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Yea Engineering with Rob Chickering

By Kirk Harnack [TWiRT] on Aug 8, 2014 3:14:00 PM

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TWiRT 223What’s an engineer to do when the talent loves technology as much as he does?  Roll with it and have fun! Rob Chickering is the VP of Operations and Engineering for Yea Networks - the house that Kidd Kraddick built. Rob joins us to show off his fantastic radio studios in Dallas, and talk about how engineers can be just as creative as major-league talent.

Chris Tobin and Kirk Harnack talk with Rob on this episode of TWiRT.



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Kirk Harnack: This Week in Radio Tech, episode 223 is brought to you by the Telos Hx6 talk show system. Perfect for request line callers and serious newsmakers alike. Six lines and two digitally clear Telos hybrids in one rack unit. The Telos Hx6.

Also by Lawo, maker of the new crystalCLEAR virtual radio console. Intuitive, progressive and focused. crystalCLEAR is the radio console with a multi touch touchscreen interface.

And by Axia. Console, mixing engines, intercoms, phones, audio processors. Only Axia connects to so much so easily.

We're talking to Rob Chickering at the Kidd Kraddick morning show. Rob is the engineer and ops guy who makes this syndicated radio and TV show work so well.

Hey, welcome in to This Week In Radio Tech. I'm Kirk Harnack, your host. I'm so delighted you're here. We've got another show. I mean, I'm excited about every show, but this one is going to be great.

This is the show where we talk about broadcast audio technology and everything from the microphone to the beacon on top of the tower and nowadays more and more there's not a tower involved, but there are internet connections, maybe satellite. Who knows what there is between the content creation and the listener?

But as broadcast engineers it's our job to make sure it gets there and sounds great. It's not our job to make sure the content is compelling, but at least the quality of the audio can't take away from that compelling content. So that's our job. That's what we talk about here.

We're going to talk about some incredible content creation today, a very successful radio show and how that works, how the engineering and operations work for that show. We'll bring in our guest in just a minute.

But first let's introduce the best dressed engineer in radio. It's my friend and yours from Manhattan, New York. Chris Tobin. Hello, Chris. Welcome in.

Chris Tobin: Oh, thank you, Kirk. I'm doing well. Yes. I'm actually across the river from Manhattan today in New Jersey. So the Garden State that smells so lovely on a day like today.

Kirk Harnack: You can see Manhattan from where you are, or close?

Chris Tobin: Actually, I can. Yes. I can see it. It's not up close. It's in the distance, but I can see the skyline. Actually, today is very clear. It's very nice. Very nice day.

Kirk Harnack: To a guy who is not from New York, when I think of New Jersey all I think of is the shore of the... Is that the Hudson river?

Chris Tobin: There's the Hudson.

Kirk Harnack: That separates..?

Chris Tobin: Yes.

Kirk Harnack: Yeah. So I think all of New Jersey is right there.

Chris Tobin: You know what? For many people in this part of the region, yes.

Kirk Harnack: Yes? It is?

Chris Tobin: Pretty much. That's pretty much how it does. You go south of Staten Island and it's, like, "Where are we? Where is this? This is New Jersey?"

The two things about New Jersey is which exit do you get off, do you live at, and is that only across the river or is there more to it? Yeah. That's it. It's a tough area to live in.


Kirk Harnack: That's funny. All right.

Well, Chris, you're an IP solutionist. Give us the two sentence spiel. Give us the elevator speech on what that is.

Chris Tobin: Basically, 30 years of doing broadcast engineering in both radio and TV and over the time learned a lot about IP and found ways to use that.

Male Voice: It's easier for young children to learn something.

Chris Tobin: It's very easy for young children to learn. But then again, in broadcasting we have no young children. So moving right along.

So what I've done is gone out on my own and decided to start imparting my knowledge on others to help them out. Actually, today I was working with a client who is looking at an over the top television video solution, IPTV. Actually, we think we came up with something pretty cool for them.

Kirk Harnack: I hear...

Chris Tobin: What's that?

Kirk Harnack: I hear this IP thing is going to work.

Chris Tobin: Well, it's funny. I have had former employers of mine tell me that it was an unproven technology and it was not something that's going to be around a long time and ISDN and T1s are the way to go.

I was, like, "Wow."

They're out of a job right now, but that's okay.

Kirk Harnack: There was a time when it was illegal to make a car that would go over some speed like 23 miles an hour because science had proven that people would explode if they went faster than that.

Chris Tobin: That's true. I think that was the Model T. The brown version.

