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Radio Engineering at the Museum

Posted by Kirk Harnack [TWiRT] on Dec 10, 2014 12:55:00 PM

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TWiRT 237New radio studios are always a cause for excitement. The Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago is home to the Paul & Angel Harvey Studio, and the newly-rebuilt Art Laboe Control Room. We’re talking with Bruce DuMont, President and Founder of the Museum of Broadcast Communications, plus audio producers, Colin Ashmead and Chris Cwiak, along with Greg Dahl, who installed the new equipment.



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Kirk: This Week in Radio Tech, episode 237, is brought to you by Axia Audio and the Axia Radius Networked IP Audio Console. Throw your budget a curve and meet Radius; by the Telos Z/IP ONE IP Codec, the IP codec that drops jaws, not audio; and by Lawo and the new crystalCLEAR Virtual Radio Console. crystalCLEAR is the radio console with a multi-touch touchscreen interface. You know, new radio studios are always a cause for excitement. The Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago is home to the Paul and Angel Harvey Studio, and the newly-rebuilt Art Laboe Control Room. We're talking with Bruce DuMont, President and Founder of the Museum of Broadcast Communications, plus audio producers Colin Ashmead and Chris Cwiak, along with Greg Dahl who installed the new equipment.

Hey, welcome in. This is This Week in Radio Tech. I'm Kirk Harnack, your host. Glad to have you along. This is episode 237. Can you believe we have wasted that much time doing this show? This is the show where we talk about broadcast technology, radio technology typically, audio. Everything from the microphone to the light bulb at the top of the tower, or maybe whatever happens at the end of the stream. So I'm glad you're here with us.

Our show is brought to you by the folks at Lawo and the crystalCLEAR Audio Console; also brought to you by Telos and the Telos Z/IP ONE IP Codec; and by Axia and the Axia Radius Audio Console. We'll hear more from our sponsors throughout the hour. And I want to welcome in right now the best-dressed engineer, although he's still looking mighty Movemberish, it's Chris Tobin from New York. Hey Chris, how are you?

Chris Tobin: I'm well. I actually just came from a transmitter site, so I just walked in literally ten minutes ago, so I'm a little underdressed I guess.

Kirk: Well I'm glad you're here, yeah. You're no longer the best-dressed. So you usually give us about a two-sentence weather report for Manhattan.

Chris Tobin: Sure. Well, the weather today in Manhattan was very nice. It's a very cool evening. It's about 40 degrees, clear skies. No precipitation expected tonight, so humidity is going to be on the lower side, and dew points even in the comfortable range. So it should be a good night for checking out the tree at Rockefeller Center and the storefront windows along 5th Avenue.

Kirk: Oh, that sounds nice. Oh, I miss doing that. I've done that a few times. Well, I'm in Chicago.

Chris Tobin: Best time in the city.

Kirk: Yes it is. I'm in Chicago here, and let me just introduce right away our first guess. This is Bruce DuMont. Hello, Bruce.

Bruce: Hello. Nice to be with you.

Kirk: I'm glad to be with you. Bruce, we are at... well, tell us where we're at. What is it?

Bruce: We are at the Museum of Broadcast Communications, one of the three broadcast museums in the United States. We're home to the only National Radio Hall of Fame in America, and we are doing this broadcast from the Art Laboe Control Room in the Paul Harvey Studio, the second floor, in the America's only Radio Hall of Fame gallery, and we're delighted to be with you today and introduce some of our new technology that has been provided by the Telos Alliance.

Kirk: I want to do the show. You very politely offered that I could do TWiRT from here. And I'm going to take you up on that not just this one time. We did some training in the room today.

Bruce: Sure, absolutely.

Kirk: But I want to do a little bit more of a produced version of This Week in Radio Tech where we show video of some of the gallery out there.

Bruce: Right. Absolutely.

Kirk: All my heroes are out there on the wall. Tell me about the gallery.

Bruce: Well, there's over 173 people that have been inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame, and they are both some contemporary broadcasters and some that have recently passed away and some more from the golden age of radio like Fred Allen and Jack Benny and Burns and Allen and Bob Hope. But again, we have some contemporary broadcasters. We just concluded on November 10th, or 9th rather, in Los Angeles, the induction ceremony for this year. It was hosted by Delilah, and you had an opportunity to be there at the Cicada Club in Los Angeles. It's the first time we've ever done an induction ceremony outside of the Radio Hall of Fame in Chicago.

But again, this is a place for people who live and breathe radio, who work primarily in front of the microphone but also some people who've been in the executive suites and made some of the significant decisions in the history of radio. This is where they can be honored. It's also an opportunity for people who work in small markets or who choose to spend their entire careers working either in one particular market or regional markets, it gives them an opportunity to be recognized and to be welcomed into the Hall of Fame, just as those that have labored primarily at the network or nationally syndicated level.

Kirk: Wow. This Museum of Broadcast Communications, I'd never been in here before. I walked into the radio hall here on the second floor, came off the elevator, and saw all these beautiful old radios. Oh, your heart just warms up right away.

Bruce: Well we have over 600 radios.

Kirk: What?

Bruce: We've got probably about... I would say probably about 60 of them on the floor, but I also have a gentleman who is a collector who wants to give me 1,600 transistor radios, so we're trying to figure out exactly where we put them. We don't want them just to be an art piece. But again, this is a place, the Radio Hall of Fame, and again it's the only one in America, this is by, for, and about people who love radio.

And our third floor is all about television. We're a national museum that happens to be based in Chicago, and we tell the story of how television content really has unfolded, and we tell the story by genres: comedy, drama, music, news, and sports. And so we look and we pay homage to the forerunners in each of those genres and we make it as contemporary as possible with the introduction of clips from contemporary shows as well.

Kirk: In the Hall of Fame, speaking just of radio here, you've got some technology in here. Now have you always had some tech in here as far as a studio?

Bruce: Well, we had a studio at our previous location. That was at the Chicago Cultural Center, and also we were at 800 South Wales for many years, and we had programs that originated from the studio. In fact, I originate my nationally syndicated program Beyond the Beltway from the museum as well. That is both a national radio show and a local television show. So we do that radio show from the TV studio, but the control room for that show is the Art Laboe Radio Control Room.

