Show and Tell and Dial and Smile - Radio Talk Show Calls

By Kirk Harnack [TWiRT] on Jan 18, 2014 3:36:00 PM

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TWiRT 197GFQ founder and host Andrew Zarian discusses his thoughts and recommendations on Ethernet routers, and Kirk introduces the authoritative book about the history of Phone Phreaking, “Exploding the Phone” on this episode of "This Week in Radio Tech."

Kirk and Andrew introduce the wide-open subject of putting listener-callers on-air, both on broadcast radio and on podcasts. It’s a great introduction to a future episode where we’ll give a thorough “how-to” on interviewing guests and taking callers by phone.



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Kirk: This Week in Radio Tech: Episode #197 is brought to you by the advanced research and technical information available in the Tech Talk section of the Telos website. Visit, click on "Support" and then "Tech Talk."

Check reviews of our favorite Internet routers an explosive book you'll want to read and we begin our long awaited journey into on-air telephony. Andrew Zarian joins me, Kirk Harnack setting the stage for putting experts and listeners on your station or on your podcast.

Hey, welcome in. It's time for This Week in Radio Tech. I'm Kirk Harnack, your host. Glad you're along. I'm glad I'm here. 197th episode. I think I've been here for 195 of them. Chris Tobin and the other guys took over for me on a few episodes. This is the show where we talk about radio technology and all the stuff that broadcast engineers end up having to do, mostly radio engineers. Kay's going to be talking about some TV issues too. Oh, by the way I'm Kirk Harnack, started the show and here most every time.

Our show is brought to you by not a product, but a learning page. I want you to check out, at your convenience, not right now, the show's on right now, but when the show's over check out Go there, click on the "Support" button in the top menu. Actually just hover over it, it'll drop down and click on "Tech Talk". Tech talk. If you want to go there directly, here it is. So it's

Anyway, what I want you to find there is really cool. We'll talk about it more during the actual break, but it's learning. Stuff you need to know for now. This is for now's technology, not 20 years ago technology.

All right, hey. Andrew Zarian has joined us here for this episode because Andrew and I have a very specific purpose in mind for this show. We're going to be talking about the role of listener callers in podcasts. Andrew, welcome in.

Andrew: Hey, Kirk. Thanks for having me. I'm excited to be here. I'm here every week but I'm never on the show.

Kirk: Usually you're pushing the buttons and we don't let you put the camera on you, but today we thought we'd get some genuine handsomeness on the show and point the camera at you.

Andrew: Barely pushing the buttons, Kirk. There are times that I don't push anything. It's just a still picture of the Telos logo.

Kirk: Hey, I was in the city, in New York City this week.

Andrew: Were you really?

Kirk: I was. I had no moment to call or even think about coming over to Queens. But Joe Talbot who's been a guest on the show, he works for Telos. He's a telephony guru. I was at his secret lair near Area 51 last week as you may recall.

Andrew: Very cool. The Red Room.

Kirk: The Red Room, yes. That was a red room. Yes, indeed.

So Joe and I were in New York City at ABC News and in the studio that's known as TV 3. This is the studio that is the control room and production studio for ABC Nightly News with Diane Sawyer. They tape other things there as well. Barbara Walters was in taping some things for 20/20 while we were there. And we were there to put in some new telephone gear for eye witness accounts of breaking news and for reporters and correspondents to call in. If they didn't have a camera and a truck set up yet, they can call in on their phone and get live breaking news.

Of course, everybody does this. Local TV stations, radio stations, networks, they all do this. Another network that stars with a C and lives in Atlanta has already done this with some voice over IP technology. So ABC now is on the same bandwagon. They're going to be able to put calls on the air that will be as clear as a phone call can possibly be unhampered by twisted pairs of wires carrying varying analog voltages and currents like Alexander Graham Bell did over 100 years ago. They'll actually have digital quality from end to end.

Andrew: What did you guys put in?

Kirk: We put in a Telos VX.

Andrew: Very nice.

Kirk: And it was a bit complicated, mostly because ABC is part of Disney. Disney has . . . you know, it's the happiest place in the world, and they have a huge IT department that handles all of their voice over IP, all their telephony, all their infrastructure for Ethernet and IP and telephony and computers and all that stuff. So we had to work with them. I'm not saying it was difficult. It was just a lot to be done to get things wrangled and arranged.

They have some pretty interesting needs for getting large numbers of reporters on the air, and also they have producers all across the country who need to dial in and listen in real-time to breaking news and production that may not be on satellite yet. It may not be broadcasting yet but producers need to hear it prior to it going on air. So there were some interesting needs there. Just a pleasure.

We worked with some engineers, audio engineers mostly at the ABC facility, ABC News in New York and, oh my goodness, these guys are professionals. Holy cow. They know their stuff. It's just a real pleasure to work with those guys.

