John Stephens with netcaster theroots.fm talks about music webcasters closing down due to the huge hike in music licensing costs. And Dave Anderson joins Chris Tobin and Kirk Harnack on the additional audio grunge produced by Nielsen’s new Enhance CBET PPM Encoder. Are we driving away the audience we wish to measure?
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Announcer: This Week in Radio Tech Episode 286 is brought to you by Lawo and the crystalCLEAR virtual radio console. crystalCLEAR is the console with a multi-touch touchscreen interface. By the Voltair and Voltair 2.0, and the Voltair Aware feature of the Omnia.9 and Omnia.11 audio processors. And by Axia Livewire+ Audio over IP routing and networking, with dozens of partners, connecting it all together.
John Stephens with netcaster theroots.fm talks about music webcasters closing down due to the huge hike in music licensing costs. Dave Anderson joins Chris Tobin and Kirk Harnack on the additional audio grunge produced by Nielsen's new Enhanced CBET PPM Encoder. Are we driving away the audience we wish to measure?
Kirk: Hey, welcome into This Week in Radio Tech. I'm Kirk Harnack your host, rested after the big long winter nap for Christmas. I'm back, Chris Tobin is back and we're going to have a fantastic show today. We've been saving it up for the past two weeks and now we're ready to present it to you, so let's go ahead and jump right in.
I'm Kirk Harnack, I work for the Telos Alliance, that's my full time job. I own some radio stations, part owner. I own the part that doesn't make any money and I also do some TV weather here in Nashville, so just kind of a jack of all trades and almost good at a couple of things.
Chris Tobin is with us. His claim to fame, Chris, he is the best dressed engineer in radio. That's all the news we have today, just a blue shirt. Yeah, you're well-groomed too. People say I have pretty hair. Chris, dude, you've got pretty hair, that's all that's to it.
Chris: I haven't done anything with it, this is from the shower this morning to here I am now.
Kirk: Even more amazing. So Chris how is it going? Usually you give us a quick little weather report from the New York City metropolitan area.
Chris: Oh well, the weather today is a nice, balmy 44 degrees Fahrenheit. The sky's relatively clear, no precipitation to speak of, considering two days ago it was I think a high of 22 at just about midday and then it dropped to around 13 degrees at the sunset. We actually have a heat wave going on but it's been pretty good, but they are calling for rain in the forecast later on the week so we're going to enjoy it while we can.
Kirk: Some of the models are calling for some really cold temperatures in the northern Midwest, just north of where our guest is, John Stephens, and then that of course, like it usually does, will probably head East and you'll be really cold by mid-January probably.
Chris: Well, it's just January they're calling January to be a cold month for everyone. But I don't know, the models I've been looking at look kind of warmer than that. Sorry. Wrong models.
Kirk: Okay, hey, and so this is how we start every show, right? This is the show where we talk about radio engineering, audio, RF and now a lot of digital and streaming and so we've got 285 episodes under our belt, this is 286, and our guest is coming up in just a minute. I'll tell you who he is, he's been on the show before. He's a really interesting guy because he knows about how to do local radio and if they're doing it on the web and he has got some great information for us about some of these new streaming and music licensing rules.
I hate to put him off but we're going to do a quick commercial to pay for this part of the show and then we will bring our guest on, I will tell you his name, it's John Stephens. He's been on before and he will be on again here in just a minute.
All right, let's go ahead and jump into real quickly tell you about our first sponsor because if it weren't for these people, man, I don't know how we'd pay for the bandwidth there. So our first sponsor is Lawo, L-A-W-O, and the website is lawo.com. I've been talking about these guys for a little over a year now. I still think this is just an amazing idea and they've actually made it work, they've made it work well for folks and that is a virtual radio mixing console.
It's called the Lawo crystalCLEAR. There you see a picture of it, finger on the button. That's not a real button, though. It's a touch screen and you can see they've redesigned how a typical application might look. They've given it large buttons, large faders that are really easy to hit with your fingers.
I'm not saying you can do it blind because you have got to look for a second to target it but you almost can. This is a virtual radio mixing console where the surface, the thing you touch, the buttons and faders and all that is on a multi touch touch screen monitor and it's running an application. The application makes the entire screen look like a console and it gets rid of all the windows accoutrements, the windowing stuff that's in Windows, for example.
Hey, you know what? You can run this thing, you can run it on a Windows 8 machine. You could provide your own or get one from them and they use this really nice multi touch touch screen monitor that does 10 touches at the same time, if you can make your fingers do that. The heart of the machine though, the heart of this console is a very well proven crystal mixing engine that Lawo has been making for years now.
It's a one rack unit device, it has a number of audio inputs now and outputs right on it. You can make a console just with what comes in the box here, mic inputs, headphone outputs, analog inputs and outputs, some AES digital inputs and outputs, all built on the back, and it has a network connection that will let you bring in and put out AES 67 or Ravenna audio over IP standards. What that means is that it can talk to so many other brands of equipment on the market now and more things that are coming out. For example, Livewire has added AES 67 so it can talk to Livewire components.
Other manufacturers also as well have added AES 67 protocols to their equipment and so the crystalCLEAR console from Lawo can talk to those as well. You can go to the website and watch a video of Michael Dosch. He is the director of virtual radio projects at Lawo, watch and explain and demonstrate this console to you. He did a new video for us at the 2015 NAV show in Las Vegas, and you have to take a good look at this thing.
If this kind of technology is exiting to you, the idea of a touch screen console where every button is completely contextual, you don't have to go layer after layer of menus, and every button does something meaningful on the console because it's software, it can do that, check it out. It's got all the usual hardware accoutrements you would expect like dual power supplies, redundant power supplies. It can sync to an NTP server for time of day on the clock. It's easy to reset. If you make a mistake and mess something up, push a button, it will load the profile all over again, the scene if you will.
So check that out please, Lawo.com, look for the crystalCLEAR virtual radio mixing console and I really thank Lawo for sponsoring This Week in Radio Tech. All right let's bring in our guest, he has been standing by waiting and I'm so glad that he got in touch with me today and rang my bell and said, "Kirk let's talk about this." It's John Stephens. John, I think you're in St. Louis, welcome in.