So we do that. We also make the studio available to any and all radio stations. This is very important. Any radio station in America that would like to do a remote from Chicago, just let us know. Give me a call or give me an email at brucedumont@museum.tv, and we'd like to welcome them here and show them what we have and take the story back to their respective markets. Dennis Miller did a week's worth of programming here early last year.

So that's what we want to do. And thanks to Telos Alliance and being able to introduce really state-of-the-art technology, it's going to give broadcasters all around the country an opportunity to take a look at the Telos Alliance showcase that you've created here in the Art Laboe Control Room, and then sit at a studio that was once used for many years by WGN Radio and some of the hall of famers, names that people may know. Wally Phillips and the late Bob Collins, they all did their broadcasts from the studio just in the next room. And again, the studio is named for Paul and Angel Harvey, and certainly the two of them knew something about radio.

Kirk: I'd say so. So if stations want to come here, make arrangements through you.

Bruce: Yes.

Kirk: And you have some ISDN gear here?

Bruce: Yes, they can do their shows from here and we also... they are looking through a traditional control room glass window, so people can walk by and watch them do their shows. But again, the purpose of this is to use this technology to spread the word about radio, its past and its future, as well as what's going on right now.

Kirk: Now you are listed on the website as the president and founder of this museum.

Bruce: Yes.

Kirk: What inspired you to found something? This looks like a big project. It's a lot to bite off.

Bruce: Well, I didn't realize at the time that it was going to consume my life, which it has. But back in November of 1982, that's how long ago it was, I was producing a local television show in Chicago called the Lee Phillips Show. And in the course of doing that program, I would go in and we'd put little video pieces together as bumpers primarily, and I would go back to the video tape library and I would find what I was looking for.

But I noticed and I saw and I was disappointed by the haphazard way that the two-inch tapes, and they were all two-inch tapes in those days, how they were just kind of falling over and nobody was cataloguing them. You know, there was historic things that I knew from Chicago history that were just there. If I wanted to watch them, I could talk to my buddy in master control and he'd put up the two-inch and we could watch it in the afternoon, but I worried that no future generation would be able to do much with it. And I figured if that was happening at the CBS-owned and operated station in Chicago, which BBM was, then it was probably happening at other stations.

And so in November of 1982, I was on the board of the television academy, and they were looking for a way to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the chapter. And so I raised my hand, and I said "Why don't we have a broadcast museum in Chicago where everybody could donate their tapes and future generations could come in and watch them?" And the president said "DuMont, you're a committee of one. Go ahead and do it."

And a couple of months later, they appropriated $250 to cover my cab fares and lunch fares. I was a line producer; I was not an executive with CBS. You know, one meeting led to the next and people would sort of pat me on the back. And I'd say "Well, don't just pat me on the back." They would say "Well, this should've been done 40 years ago." I said "Well, let's not meet in 20 years and say we should've done it 60 years ago. Now is the time to do it." And one-by-one, people began to make contributions. The first $5,000 came in the memory of Frank Reynolds, the former ABC News anchor who had come from Chicago, and Fahey Flynn who was the top anchor in Chicago for about 20 years. They died within two weeks of one another in 1983, and the first money that was really put down was put down by Dennis Swanson who was the president of Channel 7 in Chicago. He made a $5,000 donation at the memorial service, and we've not looked back since.

Kirk: Wow, wow. You have a beautiful place here. If folks want to visit here, here is a brochure, and you are on North State Street?

Bruce: We're on North State, and all they have to do is go to museum.tv. Museum.tv. It tells you all about the museum, and it also gives people a way to make a donation. We are a tax-exempt organization, so we look for donations. So if there's anybody out there watching the broadcast this evening, if you love radio and you think that there's a special place for radio and you want radio to be commemorated, I can assure you that if you make a donation to the museum and just put the word radio on it, we will make sure and I will pledge to you that every penny will go into the preservation of radio and the National Radio Hall of Fame gallery. Nothing for those TV folks; they'll have to do it another way.

Kirk: You mentioned you do a weekly show called Beyond the Beltway. If people want to listen to that, where will they catch it?

Bruce: Beyond the Beltway has been on for... we'll celebrate our 35th anniversary in June. Its flagship is WLS Radio AM Chicago, 890. Most people know those great call letters. It's also on Sirius XM Satellite Radio. I'm on about 45 stations all over the United States. You can go to our website, beyondthebeltway.com, and you can see what the show looks like. It is a national radio show. The first hour, we also tape for television, and it has been a local television show since 1996. And the show, by the way, we should mention is every single Sunday night from 6:00 to 8:00 Central time.

Kirk: Good deal.

Bruce: Good deal.

Kirk: Bruce, thank you so much for joining us.

Bruce: Thank you very much. Come back and see us any time.

Kirk: I want to do another TWiRT show from here and take more time to do a video production too.

Bruce: You've got it. Okay. Thank you.

Kirk: Thank you. Hey, send somebody else in. One of your guys, Colin or Chris.

Bruce: Come on in, Colin.

Kirk: Don't take the headphones with you though.

Bruce: I won't.

Kirk: Okay. Hey, our show This Week in Radio Tech is being brought to you in part by one of our usual sponsors, and that's the folks at Axia. I turned the camera here a little bit to show you this Axia Console they have. Thanks a lot, Bruce. Take care. All right, here at the Museum of Broadcast Communications. This is the Axia Radius, and you know if you are a fan of this show how much we love the Axia Radius. There's an Axia Radius right now at the GFQ Network that's handling our voices, me and Chris Tobin who I believe is still there. Chris, I'm sorry we haven't let you in yet. And we've just installed one here. In fact, we're going to be talking to Greg Dahl who was the installer of this console in just a few minutes, a little bit later on on the show.

The Axia Radius Console, part of the Axia Console line, it connects of course via Livewire, that's audio-over-IP technology, so it's part of a computer network. It's easy to connect microphones to it; it's easy to connect other devices. We have a Z/IP ONE up here in the rack, it's just off-screen, a Z/IP ONE that is connected via Livewire. We have a Telos Hx6 phone system right behind me here. The only audio connection going to that is a Livewire AoIP connection. That means it's a piece of CAT5. Plug it in, browse into it, set it up, and you're done.

