way you look at it, you see what the station's goal is, and you take a look and you see what needs to be replaced. Now the HT transmitter here does need to be replaced, that's something we're talking about. The station does have some signal issues because of where the transmitter is. Well, that's something we're talking about now, and that's why I said in a couple of months I may have something to talk about that'll be really interesting.
Kirk: Cool. Tom, I appreciate your report there. You have just a last sentence or two about cold weather engineering?
Tom: Yeah, cold weather engineering. Dress warmly, number one. Number two, yeah, this is a little brick and cinder block building, and you're out here in the middle of nowhere, and yeah, there's nobody here but right now me, but usually just the equipment. After a while, the equipment is built to run down to a certain level, usually around zero degrees Fahrenheit. After that, it's going to get balky. If you have a station where, let's say you sign off and turn it back on, you do need to supply some heat in the building. In addition, if you have a generator, this station has a generator, one of the things you do when you come in, I go out and see if the block heater is working. I start the generator to make sure it's doing what it's supposed to be doing.
Tom: I walk in here, I take meter readings. You take a look, has the SWR changed on the antennas. We recently had an ice storm this past week, so you take a look at numerous things. Is there air pressure in the transmission line, we pressurize transmission lines to keep water out of them, to keep water vapor out of them, because of course that will lower the flashpoint. Next thing you know, bang, you've got a hole in your transmission line, and that's an expensive repair. So, if you're going to come out to a remote site, you dress warm. You put on boots, you put on two, three layers of socks, four layers of socks. You put on several coats. I was at a site, where was I the other day.Oh, I went to a site on the other side of Orange County, New York the other day, it was two degrees at the transmitter site. I drove up to the door and I let the car run. Because A, I didn't want to risk that perhaps something would happen and the car wouldn't start back up, and B, it was a nice warm place to go when I needed to warm up. You have to think of yourself, don't be a hero.
Kirk: That's good advice, think of yourself first. You're more important than the transmitter. I know that not every station owner would agree, but you are.
Tom: You can have a lot of fun. If you bring a bottle of water up with you, and it's below zero like where it was where Chris Tarr was the other night, you take the bottle outside and you count the amount of seconds until it freezes.
Kirk: Oh, geez. [laughs] Hey, Tom, we're going to move on to Kevin. Thanks for your report, I really appreciate you checking in there from Burlington, Connecticut. Thanks a lot.
Tom: Not a problem.
Kirk: All right. Tom Ray, one of our regular hosts on This Week in Radio Tech, at WJMJ in Burlington, Connecticut.
Hey, so, let's check in with Chris Tarr and Kevin Trueblood. Chris, you're at your haunt now in Milwaukee, right?
Chris: I am, absolutely, I'm in one of our little studios here.
Kirk: Good deal. You've given us some tour of that, but on a future show, I'd sure... to see more of your handiwork. I don't think we've seen behind every rack yet.
Chris: Yeah, I'm working on getting our video guy here to help me walk and do a little video tour of the place, because it's pretty cool.
Kirk: Yeah, I'd like to see that. All right, let's bring in our friend Kevin Trueblood. I don't know Kevin very well, but Chris, you do. So, tell you what. I'll introduce him, and then you two kind of go on here for a while. By the way, you are watching This Week in Radio Tech, and it's Episode 196. I'm Kirk Harnack. Tom Ray reported in for us just now. He's going to be probably out the rest of the show, but Chris Tarr is here and Kevin Trueblood is our guest, so let's just move right along with it.
Kevin Trueblood, met you, I guess, on the internet. Maybe I've seen you at a show or two. I'm sorry if I've met you and it's gone right by me.
[laughs] But you do engineering and talent work, so Kevin, tell us about Kevin Trueblood in Madison, Wisconsin.
Kevin: Well, it's interesting because Chris and I have a lot in common, not only that we're both in Wisconsin, we're both engineers, but we also both kind of came up in the same way. He was programming, he was on air, and I did the same thing. For being in my early thirties, I've been in radio now for 17 years, going on, and it's only been the last seven that I've been doing full-time engineering. Before that, I was on air, I was doing program directing, I was doing operations manager. I kind of crossed over from that side. I discovered that I liked the engineering side of it, the technical side of it more than I liked the programming side. A lot more gadgets you get to play with.