John: Where it will be snowing by Friday.
Kirk: Really? I had not looked.
John: That's what they say. The city is in a complete panic as everyone buys, what is it, white bread, skim milk and eggs, I think, is what you have to buy.
Kirk: And toilet paper. So John, give us the quick elevator speech. For those who haven't met you before on our show, what your facility there is, what you do and then we're going to jump right in to this music licensing for streaming. Tell us about TheRoots.FM.
John: I am a small webcaster with a different approach. We operate as a local radio station. We do not promote our stream anywhere outside of St. Louis. We've reduced the number of listeners we have around the country, around the world and I'm rather proud to say that 95% of our audience is within this ADI. With the change in music licensing and the challenges that are posed, it might have been the best decision we ever made.
Kirk: Really? Well, let's hear how that plays into it then. Just before Christmas, I guess, in early or mid-December we heard, and I don't understand all about it because I'm a radio station, and the streams, we pay our fee to our CDN and supposedly they take care of it for us, the licensing fees. So you tell me what's going on with people who are streaming only, like you are, what's happening with the fees you have to pay to play music?
John: Well, we pay more fees and higher fees than a radio station does. Many of the fees that we pay radio stations don't pay at all. Right before Christmas, the copyright royalty board in Washington, which is made up of three unelected judges, came out with the new rates that really dictated what streaming web stations like ourselves paid, and what broadcast radio stations paid when they streamed on the web. The bottom line was the broadcasters maintained the majority of their free ride. The amount that they pay to stream their feed over the Internet went down slightly, so the result will probably be that broadcast stations get more active in the web.
The amount that the very large webcasters paid like Pandora went up a half to a third as much as the market expected. So Pandora 's stock just exploded. Then the rates that were paid by what are called "small webcasters" which was a market segment of the fee structure, went up 500 to 1,000%.
There was a rate that was paid by small webcasters and small webcasters could get to be of decent size and their rate was not based on how many people listened. It was based on how much money they made. It was a percentage of their revenue. So you had some very creative people and I will just name a few that had been mentioned in the articles, but the people at SomaFM out on the West Coast, Martini In The Morning, Planet Pootwaddle, ourselves, to a lesser extent.
These people built up some very, very large audiences, but they had no idea how to monetize what they were doing, so they were often begging for money on the air, memberships and things like that, because these were creative people and they had no idea how to launch a national sales effort.
So when the new rates came out and I will explain why it happened but all of that rate structure changed for the small webcasters. The little hobbiest, the retired radio guy or the little community operation that was paying $25 to $50 a month in rights fees, all of the sudden was paying $250 to $500 a month. So unfortunately, the result of all that is since today and since the new rules went into effect a week or so ago, thousands of these small webcasters have gone off the air. These were hobbyists. A hobbyist can't afford $500 a month.
So they were all wiped out, as was millions of dollars they had invested in gear and music and all that kind of stuff. Then as we move up the food chain, the bigger streaming companies had an even larger challenge because they were now paying strictly on their audience, not on their revenue. So their rates went up exactly the same amount. Basically everyone was paying the same - the little guys, the medium sized guys, even Pandora unless they had a special deal with the labels, they were paying the same amount per 100 listeners per song etc.
The folks who had amassed large audiences like Soma and Martini in the Morning and ourselves and some other folks were in a real spot. They had to very quickly figure out how they were going to monetize what they were doing because as was said in the trades, most of these stations now were faced with music licensing that was much larger than their total operating budget for every other aspect of their station.
Kirk: Okay, whenever there is a change in someone's life or what they are expected to do, there is often angst. I'm going to ask a question that seems obvious from someone, I'm not in the, what do you call it? Peer play if you're only on the Internet?
Kirk: Fees generally went up and for the small guys went up a lot. Were the previous fees really at the right place in the first place? Were small webcasters getting a bit of a free ride? Were they making some money and not really paying much for playing other peoples' stuff? I know it's easy to be biased in answering that question, so try to answer that as forthrightly as you can.
John: Well, I think that's a very good point that could be made. I mean the reality was there were very few of these people that were making any money at all because they were creatives. I mean, we're talking about people with bluegrass formats and jazz formats and gospel formats. These people were not playing the popular heavily listened to music of the day. Yes, they had a dramatically reduced rate.
Basically what happened, and in many ways I include myself in that group, we kind of missed the boat. The process to reset these rates went on for two years and it was all done by legal briefs and meetings in Washington and all that kind of thing. All of the small webcasters just assume that someone else was sticking up for them and their story was being told in Washington. The truth is, it was not.
A National Public Radio station, they the whole NPR/PBS group lobbying and speaking for them and 100,000 watt FM station in a large market is paying $500 a year, in music licensing. My little station now pays thousands of dollars a year. No, it's not entirely fair, but the smaller webcasters didn't participate in the process at all because they could not afford to, it was just too expensive.
I think what bothered me the most is this decision came down two or three days before Christmas and there was no time for anyone to respond. All of the different legislative folks who have now jumped into this issue aggressively, they were all off on break and the whole situation just sat there for two weeks. In fact, everything has not been officially even announced yet. All we've read is a wonderful article in Billboard magazine about how the decision was based on briefs from Pandora and iHeart Radio, a very good coverage by Reign the online magazine on this issue as well. Your point is as well taken, I don't deny it, but the process, the smaller webcasters were totally left out of the process.
Kirk: Yeah, I got you. I'm sure it feels like they were left out on purpose but in today's day of it's easy to form an organization online and have forms and participate, and either have to close or open, in hindsight, could a few small webcasters have have gotten together and said, "Look, we're going to form an organization here and make it easy for people to participate. We get enough of us together maybe we hire a lawyer or a lobbyist or maybe 10 of us could go to The Hill and talk about this. Or, indeed, because it was a three unelected judge panel ultimately deciding this, was there just no room for any voices to be heard, unless they were part of the in crowd?