Andrew: When you go from a small market setup to a larger market setup, is there a drastic difference in the way that you do things?

Kirk: That's a great question. To me, the biggest difference is in network news -- and I know things go wrong all the time -- but in network news you have the budget to make sure nothing goes wrong. That if there's a need, if the producer needs to get somebody on the air from West Undershirt, Arkansas or Timbukthree, they can get them on the air and it's not going to be a big hassle and stuff just works. Stuff just works.

Not everything in their shop was brand new. Their audio console looked older than it was. They said it was only about five or six years old but they still have big patch bays in the audio room. The audio room is not audio over IP yet. It probably will be at some point.

What else is different? Well, we've mentioned I do weather at the FOX affiliate here in Nashville, Tennessee. I'm a little bit familiar with their control room and all the equipment racks in the back and all the ingest systems and match control systems, and what's the difference?

There's more backup at a network. There's more stuff that could go wrong and you can still be on the air. And there's probably more pressure to get it done right.

Not that local news doesn't care. They certainly do, but they also are probably more limited by budget that says, "Look, we have enough money to buy one, and it just needs to work," whereas at network level you've got probably redundancy systems, and you have more people dedicated to doing something.

There's one guy dedicated to camera shading during a newscast. So he's the guy that makes sure that the camera, the blacks are right, the whites are right, the color balance is right, and he's always just touching. He's got a great eye to see what the picture looks like and terrific monitors, so there's one guy who's dedicated to that.

Well, at the station I work at, they do that before the newscast and then they don't touch it again during the newscast. They assume that the color doesn't change. So that's one difference.

Andrew: That's interesting to get different perspectives of what it's like in different markets.

Kirk: Yeah. I did find at ABC News they use a lot of the same tools that, say, market number 30 or maybe market 28 now, Nashville uses at a FOX affiliate. The production of a newscast is mostly automated. They happen to use a system there called Ross automation. It's a company out of Toronto. We happen to have the exact same automation at FOX 17 in Nashville.

It's like a radio station playlist, but it's news. It's got more to think about. Instead of just playing a song, playing a song, playing a line, or playing a commercial, playing a song and being able to break in with a live mic, you've got cameras and teleprompter scripts to worry about, and all that's got to coordinate and then you've got all different kinds of shots you can go to: a double box two shot and the camera can robotically move out and give you an over-the-shoulder shot with a graphic.

There's plenty of times when a story will start out on the anchor or reporter and then they'll cut away to full screen video, and after that it's a VO. It's a voice over. So the camera is not needed on the anchor or reporter again. Happens with weather too. You may start out on me with a full radar image and then cut to just a full screen image of the radar or the forecast, whatever it may be. All that can get automated.

They have a different brand of automation at the ABC owned and operated affiliate right there, channel 7 in New York. I forget what the brand was. I want to say Ignite, but that may be wrong. But anyway, they used the Ross automation in ABC Nightly News. There's plenty of times when they have breaking news and it gets more complicated than they have programmed the Ross automation to do at that moment, so they'll take over manual control. They can just jump right into manual and go back to the way they always did it with more people, and take manual control.

Andrew: Very cool.

Kirk: Luckily I've done some TV so I'm kind of familiar with the setup. If folks will go to my Facebook page, I've posted a couple of pictures. I've purposely made the pictures not detailed enough to where you can just read, especially a phone number or something like that. So don't go looking for secrets. But if you look up Kirk Harnack on Facebook and go to my Facebook page you'll see I've posted over the last couple days a few pictures, panoramic shots of the audio control room and then the production control room. It's just amazing how people come together and just do their jobs, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, to get a newscast out the door.

The telephony part, that's really mostly for breaking news when they can't roll a truck, they can't get a camera there, it's something that you have to describe by phone because that's almost everywhere. So that's what we were doing there. All right.

Hey, I was going to have just a minute of show and tell and then we're going to start our subject about telephony. So I've got a couple things I've got to get off the desk and I won't have them available later.

I think I showed one of these earlier. This is one of these Microtech router board routers. They have them in different flavors and such. This is one that I bought to go at my radio stations in Mississippi, and why can't I open this? Oh, is the flap sealed shut or do I just not know what I'm doing? Oh, here it is. It's on the end, okay, duh.

I've already programmed one of these for one of my radio stations in Mississippi and now I've got to put one in another one. We're replacing a Sonic Wall router with this. These things are just amazingly small, but amazingly powerful. They're a little over $100, $110, $120, $150, somewhere in there depending where you buy it. Our previous guest we had on the show, Dave Anderson. If you roll back in our list of episodes and look for Dave Anderson, his company, Fab Corp is a representative of router board routers made by Microtech, or as they say in Latvia, Microtech. This one has . . . I'm not selling these, I'm just pointing out that these are so good. Like, $110.