Chris: Cool, and that's one of the things we talked about, there was a presentation at WBA with some IP stuff. I find that you're kind of in that same boat I am. First of all, let's back up a little bit. Tell us about what you do at Wisconsin Public Radio.
Kevin: Well, I am a broadcast engineer. I am part of a team, that we help maintain our studio site here in Madison. We have our network headquarters. We specifically have three networks and a total of 33 stations across the state of Wisconsin. I help maintain the studio site here in Madison, and then we also have studio sites in six other cities besides Madison.
We've got a huge WAN that interconnects all of them, plus the transmitter sites, and those are managed in large part by our partner organization, the Educational Communications Board. We do a lot of assistance, some of them are our sites. It's kind of a long story as to how our network is set up, but basically I help maintain the studios here, and also primarily our automation system. Today I was going to go into a little more in depth about how we're doing metadata, and it's a big project trying to get show information, music information out onto 33 stations in seven different regions. So, there's a lot going on.
Chris: Let's talk about that, because that was a part of one of the presentations that was going on at WBA, and it's a very fascinating topic. You have what I'd consider a very challenging situation, in terms of getting metadata out. Not only do you have your typical programming from NPR, but you have programming from all these different kind of content distributors. Tell us some of the challenges that you're running into.
Kevin: Well, the biggest thing is, like you said, for a lot of stations, it's really simple to do an RBDS output of artist title, because you just have the automation running 24/7, it just spits it out. For us, yes, we're getting live programming from NPR. We're getting live programming from PRI, from the different public radio networks. Plus, we're still doing a classical format that is largely on CD. We have a lot of local talk shows that we produce, and a lot of this stuff we want to basically combine into one place, that then turns around and spits it out into RBDS, onto the website, and onto HD pad data.
So, it's trying to combine all of these multiple sources that a lot of stations don't generally have to worry about. It's just a simple, "Eh, we just do the 'now playing' information out of the automation system."
Chris: Well, not only that, but you have multiple radio stations at the same time that you're doing this for, is that right?
Kevin: That's right, and that's the other part of the challenges. We have the network information, what we're doing on the network, but as I mentioned we have over 30 stations and each one of them have local programming on top of that. So do we want to put in local weather information, do we want to put in local show topics if they're doing a local talk show or a local music show? We want to put all the information out onto web, onto HD, onto RBDS. We want to make all that information. It's trying to figure out this grand scheme of, how do we combine all this information then split it up, and then recombine it? It was a very unique challenge.
Chris: Ah, sounds easy. [laughs] As you led down this road, you found a product that's going to do that. Tell us a little bit about that implementation, especially your mentioning playing CDs. How do you manage to get the metadata to work in that situation?
Kevin: Well, there's only a couple of aggregators, aggregate software that will do this kind of task. Most automation systems come with a very basic, "You want to send artist/title, fine, we'll send it to this RBDS encoder, no problem." There's only two pieces of software that we found that would do kind of an aggregation of creating from one source, or another source, or another source, ran different modules, to aggregate it all together and spit it out into one destination. The two big ones are TRE from Broadcast Electronics, the same people who do AudioVault, and the other one is a company called Arctic Palm, and they have a product called Center Stage.
That's what we ended up going with, and part of the reason why we went with it was because they have a very modular software, that has several different apps that all do different tasks, and they all end up pointing to the same place. The particular module that you're talking about for CDs is a program called CS Login. Even though we do play CDs, we do generate a playlist. We have music scheduling software that will publish out a list, and that's what the on-air host will work by every day. That list is basically just ASCII, it can be just a simple text file, and that gets imported into this program called CS Login. What happens is, is that when the host goes to play a CD, they simultaneously hit a key on the keyboard that then plays the song in the same way that an automation system would play the song, then it releases that song title out to the other module that sends out the RBDS and pad data information.
Chris: Okay, so there's a screen in the studio that has the pre-loaded playlist in there, and then as they hit the CD, they hit the keyboard. Has that been pretty natural for the hosts on the air, to add that into their workflow?
Kevin: Well, we're still in the implementation phase for this. It is a big project that we've been working on over the past year or so, and a lot of that is training the hosts to get into the habit of, "Okay, you hit start on the board and hit start on the key." But they have been very receptive to it, and the tests so far have been very good. They've been very open to it, and so long as the song information is correct, and with classical music you have to be specific. Also, that they can edit things, so if they want to change the playlist or they are moving stuff around, they can edit it on the fly. That was another big thing. So right now they're just getting used to the software. It is not on the air yet, but a lot of the tests that we have done have been pretty successful.
