On this “War Stories” edition of TWiRT, we draw upon Chris Tobin’s years of experience in the radio engineering trenches. From power outages to gelled diesel fuel to police inquiries and “shelter in place”, Chris has been there and done that - and lived to tell about it.
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Kirk Harnack: This Week in Radio Tech, Episode 270, is brought to you by the Axia Fusion AoIP mixing console. Fusion, where design and technology become one. By Z/IPStream 9X/2 streaming software. Omnia.9 audio processing with Undo technology, plus reference-quality stream encoding. And by Lawo and the crystalCLEAR virtual radio console. CrystalCLEAR is the console with a multi-touch touchscreen interface.
On this "War Stories" edition of This Week in Radio Tech, we draw upon Chris Tobin's years of experience in the radio engineering trenches. From power outages to gelled diesel fuel to police inquiries and "shelter in place" Chris has been there and done that, and lived to tell about it.
Kirk: Hey, welcome in to This Week in Radio Tech. I'm Kirk Harnack, your host. I'm coming to you live... or unless you're watching me recorded... I'm coming to you from the Entercom Stations in Memphis, Tennessee. Boy, a lot of history here, and the Entercom Stations, this is a fairly new place for them, they've been in here five or six years or so. We'll talk about that.
This is a show where we talk about everything radio technology, from the microphone to the light bulb at the top of the tower, antennas and coax and all kinds of stuff in between.
Our show is Number 270, and that means it's a "War Stories" episode. So Chris Tobin and I are going to reminisce about engineering feats of derring-do that we've been involved with. Hey, if you're in the chat room, watching live on the GFQ network, you're welcome to chat us up and give us your story or remind us of something we should talk about there, in the chat room. So please feel welcome to jump in there and do that.
So I'm Kirk Harnack, I work for the folks at Telos, I'll tell you about that bias right now. I'm part owner of some radio stations in Mississippi and in American Samoa, and I'm getting ready to go back into Mississippi and do some engineering work there next week. So we'll have more tales to tell, I suppose.
My co-host, our usual co-host, is with us, and that is Chris Tobin, the best-dressed engineer in radio, live from his secret lair... not so secret. Anybody could see him there along whatever avenue that is in New York.
Chris Tobin: True, true, it's not that difficult. But in New York City, nobody looks up. It's always looking down and heading for your destination, so that's the way it works.
Kirk: Welcome in, Chris, I'm glad you're here. By the way, because it's nice, I'm going to give you a little weather report here. We had horrible rain for the past day and a half in west Tennessee, and that has pushed out the cold that you've been hearing about for the past few days.
Snow forecasts for Wyoming and Montana and Colorado Rockies, places like that. Well, that cold front has pushed through Tennessee, so the temperature is just beautiful. It's a beautiful, sunny, dry, and cooler than usual day here in Memphis, Tennessee. It's just gorgeous.
I'm in a gorgeous office park here where Entercom has moved to a few years ago. So that's the forecast here. It's a beautiful, beautiful Chamber of Commerce day here in Memphis, Tennessee. How are things looking in New York, Chris Tobin? Audio?
Chris: That's interesting. Skype just muted me. No, the weather here is not as good as what you have. It's humid, it's about 87 degrees Fahrenheit, and the sky is becoming very cloudy, large clouds coming through, the wind is picking up, and they're calling for heavy rains this evening into tomorrow morning. Then there's a cold front, I guess, coming across. So that's what we're going to get sometime tomorrow afternoon. So right now it's a miserable day. Miserable afternoon.
Kirk: Oh, no. Oh man, I'm sorry to hear that. Well, a lot of times we do the weather, it's not only something to talk about, but engineers, I think, generally are a little bit interested in the weather, because it does affect what may happen at our transmitter sites.
It does affect things like microwave shots. It can affect satellite communications if there's really heavy thunderstorms and you're using some Ku-band satellites. So the weather is, I think, always a pretty interesting thing for engineers to be worried about. So I appreciate the weather updates from New York City.
Hey, Chris, there's a chance that I may be able to come see you guys in New York City at the end of, what, the end of September? Yeah. The AES convention is going to be going on in New York City. Do you know anything about that?
Chris: Yeah, AES, yeah, definitely. We should all get together. It'd be perfect.
Kirk: Let's see, I was looking up here. We'll probably have David Bialik on for a little bit. Yeah... oh, I'm sorry, it's the end of October, not the end of September. End of October...
Kirk: ...so actually, it's right around Halloween time, at the Jacob Javits Center. It's the 139th international convention of the Audio Engineering Society, October 29 through November 1. There are a lot of interesting tracks going on there. We'll have some more details about that as we get closer.
One of the things that I want to mention that David Bialik is working on putting together is the 50th anniversary celebration of FM broadcasting from the Empire State Building.
Chris: Ooh, very nice. I'll have to give him a call.
Kirk: Did you know it's been 50 years for FM? I did not know that.
Chris: I'm sorry, I cut you off. What was the FM?
Kirk: Did you know it's been 50 years for FM from ESB?
Chris: I did not know that. I'll have to do some research now. I knew it was coming up. I didn't realize it was this year. That's great. Was it Edward Armstrong broadcasting from atop the Empire State Building?
Kirk: I don't know. I don't know anything about it. And that's one reason to have Bialik on, to talk about that. There's going to be a standing-room only crowd for an event that will likely be held at the Empire State Building itself, up near the transmitter floors in the conference room.
David is working on one very interesting possibility, it's not guaranteed yet, but it's possible, possible, that they're going to make the Empire State Building lights synchronize to the song "FM (No Static at All)" by Steely Dan, and they're working on getting a live helicopter shot of that. So...
Kirk: Yeah. And, and, and... wait a minute, now how much would you pay... we may be able to stream the event here on This Week in Radio Tech.
Chris: Oh, very nice. Okay, definitely have to give Dave a call and find out what's going on. Or I'm sure I'll hear from him shortly.
Kirk: Now right now, these things that I've mentioned with regard to the event... they're going to have the event, David will put something together, and it'll be terrific. But, with regard to the lights on the Empire State Building, the helicopter shot, and streaming it live, those are all brainstorm ideas. We don't know for sure if they're going to happen, but we're sure going to try to make it happen.
Chris: Well, that's how it starts. You have to have the brainstorming, you have to have the thoughts and the crazy stuff and go, okay, from all this quantity will come something of quality. And that's how you do it, so he's doing the right thing.
Chris: No reason not to say that, not reason not to even think that or suggest it. Now is the time to do it.
Kirk: Exactly, exactly. All right. Well, so Chris Tobin and I are here for TWiRT Number 270, "War Stories." We'll have those coming up in just a minute.
I want to talk to you about the Axia Fusion audio console. Axia is one of the sponsors of This Week in Radio Tech. The Axia Fusion console is literally taking the sales at Axia by storm. Of course, I do work for the folks at Telos, I'm plugged in a little bit to hearing about sales numbers and how fast products are going out the door, from time to time.
I just heard in the past week that Fusion console sales are just amazing. People are loving this audio console. So let me tell you about it. What is Fusion? Well, if you paid any attention at all, you know that Axia is the company that brought Audio over IP to the broadcast studio, back with the original SmartSurface console about 11 years ago. Yours truly, I put the first one into a radio station at WEGL in Auburn, Alabama. Marc Johnson was there with us and we put this console in and we're on the air and it's just been amazing ever since.
Well, the next console to come out was the Axia Element console. And of course, Axia still is making and shipping the Element console. In fact, the building where I am right now at Entercom, they have about six or eight, maybe they have eight Axia Element consoles, plus some smaller ones, too.
So they've definitely got them here and they've been using them here since this place was built six years ago. So they're very delighted with them.
Well, things evolve, new models come along, and people want some additional features or a different look. So the Axia engineers, the R&D engineers, probably about four or five years ago, actually began working on this new console, the Axia Fusion.
