Posted by Kirk Harnack [TWiRT] on Mar 10, 2015 10:50:00 AM
Broadcast Engineering these days seems more virtual at times than hands-on. But Tom Morris, Engineer at WDNA-FM, prefers a hands-on approach. Indeed, material science - choosing the right materials for the application - is a favorite subject.
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Kirk Harnack: This Week in Radio Tech, episode 249, is brought to you by the new Axia Fusion IP mixing console, packed with features refined from a decade of IP audio experience; by the Telos Hx1 and Hx2 telephone hybrids - the most advanced hybrids ever developed for use with analog phone lines; and, by Lawo and the new crystalCLEAR virtual radio console. crystalCLEAR is the radio console with a multi-touch touch screen interface.
Broadcast engineering these days seems more virtual at times than hands on, but Tom Morris, engineer at WDNA FM prefers the hands on approach. Indeed, material science, choosing the right materials for the application, is a favorite subject. Let's listen in.
Hey, welcome in. It's This Week in Radio Tech. I'm Kirk Harnack, your host, glad to be here, along with our usual co-host, Chris Tobin. We'll get to Chris in just a second. This is a little bit different backdrop than usual, right? I happen to be at an SBE meeting in Orlando, Florida for this show.
The meeting is getting underway in a few minutes here. A lot of guests are walking in and starting to enjoy some catered sandwiches. I'm delighted that I could be here for a few minutes on this show.
This Week in Radio Tech, it's episode 249. Our show is brought to you by the folks at Axia, the Fusion console, Telos, the Hx1 and Hx2, and also by Lawo and the crystalCLEAR touch screen audio console. All right, let's jump right into it.
You know me well enough, right? I work for the folks at Telos and I'm part owner of a few radio stations. We're here to talk about radio technology, audio, RF, and a very interesting show this evening because we've got a guest who has a real interest in material sciences and hands-on electronics.
He enjoys getting his hands into a piece of gear more than he enjoys configuring with a keyboard. We're going to get with Tom Morris here in just a minute. Let me bring in our co-host, and that is the best dressed engineer in radio, live from Manhattan, New York, it's Chris Tobin. Hey, Chris. Welcome in.
Chris Tobin: Hello there, Kirk. Thank you. Yes, it's going to be a great night. We have a great conversation coming up, though it is snowy here in New York. I'll give you the weather report like we always do. There is several inches on the ground. Where you are, Kirk, is it nice and warm and comfortable?
Kirk: Oh my gosh, it had to be in the upper 80s today. I don't know. It was warm. I couldn't put a jacket on. I was burning up in this black Telos Alliance shirt. At the same time, my poor family back in Nashville, they're actually snowed and iced in the house, can't get in, can't get out. My wife is in a nearby hotel where she was at a conference. The rest of the family is snowed into the house. Here I am in Orlando suffering with the heat and the sun.
Chris: All right. I hear those Miami violins playing. How about that?
Kirk: Oh man.
Tom Morris: At least it stopped raining.
Kirk: Hey, the voice is Tom Morris. Let's bring in Tom Morris here for a second. Hey Tom, welcome in.
Tom: Hey, good evening.
Kirk: Tom, I know you from Facebook. We haven't met in person, have we?
Tom: No. It's kind of funny because you're right up the road from me practically in Orlando.
Kirk: I am today, yeah. You're right. Your lower third, your title says you're the mad scientist and the operations manager at WDNA. Give me just a 30 second elevator speech on what that means.
Tom: Basically, I guess the mad scientist thing kind of applies to it more. I've really been the more science and technical person just about everywhere I've been. It's kind of hard to define exactly. I don't exactly have the role of a traditional engineer or a typical management thing. I'm kind of doing stuff all over the place, where I am. I wear many hats here.
Kirk: I really enjoy reading your Facebook posts, especially when you talk about electronics and what you like to troubleshoot and the things you do at the radio station, and especially your particular interest in material sciences.
Your posts often have a little extra detail about what materials that parts are made of or a board is made of or even what finish is on a fastener or a screw. That's something we've never talked about on the show, and yet it affects everything that engineers do, the science of materials.
While you may not be, I don't know, I don't guess you're degreed in that subject. You have a lot of experience and opinions in the right materials to use here. That's one of the subjects that you and Chris will be talking about. I've got to take a quick break right now though and pay for the first part of the show.
Our program is brought to you in part by the Axia Fusion audio console. Hey, I just did three webinars about this console, so I know a little bit about it. The Axia Fusion is the newest Audio over IP console from the folks at Axia. Audio over IP is the technology that, my goodness, everybody is going to. The Fusion console is the result of really about 11 years now of building consoles, looking at what customers want, and trying to build the exact console that they want.
First of all, it's a gorgeous console. It's made of fantastic materials. This is where Tom's material science interest ought to come in. There's no sheet metal on the top of the console. It's machined aluminum. It's cast and machined aluminum. The markings, for example, on the console, all the fader position markings, all the labeling on the console is laser etched and double anodized. That sounds pretty fancy, but what it means is it'll never rub off.
Ten years from now, that console will be just as pristine, except for a little dust which you can wipe off. The console will look as good ten years from now as it does today. For example, even the faders, every console has got nowadays, linear faders on it, right? These linear faders are different from faders you'll find on any other console.
Most consoles, the tab goes straight down into the fader. The top of the fader is open for any kind of liquid, dust, atmospheric junk to get into the fader. On the Fusion console, as with all Axia consoles, the faders are side loading. The tab that comes out the top that holds the knob, it actually goes in, makes a turn, and goes into the side of the fader.
Why is this important? It means that this fader will last for years and years and years and not get sticky, not get little hung-up places or friction points in it. It'll just be smooth and silky for years and years to come.
I own a couple of these consoles. I can tell you that this is absolutely true. The faders are just as silky smooth today as they were when, actually, one of these consoles I started demoing about eight years ago. It was a very early Element console. So that's one of the things that makes this console terrific.
It's easy to dual-power supply this console. You can either buy two power supplies for it and connect them together in the console, or you can use an Axia power station. I was just at a station today here in Orlando, a cluster of stations, I think they have six studios with Axia consoles. Five of them have the power station, which is a big rack-mount device. It can have dual power supplies by adding a power station aux. It's got all the inputs and outputs that you need.
The bottom line is, this Audio over IP technology is really here. That's what everybody is going to and using.
The Fusion console is the latest incarnation of that where the engineers at Axia took all the knowledge that they had and requests from engineers from literally all over the world, and put that into the Fusion console - the best ideas that we had and the newest ideas from customers, are going in there.
By the way, there's a byproduct of the Fusion console. Within a few months, you'll be able to upgrade your Element console to Element 3.0, which gives you virtually almost the same capabilities that the new Fusion console does. Check it out with your favorite Axia dealer or talk to your friends.