And so if you want to use this console, if you're in the radio business and you want to use this console, all you have to do is contact Bruce DuMont at museum.tv. So Bruce DuMont at museum.tv. Make arrangements for your broadcast to come out of this studio, the new Art Laboe Studio, the Art Laboe Control Room here, and you can use this console. Give it a try for yourself. You can also of course contact any Telos, or any Axia dealer I should say. In the US that would be Broadcasters General Store. Oh, there's a picture of it right there. There's a little close-up of this console. Very pretty, easy to put in. Hey, I've got three of these consoles in, of all places, American Samoa. Yes, the studios in beautiful downtown Pago Pago, American Samoa, and we run two radio stations there plus a news department.

So thanks to Axia Audio. Check it out on the web, Axia Audio, that's A-X-I-A, axiaaudio.com, and look for the Radius Console. If you want a bigger console, got those too, but the Radius is cute, beautiful, smart, and as I like to say, cheap and cheerful. All right, let's move the camera back. Hey, come on over here close Colin. How are you, Colin?

Colin: Pretty good. And yourself?

Kirk: Good. This is Colin Ashmead, and Colin, you are an engineer and radio producer?

Colin: Correct, I am. I'm the engineer for Beyond the Beltway ...

Kirk: Oh, okay.

Colin:... with Bruce DuMont here at the Museum of Broadcast Communication.

Kirk: I apologize that I'm not familiar. I've heard the name Beyond the Beltway, but I guess I've never actually seen or heard the show. Typically how many guests does Bruce have on the show?

Colin: Bruce has a range of guests on ranging from himself to two, maybe even five. It's a live call-in show, and we take phone calls from coast-to-coast on the topics at hand.

Kirk: Now the show is done for both television and for radio, right?

Colin: Correct.

Kirk: So as an audio engineer, or as the engineer for the show, what are some of your biggest challenges in getting through a show? What are you worried about when the show's going on or before the show?

Colin: Oh man, what am I worried about? Walking in and seeing if the studio is left the way it's supposed to is the first one. But making sure the console is operating correctly, the talent sounds great, the phone system is up and running. You know, I go through the checklist pre-game. The one thing that really I'm focused on and making sure is happening is a show that is executed, fully mixed and executed and sounds like a good product.

Kirk: Now is that show done in the studio upstairs from here?

Colin: Well, it rotates. Most of the time it's upstairs in the television, but sometimes we come down here and do the show from down here.

Kirk: Now when you take telephone calls, do you use a call screener to screen those calls?

Colin: Yeah, we do. We use a call screening program, Telos, and we have a call screener here that carries the phone calls. So yeah, and it works great. Bruce looks on his monitor and picks out a phone call and we throw them on-air.

Kirk: Now we were talking here in the studio. We did a little training station and answered a few questions here about some Axia gear. Sometimes Bruce does the show remotely, right? On the road. And you're using typically an ISDN box, the Telos Zephyr or the Extreme, to get his audio back here and to let him hear audio back. What are you finding about... are you still having a reasonable time getting ISDN lines and getting that arranged at this point in technology?

Colin: ISDN technology? Yeah, most of the time Bruce is already in a shop with an ISDN. But if we're out on a remote, I know in previous experiences a couple of years ago, I mean getting or finding an ISDN is quite troublesome. Even having one installed depends on what market you're in. And that's one thing I'm looking forward to as voice-over-IP technology develops, that you can basically do a show live from the beach, you know?

Kirk: Yeah.

Colin: But to answer your question, it is kind of getting difficult as the technology ages.

Kirk: One thing that I think is interesting about ISDN is ISDN technology is exactly the same today as it was 22 years ago or even more. In other words, 22 years later, on the one hand this is the beauty of standards that it's a set standard and it works most of the time, although there's plenty of phone companies who are suffering from brain drain and the technicians have all left or retired. Not many people know about ISDN. I still don't know. So it's the same, whereas this afternoon we were talking a bit about IP technology. You've got some experience with IP codecs, but we haven't gotten to play with the Telos Z/IP ONE Codec.

Colin: I'm looking forward to it, too.

Kirk: One challenge was we're in a building here. It's a big, old Chicago building. The infrastructure is not always what you want it to be, and there's actually no Internet connection in this room.

Colin: Right.

Kirk: No wired Internet connection. So I happened to have with me a Cradlepoint travel router and a Verizon USB modem with me. And so I hooked that up and we got the Z/IP ONE connected to it. So we gave it Internet, albeit via 4G LTE. And honestly, Colin, I was kind of surprised how well it worked.

Colin: No, it sounded great. We fired it up. We dialed into a couple of remote units, yours, and we listened to it on the monitors, through the board and on the monitors. And man, I was surprised with the quality of audio that was coming down. It was just like "Wow, am I listening to an AAC file? I feel like I'm in the studio."

Kirk: And then we dialed up that station in Austria.

Colin: Austria, and the one in Australia.

Kirk: One in Australia, too. Austria and Australia.

Colin: And just like boom, we were connected and listening to audio. So it was amazing technology. I'm looking forward to working more with it.

Kirk: Good deal. Colin, listen, I appreciate your time very, very much. Thanks for stopping by. When you leave the studio, have one of your buddies come in here, okay?

Colin: Thank you very much.

Kirk: All right. Hey, you're watching This Week in Radio Tech. Chris Tobin, I assume you're still there. Are you, buddy?

Chris Tobin: You assume correctly. Yes, I'm still here.

Kirk: Listen, I go do one of these remotes and I kind of forget about there's another world out there. How are you?

Chris Tobin: I'm well. I'm glad you're here in the Paul Harvey Studio. I worked with him at ABC and I got to watch him do his radio show from his studios in Chicago.

Kirk: Cool. Oh, that's neat.

Chris Tobin: Let me tell you something, he's definitely an orator, one-of-a-kind, and to listen to him on the radio is one thing and you will get goose bumps. But to watch him talk on the radio, it was good. I have to say it was one of the best times I had, working with Angel and Paul and just watching them.

Kirk: Well for this show, for this episode of This Week in Radio Tech, we're kind of stuck with this camera shot. But I want to come back here and shoot video so you can see. There is a beautiful portrait of Paul Harvey in the next room and his wife Angel, and then there's a whole bunch more inductees in the National Radio Hall of Fame. Their portraits are up on the wall, plus a whole gallery out in another big room. They're having a big soiree there right now.

Hey Chris, one of you guys needs to come on in here. We're going to talk engineering. And so I've got to let my friends and colleagues, the viewers and listeners to this show, or I guess I should say the viewers to this show, be able to see this. Not everybody can get to Chicago and see the National Radio Hall of Fame or the Museum of Broadcast Communications. It's worth seeing. So if you can get to Chicago, put that on your list.

