Digital Signage Technology with Jeff Schick
By Kirk Harnack [TWiRT] on Sep 11, 2015 12:31:00 PM
Digital signage technology is showing up everywhere - from swanky elevators to shopping malls to restaurants. Now, some radio stations are using this tech to inform station visitors, on-air talent, and station staff. As engineers we’ll be called upon to implement such systems. Jeff Schick joins Chris Tobin and me to explain what to look for in digital signage.
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Kirk: This Week in Radio Tech Episode 273 is brought to you by Axia Livewire+. Livewire+ includes fully compliant AES67 built in, Livewire convenience plus worldwide connectivity, by the Telos Hx1 & Hx2 telephone hybrids, the most advanced hybrids ever developed for use with analog phone lines, and by Lawo and the crystalCLEAR virtual radio console--crystalClear is the console with a multi-touch touchscreen interface.
Digital signage technology is showing up everywhere, from swanky elevators to shopping malls to restaurants. Now, some radio stations are using this tech to inform station visitors, on-air talent and station staff. As engineers, we'll be called upon to implement these systems. Jeff Schick joins Chris Tobin and me to explain what to look for in digital signage.
Hey, welcome in to This Week in Radio Tech. I'm Kirk Harnack, your host. I'm delighted to be here. I'm not in my usual office. In fact, I'm in Cleveland, Ohio at the world headquarters for the Telos Alliance, one of our sponsors here and happen to be my employer too. So, I got to say hi to Frank Foti real quick today. That's where the show is coming to you from today. We're getting ready for a company event this weekend, so that's why I'm here.
Our show, Episode 273, is This Week in Radio Tech. It's the show where we talk about everything from the microphone to the light bulb at the top of the tower. We're going to take a little detour today into something very interesting for your radio station.
I've seen this technology at some really high-end radio stations. It's becoming much more affordable for stations, let's say, the size of my stations Mississippi or American Samoa. So, you're going to want to stick around and hear about this. It's just amazing stuff. We've got a great guest on.
But before we bring our guest in, let's check in at, well, in New York City. Chris Tobin is here. Chris, can you tell us where you are or is that a secret?
Chris: I'm a transmitter combiner room, TV transmitter combiner room and what's behind me is actually the duplexer or combiner for - let me see if I can do this without killing too much of the angle - There we go. That's part of the duplexing waveguide that combines two transmitters. This cylindrical vertical device is not a Dalek. So, don't panic.
Kirk: That looks like one of those gerbil trail things that they run around inside, but usually they're clear. You can see the gerbils.
Chris: You don't want to see these gerbils.
Kirk: So, how much power is going through that rectangular pipe we call waveguide?
Chris: Good question. I think these stations are running, I think, 20 kilowatts, 20 or 30 kilowatts.
Kirk: Okay, each?
Chris: Yeah. I think this is low power UHF. I shouldn't say low power. I think they're some type of special UHF stations.
Chris: But yeah, it's pretty potent. As a matter of fact, I think Channel 55, Channel 40 - I think it's either 20,000 or 35,000 watts, something to that effect.
Kirk: Now, waveguide, for those of us who aren't quite exactly sure, why isn't that coax? Why do they have that big waveguide for signals to go through?
Chris: Because at the frequencies you're operating at and the power, that's the way that you can manipulate the waveform and get it to where it has to go. When you're doing combining and what not, that takes the place of, if you will, coax interconnects. If I do this and you look up. Let me see if I can do this right. Let me see if I've got my finger in place to act as a pointer There we go. Right there, that is the transmission line up to the antenna after the signals have been combined.
Kirk: So, that's coaxial there, right?
Chris: Well, it's a rigid, solid, I guess you can say it's coaxial because there's a center conductor and outer. Just above my finger is the waveguide that goes all the way down. I can't get this right. I'm looking backwards. It goes all the way down to the converter, or the combiner itself into the transmission line.
Kirk: Wow. Hey, we need a lesson on television RF sometime. I still don't know the difference between a duplexer, a diplexer and a combiner. Those are all interesting technologies, and I know all three exist. So, we've got to have a lesson on that one. Some show where we don't have a guest or if we do have an expert guest, let's talk about that.
Chris: Sure, yeah, yeah. Duplexers, combiners and diplexers, absolutely. Actually, the room I'm in has dozens of duplexers. I think we've got a couple of combiners. I believe there's actually a diplexer too for a microwave system. Yeah, we've got all three technologies going on behind me.
Kirk: Wow. All right. Well, our show unfortunately is not about television RF, which is apparently what Chris is involved with right now. Our show is about a technology that is becoming pretty popular, at least in the big radio stations around the world.
I was just in Sydney, Australia and saw this exact kind of tech throughout a beautiful facility there, but this guy, our guest, is bringing it more affordably to smaller radio stations.
Our guest, let's bring him on, is Jeff Schick. Jeff, welcome in. Glad you're here. Where are you talking to us from, Jeff? Well, we've got no audio from Jeff. Jeff, are you muted? Jeff is working on the problem very diligently now. We had audio before.
Chris: We had audio just before we went live.
Kirk: Just before we went live. I spent too much time yapping.
Jeff: That's about right.
Chris: There we go. I heard a hello.
Jeff: Did you hear me?
Kirk: Yeah. I hear you now.
Kirk: Welcome in.
Jeff: I'm a radio guy with no sound. Thank you. I'm in Forest Hills, Queens, New York, right down the street from the U.S. Open tennis tournament, which is rained out today.
Kirk: By the way, I'm so glad you got that fixed because I was not prepared for an hour of Jeff Schick charades. Glad you found the problem.
Jeff, I've been hyping you as the guy who's going to bring us some signage technology. You were telling me where you were at. I asked you that question. Go ahead and tell me a little bit about where you're coming to us from and then we'll jump in pretty quickly to our subject at hand.
Jeff: Okay. Well, I'm based in Forest Hills, Queens, New York, one of the Five Boroughs of New York City. I'm a subway ride away from Manhattan. I've spent most of my career working in Manhattan in a variety of radio and TV facilities. So, I'm basically a radio guy doing video now.
Kirk: Got you. There's a lot of that going around. Here we are doing a TV show and we're all radio guys. There's a lot of that going around. Jeff, tell us about your company, Sprite Media. I'm going to do a commercial here in just a minute, but give us a little taste about what we're going to hearing about over the next few minutes.