Andrew: And the build quality is phenomenal on those.

Kirk: It is. The one thing that I don't like is the fact that it uses a wall wart and a cannon plug. I'm going to take caution to . . . oh yeah, they give you a little place where you can run the wire through the cannon plug. String relief, if you will, the cable so it's not likely to pull out. There you go. Not likely to pull out of there, so you can strain relief it. But what are you going to do with a box this small? You can't fit a power supply in here, not easily.

It does have a touch screen right here. It's a color LCD touch screen that . . . what I like about this is it'll hang on the wall. Normally I'd rack-mount this kind of stuff but in this case it's not convenient to. Hang it on the wall. If there's a problem and we get a call from the general manager at the radio station . . . there's no engineer there, I'm the engineer, I'm a seven-hour drive away . . . he can look at this screen and say, "Is there any graph showing on the screen? Is there throughput?" I'll show him what the regular screen looks like and it'll just display there right near his desk and he can see if it's working or not.

Of course, this one has WiFi built in. You can get them with or without WiFi. I guess there's a learning curve. For me, it's been steep, a steep learning curve. I've really had to buckle down, watch YouTube videos, read forums to try to understand how to program this guy. But once you get it and your brain's kind of in that world. It's no harder than learning Cisco. In fact, it's easier.

You can do it command-line but there's some pretty reasonable web GUIs. You can use an application called WinBox to control it. WinBox is a Windows app, but the web interface is getting better and better and now you can do just about anything with web interface that you can with WinBox, and you can use any browser for that. It doesn't matter what OS you're on.

So I'm visiting Joe Talbot last week at his secret lair just outside of Area 51 and I saw he had a few of these. "Joe, is that the same thing as this?" He said, "Yeah, essentially." It doesn't have WiFi and it has fewer ports, but these are all gig ports right here.

Andrew: Oh, nice.

Kirk: This thing's like $59.

Andrew: Wow, that's actually really good.

Kirk: Yeah, it's cheap. And if you open the interface to this, WinBox talks to it, it's the same. It has, except for the WiFi and except for the extra five ports, it has the same features. It'll do all kinds of VPN. There's stuff it'll do that I don't even know how to do yet. Of course you can do your port forwarding and all that kind of jazz.

By the way, if you're accustomed to setting up port forwarding or QOS, packet priority, if you will, on a home router, some kind of LinkSys or DLink or a TP Link or an Apple router, this is tougher. This is not just enter a couple numbers and click click and you're done. There are a number of things to be entered. But that makes it incredibly more flexible. And $59. But anyway, I thought that was pretty cool.

Tobin's not in yet, it he?

Andrew: No.

Kirk: Okay. So the next thing I've got to show you . . .

Andrew: I like the show and tell segment. What else do you have there?

Kirk: I've got a book. Tobin loaned me this book Exploding the Phone and it is about phone phreaking from the early days of when that started and it's about one man's adventure. It's written by Phil Lapsley and I've only gotten through one and a half chapters. Read some on the plane to New York and some on the way back, and so far it is just . . . let's see, Phil actually co-founded the two high school technology companies in the central Bay area... I'm sorry, two high technology companies, and he advises Fortune 100 companies.

This is back well before the days of IT. There's a map of the U.S. and the various transmission routes that the Bell system had. They still have some of this in place. Fiber, copper, and microwave all shown there. But the book is about his adventure through finding out how to make free phone calls, find out . . . it wasn't his purpose to rip off the phone company, at least not in the first two chapters anyway which is all I'm through. It was his purpose to find out about how this stuff works. He just became extremely interested in secret exchanges and inward toll operators. These are operators that help other operators.

He explains how he would find out the secret phone numbers, which aren't even formatted like normal phone numbers. Secret phone numbers for inward toll operators, and if you call them and you act like you're with the phone company you can get them to do things like, "Yes, I need you to forward this call. This is going to Dubrovnik, Russia. The number is..." and they'll forward your call and there's no billing.

Andrew: That is very interesting.

Kirk: It's very interesting, indeed. One of the things that we're finding out was that most of these inward operators it took a touch tone, but not our standard DTMF touch tone that we're used to. It took extra buttons and different tones to control the phone network, to get to most inward operators. Well, a few switches were improperly programmed or they never bothered to restrict them, and you could get to them with an ordinary phone. You could get to an inward operator.

There was an famous inward toll center in British Colombia, Canada, and the name of the town or the name of the toll center was called "Kleena Kleene". Weird, odd name. Kleena Kleene. You've got to read about it. So Exploding the Phone, Phil Lapsley. I've got to give this copy back to Joe.