You know, when I was a kid, we'd come to Chicago. We'd go to the Shedd Aquarium. We'd go to the Museum of Science and Industry. Never went to a ball game here; I guess that would've been a good thing to do. Just before the show here, we went over Harry Caray's and had some delicious food. It's just a great place to come and experience. But for those of you who can't, I want to do some videotaping and do a tour of this place so you can see it, and that's going to come up on another TWiRT show. It may be a year from now, but we're going to do it because I'm so excited. It's going to be worth seeing.

Hey, our show is also brought to you in part by the folks at Telos and the Telos Z/IP ONE. Colin and I talked about it just a few minutes ago. There's a picture of it right there. Hey, Chris, come in here. Move in. We're off-camera right now, so you can move on in. The Telos Z/IP ONE is an IP codec, and you may have heard the phrase IP codec. Well, what does it do? It takes audio coming in. It turns it into a stream, an IP audio stream, and sends it somewhere else, wherever it's supposed to go. We've got one right behind us here. Colin, why don't you turn around and point to it there? Colin, sorry, Chris.

Chris Cwiak: I go by Colin, too.

Kirk: There it is. It's up in the rack. And we just got it hooked up a little while ago. It had been in the studio, but we don't have Internet in this room. In fact, we're coming to you via Wi-Fi right now. I went ahead and wired it up to a Cradlepoint modem as we were talking before. Bam, it sounds great. We're getting just great service from Verizon. And the reason I bring that point out is if you need to go do a live remote broadcast from somewhere and maybe you don't have wired Internet, all is not lost. There are ways to get Internet.

Now I'm constantly amazed by the various services. And Chris, you've been telling me about this for years. That's one of the common themes of our conversation when I've visited you here in New York and here on the show. We've talked about hey, if you don't have wired, DSL if that's not available, maybe a cable modem's not available, maybe fiber's not available, there's still other ways to get Internet. Right here in Chicago, on this Verizon 4G LTE, it's just working beautifully. Chris, tell me about your experiences with IP codecs and getting Internet to them in odd ways.

Chris Tobin: Well let's see, in odd ways? I did a microwave, a 5.8 gig link, so we'll call it a 5.8 Wi-Fi link from the Empire State Building to a cruise ship on the Hudson to do a broadcast for two radio stations, and that was using IP codecs. That was, we extended our Ethernet across that wireless link. That was interesting trying to point those antennas and figuring out where I'm pointing, back to a large building in Manhattan.

And then let's see, we did a sports event, a sports bar, in Philadelphia where we had a wired ISDN connection. We also had wired Ethernet. Then suddenly about an hour before broadcast, as always, things will happen at 5:00 a.m. for a 6:00 a.m. broadcast. Both of those connections suddenly stopped working properly. I just so happened to have a netbook with me with an application IP software and a dongle to make it work. And using the bar's Wi-Fi, did a two-hour broadcast for a sports broadcast morning show over a netbook.

Kirk: Wow.

Chris Tobin: And that was all IP. It was definitely IP. It was interesting. I will definitely say the perspiration on my brow was not from the excitement in the bar, but from the excitement of knowing that we're doing something so ad-hoc for the number one sports station in New York City that well, we'll see how it goes, if tomorrow morning I wake up to a breakfast in bed or a breakfast on the corner. So those are the two biggies, and I have a few others that we've done some wild stuff with IP.

Kirk: One thing that a lot of engineers are a little nervous about is doing something over IP that they traditionally had done over ISDN or T1 for years, and they finally got comfortable enough with that where they feel like they can depend on it. And a lot of engineers, including myself at one time, my experience with IP is it's a little mysterious and sometimes you hit print on your computer and it doesn't come out the printer. And so we assume oh, this may not work. Well a lot of this IP is under your control, and there's a lot of mitigating factors you can do. I'm still talking about the Z/IP ONE here. There's a lot of cool things the Z/IP ONE does to mitigate little problems with an IP connection.

One of the things that I did a year ago, a year ago right now, I have a Z/IP ONE in my office in Nashville. And just to see how well it would work, I connected it up with one of our support engineers, Brian Jones, and he is in Washington State. So that's almost all the way across the US from where I am.

Now Brian has got fabulous taste in music, and he has a Christmas music playlist that's just second to none. So he says "I'll just send you my Christmas music," and so we connected using Zephyr IPs, one at each end, and guess what? We didn't use one of the coding algorithms; we used linear audio. So 2.4 megabits per second from Washington State to my office in Nashville. We did that for five weeks, five weeks of Christmas music. Now I wasn't in my office 24 hours a day, but when I was in my office, I never heard it drop out. Now I know that over time a few errors built up in the error log, but I didn't hear them. I mean we're talking linear audio across the country over the public Internet, the public freaking Internet, for five weeks and it worked great.

Folks, this stuff works. And yeah, there's little challenges here and there, and sometimes you can't get the kind of Internet service you really want, but for the most part this stuff works and it's a great alternative. And with ISDN going away and other types of connections being hard to get or expensive, you need to take advantage of the technologies that are there, that are up-and-coming, and use equipment that will mitigate problems with it. So the Z/IP ONE, check it out if you will at telos-systems.com. Look for the Z/IP ONE. They're all over the world. We just programmed a whole bunch of friendly name other Z/IP ones into this one so we could call all around the world and test it out. It's really good.

All right, you're watching This Week in Radio Tech. This is episode number 237, and we are live this time at the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago. I'm sitting here with Chris Cwiak.

Chris Cwiak: Yes, sir.

Kirk: Did I get your name right?

Chris Cwiak: Close enough, you know?

Kirk: All right. Chris, you're an audio engineer here at the museum, yeah?

Chris Cwiak: I am, yes. I do live events. The museum hosts an array of events with dignitaries and inductees and interview segments and things like that, multimedia and video and things of that nature. There are podcasts that also originate here from the radio studio that you guys have been working on.

Kirk: Really? Really?

Chris Cwiak: Absolutely, yeah.

Kirk: Have there been any famous people sitting here?

Chris Cwiak: Yes, actually. Again, several inductees here at the National Radio Hall of Fame. Legendary DJ Dick Biondi was just in last week.

Kirk: Really?