Talk to an Axia representative about the Fusion console and see if it's exactly the right console for you. Check it out on the web at TelosAlliance.com. That's TelosAlliance.com. Click on Axia, and click on the Fusion AoIP mixing console. Thanks to Axia for sponsoring this part of This Week in Radio Tech.
All right, back at it gentleman. Chris Tobin is here and Tom Morris is here. We're going to be talking about Tom's entry into engineering. Tom is a young guy, younger than a lot of us. He's at WDNA in Miami, Florida. Tom, why don't you started off here. Talk with Chris about how you got started in engineering. It seems, like most of us, quite by accident. Go ahead.
Tom: I've got to say, I think it's kind of been a lifelong thing for me. The very first experience I have to say I had, which I have no memory of this because, of course, I was two years old at the time. My parents have told me that at the age of two, I pulled apart our broken Kenmore dryer and fixed it. I don't know what I did, but apparently it kept running. Nothing exploded in the process, so I'd say that was a success.
I think I've kind of come from a family with a long history of being skilled people in the electronics and mechanical fields. My grandfather was a master electrician. He started out, at the age of 11, in Westville, Oklahoma wiring farmhouses. He was really self-taught at that, just started out along with the Rural Electrification Act, and just started doing the farmhouse work from there.
He wound up going into the Merchant Marines, became a ship's master electrician, came back on land eventually at some point, and he was doing all of these relay logic control panels for pump stations all over south Florida. I would get to hang out in his garage with him. He taught me a lot about electrical design, how to design really nice, neat looking panels and systems, and how to design the logic systems.
My dad was also doing computer installation stuff. I really got into electronics a lot from that. They would buy me those little Forrest Mims engineering notebooks from Radio Shack and I'd follow along with them.
I also really liked, there was the old Reader's Digest, well, I shouldn't say "old" because that contradicts the name. It was the "New Fix It Yourself Handbook". That told me a lot about testing electrical systems and working on stuff like that.
Somehow it came that eventually, I started getting into more audio stuff, started playing with that. When I started college over at Miami Dade Community College, they had this little parking lot AM radio station, which I started... They were basically just looking for somebody to help set it up and get it all running again. I started there.
That was probably my first real contact with a radio station, even if it had an amazing range of 250 feet on a good day. That got me into working in the studio environment.
From there, I wound up working with a station at Florida International University. Then eventually, I did a couple of other things. I wound up over here at WDNA. I've had some fun adventures at all of them.
Chris: Oh boy. Here we go.
Kirk: We were working on a back channel here on getting a video loaded up.
Tom: Okay. Sorry.
Kirk: Tom, when we were talking earlier this week, you mentioned this incredibly cute little Dilbert clip called "The Knack".
Tom: Oh yes.
Kirk: For those of you who haven't seen it yet, we're going to play that little bit later in the show as you tell us more about how you got started on things. I'm going to have to leave here in just a minute and leave you and Chris Tobin to finish the show together. Chris has the whole list of things, Tom, that you and I talked about.
I'm really interested in hearing about your thoughts about material science. I want to hear about that, and, why it is that you love the hands-on electronics. I hope you have a story or two to relay to us about the real hands on and how you love dealing with transistors and resistors and circuit boards and all of that kind of troubleshooting, more so than typing your way through a problem.
Chris Tobin, are you ready to go ahead and take over? I'm going to take my leave, if you are.
Chris: Please, please take your leave. Enjoy your session with the SBE group. Enjoy the good weather...
Tom: Have fun Orlando.
Kirk: Thanks a lot Tom.
Chris: ...and the Miami violins.
Kirk: Okay guys. All right, take care.
Chris: All right. Hey Tom, you were talking earlier about two years old and you took apart the dryer, fixing a household appliance. I can say that I've had a similar background. In my youth, I actually took apart hedge clippers. They look like the bill of a swordfish, a shark, those old-fashioned . . .
Tom: Yeah, those guys.
Chris: Yeah, the clippers that go back and forth. Apparently when I was a small child, I took apart the one we had and managed to fix it even though the service center couldn't get it working. My grandparents were very fascinated by that and were very afraid to leave me in the toolshed after that. I think I was eight years old or something, taking apart the two foot long hedge-clipping blades that had to go back and forth.
If you've ever seen a picture of those things, with a motor in it and an electric cord, it was not something they wanted to hear about when I came running out with it in my hand, screaming, with excitement not fear. They, of course, thought the opposite. They thought I lost a finger or something.
Also in my youth, I apparently, when televisions had vacuum tubes, yes, I am very old. I apparently took out all the tubes, sat inside the TV, and put them all back where I found them. Your description of your youth and your curiosity and the reasons why you do things today the way you do them is definitely rooted in something that's probably very common among many of us in the engineering/technical world. I'm actually quite excited.
That Dilbert video, which I've seen before, explains it very well. I guess the phrase is: each of us have the knack, whether you're in engineering or chemistry or biometrics or biomedicine. If you have the knack for something, that craft that you're able to do, it's a great thing. It's not something you can probably teach anybody.
I'm sure at the radio station, you experience that a lot when you're working with folks, right? Tell me more about the radio station being a serious jazz station in Miami and your interaction with staffers who may not be as technically inclined, but fascinated by the ability that you're able to make things happen for them. Any examples or occurrences that you can share?
Tom: I think one of the more interesting things with that is, I'd say our tower is down 30 miles to the south of here. Most of the staff here have never even - they've probably seen the tower driving by because you can see that thing from about ten country miles.
You start driving towards it and it's like, "Oh hey look, there's that little thing with six layers of strobe lights on it. You start getting closer and it's like, okay it's getting bigger. It's getting bigger. Hey, it's been getting gradually bigger for about 25 minutes now. When am I going to get there?"
Anyway, yeah. I've kind of had some interesting experiences trying to explain to some of the staff just what's going on down there. We've had a few odd little glitches here and there. Of course, a lot of people want to know, "What happened during that show?"
I think my favorite one of them had to have been... One of my favorites with that had to have been the time that I had to explain to everyone that our exciter, which has kind of got some years on it and it's had a history of going back to the factory a couple of times and stuff. I had to basically tell everyone, "I have no clue why, but I walked into the room and it started working again."
It really cracked me up because I was remembering when I was at some science-fiction convention here. I'm going to say it was [J-Con 00:17:03] back when that existed in Orlando and George Lowe was there as a guest. He's been a radio personality in the Atlanta area for quite some time. He was at that convention because he voiced a number of characters for Cartoon Network. He was Space Ghost on Space Ghost Coast to Coast.
He was describing this thing during a panel where, first off, he was sitting there. He had this shirt wireless mic and it stopped working. He said, "It stopped working because there's no engineer in the room." I promptly said, "Hang on. I'm an engineer" and started walking toward the stage. The mic turned right back on and started working again. I just had to explain it as engineer magic. I don't know.
Chris: It's a technical aura. That's cool. That is cool.