Jeff: Sure. Sprite Media, we're a digital signage company. We're new. We've only been around probably a little less than a year. I came up with the idea when I was bike riding and tried to put my 25 years of broadcasting together with all the things I've done, whether it be television and aviation and computer and radio. I was thinking, "How can I serve the radio community?" which I feel that I'm still part of.
That was, kind of, the birth of Sprite Media. I developed the product before I even named it. Now I have several people helping me out. I think we certainly have something interesting. As far as I know, nobody else is doing this, at least yet.
Kirk: Got you. I'll keep our powder dry. I'll let you talk about it. As I mentioned, I was just at some stations in Australia, where they have some pretty interesting digital signage going on there, both for the purposes of customers in the lobby to see, "Hey, what a great station we are" and then also in the news and prep areas and in the control rooms.
I'm curious to hear your thoughts about this and see what you're doing and how this kind of technology is good for radio stations, both in terms of public image and in terms of on-air execution and information that people want to have. So I'm looking forward to hearing about that.
But first we're going to pay a bill and tell you that our show is sponsored in part by the folks at Axia and the Axia Livewire+ system. We've talked about Livewire+ once or twice before on the show. Here's what I want you to know about it.
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Well, guess what? You've got both in the same thing. It's Livewire+ from the Telos Alliance and from Axia. So, Livewire+, what it does is it simply adds the AES67 stream type, the common denominator stream type that everybody agrees on, to the whole Livewire suite of protocols and things to make your life convenient when building a studio.
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All right. So, a few weeks ago, I was talking to Chris Tobin. I said, "Chris, who do you know that's interesting that we can have on the show?" Chris said, "I've got your guy. It's Jeff Schick."
Jeff, man, now is your chance. You've got the floor. Tell us about this Sprite Media and why would I be interested in it?
Jeff: Sure. Well, digital signage is not new. I did not create it. I'm hopefully putting a little bit of a twist on it, but I'm sure people listening, people viewing this, have seen this. Everybody has seen it, from airports, to fast food, to donut shops, to your bank, to your grocery store. It's everywhere.
I consider what digital signage is now to what web pages were ten years ago. Ten years ago, some radio stations had them, most didn't. I think the same goes for today.
One of my pet peeves from working many years in radio is, when somebody builds an air studio or production studio, they put a lot of effort and a lot of money in and then they put plastic banners all over. The cheap promotion banners, they just tape them.
I remember one radio station I worked at, we had $65,000 windows, sound proof windows. They just taped the plastic promotion banners right over it.
One thing that digital signage does for you right off the bat, it gives you a nice clean, modern look. Hopefully that it's done right where it's in high definition. Unfortunately, I've seen some that are in standard definition and I've seen some that just have an error across the screen, which looks pretty bad.
In Sprite Media, I tried to come up with useful screens that radio stations could use. Most of the signage companies out there, the digital signage companies out there, will rent you or sell you the equipment. They also like to rent you the software with monthly and yearly charges on that. It's up to you to figure out how to use it, how to put it together, what your radio station needs.
Since I know firsthand that a lot of radio stations have cut back. and cut back, and cut back, it's really difficult for a station to take on another task, especially one that has to be dealt with every month if you're going to keep it fresh.
Another pet peeve I have is stale data. You see one of these signs up and it says something about their holiday party and it's July.
Kirk: Yeah. I've seen that.
Jeff: We'll get into some of the stuff my signage does, but right off the bat, you can schedule it like a commercial. When the day of the activity is over, that screen goes away. You can put in a certain time of the year "happy holiday' messages, anything to do with healthcare from the company. It can be in when you need it to be on the screen. We try to keep any stale data as far away as possible, plus the ugly banners there.
I'm going to go right into the five screens that are available right now. I make it fairly easy to pick out what you'd like. Actually, I make it very easy. I even call the way I put together a sign for somebody, color forms.
Kirk: Jeff, I wonder if I might interrupt for a second. You know what I was just thinking is that one reason that signage hasn't taken off in the past so much and it just has occurred to me because I've been to several studios now, where video displays are getting huge, freaking huge, because you can go down to Costco or Sam's Club or order on the web really big color displays nowadays that look fantastic and guess what? They look fantastic in your lobby or in your newsroom or hanging from ceiling mounts in your control room, where employees congregate.
So the cost of displaying big, bright, beautiful and informative and changing, even animated displays, the cost is coming down. Now let's get some great content to throw up on those displays. Is my thought a bit of a driver in this?
Jeff: That's exactly how I'm thinking. I talked to a friend of mine who's a chief engineer. He did signage a few years back. They charged him $10,000 per screen for digital signage. I don't do that. In fact, I tell you go to Best Buy, go to Costco, buy the biggest, nicest TV you can and I'll even help you with the brands I like and the models I like, and put it up. We'll do the rest. We'll do the signage part. You get the TV and you save a lot of money that way. If you see the TV behind me, the screen, that was $400 at Costco.
Jeff: But there is something to note. That between consumer screens and professional screens, consumer screens are only meant to be on about six to eight hours a day. A professional screen is made to go on for 24 hours a day, seven days a week and they have warranties about three to five years, even on site warranties.
So, if anyone wants to have a screen up 24 hours a day, seven days a week in a prominent location, I would probably recommend a professional screen. I certainly can help you find that and I'll even point you to Amazon or someplace where you can get that or I can get it for you.
You have some really big savings by just getting a really nice display. As long as the thing does 1080, you're in business. I'll mention this further down the road -we also do 4K.
Kirk: Oh, okay, all right.
Jeff: This whole signage business is changing daily, keeping up as best I can. It's kind of cool to keep up with it. I saw a demo of a camera that you post on your screen and it gives you the metrics of the people walking by - their approximate age, if they're paying any attention to it, sex, race, anything. It's pretty wild to see it.
Kirk: How does it know all that?
Jeff: That's a good question. I don't know all the details on that. It did say I was a senior. So, I guess it was my hairline that was the giveaway on that - not that old anyway.
Kirk: Jeff, on the show, we do talk about technology. If you don't mind, well, first of all, we mentioned earlier different applications. I kept saying lobby. I'm wondering if some folks - my feeling was I didn't have an idea of how helpful, how motivational, how informative this kind of signage could be, until I saw it in a radio station in Sydney, Australia.