Oh, I'll read you something from the back here. Let's see. "It's the definitive account of the first generation of network hackers. At turns, a technological love story, a counter-cultural history and a generation spanning epic. Exploding the Phone is obsessively researched and told with wit and clarity."

I'm not a big book reader. I'm enjoying the heck out of this book. So highly recommend the first two chapters because that's what I've read so far.

Finally, I wanted to mention something. I think I've shown this on a previous show, this Samsung Chromebook. I'm still loving this thing. The company I work for, Telos, and I was in the Gmail world very much several years ago. I got off Microsoft Outlook, just got sick and tired of the weight of Outlook and the huge .pst file and the.pst file always breaking and needing repair, and then having all of that one computer and going to another computer and having nothing. Having nothing of the history that I needed, having none of that. I thought, I'm just going to go ahead and bite the bullet.

I was so used to the Outlook interface, and I was fast with it and I could find stuff and do stuff real fast with it. Copy, paste, and forward to the right people and reply all or not all, and I was really used to it. I'm thinking, "How am I ever going to use a web interface like Gmail and come anywhere near the productivity that I did with Outlook?" Well I've got to tell you, it didn't take long and I haven't looked back at all. And yes, I know, Google reads all my emails, I get that. But they give me something in return, and that's ads that mean something to me.

Andrew: So I made the switch from Outlook to Gmail a couple years ago exclusively. I hated Gmail, I was all about having Outlook because I was a power user in that sense. I had many different email accounts and I stopped. I totally abandoned Outlook when I had the computer corrupt, the hard drive corrupted, it was a RAID and I lost the .pst file. I had no backup of it and I lost almost every single email that I had for like five, six years. After that, I totally abandoned it. I went cloud-based exclusively and I haven't installed Outlook since then.

Kirk: Interesting. In the chat room, Alex Hartman . . . oh I'm sorry, he's talking about the video feed. Yes, people have to pay for their bandwidth and so there's an ad you see before you get the video feed on GFQ but that's no different than so many other things. Oh, that's you saying Daily Motion was supposed to fix that. Oh, Bob Hollalinko reports, "Yes, Kleena Kleene, British Colombia" He's familiar with it.

Anyway. I just have to say again. I'm loving this thing. No, this isn't my daily computing machine. This is my second screen, when I'm watching TV or I need to take a few minutes upstairs with the family but I need to answer an email or just check in what the latest is. My daily work machine is now a MacBook Pro with a retina screen and it has enough power to do the video editing and such that I need to do.

Right now, I'm on the Windows machine because I've got a real powerful Windows machine that I can't take with me. It's a big, honkin' under-the-desk desktop machine, so that's what's doing the Skype for us here. Love this thing. You know what? That Microsoft ad where the girl brings one of these into the pawn shop? Is it the Pawn Stars guys?

Andrew: Yeah.

Kirk: And they explain to her that this is worthless, it's not a real computer, it doesn't have Outlook and Word. Of course they're telling half the story. The part they're leaving out is the good part.

Andrew: I find it amazing that they're even acknowledging it. Microsoft is acknowledging this device.

Kirk: That's a good point. Of course, they're pointing out its perceived negative things but you know what, this doesn't have a virus. You could confidently give this to the least technologically savvy executive in your building and he's not going to get a virus on it. Never say never, but I like it.

All righty, so let's move our subject to telephony. Our show is being brought to you by and in a moment we'll talk about the tech talk part of the Telos website. Lots of valuable information there that you can educate yourself quickly and easily about what's happening, what the latest technologies are and how to use them, and maybe how to get around the perceived problems that they have.

So, Andrew. We're going to talk about putting callers on podcasts and most podcasters don't do that. They don't put callers on. I've always thought that the reason was because, "Hey, I'm a low-budget podcaster. I don't have the money for a Telos or a Comrex, or even a JK Audio phone system, and even if I did, I need an audio console and mix minus, and all kinds of things that are normal for broadcasters but not at all normal for podcasters." So most podcasters don't do this.

Tell me your thoughts about if that's changing and how . . . of course, let me back up and say one more thing to set this up. Broadcasters put callers on the air to involve the audience in hopefully a more meaningful way than just a one-way broadcast. They hear back from the audience, sometimes just as a prompting ruse, as Rush Limbaugh might describe it. When people take requests, they're not really trying to figure out what song to play. They're just trying to involve the caller in a song they were going to play anyway.

And then there's news talk shows where we probably really are interested in what a caller has to say as long as it's brief and salient. So podcasts. How come podcasts haven't and where do you think that ought to change?