Tom: Yeah. Sometimes also, I try to be really good about, some of our people get kind of confused when they're trying to do shows. One of the things that happens a lot, we have digital boards here. It's easy to get, if you don't know what you're doing, you can kind of get into the woods a little bit. You can have things routed where you don't expect them to be. You press "On" and nothing happens. You're like, "Hey, wait a minute." I try to explain to everyone why that happened, how you should be set up for your show normally.
I've also run into some stuff with, I'd have to say my least favorite thing to deal with is software, like on desktop computers and stuff, particularly. It's just confusing. It's like, you don't have any outward indication of what's happening. You might be presented with error messages that may or may not be meaningful. You Google the error message and everyone else's response is, "Hey, I got this error too. I never figured out how to fix it." I'm like, "Don't."
Chris: That's true with many Windows errors. You can get a Windows error message when you're doing a Windows update. Then you'll look it up to find out exactly why you got that error, and there is no reference at all in the Windows knowledge base as to that particular number that is the error message. You just sort of hunt and peck and hope for the best.
Tom: The best is when the error handler isn't even able to operate. It just dies with no message. It just, like, crashed. Those are the best to try to figure out.
Chris: You're absolutely right. One of the topics you and Kirk were talking about earlier before the show was tactile engineering. Explain to everyone your idea of tactile engineering. You love hardware and physical engineering type concepts. I'm curious, how do you explain that?
Tom: I very much work with all of my senses. Just like I can sense that your dog back there is playing with a squeaker.
Chris: Yes, the dog is playing with a squeaker. You can hear that, despite my efforts to mute the dog. It doesn't work.
Tom: No. You cannot deny the squeaky dog. The dog squeaks will get into everything. My whole thing is, I've always kind of used all of my senses in everything. If I'm presented with something that doesn't work, one of the first things I'll start doing is basically pull it apart as well as I can to gain access to it, and just start looking at everything. Most of the time, I'm lucky.
Say there's a piece of hardware. I've never seen one of these before in my life. I don't have a manual for it. With my luck, the manufacturer has been out of business for 35 years and they only made 6 of these. That seems to just be my luck in life.
I can deal with it because I'll start looking through and there are just certain things I've kind of trained myself to pick up on. I'll see, "Okay, this part has been hot for some time." Or, "It smells like capacitor." That's one of my favorites. That usually means it's actually a pretty easy fix. I'll just run into stuff like that, and combined with, basically, I know enough about most systems to be able to figure out what signals are supposed to be where, what's going on in there, and I can kind of figure out... If you imagine, it's like somebody drawing a road map and a little piece is missing, like somebody accidentally rubbed out a road. Now you can't get from point A to point B. Once you find that point, you're generally set.
Chris: Basically what you're saying is you approach a problem or a situation with all senses, which many of us sometimes take for granted, and rather than using the left side of the brain or the right side of the brain, you imagine or try to put together an image in your head as to what should be or what could be and how to go about the solution, rather than what some folks who have an analytical thinking mind would take a book or require some sort of roadmap, a physical document that says, "Start here and try this." Is that a fair observation as to how you approach a lot of the stuff you do?
Tom: I'd say so. I do tend to pull it apart a lot into a distinct path. I wish I had an example of one of our old schematics handy, but a lot of what my grandfather and I did, we would start from a ladder logic style diagram where you would have... With ladder logic, you would tend to have one side is power entering the system. The other side is the ground. You would just have, each one of the circuits within, would flow logically from one side to the other.
I would just go down it. If something didn't work in that, say a relay coil was open, I would usually find that if you go down this particular circuit responsible for a single function, like say, the circuit that initially starts a lift station pump or something. Well, the first thing is the float switch. You would check to make sure that power is coming into the float switch and coming back out of it once the unmentionable pit is full.
Then you would, yeah, the lift stations did not handle mountain spring water. I'll say that much. You would basically just go down the line and figure out, this isn't happening and you can see why it's not happening. From there, you were generally pretty well set to figure out, "It's this single relay. Just pull it out and pop in a new one and the whole thing is ready to go again."
Chris: Okay, that makes sense. That's just like if you're in a transmitter facility and you're station goes off the air and you have lights on the transmitter chassis and you're still not putting out a signal, a lot of folks who may not be able to visualize or understand the concept of what the box is about. They look at the output immediately and go, "Oh, the problem is here." When the reality is, it may be at the exciter that drives the intermediate power amp in the middle, then the power amp itself that gets to the antenna.
Your approach to the engineering and the technical aspects of the station makes total sense for someone who's more than just an analytical thinker, more of imagination. I would say, are you a fan of sci-fi or mysteries? Do you enjoy reading or watching the type of genre for those books and movies, by chance?
Tom: Yeah. It's weird. I never really particularly get into one universe that much, but I have generally been interested in that. It's interesting you mentioned it with the transmitter and exciter. I've had the strange experience before of going through and basically rebuilding a couple of transmitters where I don't know exactly how all of this happened, but they had quite a weird past behind them, including there was a very sudden relocation.
This was for the radio station at FIU. WRGP. There was the tower facility that they were on originally, was owned by NBC until the analog switch off. It was WTBJ TV on Channel Six. They sold the tower to a management company, which basically, the management company was ill equipped to deal with working with a university bureaucracy. I don't know if you've ever worked with a university.
Chris: Yes I have.
Tom: Patience, lots of patience. You will regularly, if you're trying to negotiate something especially like, contract terms, just chill out. Be ready to hear nothing for a couple of months. That's no fault of whoever you're talking to. It has to go through so many levels of red tape.
This, by the way, is one of the things that I will never bring myself to dissect in real life because I do not want to burn my brain to bits. I'm sorry. It's too much. It makes no logical sense. You can't just trace it out like an electrical circuit. Sorry. Good luck.
Anyway, the management company didn't get along with the station, or rather with the university management, and actually kicked the station out. Myself and two of my friends here who are ham radio operators, we went down and we had to disassemble the whole thing and remove the entire transmitter plant. It spent a little bit of time in a warehouse nearby. We had a special temporary authorization to run it this way.
It was the most pirate looking, completely legitimate operation imaginable. It was amazing. After that, we moved the transmitters back. Neither of the two transmitters worked at all at that point. In the initial move, one of them worked, the other one didn't. After that, both of them were bad. I was starting to go through. I didn't have much in the way of test gear or anything to troubleshoot this. I pretty much had a multi-meter, a 100 mg oscilloscope, and a dummy load.
I was going down the line in these things. I was amazed. It was like, how does everything fail at once? Logically, if you run into something, say somebody plops a piece of gear on your desk and absolutely no function of it seems to work right. That would suggest that the fault is in something that connects to every module along the system, which usually is just power supply and ground.
I was going through it and I found, uh oh, the power the supply is good. That made it more interesting. I spent pretty much an entire night sitting there in front of these things on top of an orange paint bucket from Home Depot, tracing everything out, and managed to get it all working together. It was at that moment I realized, "Wow, who else would do this?"
Chris: Did you have the manual or schematics or any paperwork for the transmitters or no?