Kirk Harnack: Oh really?

Chris Tobin: I'm sorry, no. You can only have it on one color. Black.

Kirk Harnack: That's right.

Hey, let's bring in our guest. I'm delighted to bring in this guy. Rob Chickering. He's the VP of operations and engineering for Yea networks.

Rob Chickering: That's it.

Kirk Harnack: That sounds weird to say. Did I say it right?

Rob Chickering: No, you said it absolutely perfectly. Yea networks.

Kirk Harnack: Yea networks. Rob, it's great to have you here.

Rob Chickering: Thanks.

Kirk Harnack: I met you years ago. I guess I was demonstrating some Omnia processors and were you at Susquehanna in Dallas, then?

Rob Chickering: That was probably between '95 and 2007. Somewhere in there.

Kirk Harnack: Probably a lot closer to '95, yeah.

Rob Chickering: Okay. Yeah.

Kirk Harnack: I'm sorry, no. Not '95. 2002, '03, '04. Somewhere in there.

Rob Chickering: Yeah. That was right in the middle of when I was the engineering manager for the group in Dallas after Norm moved up to corporate. Norm Phillips.

Kirk Harnack: Ah, okay. Well, good deal.

Rob Chickering: Yeah.

Kirk Harnack: Well Rob, you have some history with some of my friends. Why don't you give us the elevator speech on Rob Chickering? What are you doing in broadcast engineering?

Rob Chickering: Well, you guys know a guy named Marty Sacks, I think.

Kirk Harnack: Oh yeah.

Rob Chickering: Yeah, Marty unfortunately gave me my start in engineering. I was a board op for WRC, or WWRC, when Greater Media purchased it from NBC back in... I want to say it was '83, '84, somewhere around there. I became a board op running talk net overnight and then eventually running some of the midday shows and other shows and then sauntered over to Marty and I said, "Hey man, need an intern?"

He said, "Yeah."

I said... Marty's favorite story about me is he handed me a box of wire numbers from the project. You know the old wire numbers? It was one through 33, 34 through 66, the strips of numbers.

Kirk Harnack: Yeah.

Rob Chickering: And he handed me a box that I think went up close to 300 or 400 and none of them had been put back in the box. It was literally take a strip out, throw it in the pile kind of thing.

He goes, "Here. I need you to put all these back in the boxes."

He thought, "For sure this kid is going to leave and I'll never see him again," and unfortunately for him I completed the task of reassembling all the wire numbers, put them neatly back in the box, walked back up to him a couple of hours later and he went, "Okay. I think we can work with this kid."

So yeah. I owe a lot to Marty. So Marty taught me how to build studios, wire patch bays. Good engineering practices were invented, I think, many of them at Greater Media under Smitty and I got to learn from some of the best.

Kirk Harnack: Wow. This was in the DC area?

Rob Chickering: Yeah, that was in DC. Washington, DC.

I was there between, gosh, I guess I started there as a board op in '84, 30 years ago and left around '92, '93 and moved down to Dallas.

Kirk Harnack: Gotcha. Is the DC area where you call home? Is that where you're from?

Rob Chickering: Yeah. Grew up there. Born and raised in the Maryland area there. Go back occasionally. Mom has moved up to Pennsylvania, so I don't have a place to go anymore.

Kirk Harnack: Well, Rob has some engineering stories to tell, including how he got connected up with Kidd Kraddick, a very famous name in broadcasting. Unfortunately passed away a couple years ago.

We'll get some of Rob's ideas on engineering. Where he's been, where it's going. How a guy like Kidd Kraddick influenced doing cool things in the studio.

We've got a new sponsor on This Week In Radio Tech and that new sponsor is a slot for Axia. So we go after three sponsors now and those three sponsors are Telos, which also we may talk about Omnia... Also the folks at Lawo and Axia. So right now I want to take just a moment before we get started in depth with Rob Chickering to tell you about the Telos Hx6.

This is a phone system that we've talked about here on the show before. I've got one at my radio station in Mississippi. I've not installed it yet because I haven't been there now for almost three weeks, but when I go back we'll be putting that system in.

The Telos Hx6, I call it cheap and cheerful. It has great technology in it. Its fifth generation telephone hybrids so your calls sound as good as POTS calls can possible sound.

Great technology there including Omnia audio processing. The Hx6 is a six line phone system and instead of having just one telephone hybrid in it, it comes standard with two. So two telephone hybrids mean you can easily put two callers on the air. They can hear each other perfectly. No compromise there, no silliness, no squirrelyness, no button mashing, as we've called it in the past with older phone systems.