I saw they had about three good-size screens. Theirs happened to be portrait positioned, vertically positioned. It was, kind of, like going into a McDonalds with the video signage that they have. You'd see promos for the morning show on each of their stations and then promos for the mid-day and the evening shows and then something about maybe a popular overnight show or a network show they ran.
They were kind of advertising in the lobby to corporate sponsors, people that might come in and want to know that hey, this is the real deal. This is a big honking radio station. Then they had signage that served other purposes, run by the same system in other rooms, as we mentioned, the control room and the newsroom and staff areas. I know that's where you're going to go and talk about.
I'm really curious to hear about how you get design and content onto those. But Jeff, if you wouldn't mind, could we spend a minute talking about the tech first? We kind of know where the conversation is going.
Kirk: Tell me about how does the video get from wherever it starts, computer or PC, Raspberry Pi, I don't know. Hw does it get from somewhere, wherever you put the content in, out to the monitors themselves? What's an engineer going to have to run through the ceiling to make this work?
Chris: I recommend Ethernet connection. My main box does Wi-Fi. You'll have less problems that way. But Wi-Fi is still an option. I deal with several different types of media players. The last thing I want somebody to do, is go home with the wrong media player and find out it won't do what they want it to do.
This is my standard product right here. This is a computer, a small computer. It's got HDMI out. It's got display port out. It's got four USBs. The boot-up time is eight seconds.
Kirk: Whoa. So that goes near each display, one of those?
Jeff: You need one at each display. If you go shopping out there, there are a lot of them out there. It's taken me months and months to find the one that suited me best. I've got one that's been running over a year without a glitch. So, I know my box is good. I know my box is going to last for years.
Now to get into how this all works, I'm going to put up one of the screens here so you can see in the background. This is my DJ screen. I refer to the screens as "sprites", my jargon there. So this is my DJ sprite. I'll have to point some of this stuff out because I'm sure it's not clear on some of this video and also for the people listening who can't see, I'll point out what's on the screen.
But basically there is an engine which is cloud-based--everything is cloud based with my standard product. I do the design. I have a bunch of backgrounds. I basically can do anything you want, but I'm got about 30 backgrounds you can choose from. I like the multi-zone look. That's my thing where you have sports in one section.
I call this the multi-screen. I have weather on this one and I have Twitter for all those folks that want to go into social media. This is a fantastic way of getting there. I also have a news scroll on the bottom and I can scroll almost anything on the bottom.
I put this together. It's in the cloud. It's in a redundant datacenter. It's running off the Google App Engine and it's in the Amazon datacenter. So, the stuff is definitely going to be very secure for you. The failure rate is extremely, extremely low, down to fractions. So it is grabbing information from various sources.
The thing that's interesting is that if you're going to have a sign up and people are going to see it, you have to have licensed data. There's another thing that's a problem for people doing it themselves. My multi-screen now has Reuters news service going through it and that's licensed.
If you have a news service at your station, we could put that in there as well if it's a service you're paying for. There are other services that are free, like Twitter is free here. But we can move to the world of, instead of the fifth caller wins a prize, how about the fifth tweet wins a prize.
Jeff: Social media is the thing these days. So, also on this one, I'm taking something I've been hearing a lot lately which is people name their studio after a sponsor. Instead of making a signage saying it's somebody's broadcast studio, you can do that electronically and that can be changed at any time very easily.
Remotely, I can do almost anything. I charge a monthly service which takes care of everything, including if your media player dies, we'll send you another one completely configured to go in. If you're between Boston and Washington, we'll install it for you. We'll install the media player.
We don't do the TVs. We can probably find you someone to do the TVs, but we do the media servers to make sure everything is just right. The worst thing I want to see is someone to take our sparkly signs and have the settings wrong and it not look good. It's got to look good.
Kirk: I can't speak for every engineer, but this is the kind of thing I want to install myself. I want to put the TVs up. Okay, maybe I want a little bit of help. But the media players, I'm curious to get my hands on this stuff and try this stuff out.
By the way, I'm so delighted that your answer to my question earlier about how this stuff hooks up was Ethernet because I don't want to run HDMI cables through the ceiling and you can't run them that long anyway unless they're expensive.
I don't want to run RF coax. I want to use the infrastructure that either I already have or that's easy to add. So these media players, can they attach to the business network that I already have running through the radio station?
Jeff: Yeah. They can. I haven't run into any problems yet with the data being clogged. That's always a possibility. What also happens is anything as far as video or anything that's large will be downloaded to the media player so it's not constantly pulling from it. It's really not a data hog at all.
Kirk: Chris Tobin had a question about the tech too. Chris, come on in.
Chris: Okay. Well, Jeff actually looks like he was going that direction. I was going to ask about the small board computer, the hub of your product and the way it works. So, if I'm installing a small little box at my facility, I can treat it like any other PC-based network attached device I would use?
Jeff: How so?
Chris: Well, if I want to use VLANs or I have a separate subnet for broadcast revenue products and this digital signage--
Chris: Okay. Great. Also, is this also a platform, as Kirk pointed out, you don't want to do HDMI cables all over the place. That makes sense. If it's networkable, in theory or in practice, you can put one of these boxes somewhere else, say offsite, a mall or a remote location, do the morning show from and control it over a standard broadband connection?
Jeff: You control the sign. Yes.
Chris: Okay. All right.
Jeff: So, as far as putting a camera on your morning team and putting it in a sign that's somewhere, you can do that as well. The list is really long of what you can do.
Chris: Good. So, basically the technology you're working with a standard, Ethernet-based TCIP product that you can work with just like we would do with say a Zip codec or anything else?
Jeff: You plug it in and it works.
Jeff: The only difference if you go Wi-Fi, you've got to get on your Wi-Fi network and put in your password. That's the only difference.
Jeff: Right. But that's standard fare for any of that.
Jeff: Exactly. So, in the end, it should be pretty easy.
I'm going to switch over to the screen that Kirk was talking about. This is our lobby screen. I'm going to point out what's on this screen. Of course, we have a logo. We have a potential sponsor that you can put in. We have a presentation of all the shows that are on the air and any information about an upcoming concert, just like what we have here.