Now, it's almost a direct replacement for the Axia Element. The Axia Fusion has a lot of the same look, and the way it's put together is a bit similar to the Element. It's modular. It has frames that it goes in, and you can get anything from a small console with 4 faders to a large console up to about 40 faders.
You can have a split console like is being shown on your screen there, so you can split two physical surfaces into one logical surface, if you want to put something in the middle or just have them angled toward the talent.
The modules that you can get for a Fusion, very similar to what you'll find available for the Element. You have fader modules, of course. You have telephone control modules to control a phone system like the Telos VX system or one of the older Telos phone systems, they'll work great with that, too.
You have the possibility of intercom modules in the Fusion console. I tell you what, intercom is really starting to make real inroads into broadcast facilities. We're finding out, broadcasters are finding out, engineers are finding out, talent is finding out, how useful an intercom system can be.
With Fusion, it's built right in. It uses the same Axia infrastructure, the audio over IP, Livewire infrastructure, as everything else does on a Livewire network. So the intercom module's built into the console, it will be right there.
You can have stand-alone modules, rack-mount modules, desktop modules, to allow you to have quick, easy communication throughout. And when you have an intercom system on an Axia network, the audio is not, it's not "wha-wah-wah." No, it's absolutely full fidelity, 20 hertz to 20 kilohertz, 48 kilohertz sample, 24-bit bit depth, just like any other audio on a Livewire Audio over IP network. The intercom audio is fabulous. So you can actually put it on the air. Lots of cool uses there.
There's also very interesting uses for intercom being available over distance, from one facility to another through, say, a Telos iPort, or another codec could work too, to get audio over the Internet or over other Telco facilities between intercom systems. So many possibilities.
The Fusion console, there's videos on the YouTube channel for Axia. So you can go look at... Go to YouTube, look for Telos Alliance, and look at the videos that are about the Fusion console. Very gorgeous. It looks great. It works fantastically. The durability of the console, that's one thing they really wanted to build into it. You can't rub the markings off. They'll never rub off. They're laser-etched and double-anodized.
You've heard me talk about it before and I'm just a big believer in this console. It's just amazing. The Fusion console from Axia. Go visit it at TelosAlliance.com and look for Axia networked consoles, and thanks a lot to Axia for sponsoring This Week in Radio Tech.
All right, and like I said, I'm at a place right here that has a bunch of Element consoles, and they're just pumping along just great. Some of the best stations in Memphis, Tennessee are right here at Entercom.
All right, Chris Tobin, how about we talk about some war stories?
Chris: Sure, why not. It's summertime, it's got to be a good one. There's a few to think of. You have something you want to start with, or shall I?
Kirk: I was going to see if you would start. I'm working on just how to put together a particular story from here in Memphis some years ago. So if you've got something started to tell us about, let's go. I might pepper you with questions.
Chris: Okay, fair enough. Well let me see, about... I guess it was four months ago, five months ago, I got a call from a friend looking for some help with an air-conditioning issue at his transmitter facility. And I was like, "I don't know why you need me to come out there." I said, "You should probably call your contractor for that, the vendor." And he said, "Well, he did, but we can't seem to find the problem." I was like, okay, this is kind of strange. And I said, "All right, I'll come on out. I like going to transmitter sites." And I said, "What's the problem?"
Well, the problem is during the day, everything seems to be working just fine, the building gets the proper temperature. They try to keep it around 70 degrees, 69, 70. But in the evening, the temperatures suddenly drop. The unit just goes into overdrive and it just wants to keep cooling, keep cooling, and what happens is it freezes the compressors because the temperature balance is not there.
I was like, "Okay, that's usually a sign of a thermostat problem," and he goes, "Yeah, that's what they checked, but can't seem to find the problem." We spend a couple of days going over this, trying to figure out. It's like everything points to the thermostat control of some sort.
Turns out that the RF from the site was getting into the system. The site happened to be a directional AM, a very high-powered directional AM. It wasn't getting in at the thermostat side, where you would think to look for it. Because why not? Because the thermostat controls your air conditioners, that's conventional thinking.
No, no, no, no. This particular air conditioning system, which was a very nice one, very modernized, unlike the older ones that we've probably had in the years past, which were basically mechanical. A relay turned on, turned off. That was it. This one was a little bit of a microprocessor DSB-based [sounds like 00:04:58] The RF was getting in at the controller side on the unit itself.
It turned out that the last service call, when they did some work in the control cage, I'll call it, they forgot to put back, or at least they thought they did, put back the ground wire, which is for the motherboard. There are several of them.
Turns out there's one particular one that if you have it removed, it creates a ground plane on the motherboard that actually radiates the signal, not drain it off to ground. Because we took a field strength meter...
Chris: ...oddly enough, and turned up the attenuation as much as we could. And as soon as you put the ground wire to the motherboard to the screw connector, the needle on the meter would drop. We're like, "Oh, that's interesting." Take it off, it would come back up. We're like wait a minute. It's re-radiating. Those of you who take monitor points, you know what I'm talking about.
Kirk: Yeah, yeah.
Chris: And we're like, "No way, it can't be something as simple as that." Sure enough, it was. So word of advice. AM sites especially, but if you're in a multi-site of FM where there's a lot of RF make sure the ground wires are put back in place on all of your equipment, regardless of what you think it is, air conditioning or not.
It was just the wildest experiment. I was like wow. When you to go an AM site and somebody's having a problem you immediately have to think RF.
Kirk: Yeah, yeah.
Chris: But I have been to a couple of FM sites that are multi-user sites that the FM RF was an issue. But AM, it's usually more pervasive.
Kirk: Right. But have you found that at AM sites when you have an issue with RF that it's easier to mitigate at an AM site than an FM site? Have you found that?
Chris: Absolutely. Yes, absolutely, without a doubt.
Kirk: So AM RF is easier to get rid of with good grounding techniques, bypass capacitors if you have to, than FM is, right?
Chris: Yeah. Yeah, I guess it's probably because of just the frequency of the – yeah, the operating frequencies.
Kirk: You're reminding me of a couple stories from here in Memphis. And one of them, I want to start out with a very simple story. Hey, we have engineers watching this podcast and listening to this podcast of all different stripes, of all different experience levels. So I want to tell the first story here, actually, it's more of a story with a tip. It may seem simple, but to me, it was magical and I was so glad that it worked well.
That is that here in Memphis, Tennessee, back in probably, oh, about 1989, I would say the summer of '89, I was the engineer for what was then called Rock 98. And I think the call sign was, it may have still been KWLN. Our studio was in downtown Memphis, in what used to be called The Three Sisters Building. It's at 88 Union Avenue, and I just walked by it today, this morning, on my way to go get a sandwich and a cup of coffee.
This building, I'll tell you what building it is. If you've ever watched the movie "The Firm". Remember that movie, what, almost 20 years ago now, "The Firm"? There's a party that goes on on the top of the Peabody Hotel in that movie. It's where the wives and the new attorney, played by Tom Cruise, and the other partners in the law firm, they're all meeting and they're having a little party on the top of the Peabody Hotel.
Well, there's a shot from the top of the Peabody toward the sunset, and you can see another building in the distance and a big, big framework sign on the top of this building, and it says "Memphis Business Journal." All right? "Memphis Business Journal." If you ever watch the movie "The Firm," look for that little clip, and that's it. That's the building that sign sits on top of the building where the radio station, Rock 98 was.
Well, by the way, if you look closely, on the back of that sign, the Memphis Business Journal sign, you can see, I believe it was four-foot Mark STL antenna. I put that there. So, "Hey. Look. Look. In the movie. There's my STL."
Chris: Oh, the prop master.
Kirk: Yes, the prop master. So okay, back to the story. I could have made a story just about the STL antenna, but okay. So yeah, we were shooting from there up to, I think, 23 miles away, to Frenchmans Bayou, Arkansas, which is where our tower was. So, okay. It started out as a 700-foot tower and later became a 1200-foot tower.