They can hear each other perfectly and of course both be on the air on your podcast or your radio station, whatever. Your television show. Whatever you're doing. You also have the possibility of running a show this way. You can have an expert guest and you can lock that guest onto a hybrid so you can't accidentally remove that guest from the show.

So let's say you're talking to the mayor or someone who is an expert in engineering or politics or school education, whatever the topic may be, lock that guest in and then you take your list of callers one after another after another and put them on the air without fear of getting rid accidentally of your expert guest and everybody can hear each other just fine.

You could even have a remote reporter calling in with a report. These are great for calling in high school sports scores. That's a big thing on Tuesday nights for basketball and Friday nights for basketball and football and almost every day of the week for baseball.

If you're a station that covers your local area, hey, get your stringers to call into and provide sports scores, maybe a highlight or two from the game. Who did well, who didn't do well. So if you're not doing call ins now consider adding that to your repertoire of what the content is you can provide on your broadcast station.

If you already are, if you've got an older phone system and you're having trouble with it, check out the Telos Hx6. You control it with our V-Set 6, which, I've got a V-Set 12 right there. It looks like this but it's a little smaller than the V-Set 6 is. You can easily see the caller ID, who is calling in, great color screen, and again, the hybrids just sound absolutely terrific.

Get the Hx6 and the V-Set 6 together for a price that's well under $4000 dollars. May even be quite a bit less than that depending on the discount you arrange with your dealer. They're available now. The Hx6 does come with her connectors for audio ins and outs.

It can create its own conferencing bridge inside so you only have to supply one mix minus from your audio console. If you already have an Axia system at your station, then guess what? You can save a few dollars and get the IQ6. It's exactly the same as the Hx6 but no XOR connectors on the back. It's all live wire.

If you go to the website check it out please at telos- and then look for the Hx6.

There's also the IQ6 listed on there as well.

You're going to enjoy it and it works great. Put callers on the air and hey, maybe make the station sound better. Caller dependent. All right. Yeah.

Rob Chickering: Doesn't make the callers any better, right?

Kirk Harnack: That's right. Rob, I noticed your studio there. Let's take a look at that studio shot again with Rob there. You've got a Telos phone controller off to the side of the console, Rob.

Rob Chickering: Yep.

Kirk Harnack: What is that?

Rob Chickering: That's the NX. We're stuck with analogue here. So we've got standard old POTS lines coming in on our choke system. So we kept it old school. It helped me in the migration of the system. I didn't want to change too many things at once to be chasing phone issues as well as working out bugs when you do a rebuild.

Kirk Harnack: I agree.

Rob Chickering: So I was able to put the annex system right on top of the 1a2 system we had running. I just paralleled the lines, and I had the phone system running in another room, basically, for a couple weeks. So we were able to test it out.

Then in an adjacent room that's right over here... I'll show you.

Kirk Harnack: There goes the cam. All right.

Rob Chickering: We were able to basically separate the two rooms. So this room still had a BMX26, a BMX digital 26 in it when we were doing the construction.

That room over there got completely transformed. It used to be a talk booth for Kelly Raspberry. We made it into a control room and that basically was built from the ground up with Axia.

So I was able to dry run a country night show that we had renting our studio out of there. So they were actually running on the NX phone system while we still were running 182 in here. So we basically had the two systems running tandem.

Then the transition was I fed this board into that board and we ran like that for a little while. Then we transitioned from next gen to op x BSI system. So we moved to BSI system in the two rooms and then one weekend we pulled the BMX digital out, filled in the giant hole here... You can see this countertop kind of becomes black versus gray. Filled in the hole. Dropped in the new...

Literally, I didn't even cut the hole for the console. I put it on the tabletop, let Kidd figure out where he wanted it and we had the room up and running in probably about 12 hours.

Kirk Harnack: I want to get a more thorough tour of your studio there in probably the second half of our show.

Rob Chickering: Okay.

Kirk Harnack: Let's backtrack a bit because you started in... Well, except for you started in a bigger market. I mean, Chris Tobin started in big markets too. I started in West [inaudible 00:13:30] Kentucky, right?

Chris Tobin: Yeah.

Kirk Harnack: Actually, I kind of got started in Berea, Kentucky at a little AM day timer there. So you got your feet wet. Well, you had good tutelage there, but you got your feet wet in a big market.

Rob Chickering: Yep.