Tom: I was lucky enough to have the manuals, yes. I was able to go through that. I was able to figure out where I should be seeing signals. Of course, getting them there was a real challenge.
Chris: That'll happen. Troubleshooting transmitters is never easy because I'd have to say at least three or four different subsystems that all interact, all it takes is the one mysterious subsystem to fail and it's usually [inaudible 0:29:32].
Tom: Undoubtedly. One of the oddest things I ran into on these was, one of them that I finally got working, before we uninstalled them, they had had a couple of thermal incidents. The air conditioning in the room had stopped working. The transmitters stayed on and essentially managed to roast themselves. The thermal interlocks on them didn't go out before the built-in exciters.
These were Harris Quest 500. Which I don't see many people mention having these. They were kind of an oddball transmitter. I don't know where it happened in the timeline, but it basically has Harris Z Pallets in it and a super sider for a head. Other than that, the later ZX series would be kind of a similar architecture, but wherever I've heard of those, people just put them in, turn them on, and never have to touch them again. They're solid.
This one, I don't think, was quite as solid. Anyway, it didn't survive the move. Before that, when I first found them, the tops of the transmitters were littered with pulled out logic ICs. I was like, "Maybe I don't want to know why this happened."
I was going through, and sure enough there were all sorts of gremlins. The synthesizer boards sometimes wouldn't start up. There was, on one of them, I never figured out how this happened but there was a hybrid module in there that went bad. That was a hybrid module that was like, "You need a replacement for this? Take a time machine back to 1995."
I managed to construct one working unit out of the guts of the two, but what I found in there was kind of amazing. Kirk was mentioning about materials. I found some things in there that nobody ever would have thought of that caused failures, like a brass standoff screwed into a tin plated, or steel, terminal strip. Galvanic corrosion had somehow occurred on the brass standoff and turned it into a little, white, furry slug of garbage. I touched it and it broke off like a breadstick. That was carrying the power supply voltage to the pallets. Of course, that was definitely one of the stumbling blocks. It's really crazy stuff like that.
There was also, I'd love to have been a fly on the wall to see how this got out of the factory, but there was a directional coupler board up in there, for metering, where all of the components had been perfectly placed on the board, like staked over. You stake the lead over in the hole before soldering it so it stays there, but it had never been soldered. That was a little problem after it had been moved a couple of times. I don't know how it got out like that.
Chris: That's not uncommon. Things like that do happen if you've ever been to a transmitter manufacturing facility. Since we're talking Harris, talking Quincy, it can happen. It's not due to a lack of quality control. Sometimes, the automation systems, you can't catch it. It doesn't happen often.
Tom: It's like the theory of how if you have infinite monkeys typing on typewriters, they will eventually produce the works of Shakespeare. It takes a lot of complex operations to build a transmitter. I'm not surprised that something like that could sneak in.
Chris: Also, the Quest series transmitters that you're speaking of, they were actually manufactured for the International Broadcasting Bureau, Voice of America, the government agency that does all the wonderful things of that sort. That's probably why you don't hear too many people talking about it because that was back in the day when Harris's government division had a lot of contracts with the U.S. government.
The broadcast division was subcontracted internally to build certain things to the specification of the short-wave broadcaster. The FM transmitters were a spinoff of a VHF transmitter used for short wave, HF stuff. That's part of why you don't see too much. You probably saw something that I'm sure didn't follow the typical convention design that we're all familiar with of FM transmitters here in the states.
Tom: It was unusual.
Chris: Yeah, absolutely, because it had to be built to handle anywhere from probably 300, 200 watts low end to 20 kilowatts or maybe higher, and it operated on frequencies worldwide. The design of the box had to be so universal. I'm sure it just didn't look right.
Tom: It had a really unusual divider and combiner set up where... I ran into one thing with the power divider, an IPA that was really interesting. The power divider they used was a flat strip line. It was just a big board, probably that big, that went across the entire back of the unit inside the RF deck. Over here in the corner, there was the IPA drive transistor.
I don't know what the deal was with this, but there was a ribbon cable that went across that and went into an analog to digital converter board that was used for the metering interface. Before I knew any of this, I hadn't even opened up that box before. What I would have with it would be, I could turn it on. I could dial it up to about eight watts. We needed 251, of course, but I'd dial it to about eight watts. It would hold like that. If I turned it up to nine watts or above, after a couple of minutes, the controller would error out and shut it off.
I didn't know what to make of that one. I thought, there's got to be a power supply thing or something. When I finally went into that box, I think it was actually after I discovered that brass standoff problem, I fixed that and an issue with a couple of resistors that went into crimp connectors. This is another odd one.
They used a balance detect setup to detect if one of the PA transistors went bad. There was a differential amplifier connected to two current shunt resistors that were 0.1 ohm ceramic. Those resistors went into crimp lugs. The resistors were fine. The connection between the resistors and the crimp lugs had grown a parasitic resistance of an ohm. The metering system would monitor, where you would get the analog metering would monitor the voltages ahead of those two resistors.
It would say, "Okay, you're fine. 51 volts." The CPU also had a pass/fail comparator thing that measured it after those resistors. That said there was a fault. That threw me for a while, but I eventually went in there and figured it out. The great thing about it was both of them went in exact unison, so it didn't trigger the balance fault. It was like, "Yeah, I'm fine, except I'm not."
Chris: That's what happens when you have custom devices like that. That's going to happen.
Tom: Yeah. I replaced them. On those, I crimped and soldered them. They lasted the rest of the life of the unit, as far as I know. That was like, you just have to stop and look back at a lot of these things. You wouldn't even suspect it, but that's probably why you've been chasing your tail for hours, right?
Chris: That'll happen. I've worked on many older RCA transmitters, the old Gates FM and AM transmitters that many of us in the industry have come across. They too have gone through series of changes over their lifespan. Even though you may have a manual for it when it was first installed, or maybe it was just the generic manual, and it was basically not specific to the model that you had, but close. You had to hunt and peck and hope for the best and spend the next eight hours on the overnight trying to figure out what went wrong before morning drive.
Yeah, your experience is no different than many others of us who go through that. Trust me, even with the newer stuff, you can go through the same thing. With newer technologies, there are so many creative ways the design engineers can do something, but because they're not in the field enough to know what happens in the rigors of a transmitter facility, say in Miami, or in Florida where lightning is a common practice, or maybe in the northeast where icy conditions create all kinds of havoc on an antenna system.
Their design may be great on paper, may be great in the warehouse or in the factory, but then when it gets in the real world, it sort of gets stressed. You've come across some of the stress points probably with those Quest transmitters. It's not uncommon. That's a good story though. That's really good.
Before we move on, we're at the halfway mark here. We need to talk about one of our sponsors. That's the Telos phone hybrids. Basically, you used to know them as the older stuff. I'll just say that. The newer stuff now is known as the single Hx1 or the two line Hx2. After I finish talking about these wonderful products, we'll come back and we're going to see if we can check on that Dilbert video so we can talk about having the knack, and moving onto a few more things that Tom likes to talk about, the material engineering, the material science stuff that he and Kirk were talking about earlier before the show.