John: Well, I haven't seen any of the paper work. Eventually the briefs will become public but I don't really believe that iHeart Radio was seeking to destroy thousands of little web stations with a few hundred listeners. I don't think that happened at all. I think it was legal process and if you don't play the legal game properly, you're just going to get passed over. All that happened was, the small webcaster portion of the whole process from whatever it was four or five years ago, it was simply left out of the new rate structure.
You are absolutely right that what has to happen is the medium size webcasters, the folks that do have some invested money and who have a little bit of revenue, we've all have to get together and fund an organization to tell our story, to tell the story of how is this all this new music going to get played. It's not playing iHeart Radio. How does this all the old music that retro formats like some of ours play, how is that going to be played and support the groups that are still trying to tour?
The biggest loser in the end of this is the listener, because so many voices have been silenced. Who's going to be playing southern gospel music and all of the different, very diverse musical formats that could only be supported over the Internet when these little guys working at their basements have to pay $200-$500 a month, for the rights to play music?
Kirk: Time for probably one more question and I'd like to know, John, what are you going to do? What's your game plan immediately and then what information or confirmation or what rules, laws, billing or whatever it may be, what's coming up for you? What's your short term, then your medium term plan the rest of the year, what do you see happening?
John: Our board member meeting was held over the dining room table two days before Christmas. I've been in some tough meetings but my wife gave me an awfully tough meeting. We're going to stay and fight and try to make it work. We're going to pay whatever the law says we have to pay as long as we can. We've laid off stuff, we've reduced costs and we are lucky because we focus strictly on our single market. I don't have hundreds of thousands of listeners all over the world that are impossible to monetize.
We're going to stay and fight and try to increase our revenue. Now, we can generate all the revenue we want. We're paying on our listeners. We're going to explore more geo-blocking. If I could block everybody outside of Missouri and Illinois, I would because I can't make any money on anybody in Kansas. Sounds like a typical little radio station.
Then what I'm going to help focus on is helping to get a serious organization put together that is funded by the larger and medium sized, still are called small webcasters, so we can afford to get our message out and be heard in Washington, which is where it counts.
Kirk: Cool. I was going to ask you if the geo-fencing, are there different rates if you reached other countries and places or is it just a matter of total listernerships as determined by whatever metering measures that?
John: I'm not absolutely sure. There's lots of talk about that on Facebook. People want to move their servers outside of the United States and then block the United States. Then I guess they're free of sound exchange and all that or something. I don't know completely what all those rates are. All I know is I'm just like all those little 10,000-watt FM stations in small markets. I make my money and my revenue from a 50, 75-mile radius. That's what we're trying to do.
Maybe it was the smartest thing we ever did by trying to limit our audience to match our ability to monetize. It kind of sounds like radio.
Kirk: Yeah. John, that's very helpful. Thank you for your thoughts and insights on this and I hope to hear back from you later this year. Maybe you can tell us what things are shaking out and what changes, maybe if you can make any changes down the road in the next road or two with the CRB.
John: We'll do that.
Kirk: Okay. John, thanks very much. John Stephens has been with us. He is from TheRoot.FM in St. Louis. Stay warm during your forthcoming blizzard.
John: It's warm in here.
Kirk: Yeah, I hear you. All right. Kirk Harnack is here, that's me, and Chris Tobin is with us as well. Chris, once again I jumped in and asked all the questions. Chris, we're going to have our second guest coming up in just a minute. Chris, did you want to make any comment about this from your perspective there working in broadcast?
Chris: I would say he's right. The medium sized webcast, I'll just say webcasts in general probably should form some type of, I'll call it a lobby group or an organization that can be a louder voice for them. I think a lot of folks overlook the fact that webcasting or netcasting, or however you want to put it, serves a purpose in many ways - both business and non-business. I think it's time for us to rethink the model.
Right now, as he pointed out, the judges that are appointed, the people who are involved in all the different groups, they're all the old model broadcasters that are pushing buttons and telling which way they want to go, at the end of the day, who's going to make a buck for whatever policy. I just worked on a recording earlier today with some musicians and I asked them flat out, I said, "Do you royalties from the albums, the records you've been doing?" He goes, "Yeah, we get a couple bucks here and there." I said, "So what do you find works best for you?" "Self-publishing, handing out CDs at the clubs and what we're doing when we're on tour."
I was like, "Interesting." He's like, "Yeah, if you don't have a label or you're not doing certain licensing things or asking for those guys to work with you, then sometimes you get locked out of places you want to be because they're playing by a different set of rules." I found that interesting and I think the webcasters need to sort of think about forming a voice so that people can hear them and say, "Hey, there's something serious here and monetization can happen."
He's absolutely right. St. Louis is his ADI, so be it. So what you could be heard anywhere in the world? That doesn't matter. It's the content and what you're doing is about the local ADI, then that's what you should focus on - just like back in the day when radio and TV did the same thing before they had the ability to bring it out along with cable channel or retransmission.
Kirk: In the rest of our show here we're fixing to get really techy. Usually we don't talk about monetary things and policy here, but I felt it was important and interesting because most of us, as radio engineers, probably have to take care of a stream or we're starting to implement streaming somewhere. Usually we're not involved with the money but, hey, at smaller stations maybe the engineer may also be the owner, like at some of my stations.
The cost of streaming plays into the equation of am I going to stream or not. Do I need to somehow work out some geo-fencing? What kind of CDN am I going to work with? How's that all going to work?
If the engineering can be informed and add to that conversation with the management, ownership and programming people at broadcast facilities, which is who we usually talk to on this show, that's all the much better if the engineer can inform those conversations. All right. Interesting.
I've always wondered, instead of paying a licensing board, radio's kind of set in its ways. What if webcasters could work out deals with - I know it sounds really complicated - either individual labels or artists where... what if an up and coming artist who's not very popular yet said, "Hey, tell you what, you can play my music, you can play my song up to six times a day and you don't owe me anything, but you do need to mention my name when you play the song." Can't there be some tit for tat, some advertising for playing the song and no royalties to be paid? For an up and coming artist, it seems like that might be the thing to do, I don't know.