Kirk Harnack: Talk to me a bit about technology when you got started in the mid to late '80s in engineering. What are some of the things that you went through? What were the benefits or the detractions from the stuff you were using back then?

Rob Chickering: Gosh, I think about then and it's so much easier to do things now. I think that unfortunately is shown in the number of engineers that are around anymore. It took a lot of engineers to keep a radio station maintained.

I mean, you had cart decks and turntables and reel to reel machines. Literally my job every other day was to go through and balance every tone arm in the building and to clean every tape head and pull a 99 or a Delta machine out of the rack and give it a front to back. That kept you busy, just maintaining the mechanics of the building.

Analogue PRNE consoles that had a mix minus bust that was kind of created in the afterthought of, oh, we need to be able to feed phones a mix minus bust, so don't pull the telecom module out of the console or you go off the air.

Kirk Harnack: Ah.

Rob Chickering: Yeah. Over band mic processing. We had great stuff, but it took a lot to keep things running and it was a lot of maintenance and a lot of wire.

Kirk Harnack: Chris Tobin, you got started around the same time, didn't you?

Chris Tobin: Yeah. I was in the market 147. Stanford, Connecticut.

Kirk Harnack: Oh, you were in Stanford. Okay.

Chris Tobin: Stanford Norwalk, actually. It was two diaries a season, which I think they still have two diaries. I don't think they're doing PPM up there yet.

Kirk Harnack: No. Probably not.

Chris Tobin: Yeah. No, I started about there. That's a great looking studio.

Rob Chickering: Thank you.

Chris Tobin: I mean, I watched it a couple of times on a cable channel so I got to see it from the other side too.

Rob Chickering: We're proud of it, yeah. When I started working here I walked in this room and I'll show you something else that's kind of cool. [inaudible 00:15:40]

Kirk Harnack: Ah, Voxpro.

Chris Tobin: Voxpro.

Kirk Harnack: Big monitors.

Rob Chickering: Yeah.

Chris Tobin: Nice.

Rob Chickering: Again, that's Kidd Kraddick engineering head. He said, "I want two giant screens. I want everybody to be able to see Voxpro," because when you're playing a bit back or something you can see when it's ending or you can see where there's a pause.

So typically he would have a computer with an internet on one and Voxpro on another, a call screen or something like that. So it's pretty neat to keep the eye lines nice. You don't have too many monitors but you can still take a glance up and see what's going on on the screens.

Yeah. I walked in this room the first time back in 2007, it was July when I was interviewing with him and I walked in here and I'm, like, "That is the biggest control room I've ever seen in my entire life."

This room is, like, 40 by 40. It's an enormous piece of furniture that's sitting in here. For a millisecond we actually looked at changing out the furniture too, but I was, like, "Man, I just love this furniture. It's built locally by a guy who does great furniture work."

I was, like, why replace it? It's another $20 or $30,000, $40,000 expense. I just felt, like, why change it? We'll just adapt it to this Axia system and it'll be perfect.

Chris Tobin: That's great.

Kirk Harnack: Rob, I want to ask you just a bit about your career before we move back into some more technical stuff. The impression that I've had of you the few times that I've run across you or heard of you or heard about you from some of your colleagues, it has always been very positive.

You have been with Greater Media. That's where you got your start. Good people there. Susquehanna. Also, you spent some time with Cumulus. Most of the time has been spent in Dallas.

But you've always seemed to me the kind of engineer who does well, who is respected. You work hard and the opinion that you give, people pay attention to what you say. I mean, your management, if you say, "We've got to spend the money on this," this will try to make it happen.

Give us a little career advice on being an engineer, being flexible, working hard, learning your craft well. What has come about to be important to you?

Rob Chickering: Well, I've got to go back to Marty again. Engineers had a bad reputation in that period of pocket protector wearing guys with overall straps and they just grunted along and didn't talk to anybody.

Kirk Harnack: Hey, hey, hey, hey now. Hey now.

Rob Chickering: Anyway. Sorry. Cut too close there?

I watched Marty work and Marty was always really great with the air talent and the news directors and the GM sales people. Anybody got equal attention. Their needs were always met. It wasn't, like, "Oh, this is the air studio. This is more important. I've got to make sure that the sales people have what they need to do their jobs."

I realized really quickly that I wanted to be part of the staff, not just somebody who... When something was broken they came to you.

Kirk Harnack: Yeah.

Rob Chickering: I adopted a philosophy of, you know what? I'm going to do everything I can to contribute to the product through technology and my management style and my staff rather than just waiting for something to break.