So it was Fourth of July and the radio station at the last minute said hey, why don't we just do some commentary from the top of our building while we watch the fireworks. We'll just kind of do a little play-by-play. We weren't the official station of the fireworks like the other station was.
So they said, "Kirk, how can we get a mic to the top of the building?" I thought well, I guess we could use our MARDY [sounds like 00:19:22] system, but I don't know, maybe we have something simpler. So I happened to have, about I don't know, 500 feet of Belden 8451 wire. And I had never – That's just twin with a shield on it and a drain wire and a jacket – and I thought maybe I could just make a... I said, "Do you want one microphone?" They said, "Yeah, that's all we need, one microphone."
So I thought well, maybe I could just make a long mic cord. I had no idea if this would work or not. I'm still kind of a budding engineer at this point, don't really understand all about impedance and things like that. But I thought I can't think of a reason why this won't work.
Yes, it'll be mic level. Yes, it'll be a run of, well, probably 200 feet by the time we go down all the stairwell and around and around down the hallways and go plug it in somewhere to the console or to a mic pre somewhere. But we'll give it a try, and as long as the mic pre maybe has a transformer input, and the microphone itself we were using had a transformer in it, hey, it's all balanced, maybe it'll be good.
So... it's a short story. I'm very pleased to tell you that it worked perfectly. At the time, I didn't know you could have a 200-foot mic cord and have it work out well, but it certainly did. I put XLR connectors on each end of it, cut it off to about the right length, ran it up the fire escape or the stairwells or something, and got it up to the roof of 88 Union Avenue in Memphis. Same building that's in "The Firm" in that long shot.
We did a live broadcast from up there with a microphone, and it sounded just great on the air. Just perfect. No buzz, no hum, just perfect level.
Chris, is there anything I should have been afraid of or worried about in running a 200-foot mic cord?
Chris: No, no. You know what? If the cable's right and the Belden you used is more than enough shielding, you're fine. How about this? I had an incident, an incident? A situation, many years ago during a blackout here in New York City, working at a radio station. And we too were in a skyscraper building, studios and whatnot. Sadly, our generator didn't work as well as it should have on a few things.
We discovered that the generator was working fine on most circuits, except one of the circuits for the small room at the rooftop, where the STL was housed, somehow did not get on the circuit with the generator.
So needless to say, when the lights went out, UPSs kicked in, STLs were still up and running because the UPS was online. Then we got the alarm that the UPS was not seeing utility. And we're going, that's odd, we're on generator, everything else is working. Well, it's a 50-story building, we're on the 10th floor, and I have to come up with a way of powering the STL system up on the rooftop.
I had probably about, I think, 20 minute, no, 30-minute window, because the UPS was oversized because there was just a small little T1 transmitter IP radio link,
Chris: ...5.8 GB. So we had plenty of capacity but not enough time. So I'm like, so now what do we do? Well, oddly enough, we were able to find enough extension cords, large extension cords...
Chris: ...that the building was good enough to help us out. We ran power lines up through the staircase, the extension cord, up through the staircase to where we had to go. As crazy as it was, it worked. But the voltage drop was there and we were definitely at the edge. But it worked, and it worked long enough for me to find a way to get onto the generator circuit.
Oddly enough, again, this is one of these things that just, when you're dealing with contractors and you're trying your best to stay on top of them, without stepping on toes or appearing to be overbearing, even though you're the client.
It turns out the outlets that were put on the generator circuit were up in the room, but on the other side of the room was something else that had nothing to do with the radio station. How that happened we still don't know, because all the paperwork I had definitely showed a diagram and a drawing for the right spot.
So after we discovered that, because our main goal was get power up there and figure out how to make this longer, because we have no idea how long this blackout's going to last.
Chris: And sure enough, we're in the room and I look over and I see a battery charger is lit. And the battery charger was part of the two-way radio repeater for the building maintenance and security. It's like, "They don't have a generator. How are they...? Oh, no." Sure enough, that was our circuit.
Kirk: Oh. Oh.
Chris: So after that, we just took a small extension cord and plugged in our gear and we got back up and running. It was just one of those things where you sit back afterwards and you do the post mortem, if you will.
You think about it and go, even though we had the paperwork, the drawings if you will, we discussed it, the one thing we didn't get to do, because of the way the rules were written in the building as far as what you can do walking around, what you could do, what you could touch – the one thing we didn't get to do is verify, one of our people, one of our staffers, is to verify the outlet that we were plugged into was truly on generator.
We had to take the word of the electricians. That's the one thing that, moving forward since then, this is 10 years ago, I said, "From now on, any work that I'm doing with contractors and it requires a mission-critical component, I want to see it work. I want to see it in emergency mode, I want to see that circuit is live."
Chris: No more. And I've had a few times over the years where I got challenged by local contractors, saying, "Well, you just can't do that." I was like, "Yes I can. Matter of fact, I've only paid for 50% of the job. If you want the other 50%, we're going to do a test.
Kirk: Yeah, yeah.
Chris: "That's part of the contract."
It's amazing the number of things that you overlook with that, or people just take for granted. I'm not disparaging electricians. They did very good work. It was perfect to code, everything about it was spot-on. But they're not broadcasters, so as far as they know, it's a circuit, it's in, "Hey, you got to use it, just plug into it. Move stuff over, unplug things, move it around." In broadcasting, you know we don't do it that way.
Chris: So that was one hell of a night.
Kirk: You mentioned the word blackout. And of course, I'm reminded of the blackout that occurred in the whole Northeast back in, what was it, 2003? Was that it?
Chris: Yes, yes.
Kirk: Yeah. So can you give me a sense of what New York City broadcasting was like during that blackout? Were all the stations off the air? Were some of them on emergency generator power? What was it like then?
Chris: Oh, wow, that was a wild afternoon. I was coming back from one of the buildings that we operated out of. I was just walking across town. And all of a sudden, I noticed the traffic lights on the avenue were dark. I'm like, that's weird. It's about 4:00 in the afternoon. I think it was a Friday or a Thursday. I'm saying that's odd, why are these lights out. But it can happen.
But then I started noticing cars sort of backing up on certain streets that normally don't occur at that time of day. And then I started noticing people reaching for their phones and starting to like, a group, six, seven, dozens of people grabbing their cell phones. I'm saying, "Okay, that's not normal."
Now, me being an amateur operator and an RF nut, I happened to have my two-way radio with me, which is on several different channel repeaters that I maintain around the city. So I called out to a buddy of mine. I say, "Hey, what's going on, I'm in between buildings." He's like, "Yeah, you won't believe this, but I think there's a blackout occurring." I'm like "What?" And then 10 minutes after that, things just went south.
It was still daylight so the city seemed normal because there was chaos as always, but a little more. Got back to the studios, of course there was just pandemonium. Broadcast-wise, I would say probably almost everybody found their way back on the air through their, what do you call it, broadcast continuity plans, the backup generators, studios, or backup, say, if you will, CDs or servers that were playing audio while they scrambled to get into position of a back live.
Chris: It was pretty much everybody was in pretty good shape. There was a few hiccups here and there you always expect. When the evening came, when the sun set, going up on the rooftop of a 50-story building here in New York City, that's about 520 feet above the ground, and looking across out to Central Park and all you see is black where you normally would see rows of avenues lit up by street lamps. It was pitch black.
Kirk: Yeah, yeah.
Chris: It was like a scene out of a movie. And all you would see in the distance were these little blue and red lights from police cars going around in the abyss. That's what it looked like, an abyss.
Literally, you look off the edge of the roof, and it was just black. So you had no sense, no relative point of reference or anything. It was the wildest thing to see. Then also walking along the avenue that evening and just seeing no cars on Seventh Avenue going toward Times Square. Just people walking around. It was wild.