Chris Cwiak: Yes. This is at the Lozano and Friends podcast at Lozano.com. It's a weekly podcast on Saturdays. And yeah, produced and engineered here thanks in large part to you guys and of course Bruce DuMont at the Museum of Broadcast Communications. Yeah, it's always a wide array of guests and talking, just funny and entertaining stuff generally.

Kirk: Now when you're producing a show, are you sitting here basically where I am?

Chris Cwiak: Yes, I am.

Kirk: And your talent is in the next studio?

Chris Cwiak: Yes they are.

Kirk: Is there any talent that wants to run their own board? Or do you let them?

Chris Cwiak: I've yet to actually do that, have anybody request that, but it's a simple enough setup where if you are used to even a Pacific Recorder, old analog boards or anything like that, it behaves in large part the same way on the surface. You know, I would obviously be here to get them up and running because there are different profiles that you can setup on this digitally and everything depending on the needs of each and every program. And so that's obviously very nice and easy, you know? Colin will engineer Beyond the Beltway on Sunday night. That requires a totally different list of inputs across your board than say a live podcast here. So you know, being able to just turn one knob, punch it up, and boom, you've got an entire profile dialed up is just massively simple and convenient.

Kirk: Now there is something that you do that I think is pretty interesting. Most of us engineers and most people watching this podcast or listening to it, if they're a broadcast engineer, they probably work at one radio stations or a cluster of radio stations. They tend to deal with the same talent day-in and day-out, week-in and week-out. I mean maybe somebody will get fired or somebody will change every now and then, but it tends to be the same people.

You, however, deal with a variety of talent coming in here. This is like an itinerant studio. People will come in. They'll use it for a day or two, a week. They'll do one show or five shows, then they're gone, and some of these are really big-name talent. Do you find it's interesting, weird, or challenging to work with such a variety of different people that you're trying to produce their shows?

Chris Cwiak: Well, I like that challenge, and I like not being just kind of limited if you will to just one thing only, you know? And the nice thing again is the system you guys have setup here, the Axia system, allows for a lot of kind of fluidity with that, you know? It's not "Okay, this is what we've got to deal with," and that's kind of it. So having the ability to tell somebody "Absolutely, we can do that." I don't want to tell anybody no if I can help it, you know? So it's nice to have the kind of "Okay, let me just go ahead and... all right, good, we're done. We're in. Whatever you need now, we're good to go on that."

Kirk: That is really great advice for any engineer. Whether you deal with a lot of people or just a few, your first answer is... to have the confidence you can say "Absolutely, we can do that."

Chris Cwiak: Right, exactly. Then maybe you've got "All right, can I?" And you figure it out on the backend and everything. But you know, it's simple enough.

Kirk: Now different people come in. Is everybody satisfied with let's say the microphone setup here, or do they want to bring their own mike? Or do they ask you "Don't you have blah, blah, blah microphone?"

Chris Cwiak: I've not really run into that honestly.

Kirk: Really?

Chris Cwiak: No, I haven't. You know, yeah, what we have is serviceable. It sounds fine. I don't think if this were like say a recording studio setup where you have a band coming in or a different engineer coming in that's been hired out by a band, you know, that might be the issue where you might have somebody who's like "Well, we don't like SM57 so much. We would rather have a Beyer M88 on something." Then it's "Well, sorry, we don't have it." You know, we don't really have that issue. It's more people looking not so much from their side of it being the technical side, but their side being a little bit more of the creative side, the creative content side, whereas I can focus a little bit more on the kind of technical side of that.

Kirk: Believe me, some talent. I mean National Recording Studios, you get a talent that comes in and says "We prefer a just post-World War II Neumann microphone, not the more modern Neumann."

Chris Cwiak: You don't have a U47? Get out of here. Oh, right, I've got one of those laying around. No problem.

Kirk: So do you do any broadcast engineering outside of this work?

Chris Cwiak: I do. I do production work, actually, at 93.1 FM, WXRT FM here in Chicago. I produce Lin Brehmer and Mary Dixon's morning show. That's more of just a technical production standpoint than like an engineering standpoint.

Kirk: Cool. We're going to interview Greg Dahl here in just a few minutes. He's the one that put this gear together. Has Greg taught you anything or have your eyes been opened to IP audio? What are your thoughts about this studio setup?

Chris Cwiak: Yeah, very much. I mean there are some things that it just does differently than what I was kind of raised on, if you will, where it's the analog world versus the digital world. The possibilities are kind of endless, but just the way things are routed is just different enough to where Greg's expertise comes in and really helps me out there because there are certain aspects that I'm just not that accustomed to yet. But Greg's a pretty helpful guy, so thanks to him for that.

Kirk: Good deal. Well he won't leave until you're thoroughly confused.

Chris Cwiak: Good to hear.

Kirk: Chris, thank you so much man. I appreciate it. Take care. Hey, if you could send Greg on, that would be great. Hey, Chris Tobin, you had the experience some years ago of wiring up your first AoIP studio. And that was at WINS, W-I-N-S, in New York. In the process of doing that, did you find anything that was particularly surprising like "Oh my gosh, I didn't expect this," either good or bad?

Chris Tobin: Well honestly, no, I didn't get too many surprises because as some of the folks back at...

Kirk: Because you researched it. That's why.

Chris Tobin: Well, you know why, because of where I was. You know, it's sort of like okay. And I also had to install the system while the bus was still driving on the highway.

Kirk: Oh, that's right. You were on the air the whole time.

Chris Tobin: Yeah, we did a three month or four month swap out as we were live. It's sort of like working on the space station, I guess. You can't stop it, can't bring it back home. You're just going to have to keep working in orbit and hope everything goes well. And it did. It went very well, and I will say that the research that I did and the benefits that we received from the system and the technology went way beyond my expectations. We did a few things, as you know, with the system that it wasn't designed for at the time but now is. We came up with some great ideas and I should say workflows that we couldn't do in the past with the, I'll say legacy technology, okay? Not to bash any particular thing, but just legacy technology's limitations. As you pointed out earlier, ISDN is 20 years or 30 years old and still the same way.

So basically, our workflows in the newsroom were such that they would be coming quicker, faster turnaround, speedy everything because that's the way life was going, but the legacy systems we had were not catching up. The Axia system allowed us to break the shackles if you will, and I think one of the best times we had, and I have to share this with everyone because you can do this with IP, we were doing election night coverage, national elections for the president, and we were an ABC Radio and News affiliate so we had the opportunity to do our anchored coverage from the ABC News studio. So we actually shared resources with ABC News in their facilities in Manhattan, and we used the profile, i-profile. Is that right? I got that all wrong.