Chris: Okay, so that takes care of that end of creating the metadata. Then there's distributing the metadata, and Wisconsin Public Radio has radio stations all over the state. Plus, you have a web presence, apps, things like that. How do you, once the metadata leaves your studio, for example if you're in Madison, originating it from there. How does it get to the stations out in the field?
Kevin: Well, the crucial part of that was the implementation of a large WAN, that we actually had just implemented about a year and a half ago. That was key to this. Basically, we have a WAN that allows us to see every site, from every site. From our network headquarters, we can see a transmitter in Duluth, Minnesota. We can see everything.
What we end up doing is, everything gets aggregated, as I mentioned, with Center Stage. It ends up all coming together in these different modules, and the program that does it is called CSRDS. This is the program that most stations would just simply say, "Okay, send it to this encoder, this RBDS encoder, this HD exporter, and here's your 'now playing'information in the correct format." Well, what we're actually doing is, we structured it so that we have an instance of CSRDS that is our own origination point. At our network, we have a instance of CSRDS that is spitting out in the correct format for song information, for show information. That's turning into a text file.
Out in the regions, and we have instances of this programming running in every one of our regions, all of our seven studio sites, that then import that export from the network, and then mix it in with its own local data. It's able to mix it in with local weather information so it can scroll current weather conditions, forecast, any weather alerts. Eventually we hope to have it interfaced with EAS, so it can put any kind of alerts and override the system, also with local show information. Basically, we're sending it out as a network, and then it's being imported as a source out in the regions, and then sent on to its transmitter sites locally. It's basically like, we are our own satellite source for each one of our individual stations.
Chris: Okay, so they essentially get the the completed file from all these different aggregation sources, and they get that completed file delivered to each region. Now, do you have anything in place for quality control monitoring for these different remote sites, to make sure that what's getting there is actually correct and what you need to be sending?
For example, you have station on the other side of the state, maybe it's still playing a text file from yesterday. Is there a way to monitor those things?
Kevin: Well, there's not a good way to monitor at least the on-air product remotely, unless you had a remote mod monitor or something like that. We're fortunate in that our partners at the ECB have staff that are usually at the transmitter sites or nearby, and they're usually the ones tasked with at least making sure it's on the air, it's not stuck on some old file. Or, we do have regional staff that obviously listens to this station and pays attention to those things. If they see it's stuck on a show from yesterday, or it's clearly showing the wrong forecast, then we can go and fix it, but we don't have an automatic way to do it. We still rely on people to make sure that it's what it's supposed to be. But knock on wood, it's been pretty good. We haven't had too many problems, and a lot of that's because with the RBDS encoders, if you're using the Inovonics 730, there's a timeout feature on it. If it doesn't receive any new information, say, you can set the timer and I think I specified for a lot of them ten minutes. If it doesn't receive any new information from an external source within ten minutes, it just defaults back to the call letters.
Chris: Okay, that's pretty cool. Hearing all the intricacies of bringing all of this information together in one place, and then distributing it to a whole bunch of places, what was the process in determining what your needs were? This is something that is pretty unusual in terms of content distribution with metadata. Did you just come down with a list of here's what we'd like to do and then start shopping that? Or, I guess what I'm saying is, did the product drive what you're doing, or does what you're doing drive the product decision? Did you see this and go, "Oh, we could do this, and this, and this," or did you come into it going, "This is what we want to do, we need a product that fits that need."
Kevin: This has been a project that started even before I started at Wisconsin Public Radio. This has been a huge project for the director of engineering, my boss here at WPR, Steve Johnston. He has done similar projects. He was previously with the Jazz Works network, based at Boise State, and he did a project very similar to this. When he came to WPR, he kind of saw that one, we didn't have any RBDS info, or anything that was uniform, I should say. We had some that were doing call letters, or whatever, and we weren't doing much with HD pad data. We had some stuff on our website, too, so we kind of saw this opportunity that we weren't doing anything. We kind of had a process already for our show information.