You have a studio. You're a talk station. You're doing sports. You're doing news. Or you're just doing general talk about things in the community, maybe locally, nationally, or internationally. You need to put phone callers on the air. Of course there are many ways you can do it. Those practices are really, you shouldn't do that anymore - that is, the clip leads across the speaker of a hands free phone in the studio. Just don't do that. It's not a good thing. Twenty years ago, that was preferred. Nowadays, you don't need to.
What you need to do is look at the Telos systems Hx1, Hx2 digital hybrids. You may say to yourself, "Digital? Why do I have to do it digitally?" It's important to understand something. In the digital world, and if you're using audio processing you know this all too well, you can do very finite adjustments. You can make things sound a certain way.
You can control parameters the way you need to because you have an uncontrollable environment like a cell phone caller, or somebody calling from the Sports Illustrated telephone that they may still be using at their mother's house. Yes, I have worked at a few stations where we've had those calls from sports dial-ins and it's a interesting sound.
The Hx1, Hx2 implements something Telos has developed. It's called DDEQ. Yes, I did say DDEQ. It's D-D-E-Q. All right, fine, it's an acronym for digital dynamic EQ. It's an adjustable, smart level AGC. It works in the audio spectrum. It's consistent, so that you can have a call-to-call consistency that you haven't had in the old days of the analogy hybrids.
You know with a hybrid, there's what's called hybrid loss or trans-hybrid loss, which is the loss between the incoming/outgoing and the ability to null out so you don't hear yourself coming back and all of these other wonderful things.
You've experienced it all your life if you've ever talked on a telephone and you've called your friends. That happens. Trans-hybrid loss was developed and worked by the telephone company. Telos takes it the next level. It's greater than 55 dB of the trans loss that you require so you get a nice separate hybrid in, hybrid out of what you need for audio, for your studio audio.
That's just a few things. You've got the symmetrical wide range AGC that's in the box. By the way, that AGC was tinkered with by the guys at Omnia. You know what that means. Yes, very good sounding phone calls even from a Sports Illustrated handset. Studio adaption is subtle. Inaudible pitch shifter to prevent feedback on open speaker environments.
Yes. You say studio adaption and subtle, inaudible pitch shifter? Wow, that sounds like something from a Pink Floyd album. No it's not. It's really about the ability for you to have echo canceling at its best. You can have an open speaker in the studio and still take calls and make things happen. I don't recommend doing it on a regular basis, but if you have to, you can work it. Why? Because in the digital world, the Hx1, Hx2 can give you what you need.
Remember, Hx1 is a one line hybrid. Hx2 is a two line hybrid for pod [cell phone] hybrids. That's the difference. That's all it is. One line, two line, all the same features in both boxes. Dynamic range is greater than 92 dB from analog in to analog out. All of the wonderful things you need to worry about. Auto answering is selectable, ring count, standard stuff. Then you have call screening and line hold features. That's all standard stuff. I don't need to give details with that.
For those of you who do AES/EBU in your studios, yeah, there's the ability to do that too. You have clock outputs to be sourced for AES. Not to panic, you can make it work in your most moderate studios if you have something you haven't upgraded or moved to yet. You're in good shape. Basically, just remember you need to do phone hybrid. You need to do callers. You need to do it right.
If you don't have an Axia system for the studio routing and consoles, that's fine. You can still take advantage of the quality of the Omnia team for audio and the Telos design folks for the phone hybrid trans-loss capabilities. It's all in a single [RU 00:42:48] box. Very simple to implement. Plug it in. It's the usual stuff.
Remember, it's the Hx1, Hx2 digital hybrids from Telos. Contact your local broadcast distributer. I'm sure you'll find yourself a great deal. Or you can call Telos directly and say, "Hey, where do I find this? Where do I buy it? How much? When?" Just make it happen.
Remember, if you do talk to anyone, make sure you tell them you heard about it here on This Week in Radio Tech. We want to make sure that our sponsors are happy. I don't want Frank to be upset. I've seen him upset. It's not good. Anyway, now let's see if Tom is still with us, right? Let me make sure and look down at my special monitor.
Tom: Yeah, I'm here.
Chris: Look at that. The knack. Other than being a musical group, okay, an 80s reference, I get it. How many people have you worked with over the years, whether it be in amateur radio or other interests that you have that you noticed somebody, they have the knack? Can you describe it? What would you say if someone says, "What do you mean by, you have the knack?"
Tom: The best way you could describe it would be, it's an almost personal sensory connection with what you're doing in some technical field. I run into it with some guys who hack on software. They can just disassemble the whole thing in their head and work out exactly what's going on in there and exactly what they need to change if it's not exactly operating as they want it.Then you have some radio guys who, they'll figure stuff out just by ear, which I've been trying to train myself on that a little better. I finally figured out how to use a compressor. That's a good step up. Probably mystifies a lot of people who don't do that regularly for recording.
It's almost like it's beyond just knowledge of the system you're working with. I don't really know how you would best describe it, aside from that. Maybe there is something more there that tells us at the age of two how to grab a screwdriver and fix a household appliance or something. It might be more elaborate than that.
Chris: That's a fair summation. That makes total sense. While I'm talking, [Suncast 00:45:12] if you would like to cue up that video, let's see if we can have that happen. For those of you who are watching, you'll get to hear and see the Dilbert video and enjoy and laugh. Those of you who have downloaded or are listening right now and only have the audio portion, you'll still get to experience it because you can visualize what they're talking about and imagine what it's like watching the cartoon portion.
So, the knack. A friend of mine has the ability or the knack to take a device, whether it be two way radio, here's a Motorola two way radio. He could take this apart, open it up, and within 24 or 48 hours, give you a schematic of how the thing works. That's his knack. He's done that with me on a couple of projects where we've worked at a few facilities.
I'm sitting there trying to figure out something. "There's something about this." Then an hour later, he's got a napkin. He goes, "I think this is what the circuit should be." You're going, "That sounds about right." Then you contact the manufacturer and they go, "Yeah, that's exactly what it does." You're sitting there going, "Wow." That's the knack. That's my description from my personal experience. I'm sure many of you in the audience have had similar situations. Without further ado, I'll assume that Suncast has the video ready. We can play that video.
[Video: The Knack 00:46:31]
Dogbert: I've been sitting here for nearly a minute without entertainment.
Dilbert: Change the battery in the remote, the one on the left.
Dogbert: The one on the left? Well that's just spooky.
Dilbert: Not really. I have the knack.
Dogbert: The knack?
Dilbert: For technology. My mom says I always have.
Mom: I'm worried about little Dilbert. He's not like other kids.
Doctor: What do you mean?
Mom: Yesterday, I left him alone for a minute and he disassembled the TV, our clock, and the stereo.
Doctor: That's perfectly normal. Kids take things apart.
Mom: The part that worries me is he used the components to build a ham radio set.