Kirk: Pathfinder? Pathfinder?

Chris Tobin: Thank you, Pathfinder. I'm looking at something else. Pathfinder, and we were able to switch studios for the different anchors for the different remote sources from the studios at ABC on the laptop. So I actually sat there with the programming folks and news people, and they said "Okay, how's this going to work?" I said "Don't worry. Press this button, this touchscreen here, and you'll switch back to that studio when you're going live for this event, then you'll switch this, and the IFBs will follow suit." And they're like "Really?" I will tell you we did six or seven hours of broadcasting from two remote locations, and because of the IP infrastructure we could do it seamlessly.

And we actually had a reporter at a headquarters in the Hilton, the New York Hilton, whose codec device was having problems with audio levels coming back into the system. I sat at the newsroom at ABC, remotely dialed into the node it was connected to, and adjusted his levels coming in so he didn't have to figure out what he was doing at the noisy ballroom. That pretty much sealed it. The programming folks looked at that and said "Okay, you know what? Whatever you decide to do with IP, let's go with it. I don't care if it works or not, because this is just way too cool."

And that's what I always tell folks when I work with anyone, and I recently did with another IP audio console system recently, and I said "You've got to look at your workflow. Technology is one thing. Look at the workflow. What are you guys trying to accomplish? What is the marquee?" Then you back into which way are you going to use the technology. And that's what we did. I will say at 1010 WINS we did use the Axia system and it worked the way it was advertised, and we just pushed it even farther. It was great.

Kirk: And now besides Axia, of course, there are other brands of audio over IP consoles. That in itself is lending a great deal of shall we say gravitas to the whole idea of audio-over-IP. It works. It works really well. Hey, guess who's sitting right next to me here? This is the guy that installed this gear. That's Greg Dahl. Hi, Greg.

Greg: Hello, Kirk.

Kirk: Good to see you.

Greg: Chris, nice to meet you.

Kirk: I know, it's kind of backwards. Is it forward?

Greg: I'm not used to this.

Kirk: It's radio with pictures.

Greg: Oh, is that what this is? Okay. I'm not used to doing this. You know that.

Kirk: So Greg, you run a company that has this great name. I love the name of it. Tell us about your company.

Greg: Well, the name of the company is Second Opinion Communications. When we originally had started the company, we had to register it with the state of Illinois, and we kept on sending in names. You know, we thought of some really good names, but they kept on denying it until the 15th or so try and we used Second Opinion because a lot of times we would call after the fact. As engineers, we all know that. So that one stuck and they took it and here we are, what, 12 years later.

Kirk: Good deal. In your background, broadcast engineering ...

Greg: Radio engineering, yes.

Kirk: But now you've really moved into the whole project world. Tell me about as an engineer, you don't do so much day-to-day transmitter fixing. You go out and build things.

Greg: Yeah, and I'm smiling because I like that much better. You know, being chief engineer, that was a lot of fun being the director of engineering and having a lot of things going on. When we're doing a project, we can concentrate on that one thing and get it done and get it done with quality and so I do enjoy that a lot more. And plus getting involved in the manufacturing side with the Axia and such has been a real experience, or I should say a learning experience, because it's a little bit different of a world than being the end-user at the radio station, definitely.

Kirk: So a project like this one, I understand you were actually subcontracted by the original contractor?

Greg: Yes.

Kirk: Ron Mitchell at Ram Systems?

Greg: That is correct. Ron had contacted me and said we had Axia equipment coming in. It was donated graciously by Telos Alliance, and we needed somebody to ensure we get it put in correctly. You know, I work close enough where I could drive in. I said "Well, sure, I've done it a few times." So we started from there.

Ron and his crew came in and they did the physical construction with the cabinetry and arranging the equipment and wiring up the XLRs using the studio hubs and wiring into the core and stuff like that, and then I got the easy part, the easy part of just programming it and making sure the paths were correct. Then we went into the training, and as you and I did earlier this afternoon, we did some follow-up training with Chris and Colin and everything just to cover the bases and see the things or questions that come up since they've been using the facility for the last two months or so.

Kirk: So when you install a project, typically it's a studio project, maybe like a cluster of multiple studios oftentimes?

Greg: Yes. Most of the times we are doing three, four, maybe up to six or seven studios at one time, and that's what's so great about the Axia system, especially with using the Element. We can path audio anywhere we need within the building. As Chris was mentioning earlier about the Pathfinder and such and what we can do with that, we're always discovering new applications and new apparatuses we can use that for within the facility as we're putting more and more of this in.

Kirk: Yeah. You know, I remember when I first started learning about audio-over-IP. I had lived, just like you, in a world where you make a cable and it goes out and goes into somewhere, right? Everything is audio comes out of here and it goes in here. And even if it's contact closures or RS232, it was all you point and this is going to go to that. And sometimes you were going into a router which would give you some flexibility, but hey, the size of the stations I worked at, we never had a router. Everything was just point-to-point.

Greg: They were expensive at that time.

Kirk: They were, yeah. So when I first read about the notion of audio-over-IP, and of course I was reading about Livewire at the time, and really this isn't the Axia show but we talk about technology.

Greg: That's what I do.

Kirk: Yeah, that's what you do. Yeah. You put audio into a network, and then it becomes available anywhere. Just like putting a printer on a network or sharing a storage area network on a network, you get to share this wherever it's needed.

Greg: Right. And we both probably had the problem in the beginning, like we'd take our butt set and go "Where do we connect this thing up?"

Kirk: And what I like about this technology, and I think Chris does too, is you put audio into a network like this and if it goes in right it's going to be right everywhere else.

Greg: No more distribution apps.

Kirk: Yeah. No more level goofiness. No more "Oh, where is that distortion coming in? I've got to check here and here and here and here." You know, if it goes in clean, it's going to come out clean at all the places you want it to come out.

Greg: Yes, and that's beautiful. Beautiful.

Kirk: Now you were telling me about some other projects you've done. Was there one in Florida, in Gainesville, that you'd done?

Greg: That's coming up, and that derived from the project that you were heavily involved with, with the Z/IPs.

Kirk: Oh, yeah.

Greg: Was there like 15 or 16 involved with that?

Kirk: At HN, yeah. Fifteen at the main end, then it goes out to 15 public radio stations, so 30 of them altogether. Yeah.