Kirk: So why were people not driving? Because the traffic lights were out?
Chris: Well, they closed a lot of the streets down for emergency traffic. There was no traffic lights, there was no street lights out as well, so it was pretty much a hazard. It was also reminiscent of earlier, of what 9/11 was like, when everything got shut down and the city was just locked down for that 24-hour period. But it was wild.
Kirk: So if the broadcasters, and we're talking mostly about radio broadcasters, New York City being the number one market. I would hope that any broadcaster worth his salt has got a continuation plan for their studio and for their transmitter site. Let's talk about Empire State Building. We talked about that earlier in the show. That's where a bunch of FM transmitters are.
Is every station responsible for its own generator on Empire State, and if so, how do you refuel those things and keep them going up there?
Chris: Yes. Well, if you're fortunate enough to have a generator and the fueling capabilities from years past, then you kept it. Not everybody has a generator at Empire for building code reasons and a lot of things since 9/11.
Chris: It wasn't practical. Some folks did have gen sets and others did not. That's why the New York Broadcast Group, a lot of folks have off-site transmitter backups, in Manhattan or across the river in either Brooklyn or Queens or New Jersey, depending on what makes sense. As long as they get a city-grade signal, they're okay.
Also, since the time of 9/11, people have rethought how they look at their sites here in the city. It's a hard target. So if something bad is to happen, what locations are going to get hit first. Oh wow, my transmitter site, known as the Empire State Building, oops. Maybe I should have an off-site transmitter somewhere else. Or maybe I should have a studio outside the perimeter of a place that could get locked down.
Chris: There were a lot of things I can say that we, as broadcasters, in New York City learned from the 9/11 experience, and then to follow it up with a blackout, it was just amazing some of the plans that were put in place because of the security issues that played out very well for the blackout.
But generators at Empire State Building are not common practice. It's not that easy to do, and it's a lot of it to do with building code. Also, yeah, getting the fuel up there, because with the new building codes, you can't put a diesel tank up there any more.
Chris: Not the same way it used to.
Kirk: Well, good. It seems like I visited one of the FM transmitter rooms at Empire State, and they did have a diesel generator in there, and I was told they had to bring up diesel fuel in five-gallon buckets. Would they still be doing that nowadays?
Chris: No, I don't think you're allowed to do that any more. No. I'm pretty sure you won't be able to. It's been a while since I talked to anybody at Empire about generators in that capacity. A lot of folks just have natural gas, so it was a little more convenient.
Kirk: So I've got a war story coming up for you in just a couple minutes about the time we had an ice storm across Arkansas, Tennessee, and a 1200-foot tower with chunks of ice falling off of it, and diesel fuel. So all that's coming up in just a few minutes, plus hopefully we'll have some show-and-tell from here at Entercom. If we don't, well, we'll figure out another war story for you.
Our show is brought to you in part by the folks at Omnia, and actually a new division of Telos, or at least a new name, a new mark of the Telos Alliance, which is Z/IPStream. Z/IPStream.
At the Telos Alliance, we've taken our different streaming encoding products, whether hardware or software, and we've put them under the name of Z/IPStream. So these are the products that do audio processing and stream encoding.
We have a phrase around Telos nowadays called "Stream Like You Mean It." And by that, if you're going to do streaming, and you kind of need to nowadays, you need for your audio to be available.
Hey, my little radio station in Mississippi, we use all Z/IPStream products to stream, and we know we have plenty of listeners on our streams. We're using a CDN now. Even a little station like ours, our little ones there, we're finding out we have listeners in a lot of places. A lot right there in our hometown in Mississippi, but a few in other places as well.
Using the philosophy of Stream Like You Mean It, our audio always sounds really good, thanks to audio processing from Omnia. On a couple of our streams, we're using the original three-band Omnia processing for streaming. That comes as part of, let's say, the Z/IPStream X/2 product. That's software that runs on a PC, that's what we're using at our stations.
There is another processor available for you. You can get Leif Claesson's Omnia.9 processing in a streaming product as well. That's in the Z/IPStream 9X/2. So there's the Z/IPStream X/2 and the Z/IPStream 9X/2. By the way, you can do upgrades on a per-channel basis if you want to, just license Leif's processor in there.
So you could have really well-processed audio, multiple band, stereo enhancement. You can get, of course, Undo and declipping to make your audio cleaner before it ever gets into the processing.
Then, what about encoding? Well, the Z/IPStream X/2 and 9X/2 have reference code from Fraunhofer [sounds like 00:33:53] for doing your stream encoding, whether it's MP3 or AAC or any of the AAC family, like AAC, HE-AAC v2, or just regular HE-AAC. Whichever kind of streaming you want to do that's built in there, you've got choices.
You're not using some knockoff code. You're not using something that well, if you encode it this way, it'll play back on an AAC player, or it'll play back on an MP3 player. No, this is the real code, the reference code from Fraunhofer.
Fully licensed, and we say that in our ad, fully licensed reference code. Does it make a difference? Well, I think it does, And you're using the good stuff that, again, is fully licensed. Your stream cannot sound any better at any bit rate that you choose to do it.
And what about bit rates? Let's say that you want to stream your station at several different bit rates for mobile users or home users. Well, you can easily do that with the Z/IPStream products. In fact, with the Z/IPStream X/2 or 9X/2, when you license it, you're paying for each input, not for each output. So you can take one input, one program input, and you can stream it at different bit rates, with different algorithms.
You can even make an instance of simply processing alone. So if you just want to get something processed and bring it back out of the computer, you can do that as well.
What about getting audio into and out of the computers? Well, you can use sound cards, multiple input, multiple output sound cards. You can just use the sound card that's part of the motherboard. Or you can use Livewire to go in and out. In fact, Z/IPStream X/2 and 9X/2 now comes with Livewire IP audio driver built into the software, so you don't even have to separately install a single or multi-channel Axia IP driver. It comes with that in the software.
So many possibilities. Metadata as well, plenty of metadata filters and just the things you need to make metadata work on your stream are all built into Z/IPStream X/2 and 9X/2.
You should check it out on the Telos website. Go to TelosAlliance.com and look for streaming products, the Z/IPStream X/2 and 9X/2.
That picture right there you see on your screen, that is the Leif Claesson 9 processing that is available as an option for you. That would be included in the Z/IPStream 9X/2 product. I'm using that on several of our streams at Delta Radio. Love the stuff, works great. By the way, if you're a little bit worried about running it on a PC, know that these streaming products all run as a service on the PC.
They're not apps that, sometimes, apps can get bogged down and fail or have a crash in one way or another. These are low-level services that are running. Your window into those is the only app, and that would be either the NF Remote software or your browser of choice.
Either way, you could look into what's going on, but the actual software itself that's running, that keeps you on the air, keeps you streaming, is running as a service. It's very reliable. Thanks a lot to Z/IPStream for sponsoring this part of This Week in Radio Tech.
All right, Chris Tobin, we were talking about generators. I don't know what you get in your part of the country for ice storms, but over the 20-plus years I've lived in this area, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi area, man, we have gotten some doozies. Where we don't really get much snow but we get ice accumulations that are just terrifying, bringing down power lines, even big power poles, even metal power towers, those transmission towers that go cross-country, bringing those down.
Back in '93, we had the Ice Storm of 1993. I lived in Memphis. I was engineering for our stations in Mississippi that had gone on the air not too long before. Man, we had this ice storm come in. Well, the station that needed my attention was Rock 98. I mentioned it earlier.
They had a brand new used generator at the transmitter site, and a big diesel tank, plus a day tank, that's the little one that pumps the fuel into it and pumps the excess, I guess the excess from the engine goes back into the day tank.