Andrew: So a lot's changing. 2014 is going to be a really interesting year for podcasts because there's a lot of things changing as far as ad revenue and quality. I think as podcasters, we're learning what good audio is. I think we're getting used to hearing higher quality audio coming out so a lot of people are improving their setups. One thing that people have been battling, and this is something that we've been battling, is incorporating callers into our show.

Traditionally the only real way for podcasters to do it is Skype or to do some sort of SIP client where people could call in. But with Skype for example, I can't really screen who's calling unless I know the username, I can't accept more than one phone call at a time. Obviously there are some hacks to that, but traditionally you can't.

Kirk: So with Skype you can't really put people on hold and have them in a holding queue. You've screened some, you've not screened some, and they're waiting for when it's their turn to be put on the air.

Andrew: Yeah. I've done hack setups where I've had the same instance of Skype running on four different machines and I'm potting somebody down on the board and I bring them up when they're ready, so I'm able to kind of have four lines technically, but it's still a really... I'm rigging the entire thing. It's not a proper way of doing it.

Now we have options like Blog Talk Radio for example, which I used for a couple weeks to learn the system a little bit because I've heard such great stuff about it. The interface is phenomenal. I think it's $40 a month and you're getting two hours a day for your show, depending on whatever the pricing is, but there are a lot of issues with that. Yeah, the interface is great. Yeah, you're able to get a call screener which helps tremendously when getting calls and they're able to give you notes, but the system is kind of broken. There's latency. At times a caller can't hear you, at times . . . it's almost like it's oversold as a product.

Kirk: It's worthwhile to mention different ways to put callers on the air. Back in the earlier days of telephony, well, on the radio anyway, let's say when Telos' founder, Steve Church, he was a talk show host and an engineer, and he wanted to put callers on the air and have it sound better than taking a speakerphone and pointing a microphone at the speakerphone, and that was the interface between the caller and the audio console. There were other ways to do it too. There were telephone hybrids and they just weren't very good.

The problem, traditionally, with the technical problem has been to interface a two-wire telephone line, two wires carrying both sides of the conversation simultaneously, and the technology to do that is very imperfect. You don't get perfect. You don't even get very good separation between the received audio from the caller and the send audio that you're sending to the caller.

Pick up an old-fashioned POTS phone, talk in it, and there's a certain amount of built in side tone so you can tell how loud to talk. You talk in the microphone on the handset and you hear yourself in the earpiece and you get to judge if you're talking too loud or not based on your own voice. Actually, that was kind of a happy coincidence of the way it works. A little side tone can be added or taken away, but for the most part it's a happy coincidence.

But when you're putting callers on the radio, you don't want any side tone at all. What you send to the caller, typically the announcer's voice or other partiSIPants in the conversation or other phone callers, you want to send that to the caller and you don't want any of that back.

Andrew: No, you want none of that.

Kirk: From the caller, you just want to hear the caller. Because if you send audio to the caller and it goes through the phone system, it gets it's phase all wrapped around and get some delay in there and comes back, even if it's not delayed enough to be a slap echo delay, it'll be out of phase. The send audio that you send to the caller, when it comes back as it does with any average or poor hybrid system, and you pot that up on the console and you mix it with the original of the voices that made that send, in other words the disc jockey, the announcer, his cohorts, you mix that together and you get the phase cancellation and it sounds just terrible.

If any of you are old enough, like me, to have worked at a station that worked at a crappy phone hybrid, you know that whenever you would... if you'd be on the air, you have your microphone turned up, and when you turn up the phone line your voice would change and it used to go like this. "Yes caller you're on the air, go ahead", and you would end up sounding like a telephone line, not because it was all telephone line but because it was coming back and it would naturally be time delayed out of phase with the audio that you were sending. Bottom line, it didn't sound good.

Now in fact, I worked at stations that had bad telephone hybrids. Actually this was before Steve Church even invented the DSP based telephone hybrid. What we would do was, we would do tradio or swap shop or that kind of show, if I was talking, I would keep the caller turned down manually. I'd keep my hand on the caller's fader, and when it was time for the caller to talk, I'd shut up and turn the caller up. So I was manually jockeying the whole thing so that it didn't sound too bad on the air.

Steve Church got tired of that so he invented the DSP, digital signal processing based or enhanced telephone hybrid, which basically it looks at the audio being sent to the caller and then when audio comes back from the caller, any audio that looks the same as what was sent gets cancelled out. Any audio that's new to the equation, well, that would be the caller's audio, what he said, that wouldn't get cancelled and it worked amazingly well.

Nobody had ever done anything like it, and it just improved the quality of phone calls on the air. This was 30 years ago that Steve invented this. It improved the quality of callers tremendously.