Doctor: Oh dear.
Mom: Is that bad?
Doctor: Normally I'd want to run an EEG on him, but the machine isn't working. It's worse than I feared.
Mom: What is it?
Doctor: I'm afraid your son has the knack.
Mom: The knack?
Doctor: The knack. It's a rare condition characterized by an extreme intuition about all things mechanical and electrical, and utter social ineptitude.
Mom: Can he lead a normal life?
Doctor: No. He'll be an engineer.
Doctor: There, there. Don't blame yourself.
Mom: Will it go away over time?
Doctor: It might, but pray it doesn't. If an engineer loses the knack, the results can be devastating.
Mom: Thanks for filling in for our regular doctor on such short notice.
Doctor: I was in the neighborhood.
[End video 00:48:16]
Chris: I love it every time I watch that.
Tom: That's me. I would have been pulling that stuff right apart.
Chris: That was the Kenmore.
Chris: It's like, you're listening to the dialogue from the low voice voiceover person speaking about the knack. Should he lose it, it's like a superhero losing his powers. It's just funny. I'm sure this is true in many industries and many careers or hobbies. It's no different. This one is funny how it's amateur radio and engineering.
Most of us in this business and most of us in these positions are pretty much ham operators and engineering techie types who do stuff that's just somewhat left of center, so to speak. There's always something odd about us. It's fun. Oh, before I forget, which hand do you use for signing your signature and writing?
Tom: Which hand? It's actually my right hand, but there's a lot of suspicion that I'm actually left handed and I learned to write on the wrong side.
Chris: Okay. The reason why I was getting to that, I'm a left-handed person. Several friends of mine who are of a similar ilk, we've discovered that we're left handed. In my early days, I did a lot of stuff both left and right handed because I didn't know there was a difference. I would work with folks and everything they had was right handed. I was trying to figure out, why am I having this problem?
Over the years, I've learned to work with both. It's interesting what I've been reading about, the neural sciences involved in that. It's fun to ask these little things and discover it. Your descriptions, your excitement in tactile engineering and physical engineering and loving the hardware portion of things, It's something I think is a dying breed or dying art in many parts of our business. I'm not sure if you've noticed that in your travels.
Chris: I definitely have noticed that. It's like a very rare set of skills. It's like, you don't run into it with many people who are just getting into it. There are some things that I really want to learn about before they disappear too, like the old telephone company style cable lacing where you would use waxed twine to lace all the cables into beautifully done harnesses instead of what's done now with plastic zip ties and stuff. That's one of the things I want to find out how to do that for stuff that I build.
I'm just thinking of the whole thing with materials, since that was something that I never really thought of it, until Kirk mentioned how interesting that was. One of the first things I'll always notice is how certain materials are used in something and how they react to each other and to the environment. One of the odd things I've been doing lately is, I'll get all sorts of weird equipment. "This is a nerdy guy. Let me give him this old stuff I've got lying around and see what he can do with it."
Whenever I take something apart, I've been putting circuit boards on my wall as decoration. Not all of these are created equal. You'll see with a lot of boards in modern stuff, they all look kind of the same. There are fine traces, like a green, phenolic material. Once this finally comes down, I recently got, at a ham fest. One of these things, I told somebody, "Give me this so you don't have to take it home." I found this old board from some Hewlett Packard stuff.
These boards are ridiculous. They actually gold plated all the trace surfaces on the board to ensure that wherever you used this thing in the field, whatever happens to it, it's not going to start corroding through and eating traces even if you get moisture in there or if an internal battery leaks or something. If anyone is familiar with working with old arcade and pinball machines, manufacturers had a horrible habit of putting alkaline battery right on the board. Of course, it does what all alkaline batteries do.
These guys, they were crazy. I love it. They really went out of their way to make sure these pieces of equipment would work as long as you want them to and then some. They'll keep working when you're tired of them and trying to find an excuse to get the latest and greatest model and your manager says, "No, but the old one is still working." Oops.
Chris: There are plenty of farm machines like that.
Chris: That HP board that you're showing there with the gold plating for the traces and stuff, that was a time period in design thinking, industrial design where things were, you did it right. You made it work. That was just the way it is. You didn't discuss obsolescence.
Tom: There was no plan for it to go obsolete. They basically expected this to be a long term piece that you would just keep using forever.
Chris: Right. Most likely, technology will evolve to a point where that stuff won't be obsolete per se, but it will be surpassed by our next invention or next development. Now you have both of them in your house because you want HP to be the source, in this case. That is something.
I have talked to application engineers, retired engineers over the years from places like HP, IBM, Compaq and others. Tektronix is another one. When you talk to these guys and ask them, "How did you guys think of this? What were you thinking at the time?" Most of them would just simply say, "It was just, we were given a project. Here was the goal we had to achieve and figure out how to get there. That's what we did." That's the stuff they came up with.
Then you could look at that and go, "Okay, that's sort of like the space program too." Read about the history of a lot of the components there from Texas Instruments and Motorola. It's just a fascinating approach you're taking when we talk material sciences and take all of our senses, as you mentioned earlier in the show, and sort of use all of them to understand the environment that we're in.
Say, "Okay, this bottle of water is a bottle of water, a plastic container with a plastic screw top. Maybe there's more to it if I just take a moment and say, appreciate the design of this. How does this work? Why do things happen the way they do?" Yes, it's a simple thing I'm showing and talking about, but the point is, if you're a fan of, say in my case, I like mysteries, Sherlock Holmes mysteries, Sir Conan Doyle would always say, when you overlook the obvious then you've lost sight of what's going on around you.
It's the obvious stuff that we just forget about. All of a sudden if we take a moment to look at it and go, "Wow." Some people say "the aha moment". It changes everything about how you approach what you do. I'm going to make a leap here and say that's how you approach stuff day to day at the station.
Tom Morris comes in, looks at stuff. He says, "Okay, this is standard stuff," but then he goes, "Oh, this is interesting. I wonder, what if? If I sit back and think about this..." Or if somebody comes to you and says, "I've got this widget gadget device. I have no idea what it is, but it beeps, bleeps, and flashes lights every 30 seconds. Maybe you can tell me what it does or you want it."
You'd be like, "Yeah, absolutely." You'll sit there and place it on the table, I'll bet, and let it do its thing and just observe it, right? Before you start going into it and pulling it apart?
Tom: Yeah. There have definitely been times when people have brought me some really unique stuff that they couldn't figure out. I can usually at least somewhat solve the mystery of it. I've also had a few puzzles that I've solved myself in designing things.
One of the positions I had before was actually where we came up with the whole mad scientist thing. It was when I worked for the Miami Children's Museum. I was working on audio visual and electronics for their exhibits as well as just doing the regular maintenance, like pulling the cheese slices out of the orange tree, which sounds as absurd as it is.
We had this giant, plastic orange tree thing on a wall that would work fine if you put orange plastic playground balls in it, but anything else jammed it. One of the puzzles we always tried to solve was, "How do we make the orange tree not jam?" It continues to elude everyone there to this day.