Of course, the power went out in Frenchmans Bayou, Arkansas, where the big tower was, and the generator didn't come on, or if it did, it didn't last very long. So I thought oh my goodness, what could be wrong. Well, the roads are covered, and I really mean covered, with about two inches of ice. Two inches, like this, sheer ice on every single road. Interstate highways, state highways, secondary roads of all kinds, two inches of ice. Now, this is both good and bad. Two inches of ice means you've got to be real careful driving. Real careful. In some places, it's just about impossible to not have an accident or slip off the road. But the good news was there was almost nobody on the roads.
So I left my house in Memphis, driving, believe it or not, I didn't have a four-wheel drive. I was driving a Nissan 300ZX sports car. Now the good news about a 300ZX, rear wheel drive, and that seemed to help me out, and wide tires. Now that did help me out, and I just picked my way really slowly.
Being an engineer, I kind of understand the dynamics when you go around a curve and the curve is banked, right, and kind of judging what speed can I go around this curve, like on an interstate, state highway, secondary road... at what speed can I go around this curve with the bank that it has and not have any pressure to the left, going to the outside of the curve, or to the right, or going inside of the curve. What speed do I need to be to just keep the weight of the car directed perpendicular to the roadway itself?
I must be good at that, because like two hours later, I was passing jackknifed trucks left and right. Almost nobody's on the interstate. This is I-55, going from Memphis up through the northeast side of Arkansas, headed up toward the boot heel of Missouri, and it's 20-plus miles on this highway, I-55.
Then I had to get off at an exit, which was severely banked, intending for you to go pretty fast on this. I got it just the right speed, didn't slip left or right. Nobody on the road, so I didn't have to come to a stop at the top of the ramp to join the little state road. Came down to an intersection, made a slow left turn, and then I had a long straight shot on this little state highway, getting to Frenchmans Bayou, Arkansas. Okay. I'm not there yet.
The tower's in sight, I can see it. It's so flat in this area, I can see the transmitter building, I can see the generator and the tank, and I still must be a mile away. Here's how slippery it was. I'm driving on this road in my 300ZX and I'm probably going 25 miles an hour, just slow and steady, 25 miles an hour.
I look ahead, and exactly at the point where I have to turn off this road and go to a little two-lane crossroad that goes by the transmitter site, there's a car stuck in the road. It's just sitting there. I'm going 25 miles an hour, I can see it up ahead of me, and at this point, I'm probably down to three-tenths of a mile. Okay. So what am I talking about here in feet. Maybe about 2,000 feet ahead of me?
So that's still six football fields. I let off the gas, which I was barely touching anyway, and I start pumping the brake gently, knowing that every time I touch the brake, the wheels are locking up. This is sheer ice. It is absolutely sheer ice.
So I'm pumping the brake, not hard, just touching it, trying to slow down, trying to persuade the car, okay car, let's slow down, let's slow down. It got down to probably about a football field, probably 300 feet. I'm not slowing down fast enough. So I guess I locked the brakes up, and I just kept them locked up. I wasn't sure, am I slowing down better with the wheels locked up or with the wheels not locked up? I'm just trying to do this engineering calculation in my head, which is better?
Throw out whatever you know about that, because I had to make it apply right then, right there. And it seemed like the best way to do it was just to leave my foot on the brake, brakes locked up, sliding, sliding, sliding, absolutely straight.
I got down to, I swear, I got down to probably one mile an hour and bumped the other car. It was like crossways in the road. I couldn't turn left or right or stop any faster. It was like the whole thing happening in slow motion. Now because I was going so slowly and because the other car was on the same ice, there was no damage whatsoever.
It was like bumper cars, just boop. And it gave him a little bit of energy, moved him, I don't know, probably five feet, and at the same time, my car stopped because it was just so low energy at that point.
So we said our hi's and goodbyes and everything was fine, and I then turned the car down the little road to the transmitter site. Okay, yes, the story's going somewhere.
So I get to the transmitter site, and by the way, the final hundred feet to the transmitter site is a gravel road. And if there was ice on there, which I guess there was, at least it was rocky. So I had no trouble negotiating that. Pro tip. If ice is falling off of a thousand-foot tower, probably best not to park your car anywhere close to the tower. By the way, Chris, are you still there?
Chris: I'm still here, just laughing, because I know exactly what you've been through, I've been through it and yes, falling ice at a tower site can be very interesting.
Kirk: Either you're bored or you're rolling your eyes at the story. So I get out of the car and I keep hearing this noise overhead. Shhhhhump. It's chunks of ice falling off the tower, because it must be warming or something hundreds of feet in the air. I've never done this before. I should have had a hard hat or not even been onsite. So I thought, okay, I've got to see what's the problem here. So I went in the building, no power at all, the transfer switch was in the generator position, the generator wasn't running. I go outside.
I barely have a decent jacket on, and so I'm cold. I don't even think I have any gloves. I am so unprepared, it's unbelievable. So I go out there and I try to figure out why isn't there anything... I figured, well, maybe the fuel is gelled up between the big tank and the day tank.
I don't remember all the details, but somehow I got some warmth. I think I may have had some heat tape. No it wasn't. No, I know what it was. You know those, it looked like a hair dryer, but they're for shrinking heat-shrink tubing, like a heavy-duty, super-hot hair dryer for shrinking heat-shrink? I had one of those at the transmitter site. So I ran extension cords from the transmitter building outside.
Oh, you know what? There was power in the generator because there's A/C power out there to... nope, wait, power's off. How did I run that thing? I have no idea. Now I'm thinking, I don't know what I did. There wasn't any power out there. The generator wasn't running. I have no idea what I did. Somehow I got some heat.
Kirk: Yeah, the power was off, I couldn't have run a hair dryer. I have no idea what I did. But somehow I got some heat. Oh, wait a minute.
Chris: Did you plug it into a UPS?
Kirk: No, I know what it was. Oh my God. Oh my God. I know what I did. I had a little...
Kirk: ...not butane. I had a little torch.
Chris: Oh, yes, the Handy Torch.
Kirk: I had a little Handy Torch. Yep. Not the dual bottle, but I guess the blue bottle thing? Anyway...
Chris: Yeah, yeah, the single bottle.
Kirk: Yeah, the single bottle type. It's not super-duper hot. Not as hot as acetylene, certainly. So I took... this is what I did. Now I remember. I took that... this is bringing back memories from, oh geez, my kids were little. My old kids were little.
So I took this thing and I just kept waving it back and forth on the fuel line. I'm thinking I'm going to blow everything up, or maybe this will work. I probably did that for an hour. The fuel line was probably 18 or 20 feet long between the big tank and the day tank, and so I just kept at it and kept at it and kept at it. And then it was a few feet from the day tank over to the generator. So I think I did the same thing on it, too. Anyway, I felt like okay, I'm touching these pipes now, and they're feeling like... they're not hot, but they're not atmospheric temperature, either. Maybe I got them up to 45, 50 degrees or so.
I kept - I try and start the generator. Eventually it started. I had probably been out there for an hour and a half. I got the generator started. And lo and behold, it kept going. So again, my memory's a little shaky on this, I was in panic mode. Obviously ill prepared. My hands were freezing cold. Of course I had this, I guess... no, you can't really apply the burner to your hand. At the same time, ice chunks are coming down. I did get hit in the back several times with a chunk of ice. I'm so lucky it didn't hit my head and knock me out. I would have been laying there with this torch running, in my hand. It would have [inaudible 00:47:53].
Chris: That would have been interesting when the emergency services arrive and they see you in the snow with a torch in your hand...
Chris: ...expended, and just lying there. They'd be like what the devil was this guy trying to do?
Kirk: I've got to tell you, Chris, my guardian angel had to be there. Because think of all the stupid things I did wrong. Just getting there was a miracle. And then...
Chris: Clarence was working hard.