But we have some extra neat, cool stuff. We've got the newsfeed going here. We've got some QR codes up here. So if you have a smartphone, you just swipe by there and you're either getting to your station's Facebook site, the website or even you can run a contest from the screen.
Kirk: Ah, okay.
Chris: We also have the welcome guest. The neat thing about the welcome guest, it runs off of a Google app, which means you can type in the welcome guest from your phone, from your iPad, from your computer, without having anything to do with the programming of the sign and it will go to the sign usually within two minutes.
Kirk: Okay. So a sales person will say, "Oh, I just remembered Joe Muckity-Muck is showing up here and he wants to buy some advertising. I really want to impress him. I've got to get his name up on the board." You could do that.
Chris: Sorry, I lost you there.
Kirk: You could get somebody's name on the board quickly, "Oh, yes, so and so is going to be a guest today. Let's get his name on the board."
Chris: Yeah, not a fashion of sticking the letter on the felt.
Kirk: Yeah, exactly. By the way, I'm really glad to say that you could arrange to run some signage off-site. I can imagine in, a small media market, maybe even a large market where you've got a mom and pop restaurant that's really popular and you want to put signage up there. I've been in some restaurants lately that had signage sold by third parties, sold by competitors to the radio station and just something to look at while you're munching on your hamburger.
The radio station could do that. They could provide the signage. They could have helpful, meaningful information, not just ad after ad after ad that runs, but they can actually run, they could have video clips of their morning show or all kinds of stuff going on there. That would be a real help to us. I'm thinking small market stations, but it could be anybody. Great idea.
Chris: Yeah. Z108 can go out and put this in the restaurant. There are studies that when you look at digital signage, you have a lower perceived waiting time. So your favorite restaurant there , where you're waiting there with the 20 other people for your seat, you can have a screen up and people pay attention to it.
Kirk: That's great.
Chris: I'm going to switch to our newsroom screen here. The newsroom screen is more data-intensive. There are two different kinds of newsrooms you can do. You can do a local newsroom or you can do a national newsroom. Obviously we can adapt to whatever you want.
What I have done here on the Twitter feed is I put breaking news coming there. You can be just like the big boys and see if someone's got a story that's breaking and decide whether or not you want to follow-up on that as opposed to trying to go on the Internet and try to find things.
You've got a sponsor up there, you've got sports, you've got live traffic. We've got the stock quotes coming in.
We have a scroll. The scroll could be a combination of different news sources or any kind of sources. If you're a big tennis fan like I mentioned the U.S. Open, you could have an RSS feed from the U.S. Open or whatever floats your boat if your radio station focuses on certain needs or certain areas. I know I was talking to a radio station in Pennsylvania and they're huge on storms.
Kirk: Yeah, the weather station. Yeah.
Chris: Okay. I'm going to move on to my next screen. This is the staff screen here. From working in radio stations, as we know, the weekenders have no idea what's going on. They come in, they do their shift and they leave.
So on this one, I put up a list of staff and their extensions. You may have a need for that in the lobby if you don't have a receptionist. I put company information here about health-club membership, transportation. My logo is going to come up here. I have some news and weather and I have a sponsor up there.
I made this screen to go into the kitchen or the lunchroom. So, you've got the staff picnic coming up here. Especially if the weekenders have no idea - I remember asking somebody if they were going to go to a company party and they had no idea what was going on unless you read all those papers that are thumbtacked or scotch taped to the wall.
Kirk: Along with the EEO notices and the lost dog.
Jeff: Exactly. It sounds like Chris is joining us.
Kirk: Yeah, Chris. What's up?
Chris: Yeah, sorry. I didn't want to make too much noise. I had a question along the signage of what you're doing there with the kitchen stuff. I was talking to a friend of mine who's a program director and I was just hacking about an idea.
If I wanted to do the whiteboard concept in the air studio, how easy could you implement it and is it something that if the program director or music director or whoever is assigned can put messages up on the whiteboard while they're offsite, whether it be on the weekends, late night?
Here's an example. Say you're a music station and say a popular artist does something either good or goofy that's newsworthy or just makes the TMZ notes, if you will, and you want to get that to the announcer immediately from your smartphone, while you're sitting in a restaurant or dinner with the family. Is it something you could emulate a whiteboard that's just--it could be a static shot of something at the moment and then it changes to say, "This is what's going on. Check on this. Let's see about getting this into the clock and blah, blah, blah" that type of thing. What do you say?
Jeff: Excellent question, Chris. I've got a presentation going here. These signs are pre-recorded because I didn't want to have each data field fill up while we were waiting five minutes for that to do so. The screen behind me over here, that's one of our DJ sprites and this is live right now, this is an example of what the screen would do.
We have just that up here. It's a whiteboard and it's connected to a Google sheet and whenever the program director wants to type in some note - I put up here, "Summer concert ticket giveaway" as programming notes. But let's say the program director is at a concert and Bruce Springsteen shaves his head on stage. That can be typed in on his phone, on his iPad, on his computer, wherever and go to the screen here. It should show up within two minutes.
I hear Chris. I don't hear Kirk.
Chris: I was going to say I didn't hear Kirk either. That's why I said uh-oh. Sorry. All right. So, you can do the whiteboard effect. You can be at a Springsteen concert, excellent. That's right on the spot.
Jeff: I'm not saying Bruce is going to shave his head, but you never know.
Chris: Anything is possible nowadays.
Jeff: Anything is possible. This is my last screen of the demos I have. This one, I call it the executive screen. This one is the most flexible for whoever is going to be using it. I'm using Mr. John Demo as our program director. This could be anything they want. I put his calendar, which would go from an app to the sign.
Unfortunately, the only thing this guy has got on his schedule is lunch, but it has whatever news he would want, multi-time zone clocks, has his business card as a QR code which you can just swipe on your phone and you've got his business card for those guests who stop by. But let's say they're interested in the charts, for whatever music format they have. That can be there. It's whatever that person wants or needs. It also can be a reflection of the whiteboard too. You can put any object on one screen or multiple screens, whatever you want. It's very flexible. Unfortunately, people have a hard time deciding when they have so many choices. It's kind of like going to a diner.
Kirk: Yeah. I guess you have some templates. "Here's what we suggest."