Chris: That makes sense. Why not? That's a good business sense.
Kirk: Could be really complicated, though, with thousands of artists. Some of them are dead.
Chris: Those who have passed on, it's going to be tough to work with them. You'd have to work with the estates and not everybody's interested.
Kirk: Okay, so I said all that to... got that great update from John Stephens. The rest of our show, we're talking about another hot subject and that is audio watermarking. We've talked a bit about the technology before but there's been something that's come along called "enhanced CBET" from the folks at Nielsen who put watermarking on our audio, on radio stations. Some people aren't liking the way it sounds very much at all. A few people, well, I know of at least one, who says, "I've turned it off. I don't care about the revenue loss. I'm losing more listeners because of the bad way it sounds."
I am of mixed mind about this and we'll get into that in a few minutes. Dave Anderson is our guest coming up to talk with me and Chris about that. Chris is in a market that has PPM coding. Dave Anderson, you're in some markets too. Is Dave there? Can we bring him on for a sec real quick here?
Hey, Dave, how are you?
Dave: Pretty good. How are you doing, Kirk?
Kirk: Good to see you. I'm eager to hear your exact experiences with this after our next spot, because the short story for me is that I've listened to stations here in Nashville that supposedly have some pretty negative effects and I'm not hearing yet, and I'm wondering why I'm not hearing it. My hearing's good. Maybe I don't know what to listen for. Maybe it just hasn't hit me yet.
You ever see one of those puzzles where one character is different from all the rest and you don't see it for the longest time? But once you see it, you can't not see it ever again.
Dave: It's no different than the first time I had a friend that had been hosting a satellite radio for years and I walked into his car one day and I said, "Oh, I can't stand listening to this." He said, "Why's that?" I said, "Don't you hear this and hear this and hear this?" About two days later he called me up and said, "Thanks, I had to cancel my XM subscription. I can't handle it now." It was just one of those things where once he was told what it was, that was the end of it.
Kirk: Wow. Interesting.
Dave: I think it's the same thing here too.
Kirk: Same psychology, same learning may come into play. I'm sure Chris Tobin has some things to add to that as well.
Now, you talk about a strange dovetail. We're going to talk about how some aspects or how PPM can sound bad, but at the same time, I'm going to walk out on a big limb here and do an ad for Voltair because Voltair doesn't make your PPM sound better or worse. It can make it work better.
But what I really want to talk about with regard to our sponsor for this part of the show, Voltair, is actually something called Voltair Aware, and that's something that the folks Omnia, sponsor for this part of the show, have put into two Omnia audio processors, available by software upgrade as well. The Omnia.9, that's the top of the line of the Leif Claesson designed processors, and the Omnia.11 processor, considered the top of the line in the whole line, now have a patch point, now have a go out and a comeback in point that is easy to use, easy to get to, and it's where you would put your PPM encoder.
I'm really talking to you engineers who are in PPM markets. If you're not in a PPM market, this really doesn't matter, unless you're doing some other kind of encoding, watermarking. After a lot of experimentation, really heavy duty over and over in different markets, real world situations testing, some of the engineers at Omnia - Cornelius Gould in particular, also Frank Faudie, Mark Manolio as well, and Leif Claesson as well I should add - figured out that there's a place that makes sense.
It's for any format. It's the best place to insert a PPM encoder, and if you choose to use the Voltair product from 257, which simply increases opportunities for encoding and also gives you very accurate monitoring of your encoding effectiveness. They found the right place in an audio processor to insert the PPM.
Here's part of the problem. A little education here, if you put the PPM encoder, let's say, between your audio console and your audio processor, so you're feeding the PPM encoder with totally unprocessed audio except whatever the song was processed with, then when those watermarking tones that are in the audio now after the encoder get into the regular audio processor, they can get moved up and down in volume quite a bit along with the audio. They're not getting changed in relation to the audio, but some things are going to be amplified quite a bit. Some things may be pushed down a little bit or a lot.
That may not be the ideal place for robustness. On the other hand, if you do your audio processing first, all of it, and then put the PPM encoder after that, then you're dealing with audio that's extremely dense, lots of opportunities for encoding, but the PPM encoder itself may - and I haven't done empirical research myself - add overshoots. Well, it's going to because it's adding some energy to the audio.
Then what are you going to do? Now you've got completely processed limited clipped audio that now has overshoots because of the PPM tones that have been added. So where's the best place to do this? The answer was given by Corny Gould in his fantastic presentation at the SBE national convention at the Wisconsin Broadcaster's Clinic late last fall in Madison, Wisconsin, in October.
The right place is pretty much after multiband compression and multiband limiting, but before the final limiters and the final clippers. The Omnia.9 and the Omnia.11 have made that point available to come out of the processor, go through your PPM encoding, wrap it with your Voltair if you have one, if you want to put one in there. You don't have to. Then come back in for the final clipping and limiting. That's the best place to do it.
That results in, even without a Voltair, should result in much better opportunities for watermarking but with no overshoots because you still have the final limiters and clippers.
Quick little lesson there and Voltair Aware is what the folks at Omnia and 25-7 want you to know about. Voltair Aware is a combination of the Omnia processors now with an insert point and also the Voltair with version 2.0 software that has plenty of enhancements to it. If you want to find out about it, go to the Telos Alliance website, telosalliance.com. I'll put the link in the show notes for this show, but go look it up there and look for Voltair 2.0 and read about Voltair Aware. There's the website.
That's what the page looks like and there's some Q&A at the bottom as well that'll help you out. Thanks very much to Omnia and to Voltair for sponsoring This Week in Radio Tech.
Now we're going to jump into this somewhat difficult subject. Difficult for me because a little bit of me wonders what the controversy is, and yet I hear passionate pleas from engineers and owners saying that we've got a problem here, folks.
I'm going to spend just another minute on the air here before I turn this over to Chris and Dave for discussion. That is that when watermarking first came I out, I know that some people said, "I can hear something going on with the audio, with this watermarking. I can hear this." Other folks would say, "No, sounds fine to me. I don't hear anything at all."