Our producers do very elaborate work for our website, for all of our talk shows, where they'll put in show descriptions, and they'll put in all kinds of information for each individual show and each individual segment. If you're listening, like on our podcasts, you can see the guest information and whatnot. A lot of that was, well, "How can we take that information that they're already doing, and organize it into a way that gives us a lot of utility?" We can then, not only, "Okay, you type in the show information." Not only does it go to the web, but then it goes to all these other sources, which becomes a very nice value added feature for the listeners.
Ever since we started doing this, we do get people that will comment that they appreciate the information that is now being added on, especially with our all classical service. We have a 24 hour classical HD network that is coming down from C24, and we were able to pull down "now playing" information, and we were able to start putting that on our HD too. It's able to go along with the service. We had all of the capability to do it, it was just trying to come up with a way to organize it in an efficient way, that we got the maximum amount of utility out of, I guess is the best way I could describe it.
Kirk: Kevin, and everyone, you are watching This Week in Radio Tech. It's Episode number 196, and our guest is Kevin Trueblood from Madison, Wisconsin, of Wisconsin Public Radio and other endeavors.
Our show is brought to you by Telos and the Telos Prostream, so I want to talk about the Telos Prostream for a minute. You know, there's a lot of ways to encode your stream and get it on the internet. There's free software like Edcast, which a lot of folks like. There are other low-cost softwares that run on a PC, or on a Mac, or in a Linux environment, that will take audio into that PC, that operating system, and encode it using a popular encoding algorithm and stream that out. But, if you want to do away with the hassle and trouble that you often have with an operating system, and a whole PC, and fans, and all that mess, there's an appliance that will do this for you, very neatly and trouble-free.
It's the Telos Prostream, it's a 1RU box, it's one rack unit, it goes in the rack. It's reasonably low power, I think it probably draws about 27, 28 watts, something like that. There's a picture of it, right there. It does run embedded Linux, but that basically means that you don't have to fool with it. We do offer software updates from time to time for it, and you're welcome to use those if there's a feature that you want, but usually you don't have to update it. It has analog inputs or livewire input on it, and you feed it program material, mono or stereo. What's cool about it, is it does have built-in audio processing.
One of the sad things about internet audio, sometimes we don't pay enough attention to how we treat the audio. Either we have unprocessed audio and the level's just all over the place, which is bad for listeners, or we process it with the wrong processor, or too much. A long time ago, we figured out that you shouldn't use FM clipped processed audio for an internet streaming encoder. [laughs] It really makes the encoder work very hard, and it a lot less efficient. So you want to send nice, gently processed, just smoothed audio. Perhaps if you want to do some limited, it's been limited. There is an Omnia processor, a three band processor, with really intelligent look ahead limiting built into this. You can set that up however you want, aggressively, moderately, softly, there are presets in there and you can modify any of those presets that you want to. Then, after it gets audio processed inside the Prostream, you've got two stream encoders possible. You can encode at two different bit rates, or using two different algorithms, say mp3 at 96 kilobits, and maybe HEACV2 at 56 kilobits, so you have your choice of different coding algorithms and different bit rates that you can do.
Then after that, after you've got your streams encoded, the Prostream has four different outputs, four different ways it can send. Perhaps you have geographically diverse content, CDN servers that you use. Maybe you have a Shoutcast server that you run yourself, and maybe you use a service like Live365, or StreamGuys, or StreamMonster, or PrimCast, any of these services. You can send a stream to any of those services, or multiple of them, and have them then stream to the world.
Hey, Chris Tarr is along with us, and Chris has a little bit of experience with the Prostream. Chris, you want to say a word or two about the Telos Prostream?
Chris: I do, I love it. I actually use StreamGuys as our distributor for our streams, and I use the Prostream to originate the data from here. I use IceCast, and I also am able to, through the Prostream, send metadata as well along with their audio. I'm telling you, the audio sounds fantastic. The built-in audio processing is great. And not only that, but it has some handy features like the display on front. The device lives in my rack with my other equipment, which has a nice window and a good view and everything.
It's really nice to be able to, just kind of at a glance, to see that everything is working and everything is running. And, the other thing that I really like is, unlike the nasty old days of computers where the OS would lock up or you'd have to reboot it every so often, or you had to worry about which services are running because the CPU would ramp up and your audio would cut out, this is an appliance. You just pop it in, you turn it on, you program it, and you walk away.