Kirk: But then when people get used to the kind of stuff that they can have presented to them, no matter which room it's in, which context, I guess, you're looking at, then the ideas start to flow. "Hey, we can put this on there, we can put that on there."
Jeff is there any possibility for - I think the answer is no. Typically you have a maximum of about a two-minute wait time between some new information that you want to put in through the app and the time that it shows up. So I guess that for alerting purposes, this is really not the right technology. If you have somebody at the door, a fire alarm or an EAS alert, this is not the right stuff for that.
Chris: No. That's not true. What we're dealing with here, this is stuff that's in the cloud. You're sending stuff into the cloud. But I also have some media players that are interactive, which take local information and that type of trigger would be immediate.
Kirk: I see. Okay.
Chris: So, I thought about it. The lone person at the radio station just has their Chinese food delivery at the door and they ring the doorbell, you can have that pop up on the screen. You can have an EAS alert come on the screen.
That's actually a different media player than I have as my first one. I have two other media players. I have one that also can have live television in it. It's scalable. It's a little extra money, but it's not too bad. This stuff is all affordable now. I've researched this stuff to death. You can do some pretty neat things. You can encode video on one box and then decode it somewhere else in the building.
So if you have a weather channel, you can put that in on one of your screens and you can pull it off on another sign in real time. You can do the same with audio. I thought for a college radio station, you have these signs in the dorm rooms, like the lobbies of the dorms or the student center and you can send your audio from your college radio stations through the signs.
Kirk: Oh wow. I want to explore that in just a minute. Hey, I want to remind all of our viewers and listeners here watching, This Week in Radio Tech. It's Episode number 273. I'm Kirk Harnack along with Chris Tobin and Jeff Schick is with us. He's a radio guy, but he's in this a little bit differently. He's describing a system of digital signage for your radio facility that is useful, apparently not only in the radio facility, but also external to the radio facility. There are some cool ideas there. We're going to hear a few more cool ideas coming up.
Our show is brought to you in part by the folks at the Telos Alliance, which is where I am right now. The really popular product, my goodness, we shift so many of these every month, the Telos Hx1 and Hx2. These are some of the belt and suspenders kind of tools that you use in a broadcast facility and more and more, you find telephone hybrids in convention centers, at hotels, in conference rooms. You find a lot of use for these.
Hey, podcasters, a lot of podcasters now are using - they go and they try some chintzy way to get a phone call into their audio console and they find out that it doesn't work. So they go bite the bullet and they get a Telos Hybrid. Why? Because it works.
With a Telos phone hybrid, you plug a phone line into it or with the Hx2 you plug two phone lines into it, if you like. You get audio out, caller audio coming out. You get a way to send your audio to the caller. That's what a hybrid does. It's important to have this technology for the caller, first of all, to sound as good as possible, no matter what kind of connection they're on, but also for the caller to be able to properly hear your audio if you're prompting the caller, letting the caller hear what's on the air or what's on your microphones.
Here's what's really important that a hybrid does, though, just in case you don't know, when you send audio to a phone line, you really don't want that audio to come back through the phone line. You want it to go to the caller. Phone lines forever have had this problem. They've had low quality hybrids at the phone company and at both ends of the call.
Now, we're slowly moving away from that kind of technology and getting more and more digital connections. But, for the callers that still remain and callers' handsets, the phone instruments themselves that people still use, you still need a great way to send audio that doesn't come back at you. That's also what a Telos Hybrid does.
That's what Steve Church invented some 30+ years ago with the Telos 10 Hybrid, the very first digital DSP-based telephone hybrid.
There are a few other tricks that the Telos Hybrids have up their sleeves, and the Hx1 and Hx2 have all these tricks built in. For example, let's say you're doing a television show with a live audience, kind of Donahue-style. So, you've got a caller coming in, "Is the caller there?" You want to bring the caller in over speakers in the auditorium and you've got a live microphone. So you've got speakers, live microphone. You've got a chance for feedback with the telephone hybrid and the phone system and the caller. It can be a real mess.
Well, the Telos Hybrids, including the Hx1 and Hx2 have a fantastically clever way to really reduce, to almost nothing, that chance of feedback. The audio sent to the caller is actually - get this - pitch shifted down just a little bit. So, the chance for feedback build up is greatly diminished, plus, the Hybrid also has variable ducking going on.
You can set it up so when you talk, when your talent, when the guy running the show, when he talks to the caller, the caller is ducked by a little bit or by a lot. It's up to you. The ducking is really intelligent. We really try not to miss anything the caller says. But if the host wants to say something and shut that caller down for a second, no problem. That can be done as well. You can open that up and have full two-way conversations without ducking too. So many options.
The Telos 1 and Telos 2 are really setup to work anywhere in the world. If you've got some goofy phone system in the country you're in, no problem. There's a dipswitch setting for that. Just set it to goofy or set it Albania or set it to South Africa or set it to Nigeria or set it to Singapore. It's got presets for the phone standards all around the world.
Check them out, if you would, on the Telos website. Go to TelosAlliance.com. Go to the Telos heading and look for broadcast phone hybrids and you'll find one of the first ones listed there, the Hx1 and the Hx2, literally many thousands of these in operation all around the world putting callers on the air at the best possible audio quality over phone lines. Thanks to Telos for sponsoring This Week in Radio Tech.
Hey, Chris Tobin, you still there? I've probably muted him...
Chris: Yeah. I'm here.
Kirk: Have you ever used a Telos Hybrid in any of your engineering?
Chris: The Telos which one?
Kirk: Hybrid, any of them?
Chris: Oh yeah, I use them all the time.
Kirk: Okay. I just wanted to make sure you were part of the family.
Chris: Oh yes. I've used the early one by sixes, all the latest ones. Yeah.
Chris: You can always tell a Telos Hybrid because it has a certain sound to it. A very particular sound.
Kirk: Yeah. You can hear the caller. "The caller doesn't sound like this."
Chris: The caller, the spectral energy is very balanced, if you will. "Shaped sound" is what I like to call it.
Kirk: You have worked in plenty of news operations. I was at a news operation in Detroit. They had a Telos Hx1 Hybrid for every reporter and there were a bunch of reporters. There were all these workstations where reporters would interview people for radio news and every one of them had their own Hx1 phone hybrid.