Some audio processing can maybe make it more apparent or maybe not. But one of the issues with watermarking has been the robustness of that system. Of course radio stations want to make sure they get credit for every listener out there. Panelists who have been selected by Nielsen wear a little pager-like device that listens to all of the ambient audio. When it hears these watermarked tones that are embedded in the audio that supposedly the human ear doesn't notice, then the PPM devices respond to that and record, "Ah, I got this data," which represents this station or that station. So stations get credit.
But if for some reason their watermarking tones aren't getting put into the audio, like the audio maybe doesn't lend itself to good watermarking. Then the watermarked tones don't go out or don't go out as often as you'd like, and then the station doesn't get credit even though it has some listeners.
The folks at Nielsen decided late last year that they would make available a new algorithm or an algorithm that wasn't previously used in the US. They call that "enhanced CBET". They gave a talk about this at the NAB radio show in Atlanta last fall. It basically adds another bank of tones and a bit more energy in these tones to help ensure that no matter the listening environment, they're going to be more decodable.
Now, folks who put that on the air say, "Man, I can hear this on the air. I don't like this." Other folks say, "It's there but it doesn't bother me." One station owner... I'll tell you what, I'll tell you his story in just a minute. I'm going to shut up about this now and, Chris Tobin, you're in a market with PPM. Dave Anderson, you're in markets with PPM. I want to hear your thoughts. Chris, why don't you kick it off here with your experiences there in the New York metropolitan area.
Chris: Let's see. The New York metropolitan area, we've had PPM for a long time and, yes, I have noticed things. I worked on several projects where we were able to prove out our theories. Mind you, this is one of the few technologies that none of us end users have access to information about how it works properly, what to expect from it. You put something into it, something comes out and it's a predetermined outcome. So you don't know what to expect it, no matter what you put into it.
I remember in the early days we were told we had to put +8 audio into the boxes to make it work properly. We all sat around a table going, "Plus 8? When was the last time a studio facility was running +8? Yeah, when I had my McCurdy consoles in the Ward Beck or the old President Gates consoles that you could drive a speaker with."
That's the first thing that makes me wonder what was being thought about. As time went on, allegedly things have been improved. Then it's a question of, wow, we notice a few things, we hear stuff under certain conditions, under certain formats. Why is that? I don't know. Ask the question to the manufacturer. "Can't tell you." "Why?" "It's a secret."
So you're sitting there going, "My revenue is based on this. I'm living and dying by, as the old saying goes, the numbers." You still are even though it's now embedded watermarking. It's like, "Guys, this doesn't make any sense."
We fast-forward to 2009, 2010, and Dr. Barry Blesser puts out that paper talking about the theory, the substance behind the whole concept, and all of the sudden questions come out and you start thinking, "Wait a minute. That makes total sense. That explains a few things we've observed." Then before you know it, it becomes this whole crazy whirlpool of nasty finger pointing at some point.
The new stuff, I have friends of mine who are in the business who are actually on the talent side, I'll call it, the editorial side of the business, who have asked me a dozen times over the last nine months, "What's with the station AXYZ and why do they sound this way?" I'm like, "I don't know. Let me check it out." Talking to a few folks and no one's going to go on the record with it so all I can say is these have been my observations and conversations.
The new encoders are online and there are people who hear stuff. There are some people that don't hear it. I've heard it and I thought at first it might have been the HD changes they were doing. Found out it wasn't. I listened to some of the stuff, I'm like, "Wow, this is interesting." I'm somewhat flummoxed by this whole thing because none of it's adding up to good business sense. All it is is one person louder than the next screaming, "Don't do this. Don't do that. You're violating a contract." I'm sitting there going, "If my revenue is based on this, I really should know more about it and none of us seem to know." That's what disturbs me.
You read these papers from folks that talk about the technology and you start to wonder what the devil's going on. Again, that's just my opinion. But I have heard stuff and I have heard from people who have heard things who are not crazy audiophiles who are listening detailed for the music and the mix and this and that. They actually are just driving the car and going, "Something's not right. I can't put my finger on it but it just suddenly happened, or it's recent." Just like the XM/Sirius audio, which that's been that way for years. But the more channels they can put on, the more cars they can get it into, the more money they make, so that's the end result there.
Kirk: Dave Anderson is with us as well and I feel he's going to echo your comments as well, and maybe even a bit more stridently. Dave, welcome in, glad you are here.
Dave: Glad to be here, Kirk. How are you doing?
Kirk: Good, so you are generally in the, what the, you work for some stations based out of Sarasota. You are in around the Tampa area, right?
Dave: We've got one of our stations that is in the Tampa market. We have another one of our stations up in the Atlanta market, so we've got several stations that are in different PPM areas across the country.
Kirk: So you are in two PPM markets then, okay.
Dave: Two PPM markets. Actually more than two but those are the two biggest that we are in, and we put the new software in and they made the process absolutely painless, insert flashcard, wait two minutes, pull it out, you're done. The second I pulled it out and put the encoder back on the air, off of a wall or rack mount speaker, I heard something right away. We are not talking a high quality audio speaker, it's a little rack mount speaker.
It sounded, the best way I can describe it like a swooshy phasing noise that I couldn't comprehend, so I took the backup encoder out of the [inaudible 00:41:14] put the primary back in, which still had the older software and didn't hear it. Went back to the other one, okay, well, hear it again. So I called a couple of friends in other stations in town and pretty much everyone was echoing my thoughts. That's was the first sound that's heard.
There is another issue that I haven't heard but one of the Facebook groups, there's been a heavy discussion of people saying that if you have a radio that you are monitoring and it goes to a mono blend, that there is indeed something that is going on with some sort of a phasing issue that is going on.
Kirk: You mean phasing of the audio itself or just that the watermarking tones are more audible?
Dave: I think there is something they are doing between the left and the right channel that is not lining up perfectly and when it's arriving the then destination, because most of the stations nowadays are either, because they are actually now kind of starting to recommend not to put the PPM box after the processor, they are recommending you put it before it again, like we've changed that, what, three times since PPM has been out. I've lost track, so that was kind of the first thing that we noticed.