It works really, really well that way. I am a big fan, not only because of the audio quality out and the all-in-one, but also the reliability. As Kevin can tell you, and a lot of other guys in my position, if your stream isn't working, it used to be, your stream was down, "Ah, no big deal." Nowadays, your stream goes down, and immediately your phone starts ringing off the hook. It's almost as important as your on-air component sometimes. Definitely a product that I love and highly recommend.
Kirk: I think there will be a day when it'll be more important than your on-air. A lot of TV stations, at least in the Nashville area, the feed to the transmitter is important, but the feed to the cable company is even more so. [laughs]
Chris: [laughs] Right, exactly.
Kirk: So, think of the Prostream as your appliance to feed the cable company. Check it out on the web. You can go to telos-systems.com, and just look for the Prostream, you'll find it there. This is a box that's under $2000, list price, and your dealer will probably have some kind of a discount available for you. I love this box, it's wonderful. It just sits there, and runs, and runs, and runs. Chris, thanks for that endorsement, I really appreciate that. The Telos Prostream, you will like it.
All right, we're talking to Kevin Trueblood on Episode 196 of This Week in Radio Tech. We've got to make sure we're out on time today, we've got a show right after this one, so we've got about 17 minutes left in the show. Chris Tarr, you were doing a great job of interviewing Kevin. I wish that you would just carry on and try to pick his brain. What can we learn from him?
Chris: Hopefully my computer won't go stupid again like it did a little while ago here. So Kevin, we were talking about metadata, and we were talking about the network that Wisconsin Public Radio set up. Let's talk a little bit about you, because you and I know each other pretty well, and we've spent a lot of time together, but you also, as you mentioned earlier, took the same path as I did. I think that you and I, and in fact I see Alex Hartman in the chatroom here. We are all kind of similar, a new breed of broadcast engineer. We're as much in tune with the IP world as we are in the world of broadcasts. You bring that kind of perspective about that. Tell me what you think about the future of where we're going, and the future of broadcast engineering.
Kevin: Well, it's interesting you mention about my passion for the IP world, because in 2014 now, it is, in my opinion, a necessity for our job. I mean, you go to a modern transmitter site that you've built, and everything's got an ethernet port on it. Your transmitter's got an ethernet port on it. Having the skill set to not only be able to network things, to be able to diagnose issues, and to be able to connect it all together is, to me, it's essential.
For me, of course, being one of the probably younger people in the field, to me it was more natural. By the time I was in high school, that's what we were using. We were using Windows 98, Windows 95, and I just grew from there. For others, there may be a learning curve involved in trying to figure out the RF side of it and then going to the IP side of it, but a lot of it's just trial and error and figuring out how to bridge everything together. To me, I think it's essential these days.
Chris: As you mentioned that, I've got a message coming in. I'm working on an interface on a Nautel transmitter, trying to get web log in.
[laughs] I can get the thing to turn on, and it works great, and it's producing RF, and everyone can hear it, but I cannot log into it. I know exactly what you're saying.
There's a lot of, as you were mentioning, guys like you, who really grew up in the world of internet, in the world of networks and IPs and things. What got you interested in the broadcast side, because you're mostly a studio guy, but I know you do some translator work and you do some contract work. What interested you in the RF side of things?
Kevin: You know, I think, just the way it all comes together. It's the magic of, here's this box that's bigger than a refrigerator and uses a whole lot of electricity. But, this is it. If you take away everything at the studio, if you take away everything else beyond that, that is your station. Just to be able to be a part of it, to have your hand in such a powerful thing, so to speak, and be a part of that magic, I think is what drew me in.
We all get frustrated for getting a call at 2:00 in the morning to go take care of an upset transmitter, but then at the same time you drive away and it's repaired, you're thinking, "I did that." It's back on the air because I came out and did it, that's really cool. Like I said, it is the station, so without the transmitter, there's nothing.
Chris: Cool. I completely agree with you on that one. [laughs]
Kirk: [laughs] You know, I've got to add, that is one of the nice things that I've always appreciated about broadcast engineering. There's usually some instant or near-instant gratification involved in doing your job well. And even if it's a longer term project, like what Chris has done there at Radio Milwaukee. Okay, that was a good six months to a year of gratification, but look at the result at the end. You get little victories every day, and then you get medium victories, and you get big victories. That's an nice motivator for this kind of profession.