Kirk: Yeah, yeah. Oh geez. Got it on the air, and it was running, and I probably stayed there an hour, an hour and a half more, after it got running, and said, Look, there's nothing else I can do now. There's nothing more to babysit. We have a full tank of fuel. It doesn't appear to be gelled up anymore. It was daytime, that night, it didn't go off the air. So maybe it didn't get as cold that night. I had to run down to Mississippi and get my stations down there on the air. That's a whole nother story that maybe we'll do on another show.
So I ended up driving what should have been a three-hour drive to Cleveland, Mississippi from Frenchmans Bayou. It ended up being a six-hour drive because I could only go 35 miles an hour on the ice-covered roads there.
By the way, on that trip, Mississippi got hit harder. There was probably a 40-mile stretch of highway, down U.S. Highway 61 in northwest Mississippi, where there wasn't a power pole standing anywhere. They were all down. Actually, in that part of the country, they're wooden, the dual pole with the cross arm and then the X brace, and they have three big long insulators and the high voltage lines.
Chris: Oh yeah.
Kirk: But they have strength this way, but not this way, right? They were all down, for miles. Geez. What a mess. There were communities that didn't have power for six weeks in Mississippi.
Kirk: Yeah, six freaking weeks.
Chris: Yeah, when those lines go down, those particular ones are not easy to fix. You can't do them that quickly.
Kirk: Well, they had a power generating plant in Cleveland, Mississippi. It's decommissioned now, but they had it there, and it went offline. I remember in the weeks afterwards, they couldn't start it because it took power to start it, and they had no power.
Chris: Oh, wow.
Kirk: They always depended on outside power coming in to start any stuff they had to do there. I don't understand all that, but it was offline. It would have worked had they had power, but they didn't have power to start the stuff up.
Chris: They needed a perpetual motion machine.
Kirk: Exactly. Exactly. All right. Oh, geez.
Chris: Yeah, I've had some interesting transmitter situations. Let's see. One of them was an "Apollo 13" moment, where I was working at a station. Yeah, I guess it was my first or second year I was working at a commercial station. The blower motor on the transmitter went out. It's a 3 kilowatt FM it was, so it was low-power transmitter. And the backup transmitter unfortunately was only like a 500 watt box.
Meanwhile, the station was a 3 kilowatt Class A, and the difference in signal coverage between the two transmitters was immense. So I'm trying to figure out how do I cool this transmitter, how do I make this work. Because it turns out the Collins FM transmitter this was, the replacement part would be found, if you can wait a couple of weeks. So I'm thinking to myself, this is not going to go well.
So I realize that we have an air conditioner, wall unit, air conditioning unit, and I found some hosing, plastic hose, or ducting material you use typically on the output of a dryer. And you duct the hot air out to your window outside.
So I was like wow, this is great, I can probably take this and use it. Well, this ducting was rectangular and the base of the cooling fan input on the transmitter tube, the PA tube, was round, circular. So just like in the movie, we have to make this fit this, which was rectangular and circular.
Kirk: Yeah, yeah.
Chris: Mind you, this was way before "Apollo 13," this was 1983. I mean the movie, the movie "Apollo 13."
Kirk: Yeah, yeah, before the movie, yes.
Chris: I pretty much came up with almost the same thing they did. It was a plastic bag with cardboard and tape and I made it work. And believe it or not, I was actually able to get the 3000-watt transmitter... it was a 5 kilowatt, the TPO was around 4 and change. I could actually run it around 3300 watts and it's a tube transmitter, so the intake to external, or the output, that is, the temperature difference has to be something like 80 degrees or whatever I think is what WiMAX [sounds like 00:52:36] says.
I was actually able to get close enough that the tube would function and I didn't have to run it that high, so I still got enough ERP, I got enough cooling, and it worked. I wish I had taken a picture of this setup, because I'll tell you, it was like watching a movie. But it was just one of those things where you're sitting there, you're like, "I'm by myself, what do I do, who can I call...
Chris: ...oh yeah, I'm in a marketplace of one radio station. The next guy closest is a half hour away."
Chris: And it was a Collins transmitter, so at the time, they hadn't made it already for 20 years, so it was not something you were going to get off the shelf. It was a blower motor that was made by Dayton, and I called up Dayton Motor and they're like, "Oh, wow, that, yeah. We stopped making that particular one a long time ago. You could retrofit the new one, but it's going to take... we'd have to call around the warehouses." I'm like, "Oh, okay. Why don't you start that process while I'm working on this other thing."
So it was just one of those things where you have to sort of really think out of the box, and it was fun. Not that many people these days would probably get to do that anymore because of the way boxes are designed, transmitters are designed. But that was a doozie. That was a good one.
Then there was another transmitter site story, similar to yours, with power lines being down. I happened to be working at the transmitter site one night. It was a directional AM and a single, omni-directional FM at the site. Doing some late-night work, late evening and a late night.
Doing some work and all of a sudden, the generator goes online. I'm like, "Oh, great, now what?" And because we had the lights and stuff on small UPSs we had a little setup where you could switch the utility to generator and not notice it, depending where you are in the building, I heard the generator go on, the little alert, sound alert went off. And I'm like all right, great, we're on generator. Called the studio, they said, "No, there's no power outages, we're not aware of anything. Everything's normal around here."
So I start looking around and I figure, let me check things, we're on generator, why not. This is a good opportunity to see how the generator's performing under load. As I'm running around I hear noises outside on the property. Now mind you, it's a directional AM so we have a large piece of property for the towers. There's three towers and the FM is on one of the three towers.
So I hear noises outside and it's about 11:00 at night, and I'm like, oh, we normally don't have people around here at this hour. Let me use some caution as I go out the building. I swing open the door, well, I don't swing it open fast, I just open the door slowly, I have my flashlight in hand, my cell phone in my pocket. I open the door, and there I am greeted with a gentleman in a black outfit with a firearm.
Chris: He yells at me, "Who are you, state your business, and stand still." So I take the flashlight and put it to my face. I'm like, "I'm the station engineer, I work here, and who are you?" And they're the local law enforcement. I'm like okay, the cops are here. Why are the cops here with a firearm at my head?
Chris: This is not a good sign.
Chris: So it turns out the power got knocked out because a person who was in a police chase, who decided to rob a car, rob the building, held somebody at gunpoint, chased through town, they took him onto the back roads, he lost control of his car, he hit a power pole, and doing so took down 15 power poles all in one shot because of the tension of the wires, you know...
Kirk: Yeah, yeah.
Chris: ...just the delicate balance they all have to maintain. Took everything out. And it just happened to be at the power pole at the end of my property, or the radio station property. So the police are doing their part, searching the woods for this guy. They see this little house, three towers, and the light on. So they're thinking, oh, maybe the perpetrator is holed up in this building.
I'm like no, that's not the guy, I'm not the guy, no. Needless to say, I didn't get that much sleep that night because I was wide awake for the next six hours. And I had to stay in the building. They put a police officer outside the building. There was an armed guard outside. He goes, "You'll have to wait here until we can tell you if the area's clear, because in order for you to drive way, you're going to be going through parts that we don't know if this person is around...
Chris: ...if he's armed." I'm like, "You know what? No problem. I've got plenty of work here I can do. I'll just make a few calls, let people know what's going on, so that not to come out looking for me."
So that was one extreme from the air conditioning issue to having firearms in your face and police and telling you that there's a guy on the loose in your property with a gun and we thought it was you.
Well, think about it. How many of us have worked at transmitter facilities where it's on a piece of property in a remote location in town and it's midnight. What are the odds of somebody seeing a light on and going oh yeah, that's normal. Back in the '60s, when you had transmitter engineers that lived at the site, yeah, that was normal.
Chris: But not in 1991, it was a little different. So yeah, that was a fun one. So since then, I used to practice putting signs on the door and making sure that anybody coming up to the door, say, law enforcement especially, they would know that, okay, this is an unmanned site, there's a possibility this could be an employee, I do everything. I also used to put a little sign out, "Station Engineer on Duty on Site."