Most of the stations around here, the trick that we've managed to do and some of the other stations have done in our market, back down some drive on your 2.5 kilohertz bands on your processor. Some guys have discovered that cutting down their clipping limiter a little bit more and it becomes less noticeable on air, and also if you do have a volt there, don't run it on 20 with enhanced CBET. It's really going to be obvious then.
We've done some tailoring with our processing, a lot of engineers don't feel that they should have to tailor processing to meet a watermarking requirement for ratings, but I don't want to lose any of our listeners. Our format lends to high TSL numbers and we don't want people turning it off because of fatigue, listening to something that they can't handle, so I went off on a task to try to eliminate it. I've got it down to the point where I don't hear it a whole lot on music anymore. I do hear it on dry voice, around the edges of people's voices, that little, I can say it's almost like a phasing delay.
If you've ever done front of house or any sound reinforcement work where you've trying to cancel out different phasing between the different liner rays in an auditorium, it's kind of that type of sound and it's another one of those sounds where once you point it out to somebody, which I've done it to a couple of people they hear it all the time now.
Kirk: I almost want to stay in my blissful ignorance because I've not heard it on the air yet. Now today at our SBE meeting here in Nashville, our good friend Ted Randall and his two sons, David and Matt, and his wife Holly, they put together a demo, and I don't know where they got this stuff but they brought up PPM encoder to the SBE meeting and they ran some audio through it. They also had a microphone there and I didn't get to see what I was actually listening to, but they had it hooked up in such a way, maybe they were cancelling out left and right, I don't know. They did it in such a way that we were really hearing the watermarking.
Dave: They were probably doing a mix minus, and you were probably hearing, you might have been hearing just the actual product. We've done that as well. If you do compare the old software to the new software, there is a whole lot more because we did that as well down here. I wanted to get an idea just when I took the same audio track of dry voice and the same song and ran it through it, I wanted to see how much more energy there was and there is considerably more energy with an enhanced CBET. There's no doubt about it.
Kirk: Well, I'll tell you what, just talking into a microphone, they happened to be using a Heil PR40, talking into it and hearing the tones that were generated from the encoder, I mean it sounded like something out of The Exorcist. It's bad.
Dave: It was pretty horrible. Kirk: Right after I heard all that, I kind of memorized what that sounded like, got back in my car, and drove 20 minutes from the SBA and back to the house here, and listened to the stations in town, a couple of them were even mentioned during the meeting as to, "Oh, these guys sound bad, these guys sound bad," and I wasn't hearing the effect. All I was hearing was typical, and I know some of these engineers who are required to have their processing pretty high, all I heard was what, to my ears sounded like lots of processing maybe a little extra clipping. So on the one hand, I want to understand what it sounds like on the air. On the other hand I kind of don't want to ever learn it because I'll hear it all the time.
Dave: Yeah, that's the problem. In my discovery talking to other engineers about this, what I'm discovering is everything in your air chain is having a huge bearing on this.
Kirk: Tell me about that.
Dave: If for whatever reason, you are running a compressed library on your automation, there are some people out there still running MP3, I don't know why. It's just people's hard drives are this days. I've heard that makes it worse. If you're running a highly data compressed STL format it can also do it because all that psycho-acoustic masking that you're doing plays tricks with how the encoder... basically you're removing things especially if you have the PPM encoder at the transmitter site, you are removing things that need to hide behind. Or if you put in front of the compressed STL it ends up leaving it in places it should be removing it for that whole psycho-acoustic effect.
I don't know the math in that, I've tried to wrap my head around how the MP3 algorithm does the whole masking, but for being able to get the bit rate down, but it seems like Nielsen kind of are doing something somewhere in how they are hiding. It's just instead of subtracting, they are adding.
Kirk: Watermarking is a little bit like the opposite of psycho-acoustic bit rate reduction, and one thing kind of interesting about this, I agree with you, my initial thoughts were, wait a minute, if you try to put watermarking into some audio that has been bit rate reduced, there's fewer places to hide. The blanket has already been applied and there's a few places to hide.On the other hand, there is this to consider - when you have audio that has been bit rate reduced and then recovered and you have this audio, it has a lower instantaneous signal to noise ratio because in each band, whether it's MPEG1 or MPEG2, MPEG3 or AAC or even up to... well, APTECs not so much, but in each band that's been encoded, the resultant signal to noise ratio, there is also a number of bits to code each little sub-band of audio is less. So you actually have a situation where the noise floor, instead of being 96 db down or something, the noise floor is dynamic just below the threshold of your brain being able to hear it and understand it.
Your ear and auditory system just picks up the audio even though the noise is just below it, and you can prove this to yourself just by taking a medium or low bit rate MPEG2, for example, and processing the heck out of it with a multi band processor and you'll hear all this noise come up. It's very dynamic and it's very fluid but you'll hear it.
So the question then becomes, can bit rate reduced audio can in any way actually be helpful to the watermarking process because it is noisier, but it is noisier below your threshold of hearing. I go with the former, your first argument, that there's fewer places to code and that's been borne out by me a bit, here locally in Nashville by, say a radio station playing a Christmas music format. They pull out their hard drives with the Christmas music and they plug it in, and their PPM doesn't work as well as it used to, and it's because the whole library was dubbed 15 years ago, except for that one Mariah Carey song.
So, yeah, I believe that bit rate reduction is not good for PPM, but there's a bit of an argument the other way too.
Dave: Exactly, and I just think that the entire air chain is going to have to be evaluated to figure out and everybody's putting their PPM encoders in different places, the air chain like you were discussing with the new options that are available in the Omnia line, and then of course obviously depending on how you process. A comment that was made at our local SBE meeting here this last month, that is if we are not careful with this and pay attention to how we are doing things like this, it's just a race to the bottom, so to speak, in the quality that we are putting on the air.