They'd punch up a line on their phone, bam, it would go right into the Hx1 and they'd interview the mayor, their guest, the newsmaker, the person involved in the accident, his or her attorney - whoever it was, they'd get that newsmaker audio into the newscast and it really made for dramatic, exciting and more informative newscasts, when they'd get the actual words from the people involved, on the air.
That's the dirty work that telephone hybrids do. They get this audio from people and let you use it professionally, like at news stations.
So, thanks again to Telos for sponsoring This Week in Radio Tech. Chris, thank you for using our hybrids. I appreciate that.
Chris: Oh yeah. Well, your description of the newsroom and the hybrids in each of the edit booths, that's pretty standard fare. If you're not doing it that way, then you're probably missing out on a lot of good things.
Kirk: Yeah. All right. Hey, our guest is Jeff Schick. He is head of Sprite Media. He is educating us about how we can use digital signage in a radio facility to help impress people, to inform people and to inform employees and on air talent and then there are some ideas also about putting signs out in remote locations like restaurants and shopping malls, maybe where the station shows up from time to time - how would you like to be walking through a shopping mall and see a beautiful sign that's got your Twitter feed, your weather and, maybe, even a live shot of the current show that's on the air or at least of the morning show, clips like that?
Jeff, you were just beginning to tell us about the audio possibilities. So, help us understand how you can pipe audio around for these signs as well.
Jeff: You can put in almost any source, being video, still picture, text and audio. My other media player actually has an optical audio out. The quality is pretty good. Actually, sorry, the audio is excellent. I've got to make sure I speak correctly here. But almost anything you can think of that can be played through the Internet can be played through these signs.
Kirk: Okay. I can have the station's 24/7 live audio available with the right media player. I guess that's the key architecture. You've done the research to find out what monitors work well, what media players work well, for which application you want to accomplish, cost versus functionality. Then it sounds like, though -look, that's all great information, very helpful.
People don't have to stub their toe and figure that out for themselves, but it's your ingest engine technology that provides the data feed to go to these and provides the graphics, I suppose and the data feeds, the ingest. That's a huge part of this. That's really the secret sauce that you're offering to folks.
Jeff: Yeah. That's the main part of our standard product, though we can do almost anything. I just put together a video presentation for somebody doing a wedding expo and this box is a standalone. All they have to do is bring a TV, plug in an HDMI cable to the player, plug the player in and it plays their presentation 1080p, 60 Hz and it looks great, but no Internet for that one.
Kirk: Ah, okay.
Jeff: That took me a while to find the one without the Internet because I was thinking I've worked at the car show in New York quite a few years and you can have a sign in the auto show without dealing with the convention center's Internet or get clogged trying to do Wi-Fi or trying to get out on a cellphone or something like that. You can have a standalone unit. That's going to be our next product, the remote screen. I'm looking at playing games on it, getting the prize wheel on there, maybe a trivia game pertinent to the radio station. So, that's actually not too far away for me.
I do have a couple of items here that we can do. It's not our standard stuff, but it's stuff we can do, including, as I mentioned earlier, 4K video. Video art walls -what's a video art wall?
Kirk: Yeah, what is a video art wall?
Jeff: You've probably seen it where you have multiple TVs. You might see it in a really high-end facility where you have like 10 TVs and the video is across all the TVs.
Kirk: Yeah, like a mosaic, right?
Chris: A mosaic. You can have different types of TVs, different sizes of TVs at different angles. As you mentioned before, we can do vertical, we can do horizontal, we can do slanting. The media player I have to do that does that right now. I can do that right now.
You need to get TVs with thin bezels. The bezels are the side pieces here. This TV wouldn't work well for that, but there are a couple of manufacturers that manufacture TVs that are so thin on the side, you almost can't see the bezel between it. But it's a really nice look and there are some really major ones out there. That's something we can do.
I mentioned live television in the sign. We can do that on our other player. We can also do touchscreens. You've probably seen these in hotels where you want to find out what restaurants are nearby. You touch the screen and you'll see what your choices are. I mentioned standalone remote screen.
Here's one, hub and spoke, from home office - as you guys all know, most radio stations at this time are in clusters. You might have five radio stations. You might want five DJ screens and you may want to have common information for all of them, plus the information pertinent to each one. We can do that.
You might have a company that has five remote stations in different cities in a home office. You can have the home office sending information to all five of them in different cities, states or countries.
Chris: Now, I'm going to talk about something that most of the guys in my field don't talk about and that's pricing. So, I can say that this stuff is affordable. Part of my goal was to make it in the price range of cable TV or cellphone service.
You can take a look online and see how much media players run. They run anywhere from $80 to $5,000 apiece. I would not recommend an $80 one. It's not going to last very long.
Our initial setup, which is, we put together a media player, we put together the design. We consult with you, we get the okay. We can remotely send you what the presentation looks like before we even finish it. It gets okayed and we install the media player and set it up and that is $999 for a screen.
Chris: Then the monthly service on that, which includes the data licensing - also, this is important, two content changes per month, which means if you want me to be your guy or Sprite Media to be your people that does your updates for your picnics coming up or your concerts, we'll do that for you and that's included. So, that's $199 per month, includes the service and includes content changes. Also if your box doesn't work for any reason, we will replace it with one ready to go.
And I've got a special for This Week in Radio Technology listeners and viewers. If you say "This Week in Radio Tech", I'll give you two months free for a year's service. Also, if you're going to do a hub and spoke or you just want to have five screens of any type, the fifth one is free.
Jeff: Including the setup and the monthly service. As long as you have the four others in service, the fifth one is free.
Kirk: Now, you mentioned an app. I'm sure some people want to have you be their guy and change the content. What if you want to change your own content? What kind of tools do you have to let me do that myself?
Jeff: Sure. We can either put up, like Chris was mentioning, we can do a whiteboard. Also, we can take a webpage that you have control of where you can change what's on that page. You can have a hidden page if you're controlling your own website and you can make changes, or we can even put your website up there if you want. Or you can just email me or Dropbox me some content pictures or even a flyer, and I can put it together a on the screen for you, so there are choices. I just know there are not a lot of radio stations that have people who have the time to work on this stuff.