Chris: I'll tell you what, there's nothing better than when you go to a sick radio station, do some work, you press the "on" button on the transmitter, and everything comes up, and it's as good as new. You can't beat that feeling at all. Kevin, with broadcast engineering as an industry, where do you see it going?
Kevin: It's interesting. I think it's definitely a field that, like I said, a lot of IT is going to be necessary, a lot of the networking side and a lot of studio equipment. With the transmitters, the wonderful thing about them is that they're becoming so reliable and so interconnected. There are transmitters that, it's wonderful to get out and visit them once a week or once a month, but a lot of these transmitters, you can leave them on for 6 months and they just keep running. That's not to say that that's good engineering, but the point is that they're becoming more and more reliable, and easier to service too.
If you lose a module, take it out, throw it in a box, send it to the factory. To that effect, you may see a lot more IT people that may get pressed into service. Well, you know technical stuff, why don't you go take care of the transmitter site? Never mind that that guy has no idea what to do around high voltage, what to do if the line loses pressure or anything like that, and that's not to say I'm a pessimist by any means. I know a lot of people my age or younger that are very passionate about the business, and know everything, or are learning everything, inside and out. I think it's just going to become a lot of networking. Maybe less troubleshooting to the component level, but still just a lot of big picture management.
You may be a guy that's maintaining several sites by yourself, there's a lot of people that are already doing that. The work also could be, arguably, a little easier. If your transmitter isn't requesting a visit every single month because something's wrong, then maybe things get a little easier for us. At the same time, there might be companies that take advantage of that, and start saying, "Oh, well, you can take care of transmitters in two states, no problem."
Chris: [laughs] And I know there are some people out there, Shane Tobin's one who drives all over the place to do stuff like that. We see that, with IP coming around and with more reliable transmitters, we see that that's getting easier on a technical standpoint. However, on a theoretical standpoint, you mentioned line pressure, that's a very little thing. For example, I just got done with a project where I had to put up a directional FM antenna, and it had to be certified, and you have to prove to the FCC you have some qualification to make that judgement. Which leads me to, certification with SBE and other programs. I know you're very active. In fact, are you the president of the SBE chapter in Madison?
Kevin: Yeah, I'm the chapter chair for the local Madison.
Chris: Chapter chair, right. Do you see certification playing in that, in terms of, if we can get new people in, to maybe at least get them to understand those basics? They may not have to be able, anymore, to know about the components of a tube type AM transmitter, for example, but they should at least be able to start understanding or grasping antenna theory and things like that. I'm just interested in your opinion, not necessarily that you have all the answers or anything, but how do you think that's going to come into play? I see the SBE kind of helping in a way, in just getting people together to discuss those things. How do you see that playing out?
Kevin: I can put on my SBE hat for a second here. You know, I think it's great organization and I'm fortunate that the Madison chapter is very active. We obviously help assist with the broadcaster's clinic every October here in Madison, but we also do regular meetings and we get a regular turnout, so we're a very active chapter. I think that really helps. It helps people get involved, at least to meet people that are in the industry, and be able to start sharing ideas, sharing stories.
That's an invaluable experience. You and I are both the same type, where we go to those conferences, and we just talk. I think I get more value sometimes out of talking to all the engineers at these conferences, than seeing some of the seminars themselves, no offense to anybody who's ever put one on. But, there's a lot of value in that, and there's a lot of value in being around other people that are in the industry, especially people who have decades of experience. And being able to then formalize something, and say, "Let's put on a 101. Here is high voltage 101. Here is safety 101. Here is electronics 101."
Simple things like that, I think will make a difference, because it will help people at least understand. Even if your IT guy, yeah, he can't figure out what the reason for a pressure loss is, at least he can understand, "Okay, this fault in this transmitter means a problem with this, and here's what may be wrong with that." At least at the fundamental level, they can start understanding those things. I think that would play a huge role, and I like to see people participate. We have people here, a couple of engineers at Wisconsin Public Radio, some of our recording engineers, who have become members and who have done some of the certification just so they get a better understanding of the big picture, of how they fit in. And of course to grow, and hopefully we can cultivate a new generation of engineers.