There's already a lot of stations out there that have already got their processing to the point that all they care about is one sample. They are not interested in any kind of TSO at all, so they've just kind of loud and loud and loud. That doesn't lend for time spent listening, but you add PPM to that and then in the case of this market there's a couple of stations that qualify for that, they are some of the ones that you audibly can hear it the most.
Now, I first thought maybe all the years I've been doing audio front of house and stuff like that, that it's just me. I'm hearing something because it's just I'm used to hearing things like that. Until one of my on-air guys said, "You know, I was listening to my dry voice on a voice track that I recorded and I sound like there's something around my voice. Did something change in the air chain?" I'm like, "As a matter of fact, it did."
Then I had a couple of folks that dropped us emails to the station wanting to know if we made changes because some of their songs, they heard things they didn't hear before. So there's something there and I think everyone is hearing it slightly different because we went around the room at our last SBE meeting and everybody described it slightly different. No one could nail exactly what they were hearing but they are hearing something, some people call it robotics. Some people call it phasing. There is just no real definitive exact answer to what it is that they are hearing.
I do know the folks at Nielsen have recognized the fact that folks are complaining about this, and we are here in Tampa right where Nielsen is based out of. As a matter of fact, we have our SBE meetings at their facility for chapter 39 down here, so they told us that they are quite aware of this and that they are looking into it. It's hard to say what they are going to come out with. I mean the amount of time that it took them to qualify the software for the enhanced CBET was almost a year from the time that they tested it in Washington and Baltimore to the time they were rolled it out. Even if they were to come out with a way of resolving this issue, it's not going to be a quick fix, if they can fix it at all.
It's going to be one of those things that we are just going to do what we can do in processing to try and limit it a little bit. Stations that have done it, I have noticed an improvement. It's not really the best way to run a radio station to have to make your air chain accommodate a piece of hardware that as Chris was mentioning earlier you can't control, you can't touch, you can't see anything that it's doing. So it's not really the ideal position to be in. It's kind of a magic box that does something and you really don't know what it is doing. It's a little frustrating whenever your program director is screaming at you because they don't like what they are hearing and you can't do anything about it.
Kirk: We are going to be, we've got a hard end of the program today about quarter after, so we are not too many minutes away from that. Chris, do you have some comments on what has been said so far and how it relates to, again, to your market? What do you see in there or hear in there?
Chris: Well, I am hearing and seeing the same thing, and I think the reason why it's so different to everyone in part is because it's psycho-acoustic and I'll leave it there. I believe the source material changes so much within any station's format, whether it be music, talk, or anything else, so there are times where you might not hear anything and there are times where you it a lot. My concern is, this is a situation, and it's been going on for a while, but now I think it's even going to get even worse, because of this race to solve the problem because now everybody is complaining that there's money on the table as a result of it, or money off the table.
It's the frog in the slow simmering pot, and the radio industry is the frog. Okay, so it takes a year for a software to be certified. It takes too long for people to agree there is something amiss. It takes too long for people to acknowledge the fact that maybe we need to rethink how we do our workflow. Just think of this, just as it's been mentioned, MP2s, MP3s or compressed audio or bit reduced, how about the source material that comes into your audio chain from outside, say a spoken word format, maybe you're all sports and you've got a broadcast coming in on ISDN from a venue where it's typically MPEG2 128 usually. Maybe not, maybe it's GI 722 64.
Think of those sources before they even hit anything in your facility, comes in, gets put through whatever, maybe a recording system because it's delayed or a delayed unit itself that is digitized, and now you are putting it through your usual chain, and then it's coming through this little black interesting little box that does crazy things and off it goes. So all of this stuff impacts what we do. I'm not sure what to make of it.
It's a tough one because it really does impact your business. Think of some other businesses. You are making bagels and somebody says to you, "Look, we've got this great bagel maker but we have no idea what it does, but it spits out bagels 10 times faster than the old way. However, every 200, somebody complains of it not tasting right, or every 50."
Now, do you think that guy at the bagel shop is going to sit there with that cooking machine in the back and go, "You know what, forget this. I'm going back to the old way of boiling them, putting them in the oven and making them because people bought them. So what? I'll figure out a way to offset the cost." That's really what it comes down to. We're running a business and we've got a piece of hardware that supposedly is supposed to help us run the business because it's an audience measurement service. I'm just being practical.
I'm not even looking at the technology point. It's just like, hey, because you are running a business, you maybe not be in the major market, or you are in a place that, like Dave pointed out, where he's got several stations, they're making things happen, and they may not have the resources and just say let it go and all right, we'll make up for the difference somewhere else. Whereas maybe some station in New York or LA or Chicago, it's like, yeah, well we are a launch group and we'll just figure out the numbers and make it happen, because that's how businesses work sometimes, launch businesses, but not everybody.
Kirk: Chris, I love the bagel machine analogy, and to advance that, now we have new software for the bagel machine. It will now spit out 300 bagels per hour instead of 200. The only problem is instead 1 out of 50 tasting bad 1 out of 20 taste bad, is that okay?
Chris: Exactly, or if you want to be really funny, we'll making it holiday spirit, if you've ever seen the movie Babes in Toyland or March of the Wooden Soldiers with Laurel and Hardy and they go to the toy master and he says, "Santa is here to see his new product that he bought from us. Will you bring it out?" Here comes a 6-foot soldier who walks out and Santa starts laughing and goes, "That's not what I ordered." He goes, "What did you order?" "I ordered 12 inches high, 600 soldiers." Instead they got 1,200 soldiers, 6-feet high.
It's the same thing, it's just like, okay, what I'm going to do with this, I can't do anything with it. This is what it is, I mean, yes it's comical, I'm making light of it, but I'm just trying to point out it's the frog in the simmering pot. We have to be careful as an industry not to just assume everything is, it's just has to be, and Dave is right, it's a race to the bottom.
Kirk: We have got to take a quick break and I wish we had more time today, but we don't, but we're going to pick this subject up again, I'm sure, in a month or so. We've got some great shows coming. We are going to have a final thought on this. I've got a final thought on this subject. Dave, I'm sure you do too. Chris, I'm sure you will also as well so hang on. We'll finish those final thoughts in just a minute.