Greg: So I came in. There was also an element involved at the power station, and I did the commissioning there. We were looking at the equipment racks upstairs with the university station, and there was a little bit of wiring that needs to be corrected and redone and such, so we started talking to them. So we'd been in the planning stages the last two months. I have been as far as we're going to completely rewire that and bring it up to snuff and make it work a lot better.

Kirk: Is this the... were you in the studio, the TV weather studio where there's an audio console?

Greg: Yeah, that was the commissioning I did back in the spring, late spring I think it was, that was done. Yes.

Kirk: You know, I was there for a couple of days and one of the days I was there, this is at the University of Florida in Gainesville, but one of the days I was there a car drove up and in that car is a name that a lot of us know, Jim Cantore from The Weather Channel. Usually when Jim shows up, you don't want to be there because wherever he is there's usually 100 mile an hour winds or tornados.

Greg: But it wasn't hurricane season at that time, so you would've been a little safe.

Kirk: He was there to do some instruction, I think. He was there to talk to the weather students at U of F.

Greg: The communications center, yeah. Well, yes, I was in that studio. And as I told you earlier, they setup a nice, huge monitor. I'm not sure if it's LED or a plasma or such, but they've got the state of Illinois, or excuse me, we're in Illinois, but Florida on there. They show all the sites where those Z/IPs are. And with the latest version of Pathfinder, they can tell when those are connected up now.

Kirk: Oh, over the network? So in Gainesville, they can look at the status and just determine from every single one in the whole state?

Greg: Yes, who's connected and who's not.

Kirk: Oh, wow.

Greg: So they know. Big Brother, there. Big Brother. It looks like it works great, because I only got to see it. Everything was connected. Everything was green lights. No red lights up there at all.

Kirk: Wow. Hey, we've got a couple of minutes left. Tell me... think about a project that you have done that you really enjoyed, that just really felt satisfying to plan it, do it, get it done. Have you had one of those?

Greg: Yeah. I've had quite a few I think, because any project that we're doing, we come in and we're taking out the old analog equipment and moving in the audio-over-IP, it's a great project. And one thing that I notice is every time we do this, I have somebody come up unsolicited and say what a difference the sound is in there because like we were talking about, when you've got a clean source coming in and it's all digital and your noise flow is much lower, your frequency responses are much better, you get a clean, crisp audio sound in there. They notice that, and I don't have to go around asking and I think that's fantastic.

Kirk: You really hit something that we don't often talk about just because we forget to, or we think "Hey, modern-day analog systems are awfully good. There's not much compromise there. And modern-day AES systems, you have a digital output on a CD player and you go into a digital input on a console, that's awfully clean. There's not much to go awry there with the audio." But I have found the same thing that you just mentioned.

Boy, almost I want to say eight or nine years ago, we replaced the analog gear at the Dave Ramsey Show in Nashville with some Axia gear, and they weren't looking for and nobody was expecting an improvement in audio quality. That wasn't a problem; nobody felt that was a problem. And I've got to tell you, even listening to the affiliate in Nashville who gets the Dave Ramsey Show via satellite, so just like everybody else does, you can hear an instant difference on the air. Dave's mike sounded clearer; the callers sounded clearer; the bumper music sounded clearer. And yet my point is we didn't know there was a problem before. We weren't complaining, and yet it was just like wow, it's so clear.

Greg: Yes, I totally agree. And also the GPIO, the operation with that, since we're talking about satellite. What I really like about this system, especially with automation companies now that are having the GPIO come through the IP driver, we wire up that XDS receiver into a GPIO. We group it into fives and everything, and then that goes into the automation. It's all through the Livewire. So we do one piece of wire between there with DB15s typically, or DB37 on the XDS. We do DB15 to the GPIO, and it's in the system. Then we can path however we want to go in wherever we want it.

A lot of times what I do is I designate pin one as the local breaks so that the program director of that particular station, especially with the talk radio formats, they know that pin one, whenever they're building their templates, always is the local break. It's not five or seven for this show or six for that.

Kirk: It's always pin one. That's a good idea.

Greg: Yeah, it works out really well. Then I use Pathfinder just to change the ports for the different receivers and it's just done by an event.

Kirk: Wow, that's cool. Hey, we're going to take a quick break here, and when we come back to wrap it up I want to see if we can get a tip of the week, tool, or something from Chris Tobin and see if we can also get you to think of a tip that people might want.

Greg: Jeez, buy Axia.

Kirk: This is actually kind of tough to think of sometimes, because you may have been using this tip the whole time and yet it's something that you have found that maybe the rest of us don't know.

Greg: I've already got it.

Kirk: Keep your powder dry. Hey, our show is brought to you in part by the folks at Lawo and the Lawo crystalCLEAR Audio Console. Now I want to tell you about the Lawo Console, and here's why. This is what's cool about it. Back, it was 20 years ago, I was dreaming of an audio console that was actually a big honking touchscreen. I thought that would be so cool. Everything would be software-defined. If you touched a button at the top of the fader, it would bring up stuff related just to that fader. There was no limitation of it being in the hardware realm. Yeah, I was 20 years before my time thinking about that and I had no idea how to make that happen, but the folks at Lawo did. They've been making consoles for a long time, and very sophisticated ones.

Well now they're making the crystalCLEAR. They call it a virtual radio mixing console, virtual because the mixing surface is really just a big multi-touch touch screen. It's run by a PC, and the application is this gorgeous, beautiful presentation view of an audio console. It's all context sensitive so if you're using a mike fader and you touch the options button, you get the options that have to do with that mike fader at that time. The actual mixing is done in a rack-mounted unit. It's a DSP unit. It's just a 1RU box sitting in the rack, and it can be a long ways away. Well, I guess Ethernet limitations. It can be 328 feet away, 100 meters.

So it can go in the rack room or wherever you need it to. It does have mike inputs, line level inputs, an AES input, and some line-level and AES outputs on it. Plus it does audio-over-IP, the wonderful technology that we've been talking about.

Now the Lawo crystalCLEAR Console does Ravenna AoIP, a big standard coming out of Europe, and it also does the new standard that everybody is working towards and that is AES67. The folks at Axia already have some AES67 gear up and running now that you can get and you can buy now, so it's compatible with this console from Lawo, the Lawo crystalCLEAR.

