June, 2007, Redlands, CA -- KSGN, a radio ministry whose goal is to “draw people closer to God by providing encouragement, edifying believers, and building community through Christian music, mission outreach, and events”, was among the first clients of Axia Audio’s Livewire networked audio system. Now that they’ve been up and running for a while, we were eager to check back with them and discover how their system was performing. We managed to catch up with Bruce Potterton, Chief Engineer for the venerable station, who gave us this update.
Axia: Bruce, please tell us a bit about your position and responsibilities with KSGN.
BP: As a small, independent radio operation, KSGN FM is somewhat unique in the fact that it actually has a full-time chief engineer. I’ve been with the station for the past thirty-two years and, in my present position, I am responsible for all technical aspects of the station’s operations—from the studios to the transmitter. These responsibilities include everything from system design and implementation through training staff members on the equipment. I also handle the majority of the station’s IT requirements with the aid of an outside consultant.
Axia: What's the station's history?
BP: KSGN (89.7 FM) is a single, stand-alone class A station. We are an educational, non-commercial station on the air since 1959. Our format is Christian Adult Contemporary music, and both an evangelistic and an educational thrust are part of the station’s broadcast ministry. KSGN is growing at a time when similar stations in our market our shrinking; our station's cume is now over 100,000 just in the Riverside-San Bernardino metro area—not including Los Angeles. It has doubled since Spring 2006!
Axia: So, you're not a multi-station facility owned by a big conglomerate. How did an Axia networked audio system fit your station’s financial plans and considerations?
BP: We were looking to upgrade our facility to incorporate new digital consoles. During the evaluation period, we looked at just about every system on the market. While we did find a competing product that was a bit less money, I felt that the overall level of quality and flexibility offered by the Axia system more than offset the price difference. After reading Axia’s various white papers, the technology made more sense to me and really became appealing. When I considered the fact that Axia Audio is a member of the Telos family, I felt even more comfortable knowing the company’s long-term record for innovation.
Axia: You were a really early adopter of IP-Audio. One of the first! Weren't you apprehensive? Ultimately, why did you settle on Axia Audio?
BP: I was initially a little apprehensive about the technology, but after reading a number of articles and related materials in the trade publications, the prospect of Audio-Over-Ethernet really began to appeal to me. I also read about Axia installations and spoke with an Axia user who was ecstatic about their system. As I came to understand more about the nature of the equipment, the prospect of interconnecting everything with a single CAT6 line became increasingly appealing because of the reduction in cabling costs — not to mention the ease of running a single line, as opposed to many. When it’s time to expand the system, you place a node at the destination and run an Ethernet cable to it. This makes expansion considerably easier.
Axia: What was your initial Axia setup?
BP: We started with two SmartSurface consoles along with two networked StudioEngines—one for each control surface in each of the two main rooms. This was augmented by six Analog Line nodes, four AES/EBU nodes, a GPIO node, and the recommended Ethernet switches. We also have a Telos TWOx12 phone system.
Axia: We heard that you expanded your Axia system after the initial installation. What did you add and how did the expansion project go?
BP: Our expansion actually coincided with a move. In addition to our existing equipment, we added two additional Analog nodes, a Microphone node, and a Router Selector node. Everything integrated very well with our existing system.
Axia: I understand you’re also using an analog console with your Axia system. How was it, integrating 3rd-party consoles into your network?
BP: We have an Audioarts analog console located in our small dubbing/production suite, and we chose it because, for the most part, this is a stand-alone production facility that only requires limited access to the rest of the network. This is also where we have our Router Selector node located, so that we can select any source on the Axia network and run that program into or out of the console. That way, we’re set up to send and receive stereo program material and since this is an “offline” suite, that works very well for us.
In terms of integrating our analog console into the network, it was just as seamless an experience as everything else we use. The Axia system “plays” very well with third-party equipment.
Axia: Now that you’ve been working with your Axia networked audio system for a while, how does the airstaff like it?
BP: The talent absolutely loves working this way and the consoles have really been a hit. The ergonomic layout is fantastic. It’s extremely flexible, and everyone found the system very intuitive. Everyone caught on to the basics in no time at all and I don’t think I’ve ever heard a single grumble about the learning curve.
One of the most useful aspects of the Axia surface is, of course, the ability to configure the controller to each individual’s unique manner of working. Working with each member of the staff, I’ve created individual configurations so that at the single touch of a button, the entire layout of the console is exactly as the air talent wants it to be.
I think I mentioned before that we also have the Telos TWOx12 telephone hybrid integrated with the SmartSurface. As this is an older model, we don’t have the IP interface, but we do have the drop-in controller panel that fits right into a slot on the console. The equipment works exceptionally well together and the placement of the gear is all very logically laid out.
Axia: So, from the perspective of having lived with your Axia system for a few years, do you have any insights to share?
BP: For me, the most significant aspect of this system is the incredible amount of flexibility it offers. The entire package was obviously thought through very carefully by the designers and this makes the system quite intuitive. Similarly, system management is another key factor that really differentiates Axia from competing products. The one aspect of the Axia system that really sold me was the ability to have the various nodes local in the studio, which enabled us to significantly reduce our cabling costs. By using the Radio Systems dongles to interface between the RJ-45 connectors on the back of the Axia nodes to the XLR-based StudioHub standard, I was able to save a tremendous amount of time as we set up the studio.
All I need is a single CAT6 cable from each node into my TOC rack. When I was originally planning the system, I had made what I thought were adequate provisions for running cable. After the raised floor went in, however, I somehow ended up with a lot less wire room than I expected. I was very fortunate that I didn’t have to run control, along with the more traditional audio ins and outs from each piece of equipment into the TOC.
Audio-Over-Ethernet is unquestionably the way to go. I configured all of the signal routing and other aspects of the network using the Axia PathfinderPC Router Control software. I have control over the entire system—every node on the network—from one centralized location. This is a terrific application that makes the setup process very quick and easy. As a matter of fact, I made some routing changes earlier today and it took me all of about thirty seconds! That’s certainly a lot easier than crawling around the way we used to.
I’d also like to mention the system’s reliability. Other than some minor hiccups during the initial ramp up period, the entire package has worked really well. Our Axia system has proven to be very reliable.
Axia: How’s your experience with the company’s customer and technical support?
BP: Like you say, we were an early adopter. We encountered a few snags as we put the system together. However, I was very fortunate to have Axia’s Clark Novak and Ioan Rus visit on-site and help me get the system up and running. That was just fantastic.
In every aspect of their technical and customer support, Axia Audio has been extremely responsive. The company really went out of their way to ensure that we were properly taken care of in all aspects of the installation.
Axia: So what would you tell someone who’s considering Axia?
BP: If there are any concerns about networked audio in the radio environment, I can comfortably say this isn’t an issue. The ability to run the entire network over a single line of cable makes for a dramatic reduction in your studio’s cabling costs, system expansion is much easier, and making network modifications are handled via a mouse and some very intuitive software. It’s flexible, it’s easy, and it works. That’s the bottom line.