There were a lot of things that I designed and built there. I realized there are unique challenges to that. If you just watch what happens when a bunch of overstimulated children run into a room or playground or something, which you could say in a concept it was a giant playground. It wasn't exactly like Chuck E Cheese, but you would basically have a lot of children, very energetic, trying to deal with stuff.
It presented unique challenges. Whenever it came up that they wanted something on the floor repaired or designed, I basically had to look at it from a couple of standpoints, one being, first off, you're dealing with an audience that has maybe a ten second attention span, if you're lucky. Then there will also be kids who will stay around beyond those ten seconds and expect this thing to actually be interesting. It has to present something interesting to them beyond those ten seconds.
Then you have to deal with them pounding the snot out of it, which was the fun part. In the ad earlier, you mentioned the Axia systems with the offset faders. I remember actually, we had something as part of a traveling exhibit. I don't remember for the life of me what the thing was, but it had a DMX 512 controller in it that had three sliders to control the red, green, and blue channels on an LED Par Can.
The original DMX controller that was in it had been pounded to death. There was not even... I'm pretty good with board level repair and component level, but I couldn't save this thing. It was toast. I wound up designing another controller around it.
I found this little cheap DMX 512 controller that was made just for controlling RGB Par Cans and found out that first off, you had to press a button on it to make it come up. The three sliders directly control the red, green, and blue.
Of course, my first thought was, "Can I just jumper that thing internally? Will that make the CPU in there mad?" It worked. I was able to just jumper that. Then I designed that same thing with the offset faders built in a really strong kid proof, we hope, acrylic frame. The whole thing was offset by several inches from the actually controller. If the kids pressed and dropped objects in there, which they also did.
They would take things like coins. There would be a little slot in something. You've got to expect that's going to get objects shoved down it with great force. I offset the entire thing. I was thinking of that the whole time. Those boards would in theory be kid proof. Let's test that someday, shall we? That's a challenge.
Chris: There's something to be said for that. Actually, as we're coming to near the end of our show, I've got one of our sponsors I need to bring in. Somebody pop in your studio?
Chris: So you're talking about kid proofing, playgrounds, watching kids learn their environment and watch how they do stuff. Let's go to our world, which is there are larger kids, older kids who tend to do stuff in studios and make a mess and wreak havoc because that's the way it is. Let me go into our sponsor.
Our other sponsor tonight is Lawo. They make consoles. They do a lot of routing systems and they do interesting stuff. One of the best parts about what they have is a console called crystalCLEAR. It's a touch screen console. We're talking about pounding on things and making it kid proof.
I'm not saying the crystalCLEAR console should be used for the kids, nor am I saying that maybe DJs or presenters are kids. We're all kids at heart. When you want to get the job done and get it done in a way that's creative, so the juices move and stories are told, the crystalCLEAR console gives you a multi touch service. It has the point of sale type of resilience that you see in many stores, retail outlets.
One of the things that's nice about it is you can separate the work surface from the engine and create an environment that's very unique, depending on what you want to do. The user interface with the multi-touch mixing control, it's an intuitive GUI "Graphic User Interface", for those of you who are not familiar with that), stereo mixing groups, program one, program two, record - all the usual stuff that you expect from a console. Pre-fade listen or integrated cue and all those things.
The nice part about it is, it's straightforward. It's DSP based. You can't go wrong with DSPs when using them in this environment because they do one thing and one thing only: get your audio to and from, mix it, mix it down, get it, shuffle it around, make things happen. The nice thing with the crystalCLEAR is a work surface. You can separate the engine from the work surface. I've said this before in many early episodes.
Think of it this way. All of your IOs go into the chassis that's at your OB truck or the remote vehicle at a stage setting, we'll just say a concert you're doing. In this case, maybe it's a jazz concert. You have the usual fare of instruments and everybody on stage. Because of maybe certain other restrictions, or just the way your work flow is at the radio station, you can't put everybody down there and have a mixing console there and produce the show.
Through the mixing capabilities of the crystalCLEAR console interface the IP connectivity, the work surface can be back at the study while the IOs are at the remote site. The nice, pristine, clear, calm, so to speak, calm studio environment, you are mixing a show. You're doing it in a split hybrid approach. That's one of the things you can do with crystalCLEAR.
It's software control. It's more flexible than hardware buttons and knobs and all the conditional services. It's touch. It's multi-touch. Where's that iPhone? Here you go. I'll use the brand name iPhone. You can do all those wonderful things with the touch screen. You can do the same thing with crystalCLEAR. Think about it.
It's Lawo.com. L-A-W-O.com. It's amazing what you can do. I've seen the products. I've talked to folks who've helped design it. They're great people. You can do Audio over IP interfacing with optional RAVENNA protocol capabilities. You can talk to other systems out there in the AoIP world. It is AES67 compliant. You're not going down a path that's isolated. You're going down a path that gives you options.
Like any good service man has a toolbox full of tools and the right tool for the right job, crystalCLEAR, Lawo is just synonymous with get the job done in a way that you need to to get the story told. That's really what it is. It's a very simple operating platform, everything about it. If you're going out to NAB, check it out. If you're not going out to NAB, go to the website, Lawo.com and you'll see . . .
I'll just look at the website. Let me call it up here. There we go. Look at that. On the far right hand side, you can have a look at the new crystalCLEAR. Magellan, who is the director of virtual radio products - isn't that a great title? Director of virtual radio projects. The question is, is the guy really there or is he virtual? I'm kidding.
Michael Dosch, those of us who know him as Catfish, Mike Dosch is the director of virtual radio projects, shows the features of the new system. Check it out. If you're coming out to NAB, definitely go to the booth. Sit down and play with it. As Tom says, pound on it. Make it kid proof. Let's see what happens with that surface, see if it really does what they claim. The only place you can do it is NAB. If you buy one and do it, they're going to say, "Sorry, out of warranty." Can't do that.
Tom: I like that it has a panic button.
Tom: I was just looking at the information on it. If somebody does manage to confuse themselves, boom, right back to where they need to be.
Chris: Yes, you can't beat that. That's a wonderful thing about the new, digital systems. You can have the panic button. The crystalCLEAR makes it really, really straightforward. As a virtual radio mixing console, you can't beat it. It's a whole different approach.
If you're familiar with it, as Tom pointed out, with the faders and you do this and that, now you can do fader-less and have real fun and just go at it. It's a different approach to the same old story. Tell the story on radio. How do you do it? With music, with words. You mix it together and it's great. The easier it is to mix, the easier it is to create, the more fun you'll have telling the story. The crystalCLEAR from Lawo will help you do it.
It's Lawo.com, right-hand side of the screen. Hopefully if your browser is like mine, you'll see Mike Dosch. He's the director of virtual radio projects. Click on it and watch the video. You'll get an idea. Coming out to NAB in Vegas? Definitely go by the booth and check it out.