Our show is brought to you in part by the folks at Axia, and I want to point out something that is really amazing about what the folks at Axia have been doing over the last 10 years with Livewire and now Livewire+ with AES67. That is partners. When you build a radio station, even though I'm sure the folks at Telos Omnia and Axia would love you to build a whole radio station or other creative facility with just their equipment, they recognize that you need other stuff too.
There are things like automation systems that you might need, or you might need a little mini-console somewhere here and there. You might need a sound card that goes in a PC. There's all kind of things you might need. You might need integration of your facility. Maybe you're going to farm this out, and have somebody else build it for you or integrate a new facility. Well, that's why since day one, the folks at Axia have focused on partnerships with other companies, companies that you'll do business with too.
If you go to the website, go to Telos Alliance and look under Axia and then look for the partner page. This is an amazing list of partners that make products or install or are expert at audio over IP, and specifically Axia and Livewire networking. First of all, there's a huge delivery system partner list there, and a lot of these companies are international, like AEV broadcast and AdeuxI in Le Bourget, France, the BBC, BSI, Burli, DAViD systems, Digiton, HARDATA down in South America, NETIA, OMT, Op-X, Rivendell, just on and on and on, WinMedia, a company in France that really makes some nice, nice systems, Zenon-Media, a Swiss company.
Then you go into to the hardware development partners. Well, there's 25-Seven, which the folks at Telos ended up merging with them, purchasing, Digigram, Elenos, Logitek, MAYAH, RAVENNA, SOUND4, WEGENER, XI Audio, Radio Systems, that list is pretty long. Then there's a whole list of system integrators really all over the world, from guys in the U.S like Creative Studios Solutions, CSS, BVMEDIA, Tract in Russia, IP-STUDIO in France, Digiton also in Russia, AVC in New Zealand and Australia and India.
Look who is behind me! Hello there. How you doing? My son makes an appearance on the show every now and then. Come on in and say hi.
Kirk: I'll be with you in a few minutes, okay? Okay. See you.
So a huge amazing list of partner companies. People have seen, hey, there's value here in audio over IP, many of these from the very beginning, from early on. That's one of the things that makes Axia and Livewire a huge benefit. No other company on the planet has this kind of a list of partners, just amazing. Check it out if you would. Go to telosalliance.com, you can read all about the partners that work with the Telos Alliance, Axia and Livewire+.
Okay, guys, we just got a minute, real quickly my little thing was this. There's a station owner in middle Tennessee who has a problem. He is a rim shot station, and he put the enhanced CBET on the air, and he says it is unlistenable and other people have told him so from the moment he put it on. He's had to take it off the air, and he's stuck. Either don't show up in the ratings or run away the listeners.
There may be something else went wrong with his air chain that's making him sound so bad. But I believe this guy. I can't tell you who it is, trustworthy guy, absolutely, head screwed on straight, smart individual, got great engineering talent there as well, and he is stuck. To turn it off sounds better, sounds a lot better, and no ratings. Dave Anderson, what's your comment before we have to go?
Dave: Air chain. You would almost have to evaluate where it's at in the air chain. That would be my first thing to look at. I'd also probably turn off the one encoder, turn on the back up, make sure that the active encoder he's been trying to use maybe doesn't have a problem, the update didn't take correctly or there is something with the hardware wrong. I have had a couple of these encoders go bad and start doing some weird things, losing clock and things like that on the AES models, so I'd start looking at things like that.
Make sure the backup encoder and see if it sounds better and then evaluate where it's at in the air chain and figure out if there is a better location for it. Maybe even try moving it around in the air chain just versus turning it off, and see if you could find a sweet spot that doesn't seem to offend people. That'd be the first way to start.
It being that objectionable, I can't say as I've heard of any stations that are that bad yet, so it must be pretty bad if he's wanting to turn it off and not get ratings.
Kirk: He thinks it has something to do with... he is a real rim shot. He is not a low power station, but he's a class A and he says some distance out of town, and by turning it off, he says for the first time, they can hear the station properly at their studio. Chris Tobin, any final comments on PPM? I know we've been hating on it.
Chris: I'm not hating on it in the sense of what it's meant to do. What I'm concerned with is the method by which both the companies introducing it, and the companies that have been forced to buy into it. Remember, it's a single source product, it's a monopoly, so I think the industry should push harder to say, "Hey, guys, we can't keep operating this way. We need more answers. We need better methods of testing." Or people will have to come forward and say, "Look, this is what's happening. Here's a recording. Here is paper work," whatever you want to call it, it's s a spectrum analyzer display snap shot.
There's too many people making the same comment from everywhere on the spectrum. It's not like as if it's a group from one part of the country. It's literally scatter shot, so you have to think there's something more going on here, and maybe, as Dave points out, if it is something with an audio, the audio change is impacting it, what else could be impacting it? There's a rim shot station may not have anything wrong with their set up. They may be using a very super compressed STL or maybe they are using a very clean linear link that for some reason it's so clean and clear that the psycho-acoustics adding doesn't work right. I mean, there's a lot it things that could be.
Kirk: Guys, we've moved through the show really quickly. I wish we had hours and hours of this but we don't. Dave Anderson, thank you very much for being on the show. Appreciate your time and coming out on short notice.
Dave: Not a problem, Kirk. Glad to be here.
Kirk: I would love to have you back here sometime. Chris Tobin, thank you again for taking another hour of your day and sharing it with us. I appreciate knowledge and expertise.
Chris: No problem. I'm off to get some bagels.
Kirk: Just get the good ones, skip the 19. Oh no, eat the 19th, not the 20th one. Thanks very much to Suncast who has been producing this show, doing a fantastic job of switching it. We appreciate Suncast very much, and Andrew Zarian, the founder of the GFQ network. I appreciate our sponsors too.
Be sure you look at your show notes and tell your friends about it, and subscribe, subscribe, subscribe. Just go to the website this week on radiotech.com. You can subscribe to the video or the audio in one of different ways. It's easy to do. We'll see you next week on This Week in Radio Tech. Bye-bye, everybody.