It has all kinds of features that you'd expect in a console that was built to work around the world. It's got, for example, both Euro and US operating modes for fader start or button start. Those of you in Europe, you do things differently than we do in the US. You really do. But whatever works for you, you know? You have a very intuitive graphical user interface, I should say. It's optimized for really fast-paced use. In fact, you can touch ten places on the touchscreen at the same time and make ten things happen. Now my fingers aren't that smart, but if you need to touch two faders and a button at the same time, no problem. You do it and it just works.

Three stereo mixing groups, of course program one, program two, and a record bus. You can program scene presets and bring them back. Precision stereo PPM meters, there are 24 sources available. You can bring 24 sources into the mix engine and any eight can be simultaneously active on the mixing surface itself, on the virtual mixing surface.

It has dual redundant power supplies. Again, AES EBU inputs. GPIO for on-air lamps, speaker cutouts, things like that. You just need to check this thing out. If the idea of a touchscreen console for control is intriguing to you, then you need to look at this console. It's the Lawo crystalCLEAR. Go to lawo.com. That's L-A-W-O, lawo.com, and look for the radio consoles and look for the crystalCLEAR Virtual Radio Mixing Console.

All right, you're watching or listening to This Week in Radio Tech, our 237th episode. I'm Kirk Harnack. My cohost is Chris Tobin, and I am live at the Museum of Broadcast Communications at 360 State Street in Chicago, Illinois. This is the brochure about it right here. It's pretty interesting. Let me see if I can hold this. There we go, a pretty interesting piece of art out there in the lobby.

Now we're on the second floor right here where we have the gallery outside. It's where all the pictures are of all the famous people in radio who have been inducted into the hall of fame, the National Radio Hall of Fame, and we're sitting right here in the Art Laboe Control Room, named after Art Laboe. I got to meet Art a few weeks ago in Los Angeles at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony, and the Paul Harvey and Angel Harvey talent studio is just right across the window from us. So that sets the scene. I encourage you to get here if you possibly can, and now let's see if we can get a tip of the week. Chris Tobin is standing by to teach us a little bit.

Chris Tobin: Tip of the week? All right, let's see. We're talking Axia. We talked Studio Hub. So what I would recommend people do, and I've done this myself, is make up a couple of test cables with RJ45 on one end and XLRs on the other and that way when you're running around your plant trying to figure out what's going on, you can unplug something, plug into the back of a node or a studio hub panel, and check audio right there and then. I use a World Wind test box which is a little one with a powered speaker in it, and you can actually get audio out of it. So if you're running analog back-and-forth of those nodes and stuff, you can listen that way.

The second thing to consider, if you've installed an IP network system, consider the Fluke Networks CableIQ Qualification products. The one I use has helped considerably finding cables that were not properly terminated. It looked great on the DC test, you know, that $5 eight pins, lights turn on, cross-pole and all that kind of stuff. But beyond that point, the next and far-end/near-end testing and cross-hub test and stuff can't be done with that. And I have found many a problem with just a simple cable termination and didn't have to run around and think that my node was in trouble or my patch panel was at fault. So those are my two tips to offer up.

Kirk: Gotcha. Thank you very much. Good tips. Good tips. You know, by the way, one time I made a bunch of patch cables, lots of different purposes. One of them I made up was XLR on one end and a 110-volt AC plug on the other. I really haven't found a good use for that one.

Chris Tobin: Shocking.

Kirk: Don't waste your time. I was trying to make up one of everything, but didn't really need to have one of everything. Greg Dahl of Second Opinion Communications, what's your tip?

Greg: Mine still has to do with the Axia theme. It's a program that I downloaded that I found when I did a search, and it's called Visual Analyzer 2011. If you have an Axia IP driver on your workstation or your laptop, you can put that on that computer and use the Axia input and you can see the actual source that you're monitoring on Axia. It's an o-scope, so you can do a Lissajou pattern. You can see signal noise. You can see where your noise level is, what your levels are. It's an excellent tool to use.

Kirk: And it's called again, visual ...

Greg: Visual Analyzer 2011.

Kirk: So it's already three years old, but that's okay.

Greg: That's fine. It works real good, and it's free. Of course they ask for a donation. I think I donated, but I can't remember.

Kirk: I take it it's a Windows program?

Greg: Yes, Windows. I only do Windows.

Kirk: I've got Windows on this machine. I've got a VM running on there, yeah.

Greg: And I am learning Linux. I was out with Joe Talbut last week and we were going to Asterisks and I was forcing myself, taking notes. I'm getting there.

Kirk: Good deal. If folks want to get in touch with you, if they have a project that they want to do, where would they reach Greg Dahl?

Greg: My email is kind of long so I don't know if I want to give it.

Kirk: You don't have to.

Greg: It's gregorydahl@secondopinioncomm.com.

Kirk: Comms.com?

Greg: Yeah, comm.com, but two Ms on the communication.

Kirk: Yeah, I hear you.

Greg: It's confusing sometimes, I know.

Kirk: We'll put that in the show notes, how about that? That way people can just click on it. How about that? Hey, Chris Tobin, you are the IP solutionist. Where can people reach you if they want to get their IP problem solved?

Chris Tobin: Well, as some people have done today, you can reach me at support@ipcodecs.com. It will do just fine. If I don't get it directly, one of the other guys will and we'll all brainstorm and get an answer for you.

Kirk: Support@ipcodecs.com. All right. Hey folks, thanks for watching. You've been watching This Week in Radio Tech. And thanks to our sponsors. Our sponsors have been Axia Audio and the Axia Radius Console. I've got one right here. In fact, there's one at the GFQ Network where we're talking through right now. Also, the Telos Z/IP ONE. There's one right back there. We had it connected up to Austria and Australia a little while ago, different parts of the world, and it works great. Also, brought to you by Lawo and the Lawo crystalCLEAR Virtual Mixing Console with touch-screen technology.

Be sure you tell your friends please about This Week in Radio Tech, and also watch some of the other cool shows on the GFQ Network like What the Tech with Paul Thurrott and hey, Mat Men or The Friday Free For All. There's other shows, too. Check them all out right here on the GFQ Network at gfqnetwork.com. You can always watch them live. Just go to gfqlive.tv. That's what I do for my entertainment. Thanks a lot to Suncast who has been producing today's show, and we'll see you next week on This Week in Radio Tech. Bye-bye, everybody.

Topics: Broadcast Engineering


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