Now, here are the problems. The box was expensive. Not expensive for a radio station, for a big going business, but expensive for a podcaster today. A minimum of $700, $800, $900, $1,000 for a hybrid, and it was only one hybrid. If you wanted to stack up some callers, then we had to invent multi-line phone systems. So without getting, I guess, into enormous detail here, a multi-line phone system to properly queue up callers and put them on the air, that's going to cost at least a couple thousand dollars. And easily you could spend $7,000 or $8,000 on such a system where you have callers ready to go, one after another, they're screened or not, but they're not all getting busy signals. Some people can get in.

What was the point? Oh yeah. So here we are in the age of computers. We're almost in the post-PC era now, right? A lot of folks have asked, "Why can't you just build a multi-line phone system, VoIP-based in a PC? Why can't I just run a piece of software that is a phone system in your PC?" A few companies have tried that. Inevitably it comes down to the lack of a real-time operating system. Windows, OSX, even Linux, standard Linux, can't handle the DSP functionality fast enough to make the system sound good. It's just got to be done in dedicated hardware at this point.

There are a few cloud-based talk show systems. One of them is what you mentioned, Andrew. That's Blog Talk Radio. I'm going to ask you about that in a minute.

There's another one called Call In Studio. A guy named Sean Saulsbury put that together, and that's pretty cool. It's a per-minute cost, and a per-month cost to make it run, but it's kind of on demand. The quality is pretty good. It's not as good as doing your own phone lines but it's all right. You get a web interface to control it, to screen your calls and put your callers on the air, drop them, or whatever.

I think there's a future in that kind of model, but I wanted to explain to folks, the point I was really trying to get at is why doesn't Telos or Comrex or somebody just make an app that runs on a PC that brings your VoIP phone circuits in and lets you do a whole talk show on your PC?

All of that's doable, but when you get down to the DSP of the phone lines, it gets tough and the performance is pretty lacking still at this point.

Hey, maybe a plug-in PCI express card would help in that regard. But that's going to cost plenty of money too. You might as well buy an outboard system. So, Andrew, I'm sorry, I've just been here trying to set this up.

Andrew: I'm learning.

Kirk: Give the different delineations of systems. There's single hybrid systems, single phone line, single hybrid. You might use that in a production room or for a talk show, you just want to interview one person. If you just want to do an interview with somebody by phone, single phone line, single Telos telephone hybrid and hook it to your audio console, your computer, and fine, it'll work. You get the best audio quality that you can.

A multi-line phone system, we have those, Telos does and others too that do POTS. Telos has the ISDN type systems that really got the quality better over POTS, and now we have voice over IP systems. Comrex has one, Telos has one, and soon to be more. So the next thing is cloud-based or PC-based systems. So, now, Andrew, Blog Talk Radio. Tell us what that is and how it's supposed to work.

Andrew: So technically, Blog Talk Radio is a network of radio shows. The reason why they got so popular is because you can pretty much host a radio show with your phone. That was the purpose of it. So anybody could call in and you could host it, just walk around and do a show. As more people started using it, more traditional broadcasters started putting their show on there and they started expanding beyond that.But they have a call in system. They also have a switchboard and a virtual soundboard where you can pop up different sound effects and bumpers and stuff like that. I haven't really used that stuff, but I did use their phone call system. The interface is really pretty. It's a really easy to learn, pretty interface.

I've used it with Skype. So I dial out with Skype to their number, it tells me "Hey, your show's about to start in 25 minutes". I stay on hold, when the show's ready, it goes live and the phone number's live and anybody can call in to that dedicated phone number. I use it with a screener. So they pick up, they say, "Who's calling? What are you doing?

What do you want to talk about?" They write it down for me and I'm able to just click on "Answer Call" and they're live on the air. I can also put them on hold, I can send them back to the screener, so it actually works like a legitimate call in system.

The downside has been for me, depending on what time you're doing the show, there are awful, awful delays. The latency gets really crazy. Maybe three, four seconds at times, and it's virtually impossible to have a conversation at that point when you're that delayed. The quality of the call drops, so at times they're crystal clear, at times it's absolutely awful, you can't even understand what they're saying.

So the inconsistency for someone like me that wants to do a call in system on a regular basis, a call in show, it's not very dependable. If you can't hear the caller, what's the point of taking a phone call?

I haven't used the other system, but for a lot of people . . . I know some people who have built these crazy . . . at home they've built these setups where they're doing Magic Jacks and they have like four or five Magic Jacks and they have the number forwarding to another number that's a Skype number. I've seen some crazy setups, but the amount of effort people are putting in right now, I think we're at a point in 2014 where things that Telos is offering, the phone systems that you guys are offering or any other company, it's becoming a reality where you're saying, "Okay, you know what? I'm willing to invest this much money. I can get a $100 SIP box and just convert those SIP lines that are dirt cheap to POTS lines and just plug it in there. It's a one-time investment for the product, and now I know I can take six phone calls."