Kirk: That's a good idea, yeah, put a magnetic sign, yeah.
Chris: I had to, because... yeah, yeah, exactly.
Kirk: Yeah. Put it on the door. I had, not as dramatic as yours, but years ago I was working on actually the same station, but its tower at that time was in Osceola, Arkansas, and they hadn't moved yet to the big burgeoning metropolis of Frenchmans Bayou, Arkansas.
I was in the transmitter building late at night, it was an AM and FM in the same building, on the same tower, in Osceola. It's probably about midnight, maybe 12:30, and I've got part of one of the transmitters, I guess it was the FM transmitter, I had it taken apart, parts scattered all over the floor. And I think I left the door open. Small town, nobody around, middle of the night. And I don't think it had any air conditioning in there, so I had the door open, trying to get a little bit of breeze in there somehow.
I heard some noises, like footsteps. And so I slowly looked around the side of the transmitter, the FM transmitter, and it was a gentleman dressed in black. Black spit-shined shoes and black slacks. And I looked up and there's a big tall policemen. He said, "Are you okay?" I said, "Yes sir, I'm fine. I'm supposed to be here, I'm working." So we had a quick conversation and he said, "Well... " He didn't have any advice what I should do, but a sign on the door might have been a good idea. Hey, there's somebody working here. Engineer on Duty. I like that. I like that.
Chris: Yeah, well, I've worked at sites that have been in locations that are not very desirable. Another site, a location that actually Chriss Scherer is quite familiar with and a few other people that we know, in Connecticut, and it's a place, it's in Bridgeport, downtown Bridgeport, it's a transmitter site that the antenna is located on a smokestack.
It's in a part of town that, at least at the time, I think it's improved since then, but it's in a part of town where let's just say you don't want to be there after sunset...
Chris: ...because the activities that go on are usually unlawful. But I had to go to the site, there was a problem. I drove down, got off the interstate, take the side road down.
As I'm driving down the street to the site, which happened to be co-located on a junkyard. So the junkyard, you go through the junkyard to get to the building that we had for the transmitter. That in itself was a feat. So as I'm approaching the property, I'm suddenly stopped by two police cars that just cut in front of me. I mean literally cut in front of me, lights blaring.
Officers get out of the car, come up to my window, and ask me, "What are you doing here? Are you lost?" I'm like, "No, I'm not lost, I'm going to work." I show them my ID, driver's license, business card, the whole bit. And they're like, "Well, you shouldn't be down here. It's a very bad night." I was like, "Yeah, I know, I'm off the air on my backup and the generator's running, so we're trying to figure out what's going on." He goes, "No, I don't mean that. It's just a bad night. We'll escort you to your building." I'm like, "What?"
Well, sure enough, as we approach our building and about another, say, 2000 feet down the road past our building, there were police cars going by and officers on foot. Suddenly, what sounds like firecrackers to the untrained ear, were actually gunshots.
Kirk: Gunshots, nice.
Chris: They were in pursuit of drug dealers.
Chris: So I'm like, "Oh, I'm just going to hang out here in the building. It's brick building, so I don't have to worry about it falling down from anybody blowing on it, but I'll stay here until it's clear. How about I call the office and check with dispatch and see how you guys are making out?" He goes, "Here's the number to call for direct access to the dispatcher. They'll let you know when it's good to go."
I'm like, "Yeah, all right, another one of these sites where I've got to... " But the part of town, yeah, it's the part of town that's known as Father Panik Village. And those of you who...
Kirk: Panik Village, oh geez.
Chris: Oh yeah, yeah, so it's well known. Yeah, this was 19, when was this? This was 1980 something, '83 I guess. Yeah, it was back in the '80s again. It was just wow, what an experience. Boy, I'll tell you, I learned a lot of things in the early days with remote sites. And this wasn't very remote, it was downtown Bridgeport.
Then again, back in those days, down Bridgeport was sort of like the South Bronx in the '70s. And it was fun. Again, I made it a point to carry proper identification, have what we'd call today an elevator pitch, but back then it was just basically a quick statement as to who I am, what I'm doing, and do it quickly and very calmly. It paid off handsomely twice, going to that site.
Kirk: Sounds like a good speech to practice. You're talking to law enforcement, you want to be clear, concise, and brief.
Chris: Yeah. Well, hey, if you're an FM operator and you co-locate in a building, say, Empire State Building maybe World Trade Center, One World Trade, there's a good chance you'll be co-located with a lot of federal agencies or local law enforcement. And you may be in your room...
Chris: ...or on the floor, because depending on the build-out if it's a caged area or actual rooms, you might get approached by somebody going, "What are you doing up here and why are you here?" Think of it this way. In New York City, I can say, and Chicago, L.A., I'm sure it's the same, and maybe even Atlanta or Boston. If you're in those sites and there's any dignitaries in town or something going on, they usually send people up to their locations to keep an eye on things.
So if you show up in a building where it's usually remote and nobody's there on a regular basis, you'd best be prepared to explain your presence. I can say this again. I have worked at the Empire State Building for 20 years-plus, on and off, and there's a lot of things that go on in that building that if you're in certain parts, you'd better have a good reason why you're there, when those gentlemen in those dark suits show up and ask questions.
Kirk: Our show is This Week in Radio Tech, and Chris Tobin and I are talking about some war stories, things we've experienced in the last few years, and maybe longer than that, come to think of it.
Our show is brought to you in part by the folks at Lawo, L-A-W-O, a German company that makes audio consoles. Pronounced "Lavo." You'll find them on the web at Lawo.com. And we've been talking about this console now for about a year, and it is just amazing. It's another Audio over IP console. So this is certainly an idea that is catching on with companies all around the world.
It's a great way to do audio in your broadcast facility. It cuts down seriously on wiring, and the folks at Lawo have implemented RAVENNA and by reference, AES67 as well, into this console.
Now, the crystalCLEAR console is the one that we're talking about here. It's a console that's part of their crystal line of small radio-station consoles, very capable. You don't need as many faders nowadays as you used to, because everything is assignable, instantly.
Same thing with this console, the crystalCLEAR console. The crystalCLEAR uses a DSP engine that sits in a rack, wherever you want it to. It could be in the studio, could be in a rack room, wherever you want to bring your audio sources to. It's got some mic preamps built into it. It's got a couple of headphone amps built into it. It's got some analog and AES inputs and outputs. Plus it's also got all the networking that you need to plug it in to a network and run either RAVENNA audio streams or AES67 audio streams. Dual power supplies are available for this console as well.
Now, the console itself, the part you touch, the part you move the faders up and down, well, that's pretty non-traditional. It's actually a multi-touch touchscreen monitor connected to a PC, and it's running an app that looks exactly like a console. Now this idea has always been very intriguing to me personally, not that I thought of it or anything, but I was thinking about this back in the mid-'90s.
Thinking hey, we've got touchscreens, I see them using them at McDonald's, some of the earlier ones, they didn't work as well. But why couldn't we make an audio console with this? Well, now they are, at Lawo, the crystalCLEAR console.
You can go to the Lawo website and go to the radio products page and look for the crystalCLEAR. There's a video there that is really intriguing. It's Michael Dosch, who's the head of their virtual radio projects division there at Lawo, and he's going through a demonstration of this Lawo crystalCLEAR virtual radio mixing console.
You can see the benefits of it, you can see how easy it is to operate, run the faders up and down. All the buttons become contextual. Because you're no longer limited by a hardware interface, the buttons can say what they need to say for the function that you're doing at the time.
It's all very interesting, and hey, there are people who have deployed this console... Also the hardware version of this console, the crystal console, it uses an actual hardware surface, so you can get that as well. If you don't want the touchscreen, you can do it in a total hardware situation.
So check it out. Go to Lawo, L-A-W-O.com, and check out the Lawo crystalCLEAR console. Check out Mike Dosch's video there, too.