Chris: I remember when I was a radio engineer and they dropped the first computer I ever saw at a radio station. Am I dating myself here? I was like, "How is this my responsibility?" They said, "Well, it plugs into a wall, so it's your responsibility."
Kirk: Wow. I was always the kid wanting to take the new computer home and play with it.
Chris: Oh yeah. There was a lot of that. I remember putting together an automation at a station, the first time I dealt with a computer automation. I remember going to the New Jersey Broadcasters Convention and spending two days, sitting in a folding chair, quizzing the poor guy from Broadcast Electronics on how his box worked. I was the one who took it out and I remember having to do some programming on it, which I didn't expect and finding a guy over at WWDC in Washington who was in the same bucket and we ended up sitting at a table and doing some of the programming ourselves.
Kirk: Got you. Yeah. Chris Tobin, if you're handy, I want to ask you Chris, what are some of your visions of putting signage to use in radio stations?
Chris: I would think first I would definitely want to have some way of communicating with the DJs, the announcers on air, not last minute but for just keeping them current and posting information, just saying do this, do that, check on this.
The other thing, on the revenue side, I would love to see more radio stations doing content outside of the building and in, say, a restaurant or a mall, or a public area, community events areas where people are interacting. Where you can garner an audience and interact with them even more in something people are familiar with these days, which is video. If you can work with a smart phone and a video screen, you've got yourself access to a captive audience.
As Jeff pointed out, when you're watching a screen, time flies quicker or moves faster, so you don't even realize you've been standing in the restaurant lobby or maybe the park or community center for 20 minutes or so waiting for an event to take place. But at least a captive audience is looking at your material.
As you pointed out, Kirk, you know of third party companies at restaurants that radio stations are losing business to. That, right there, that's a flag. That should get someone's attention that that's not the way it should work.
Kirk: I guess this is why they put video screens with news and stock market information and weather in fancy elevators in New York City. We don't see that out here that often in the hinterland. In New York, so many elevators have a video screen going in there.
Chris: That's a one-company network that does that. I think it's called Captivate, actually. They do very well. Yes, That's exactly it. So, radio stations and TV stations could do the same thing. But again, it requires thinking outside of the proverbial box. It's all about the purple cow long tail. Remember those words.
Kirk: What, purple cow?
Chris: Yes, Seth Godin.
Kirk: Ah, yes.
Chris: You see, if you don't know the purple cow, you haven't been keeping up.
Kirk: The neighborhood I live in, we have a convenience mart down the street called The Purple Cow.
Chris: Nice. Excellent.
Kirk: I don't think it's related in any way to Seth Godin.
Chris: No, I'm sure it's not.
Kirk: Hey, we've got one more break to make here and when we come back, I want Jeff to give us a last hint or two about digital signage and what you can do with it, why it's important to broadcasters and maybe Chris will have a tip of the week for us or something like that. Maybe Chris's tip will be put in some digital signage.
Our show is brought to you in part by the folks at Lawo. It's a German company that makes audio consoles. They make some big beautiful consoles for TV trucks and big venues like concert halls and TV stations, things like that. But they also make a line of consoles for radio stations.
Let's have a look right now if we can roll the video if that's possible. The video we're going to roll here is Mike Dosch. He is the Director of Virtual Radio Projects at Lawo. I'm not letting you hear the sound right now because I want you to go to the website and watch this video for yourself. He's describing the Lawo crystalCLEAR audio console.
This is a console where the engine for it and all the audio inputs and outputs, they go in a beautiful little one-rack unit box that goes into a rack somewhere. You run your audio inputs and outputs to that, including inputs and outputs that come in and out via RAVENNA or AES67 audio over IP.
Then you hook that box to your computer network and then somewhere else on your network, you connect up their computer, which is running a touchscreen, a really nice touchscreen. It's a 10-touch multi-touch touchscreen and on that screen is an app. That app is an audio console. It's really gorgeous. There's Mike Dosch giving a demonstration of how that works. This is about a year-and-a-half ago at the NAB show in Las Vegas.
You can get your own demo of this by contacting Lawo. You can see about how it works for you. I would suggest watching this video that Mike is doing right here. You can see how when you run a console, totally in software, that you can do things you couldn't do in hardware.
One thing is you can make it simpler. You can make it simpler for the operators. So, they can touch a button and the options that pop up are totally contextual. They have to do exactly with what you want to do. Hey, I want to change the way this mix-minus works or I want to just increase or decrease the gain on this microphone or I want to reset the timer or whatever it may be.
The things that you can do by pressing buttons on the screen, again, are totally contextual. This console does automatic mix-minus for every source coming in. So, you've got hybrids or codecs or maybe you've got some talent with headphones on. Well, you can send them a back feed, whether it's a mix minus or just a mix of everything, like for talent headphones.
The mix engine, it's got redundant power supply, so it's very robust. That's the word I was looking for. It's real standard technology, DSP tech. It's an amazing idea and the touchscreen just really puts it over the top. Check it out if you would at Lawo.com and look for radio products and look for radio consoles.
You can click and watch that video right there with sound and everything. Sound and light and fury and good information. Thanks to Lawo for sponsoring This Week in Radio Tech.
All right. Drawing to a close our episode with Jeff Shcick about signage, something you may not have thought about in a radio station. It's affordable and doable. And Jeff, have you got a closing word for us that might get us really thinking about digital signage?
Jeff: Well, I wanted a few words here. I realize that I'm in standard definition. That's my camera. But I'm going to encourage people to go to my website, www.Sprite-Media.com, where you can probably see some clearer views of some of these signs. Also, you can email me at info@Sprite-Media.com and our phone number is (646) 893-8040.
I've got a quick story as a last note here. One of the radio stations called me and they said, "Why are you different than me just doing a PowerPoint?"
Kirk: Yeah, good question.
Jeff: I said, yeah excellent question. I said, "Okay, where's the computer coming from? Is it one of your old computers or do you have to buy a new one and what's the cost of that? Does that computer do 1080p or are you running some lesser version of graphics? Have you seen the motion on some of the PowerPoints? It's pretty choppy. Also, you cannot ingest live information like you've seen on the screen with news or any content."
One of the things I didn't mention before is we can ingest YouTube and Vimeo videos into the screen. So, if your radio station does a concert and you uploaded some video there, we can put it on and we can even time it that it could be on your display for a month and then goes away or however you want to do it. We can do stuff like that.