Kirk: Yeah. You just mentioned a really good thing. One of the things that scares people about the cost of doing talk shows, and it's been a thorn of the side, just an accepted expense for radio stations, is the high monthly cost of individual phone lines from the traditional tel-co. So POTS lines, business POTS lines, anywhere from $50-$100 per month per line, unless you're buying some kind of DID trunks. Then you have to really start to know what you're doing.

ISDN used to be cheaper. Now in many areas we're getting up to over $200 per ISDN line per month. It's ridiculous. Here's voice over IP, and it can be cheap. It can also be just as expensive as POTS. Vonage is a popular name, but it's a closed system and I'm not sure what codec they're using. It's probably G.729, which is less quality than you want.

I guess I should spend a second on that by the way, because quality here does mean at least a little something. The traditional codec, the way we turn analog to digital, and then digital to a lower bit rate digital is the phone company standard for decades has been G.711 and that's the traditional phone codec. Our brains and our ears know what that sounds like. It may or may not be high pass filtered. In other words, it may or may not roll off the lows, but the high end is going to be no more than about 3.3 kilohertz worth of audio, and it's a 64 kilobit per second codec.

It's not a psychoacoustic codec. It just does some math, samples at a fairly low range of bits at 8 kilohertz of sampling and you end up with 64 kilobits per second. So it's not like .mp3 or .AAC, which are psychoacoustic codecs. It's just a plain math codec. It's fast, it's effective, we know what it sounds like, and it's okay.

In the earlier days of Internet telephony, a number of voice codecs had been developed. One of them that became popular was G.729, mostly because it would work at really low bit rates, like six, seven, eight kilobits per second instead of 64 kilobits per second. G.711, you can packetize that, send it over the Internet and it's 64 kilobits per second plus the packet overhead. So you're looking at typically 85 or so kilobits per second. Now that's pretty easy, but think 5 years ago, 10 years ago, a lot of connections were very challenged by that kind of bit rate.

I ran a whole radio station back 15 years ago and our connection was 64 kilobits per second. That was it for the whole station. So you couldn't even carry one phone call unless it was going to be G.729. So I'm not 100% sure of this, but a lot of companies that offer free or cheap telephony services are using G.729. Even if you sign up with a reputable company, their default codec may be G.729. My point is...

Andrew: From what I remember, Kirk, Vonage uses three codecs depending on which setting you're using.

Kirk: That's right, you have that slider for different bit rates. That's right.

Andrew: So I think their highest one is G.711, their mid-range was G.726, and then their low range was G.729.

Kirk: Ah, okay good. Thanks for that info. Yes, I forgot about that slider. I did use Vonage for some years and then decided that this costs almost as much as POTS by the time they get done billing me everything.

Anyway, my point is if you have a choice about it you really want to at least do G.711. Now you may have heard some talk, and Bob Hollalenko mentions G.722. G.722 is a newer than G.711, it's a codec that can also run at 64 kilobits but you get a little over 7 kilohertz of audio bandwidth through it. As broadcast engineers, we generally think "G.722? Well that's our last resort codec for doing a show from somewhere." But compared to normal telephony, it sounds great.

If you see a phone, and I have a phone right here. This is a little polycomm phone that Telos shipped me to use as part of the Telos business phone system. It has HD voice. HD voice isn't any particular codec. It's typically G.722 or G.722.1 or G.722.2, but anyway, that phone can speak G.722, which gives you a really nice sound over handset. I digress though.

My point was this and here's the point I was going to make. I've shown this on a previous show. I don't think the wires are quite long enough to . . . no the wires aren't quite long enough for me to show this. I have a box here from Grandstream, and it is called the HT704 from Grandstream. HT704, and it will connect to most outside SIP services, not closed ones like Vonage or Magic Jack, but to other ones from Vitality or Packet 8 or 8 by 8 it is now, or other such ISPs or telephony providers.

It's an endpoint, so it will give you four POTS-lines outputs. So you're converting SIP POTS right there, in this little box that costs $100, and you can wire those POTS lines to anybody's traditional POTS codec. So I've got them wired to a Telos HS6. We're going to go into some depth on a future show and describe how to set that up. Mine's set up with my raspberry pie, which is acting as an asterisk box or free PBX. But it can work with somebody's outside service.

So I could actually make that little Grandstream box work with, say, some extensions off the Telos phone system, or some extensions that Joe Talbot has off his asterisk box, or directly to a service like Vitality. So I'd have these incoming and outgoing phone lines, hook them up to whether it's a 20 year old hybrid or a modern hybrid like this HS6, you're going to get inexpensive telephone calls that can come in. You can build your own hunt group, and it'll roll over so I can take four callers here, have them on hold. You could easily get an eight-port box, and have eight phone lines.