Kirk Harnack: Gotcha.

Rob Chickering: I don't know if that makes sense.

Kirk Harnack: Yeah. It sounds like part of your philosophy was to be a proactive role, that you're not just a wheel in the cog.

Rob Chickering: Yeah.

Kirk Harnack: But that the whole machine is important and it's all got to work well.

Rob Chickering: Yeah. You're the cause of the success. You directly are assisting the talk show host or whatever by giving him a new piece of technology or saying, "Hey, wouldn't it be cool if we did it this way," and they would be, like, "Oh man, I didn't know we could do that."

I think a lot of that is just understanding. I think back to when I first started working for Kidd, just to my left here was a large production area. It was a big piece of glass, like a ten by eight piece of glass and so the staff can look into the control room here. I just sat in there and watched him. I just literally watched him work for almost two weeks.

It was funny because he figured out what I was up to. He pulled me into the office after I had been here for a couple of weeks and he goes, "So what do you think?"

I go, "What do you mean?"

He goes, "Well, I've been watching you watching us."

So he was really interested in the fact that I was watching Kelly and how she moved in the room and if Al needed to get something from an intern did he need to be in a different seat or was his mic in the right place, or was he constantly fiddling with his headphones or just stupid things like his mic boom was loose and he was on air and constantly doing this.

You've got to go fix that stuff. You keep your eyes open. You look for things that keep them from doing their job efficiently and you fix it.

Then you go, "Hey, how about I put a longer cord on that, or would it be cool if I gave you a patch for your iPod such that you could..?"

You offer things rather than just waiting for things to break and you will be surprised that you will all of a sudden be part of the operation rather than a result of the operation, I guess is a way to put it.

Kirk Harnack: To do that kind of thing it seems like the observation, and wanting to improve the show in any way you can. Like, "Hey, would you like an iPod patch input there?"

A lot of engineers nowadays would counter either as an excuse or as a reason, "Dude, I take care of 12 transmitter sites. I don't have time to sit and watch the morning show."

Rob Chickering: Yeah, and that's a tough thing nowadays. But I think you just have to make the time. I think you have to find a day to go sit and watch. I used to go in when I was working for Susquehanna and watch the ticket morning show. A very dynamic group of guys. Lot of guys doing different things in there and I would just sit in the control room and watch.

Not only because I was a fan and I loved the show. I just wanted to watch them do their jobs. I think when you come in at the same time, when these folks come in you realize, "Hey, maybe it's a little warm in here at five a.m. or at four a.m., maybe we need to get the air conditioner turned up a little bit higher."

Just those little things that make a big difference. Budget a day. I know, engineers, there's a lot of radio stations and it's hard to do. But I think if you can find the time to do it, it really makes a big difference. Or assign somebody on your staff to go do it.

Say, "Hey." A young engineer, go, "Hey, I want you to go sit down there. If you notice some things in the studio that aren't working well let me know, or go sit with the morning show. After their show and after, if they have a post show meeting with a PD, call the PD and say, 'Hey, I want to sit in on your meeting'."

You can listen in to what they're doing on their show topic- wise. Maybe they're talking about doing a bit that may have some technological applications for you to help them with. Maybe it's just that you have a quick meeting with stuff that's broken in the studio that they forgot to tell you.

"Oh, the printer has been out of toner for six weeks."

Stupid things like that that they forgot to tell you.

Kirk Harnack: A couple of times you've mentioned here newer technologies or techniques or things in the studio, and you said that you and Kidd would bounce some things back and forth.

I've got a question that's both for you and for Chris Tobin. How do you approach a new technology if something is presented to you... Hey, each of us, we've roughly the same age. Early in our engineering careers ISDN came into play, right? So we had to learn about that.

Chris Tobin: Or switch 56, buddy.

Kirk Harnack: Or switch 56, yeah.

Now more recently, well, 10, 11 years ago for me, maybe a few less years ago for both of you, the whole idea of audio over IP. But there has been others.

Here, I'll give you a good example. AES digital technology for audio. That passed me by completely. I never worked at a station where we needed to make a change to AES. There was now advantage that AES presented to us. We weren't buying new consoles that were all digital. I didn't need to cut my wiring in half.

I would have had such a mishmash of analogue and AES gear. The whole AES thing of mostly the '90s, I suppose, and early 2000s passed me by.

Rob Chickering: Yeah. Interesting.

Kirk Harnack: So I'm wondering, should I have worked harder to implement some AES?