If you go there, tell them that you heard it here on This Week in Radio Tech, just to give us a little kudos. Those guys over there tend to get a little crazy and go, "What do you mean? Where'd you hear this? It's a secret. We can't be telling people these things. Marketing doesn't want us to be talking about it." It's the only time you can do it. crystalCLEAR, Lawo.com. Check it out.
All right, that's our sponsor. Just wanted to make sure I had everybody right. I'm not sure I followed the script exactly as I should. Mike Dosch will probably call me and say, "Nice. Maybe not. You left this out. What about this?" crystalCLEAR consoles, you can't go wrong. It's all about the virtual thing nowadays.
Tom, at your station, you said you were a digital facility. I noticed you have a webcam for checking out the studio. What digital stuff do you guys do to help enhance the jazz experience, the jazz/classical experience for the audience?
We've been talking about the knack. We've been talking about physical science and engineering and getting into the weeds and pulling things apart and taking the manual and tossing it over our shoulder. All of that culminates to Tom has created an environment at the radio station. What's it about? What do we have at WDNA?
Tom: One of the interesting things, and this I think is kind of a very format-dependent thing - jazz, you just don't want to do too much to it, honestly. All of the modern processing that's being done is amazing for what it is, for rock and pop music and stuff. I've really found that less is more when it comes to things like processing. Basically, right now I'm running an old Optimod 2200 at the moment. You might think, "Wow, I had one of those things 20 years ago," or however long ago it was. "That's obsolete."
We were running a fancier processor for a while. The silly thing was just too aggressive. Jazz music presents an interesting set of challenges in that you have a lot of solos within a piece normally. What was happening, I found, was that the processor just basically tried to be too helpful. The solo would come up and it would basically start taking the sound of . . .
Okay, I'm going to feel totally embarrassed for a moment and say that I don't know what those things are called. It's like a little beaded chain that's placed on the cymbals a lot during jazz performances. The cymbal continues for several seconds after it's hit.
Chris: That's the sizzle. Yeah, it keeps the sizzle.
Tom: Yeah, I have no clue what the thing is called. I play the radio. Yeah. It would basically take that thing and try to blow your ears out with it. Somebody just told me on Facebook actually that he thinks my stream is one of the best sounding ones he's ever heard. Basically, almost nothing is done to it. There's nothing done to try to keep it loud. I basically try to keep the modulation level where it needs to be. That's about it.
For every week, at least, we have a live performance here: the UM Frost Jazz Hour, which is, in eastern time, every Thursday from 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. We actually have it set up so that there's an additional board in here we use just for live performance. It's a pre-sonus that has all of the fancy stuff needed for live sound built in, pretty much. We basically just set that up so that the live performance can be put on the air.
Meanwhile of course, we have a lot of people who do their shows asynchronously. They'll come in and record their entire program. It doesn't tie up our other studio during that, which is definitely always nice. You don't have to tell anyone, "You've got to wait until that's done."
Chris: That's good. We're coming close to the end of the show. The beads you're talking about are called sizzler beads, by the way.
Tom: Thank you. It's so obvious, I should have guessed, right?
Chris: No, that's all right. I've worked at jazz stations. Your comment about the processing being, I'll say less is more, is so true. I used to do a lot of recordings for jazz artists like Dave Valentin and Bobby Rosengarden and a few others. The one thing they used to always love was the fact that we did very minimal mic-ing, very minimal everything.
They would say, "Kick drum are like children. They're meant to be heard but not seen." That's it. I've taken that with me all these years when I've worked on stations that are jazz or classical. You're right. Hi-hats, probably one of the hardest things to process on a jazz station because the processor is looking at that as audio and going, "Oh, I have to grab that and do something with it." You're like, "Whoa, no." The artistic view of that was decay. That decay, I want.
Tom: Yeah. It should decay away. It shouldn't be forced back up. Whoa, something went trippy there.
Chris: Yeah. Your cymbals are tapping away very softly. It's supposed to be down to minus 20, minus 30, minus 40, but the processor says, "I'm going to keep it at 0." "No, no, no. You've got it wrong. That's not the way it goes.
Tom: I have it set so that the AGC takes a very long time to come back so it doesn't undo that. One of the other interesting challenges we have here is actually, we have physical media. You think about that for a moment. Most other stations, everything comes out of a network, out of a play out system. We have CD players. That's actually been an interesting challenge because almost no one makes broadcast grade CD players now.
Chris: That's right.
Tom: We've got to keep that going for everyone. We have a lot of hosts who will bring in their own stuff from their own personal collections that we don't have here at the station. It's like, we've got to play that on the fly.
Chris: That's true. A lot of radio stations are being rebuilt or moving into new facilities. For some reason, they are having a tough time trying to realize they should keep at least one room, or somehow keep legacy media available.
Tom: Yeah. If somebody just happens to have a whole room full of old CD players, let me know.
Chris: All right, we'll definitely pass them your way. Listen, we've unfortunately run out of time. I think I've gone a little over. Talking with you has been great. It's fascinating how what you talked about, described, we'll call the knack - not the musical group - that quirkiness that all of us have the ability of doing whether you enjoy chemistry or electronics or life sciences. The knack.
It's interesting some of the parallels that you talked about that I can actually relate to in my life. I know friends of mine have similar things. It's fun to see that it's not just unique to one or two people. There is definitely a universal acceptance of this. It's a lot of fun. It sounds like you're having a good time and things at your place are in great shape with you running around tinkering.
Tom: Definitely. I have a lot of fun with it. It's turned out to be very practical that I just tear everything apart.
Chris: That's what it's all about. I can tell you, watching my nieces and nephew grow up, as children, as infants, granted, when I was an infant I don't remember the things I did. I've been told about the things I did. I'm not going to repeat them. Watching my nieces and nephew take things apart or learn their environment, that's what's missing today at this age, at our level.
You come across something like a stopwatch in my hand. You go, "How does this work? Don't bother with it." If I was 12 years old, I would have this thing in pieces to figure it out. That's part of the process that we lose. If you can retain it, it's even better.
That's going to have to be for another show because we've run out of time. With that, I want to thank you, Tom, for joining us. For those of you tuning in and realized Kirk is not here, he's at the SBE meeting in Orlando. Right? Is that what he said? Orlando? Yes.
Tom: Yeah, he's up in Orlando.
Chris: Right. Tom is in Miami at WDNA, a jazz station. Serious jazz, or classical - I'm not sure of the proper branding.
Tom: Serious jazz.
Chris: Serious jazz. If you're a jazz aficionado, you know what I mean. It's good stuff. It's relaxing. It's fun. It's everything it should be.
With that, This Week in Radio Tech, I'm Chris Tobin. Be sure to tune in and download the show if you haven't had a chance to watch us live. Download it. Take it with you in the car, in the subway, a commuter rail. Have fun with it. Let's look forward to talking about something new and better next week on This Week in Radio Tech.
Topics: Broadcast Engineering
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