Anyway, there point there is we're going to go into some depth on this and show you how to on a future episode of This Week in Radio Tech. We'll show you' the screens, the setup screens to give you some ideas of do you want to hook to somebody's business phone system, if you've got a friend who's going to supply you some lines, or do you want to hook to a service like Vitality or Paytech now, Windstream? Anybody that's not proprietary closed, you could have an account and hook it up and get your telephone service that way.

We'll also give you tips on how to set up your router so that you have some packet prioritization so you don't get too much stuttering of the audio. So that's the idea. That's the whole idea, and that's where we're going to go with that subject. So Andrew, are you interested in learning about that?

Andrew: I am. We've spoken off the air a couple times about this and I've been doing some of my homework about what's involved in doing something like this, and it's really cool. There's a lot of options but if you want to do it right, I still think you get something like the NX or even the VX if you want to do SIP lines.

Kirk: Sure. Yeah. Technically you're going to lose a little bit of quality in even a local ATA analog internal adapter, and that's what the Grandstream is. By the way, those ATAs, you can buy them all day long in one and two line versions. Those are the most popular if you want to do a talk show with multiple lines, I've got a six line talk show system here. Gee, I'd like to have six lines. Turns out I have four lines going into it. I can add a two line ATA to that and fill up all six lines.

To me, that's a really good interim choice if you're a broadcaster or a podcaster, because we're talking about a lot of podcasters here, and you're interested in going to put callers on the air but you don't want to make the commitment of spending $100 or $200 a month on phone lines. Gee, what a wasteful, recurring expense. We'll show you how to get hooked up with a SIP provider, get yourself some phone lines. You can point an 800 number at those phone lines if you want to.

And then there are some SIP-based phone systems on the market right now. There's the Telos VX, which is kind of big. That may be much bigger than what you want. The guys at Comrex also have a smaller SIP capable phone system, the Stack VIP. I've not tried it yet, but it's there. It works. Some people are using it. And I think you're going to see some more products from Telos that are going to be SIP based that are smaller.

But even if you want to go on eBay and buy an older or a used multi-line phone system, it's probably going to be POTS based. Well, no problem. Use a $100 box to convert your very cheap SIP service into some POTS lines, plug them in the back of your phone system and voila, as they say, you have now a multi-line phone system, you have a rollover number, you could have some hotline numbers, and you could put phone callers, listener callers on your podcast. That's what we're going to show you how to do. Just want to get you thinking about it now, and we're going to show you how to do that on a future episode.

Andrew: I think that's really cool because I'm going to have a lot of questions for you for that episode.

Kirk: I have a feeling it's going to end up being a two-parter, because just the subject of how to buy and order and configure SIP service, and then how you get that into your business, your home, through a router, through your standard Internet service without having dropouts, having decent quality on the calls, that deserves some conversation right there. So we're going to have to talk about that. And then we're going to talk about choosing a single or multi-line phone system for putting callers on the air and how you hook that into your own audio console, what connections have to be made available for that. So plenty to discuss.

It's easy for people who have been doing it for a long time, but if you've not, there's a number of things to think about and we'll help you through all that.

Hey, our show's been brought to you by my colleagues at Telos. Instead of talking about a product, I want to mention the Telos Tech Talk webpage. Telos systems has redone its overall webpage. Go to and hover over the support button, click on "Tech Talk" and you'll get the page that Andrew is showing you right now.

There's a number of white papers and other how-tos on that webpage. The top one for example is one that I did about audio reliability over the public Internet, how to design robust IP streaming for outside broadcast STL and program distribution. I did another paper on IP audio connection tests, some resources that you can use to see how good your connection is and if it's good enough to do IP audio, which would include voice over IP. A paper I did about wire in the broadcast plant. Less wire means you're doing it right. That's kind of fun.

And then Joe Talbot chimed in with this paper: Voice over IP in the real world, how I quit worrying and learned to live without POTS. Yeah, so that's a good one. Joe gave that paper at NAB a couple of years ago and it's really worth the read. You'll find that a lot.

Hey, I've got to go. I've got a meeting coming up. Andrew, thank you for joining us. It looks like Chris Tobin didn't get a connection into us from downtown Manhattan.

Andrew: No, I guess the 4G wasn't good.

Kirk: Kind of a short show this week. We're going to have a more expanded show. And hey, we have a new booker so we're going to have more guests coming up in coming weeks. Thanks for joining us on this short episode of This Week in Radio Tech. Andrew, thanks for providing questions and comments. I really appreciate you being there, and we'll see you next week on This Week in Radio Tech. Bye-bye everybody.

Topics: Broadcast Telephone Systems

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