So, I encourage everyone to look into digital signage. Also, if you've got a dealer near you, see if they know what they're doing. See if they're using high end products. We do our video editing in Final Cut and we use Photoshop. We want it to look good. At my last job, I was director of television engineering. My job was to make the video look good. I continue that on with these screens.
Kirk: Cool. Great idea. On the one hand, Jeff, I get it. You're comparing your services with others, but I think for me, certainly - and I like to think that I represent part of a group. So many radio engineers and radio station owners haven't thought about digital signage in their place. So, they say, "This could be useful for us. This could make our lobby pop with excitement, make us look more professional."
You walk into a control room, you bring a prospective advertiser into a control room or newsroom and they see information signage going on there too and say, "We don't have this in our business. I didn't know this kind of thing existed." It's new for broadcasters. If it's not new, they can compare it. If it is new, you can compare too and see what a signage system designed by a broadcaster would actually look like. So, very cool.
Chris Tobin, have you got any final word for us before we have to leave?
Chris: Real quick, it's something really simple. It's analog in nature, but it works. I'm holding up a pen and a small notepad that can fit into your shirt pocket. The reason I point this out is I had recently in this last week, been working with a nonprofit doing an installation for their audio distribution using a barracks box and Internet connectivity through a broadband service.
It just so happened the location we're working in, I had worked six and eight months earlier for another client and we had found the old cabling they left in place. So, if you could picture one rack about three or four feet from the other, the old cable sitting at the old rack, I'm going, "Why not just swing it across the cable tray and down and we've got ourselves connectivity?" rather than running cables as you can see behind me through all these wacky things.
It's already there, terminated, tested. So, it turns out, I pulled out my nifty notepad from that project, opened up the page and found the information as to the cable number, the port location or the port number, the switch in the rack for the ISP that provided it and also the circuits that it was set to. So, I had all the ID numbers and everything. Within 15 minutes, we had an activated circuit up and running.
So my buddy I'm talking to, he's like, "Those days seem to have gone by where people keep notes of things they work on and just assume they can remember it." So, for those of you who think they have the best memory in the world, you should really consider the pencil and paper. It's still very handy.
Kirk: It is. That's awesome. Thank you for that. I've got a little notebook I carry around with me. Unfortunately, I rarely think to use it when I should, but I do carry one. Good advice, though.
Chris: It comes in handy. I'm telling you. Projects you work on nowadays with IP stuff, there's a lot of information you need to keep track of.
Kirk: Yeah. Hey, and I've got a little tip as well. For a lot of folks, it's been a replacement for what Chris just showed us, taking notes when you need to. I know that the cellphone manufacturers and the cellphone carriers are providing cloud storage. I've got an Android phone and the photo storage from Google. I am just amazed.
I no longer have to worry so much about how much capacity is on the memory card in the phone. I can take a picture and within moments, it is uploaded to my cloud storage. By goodness, I've got literally 50,000 pictures in Google Photos now.
Today, here at Telos, I needed to show our support guys a little problem that I had with a Telos product. So I thought I remembered the date and so I was scrolling through the photos app, found it and found where I had taken close up pictures of what the problem was. I was able to, literally, within 20 seconds, I had it up on the screen and said, "This is what happened. So, when this comes back to you guys, that's what has to get fixed." Amazing.
If I took a picture before, even with a cellphone a few years ago or a camera, I would have had to search and search and search and today's automatic upload of photos are just making this so convenient, to keep track of stuff in your life. So, whether it's pencil and paper or whether it's taking a picture of it.
Of course, there are things you can't really represent in a picture, like what Chris was showing us just there, both end points and circuit numbers and things like that, good to write it down.
Hey, thanks guys for being with us. Our show has been brought to you by the folks at Axia with Livewire+, also Telos and the Hx1 and Hx2 telephone hybrids and Lawo and the crystalCLEAR audio console. Thanks to them for sponsoring the show and we'd appreciate it if you'd patronize each and any of them.
Schick, thank you for being with us from Sprite Media. Again, the best place to find you is what? Sprite-Media.com. That's your website?
Jeff: Correct. Thanks so much for having me on, Kirk and Chris. I really appreciate the time.
Kirk: And thank you for introducing this idea of digital signage for broadcast. Chris Tobin, man, you go to exciting places. Thanks for being with us.
Chris: Why not? It's all about the technology. I thought, "What the heck?" I'm going crazy here with a duplexer, diplexer, combiner behind me. This is the combiner system. The duplexer is in the far distance. So we'll have to pick a time and talk about that stuff for fun, for those RF nuts out there. I know there are plenty of them.
Kirk: We've got very interesting guests coming up on This Week in Radio Tech. I'm going to drop a couple names here. We're just about to go and we'll get out of here in a second. Was I properly prepared? No. I wasn't. Hang on just a second. Let me bring up this calendar that got closed earlier. But I've been working to get some guests on.
Coming up next week we have a show about engineering and entrepreneurship. In other words, how to leverage what you do as an engineer into other things. Daniel Hyatt is going to be our guest next week. This guy knows how to leverage his engineering career into other things that make money, pretty interesting.
A couple weeks from now, Gary Liebisch is going to be our friend. You may know him from Broadcast Electronics. I believe he's with Nautel now. He's going to have an update on RF stuff for us. So, that will be fun.
In three weeks, our show will be live from Atlanta, Georgia from the WSB AM transmitter site. If we can keep the RF out of the microphone, it's going to be quite an interesting show. We're going to have a bunch of engineers there at a party and tour of the WSB AM transmitter site. It's an iconic place.
Then four weeks from now, another iconic name, Lawrence Behr, the RF consultant of Lawrence Behr & Associates. He's going to be our guest. I can't wait to have Lawrence Behr on. So we've got a lot of good stuff coming up in the next month.
Glad that you're here. Tell you friends about This Week in Radio Tech. Be sure to subscribe to our show either by audio or video. It's easy to do with the buttons that are available to you on ThisWeekInRadioTech.com or on the GFQNetwork.com.
All right, guys, we've got to go. Thanks for joining us. We'll see you next week on This Week in Radio Tech. Bye-bye, everybody.
Topics: Broadcast Technology
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