Chris: Sure. And I joke about WBA, one of the most informative sessions is lunch [laughs], because you get to sit around with everybody. One last question before I pass you back over to Kirk. Knowing that you have a lot of peers in your peer group who aren't obviously radio engineers, but maybe IT guys, and your dealings with the SBE, how do you get new technical people excited about the prospect of radio? Because IT obviously is still a very glamorous career, and radio is viewed as dead by a lot of technology people. In a short summary, how do you get people energized and excited about maybe thinking about a career in radio?
Kevin: I think it's a lot of introducing people to the magic of radio, and part of what my other work is with the student radio station here on the UW campus, and it's wonderful to see so many students passionate about radio. About putting together a show, putting together promotions. Even before then, bringing in interns who were college or high school age, who would just come in and eventually get hired on. In my opinion, I don't think there's any shortage of that. I think there's still a lot of people that are very much interested in radio, but I think the trick is, finding people who have a technical aptitude, whether it is with computers, and then teaching them the ropes for the RF side of things.
I think that's a lot of it, just trying to get people to see the magic of radio. We all talk about getting "bit by the radio bug," and for me it was when I was 15. I did a show, and I'm like, "This was a blast, I want to keep doing this." That's how I got in, and then found the technical side of it was just as fun. I think that's a lot of it, just getting people involved and seeing the difference in working in radio, because certainly you can find better conditions, better working, or better pay, maybe working for some big corporate environment. But radio is a unique experience, and it's why we all do it.
One day you have a huge artist in your studio doing a live performance, the next day you're out sweeping the transmitter floor. Every day is different, and it's all part of the uniqueness that is working in radio.
Chris: Cool, I'm going to pass it back over to Kirk, and I don't know if you have anything else to add there, Kirk.
Kirk: I don't. I just have really delighted in meeting Kevin, and understanding his perspective. Especially I liked the discussion early on about metadata, and I'd love to have some hands on or some screen sharing on a future show to help us understand that. I am a user of the Center Stage software, but I just set it up so basic, it does a little bit of stuff. Using it in a complex environment, when you're really trying to aggregate information from a number of different areas, plus have timely messages going in there, and what do you do during long talk segments?
Who's responsible for putting metadata in that's meaningful to listeners of a lengthy talk segment?
How much is enough, and how much is not enough? Do you just keep the phone number, the call-in number rolling, or do you use it as a news ticker? In fact, Kevin, why don't you answer that right now if you could. During a talk segment, do you have that, what policies might govern what you put on RDS?
Kevin: Well, that is something that we're still implementing. What we've worked with is, already we have producers that are attached to each of our local shows, and they're already entering information to our website for specific show information, for guests and topics and things like that.
So all that information is already being produced, and that could end up within the Center Stage software and then can be imported into CSRDS. For instance, our morning show. Joy Cardin Show, guest, so and so. Call 1-800 to participate, or something like that. You can even get all the way down to caller information. The Center Stage software has a call-in module that works with your Telos hybrids, and it can even display "Bob from Milwaukee" on your RDS if you really want it to. There's all kinds of possibilities, but for us, we already are producing the information, it's just figuring out how to best aggregate it into the system.
Kirk: Yeah, yeah. Hey, and with that, we're going to have to bid everyone adieu. Our time's about over. You've been watching or listening to This Week in Radio Tech, and man, we appreciate every one of you who listens and participates. If you miss the show, you can always go catch it at gfqnetwork.com. They're the producer and the host of the show, Andrew Zarian produces this show for us, or you can always look at it from thisweekinradiotech.com.
From either location, you can watch, listen, you can download the audio version if you like, and you can also subscribe with your favorite podcast feed aggregator and downloading software, that way it'll always be with you. I download to several devices, so that way, any time I need to check out an episode, no problem doing it. I'm the kind of guy that actually hates hearing my own voice, and, "Wow, why did I say that,"
[laughs] but you don't have to be so self-critical as I am.
Our show has been brought to you by Telos and the Telos Prostream, which is a beautiful little appliance that does audio processing and audio streaming. It creates streams from your audio. And also it has built in metadata capabilities right there, through some really smart .lua scripting that just makes your job quite easy and gives you exactly the output that you're looking for. Check it out on the web at telos-systems.com, and just look for the Prostream.
Thanks again for being with us, appreciate Kevin Trueblood being with us, Tom Ray at the beginning of the show, and Chris Tarr for doing our interview today. I appreciate all of you guys, we got to run! Thanks also to Andrew Zarian. We'll see you next week on This Week in Radio Tech. Bye-bye, everybody.