All right, Chris Tobin and Kirk Harnack here on This Week in Radio Tech with "War Stories," about to wrap it up. Chris, I meant to ask you before the break if you had a tip for us, and just to give you a second to think about it, I'll tell you about a tip that I ran across, actually just today.
You may know that a couple of months ago, in Mississippi, I installed an IP radio link between our studio and one of our transmitter sites in Cleveland, Mississippi. I used the cute little Ubiquiti NanoBridge unit. I don't think they make this exact one any more, but it's so cute, it really looks like baby's first microwave dish.
We have Livewire Audio over IP running on the six-mile link, from one end to the other. To my knowledge, no errors, it just sits there and runs perfectly. I was concerned about surge suppression on the Cat 5 cable. So I bought some surge suppressors off the shelf, and they use standard RJ45 connectors, you run them in there. You ground the big ground stud on the surge suppressor and you run your cable through it. And that's fine. It's got gas-type surge suppressors inside of it.
I was just made aware that you can also have surge suppressors that don't use an Rj45 connector. They use screw-down terminals. Now, you've got to be careful with your cable dress, because it is Cat 5e cable. You might be running a 100 MB link through there, so you can't have stray wires running hither and yon.
So you've got to be careful, but they are screw-down terminals. So you've got a better chance of those terminals carrying more current than you would have probably with an Rj45 connector. So PolyPhaser makes these.
At our stations in Mississippi, we're going to do a second IP radio link, and we have turned to the folks at FAB-Corp, F-A-B-dash-C-O-R-P, dot com, FAB-Corp.com. That's Dave Anderson's company, he's been a guest on our show before.
They suggested these PolyPhaser surge suppressors for an outdoor Cat 5 installation. So that's what we ordered, they're a little pricier, but they really believe in them. After seeing how they're built, I believe in them, too. Same gas-type suppressors inside, but you get screw-down terminals in a really heavy-duty case. So that's my tip.
If you're going to be running Cat 5e up a tower, and I think you're going to see a lot more of that, so engineers, you need to learn about that, I think we're going to see it more and more. The PolyPhaser screw-down terminals on surge suppressors. Good idea. I'll tell you how it turns out. Chris Tobin, how about your tip for today before we leave?
Chris: A quick simple tip, I think along the lines of the Ethernet Cat 5 stuff we're talking about, is I've been recently working with folks and suggesting a shielded twisted pair Ethernet cables, even though it's in a studio environment. And the reason I have suggested this is many years ago in a facility that we built, we used a lot of shielded twisted pair in locations, and it turns out that it was to our benefit. Because there's a lot of RF these days, in various forms and shapes. Whether it's your cell phone or a two-way radio or wireless gear that you might be using. You never know when it's going to crop up and appear in your facility. Yes, shielded twisted pair may be a little bit more expensive than your run-of-the-mill unshielded twisted pair UTP and STP, but it may be worth looking into for some of your installations, especially if it's a transmitter site.
I was at a site last year where they weren't using shielded twisted pair Ethernet, and they were having lots of errors, error concerns on some of their data links and they couldn't figure out what it was. Turned out to be the Cat 5 interconnect. The shielding would have been just enough to keep the noise down. So something to think about.
If you're doing a lot of outdoor work these days, you definitely want to go with the outdoor shielded Ethernet cable that's available. I was recently at, I think it's 4 Times Square, and they're doing some digital signage work up there. And I looked at the cables they're using for the Ethernet controllers, and it's outdoor shielded twisted pair.
Chris: So talked to one of their guys. He's like, "Yeah, you definitely don't want to use the other stuff. This is the way to go. It's worth it." So for what...
Kirk: Hey, so I've got a question about we're going to be taking these runs of Cat 5 up a tower, right, to go to a power over Ethernet IP radio. Do you know what is the best practice for attaching the Cat 5 to the tower?
I don't think you want to cinch it down real hard with cable ties. You could mess up the relationship of the conductors if [inaudible 01:10:51] .
Chris: Yeah, so you definitely don't want to tie it down tight. There is best practice. I believe there was a company... Oh, I've got to look now, now I don't remember. But I remember seeing some brochures for mounting hardware for Cat 5 outdoor cable, the more rigid stuff. It was almost like these little O-ring clamps that it didn't put too much pressure on it but just enough...
Chris: ...to hold it snug. Because yes, you're right even indoors, if you're doing work with Cat 5 cable, do not tie it tight. Keep it loose enough that you can stick a Greenie screwdriver beneath the wires in the tie wrap. Because you will change [inaudible 01:11:23]. The RF cable.
Kirk: I've heard that. I've heard of LAN contractors cinching it up really tight, or maybe an unknowing broadcast engineer didn't really realize what he's doing, cinching these tight, and you've got cable now that no longer meets the spec...
Kirk: ...because you've impinged upon it too much, and maybe at regular intervals, too.
Chris: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. I have been a, I don't want to say victim of that situation on many occasion, where we're working on a LAN and I'm saying, "Yes, this is really weird, the performance is not what you would expect." And do a LAN test with a Fluke tester or a similar device, and all of a sudden it's failing all these tests for 100 MB, 10 MB, 1 GB. You're like that, doesn't make any sense. We've got Cat 6e cable or Cat 6 cables. Something's up.
Sure enough, you go along the run and you say, "Oh, look at that, look at that." We clipped the tie wraps, and as we're clipping it, the guys at the other end with the test are going, "Yep, it's getting better. Yep, it's getting better."
Kirk: It's getting better, yeah.
Chris: And I was like "Wow, that is the best case of cause and effect."
Chris: But talking to Steve Lampen... we all may know him, or if you don't...
Chris: ...the gentleman from Belden who's a great...
Kirk: We need to have him back on the show, too, yeah.
Chris: Great storyteller, can tell you some things that just... and he's all about trumping Belden and rightfully so. One of his recent meetings I was at, he was talking about Ethernet. I went up to him and I asked him about the bundling method. He just looked, he was like, "Oh, yeah, let me think of how many stories could I tell you about that. Hmm, yes. Tie wrapping Cat 5 cable, why you shouldn't be doing that." It's in his delivery style, if you know Steve Lampen, you'll be like oh my goodness. But he told me the tests they do at Belden and all these things over the years to try and determine how to properly handle cable, and it's fascinating, the things we've taken for granted with 8451, which you can't do with a Cat 5.
Kirk: Yeah, yeah. Wow. It's been a good show. I've enjoyed catching up on or reliving these moments of technical derring-do and getting hit in the back by ice or power outages and what people do about that. It can be a tough world when the power goes out. And so broadcasters...
Chris: Heck, yeah.
Kirk: ...and broadcast engineers need to think out of the box as to how to take care of that kind of situation. Chris Tobin, thank you so much for being with us, and if folks want to reach you and tap into your technical expertise, they can do so where?
Chris: Support@IPcodecs.com. Best way to reach me, I just had some folks the other day email about some issues with their Comrex boxes. So feel free to give a shout, I'll try to help you best I can.
Kirk: Support@IPcodecs.com, that is Chris Tobin. Then I'm Kirk Harnack, I work for the folks at Telos. You can reach me of course @KHarnack on Twitter or Kirk@Harnack.com. I think my email address is just out there everywhere, so I don't worry about it any more. Gmail filters it pretty well.
Hey, thanks to our sponsors, which are Axia and the Fusion console, the Z/IPStream X/2 and 9X/2 processing and steaming software, and the Lawo crystalCLEAR console. Appreciate those folks sponsoring This Week in Radio Tech.
SunCast has been our producer for the show. Thanks very much to SunCast for the lower third, switching, and making everything play right. Please subscribe and tell your friends about This Week in Radio Tech. Don't hesitate to send me an email or a tweet and suggest guests and show topics.
We'll see you next week on This Week in Radio Tech. Bye-bye, everybody.
Topics: Broadcast Engineering
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