How do you look at technology that comes staring you in the face and decide this is something I'm going to do or this is something I'm not going to do, and maybe you don't have a decision tree, but maybe give me an example of something you said... "You know, that idea, that's just not something we're going to do."

Remember with FM they had that notion of the compounded noise reduction in the L minus R and a few stations did that and a lot of stations...

Chris Tobin: FNX.

Kirk Harnack: ...Said, "Nah. Not much benefit there." How do you think about new tech that comes along? What do you decide about it?

Chris Tobin: Okay. I [crosstalk 00:24:19].

Rob Chickering: Do you want to take this one?

Chris Tobin: Yeah. I'll jump in. First I wanted to congratulate Rob on talking about having engineers or persons sitting in with the editorial folks.

Kirk Harnack: Yay.

Chris Tobin: I used to do that all the time and actually I got chastised by many 'a peers because they thought there was something wrong with that. But I used to sit in with all of the programming meetings with the PDs and they were fascinated because I was able to actually talk that their language.

So I think that helped. That's the other part. You've got to understand how to talk their language. One of the morning shows I worked on, which was Nick Canon, we sat in the meeting, his first day at the radio station, the new morning show, the whole bit. The usual stuff that goes on with new programming change.

I'm sitting in the room and they're going around the room introducing people. I introduce myself. He looks at me and he's, like, "Why isn't there an engineer in here? I've got marketing, I've got programming, I've got promotions and the other guys' discreet people. What are you doing here?"

I was, like, "Well, I thought it would be nice to find out what it is you'd like to do to make the studio more comfortable so you can have a better flow with your hosts."

He looks at me. He's, like, "Okay. Wow. Well, I don't know what to say."

So there's a lot to be said about understanding, or as the saying goes, walk a mile in someone else's shoes. I can tell you it pays off. I've worked with him. I've worked with others in both television and radio, and when I've sat in on these meetings and listened to what they say... You're right. Is the studio laid out comfortably? You point out the two large screens, which I think is excellent, which I've done in a couple of places, and again, many peers are, like, "What are you doing that for? That's ridiculous. That's stupid. Why is it up there?" I'm, like, "You're not using it. They are."

So that dovetails in, how do I approach new technologies and what do I do? Well, let's see. Back in 1996 there was a technology called, oh that's right, Real Audio. I actually was using Real Audio encoding and streaming to do live news reports from the field for a network I was working for and the people I worked with looked at me, like, "What are we doing? What is this stuff?"

I was, like, "Well, it's a new thing that's coming out. But I'm not sure if it's going to go yet." We still have the switch 56 ISDN and the satellite [inaudible 00:26:25] that we're using.

I would say approach with an open mind. If it passes you by, so be it. AES is a perfect example. I would say probably 50% of the audience that is involved in engineering over the years, AES probably passed them by. That's fine.

As long as you understand it, know where it came from and where it's going and you can move on you'll be in great shape. Rob, it sounds like your operation, where you are, the environment you're in, is very open minded. It allows for free thinking, I'll call it. Out of the box thinking, to be more in with the times.

But is that what goes on where you are? Are you able to take a look at something new, we'll say audio over IP, and go, "You know what? This could probably work if we do this, this and this," and you're willing to take the arrows in the back to get through it?

Rob Chickering: Yeah. I think so. I would agree with that, especially when Kidd was here. I loved working with Kidd because he loved technology. I could bring him something new and it would be, like, he'd buy it before I even finished telling him. He'd say, "Go buy it."

Chris Tobin: That's great. That is nice to work with.

Rob Chickering: I had to be careful not to bring him something I wasn't sure about. I think it came back to me to go, "All right, do I really need to do this or do I want to do it?"

If I felt like it would improve the operation I would do it in a second, but I also had to take a second look. It's like the, do you replace somebody's computer without testing it? Do you want to get that call the next morning? And I'm very conservative with my technology.

Kirk, you probably know that I went through two years of bids on Axia. There were many processes before we finally purchased this guy and it finally got to the point where I was looking at that BMX digital like it was going to take me off the air because I could get parts for it. It kind of burped on me one time. One morning I got a call and it was dark. Those kinds of things.

I finally looked at Kidd and I said, "We've got to do this."

For other reasons of flexibility for us... It wasn't that I had to replace the console. But I wanted guys to be able to pick an audio feed off the audio network and record it, or create sub mixes. We do so much crazy stuff here with dish nation that there's no way I could have done it. I was trying to do it with a BMX digital and having to do all kinds of crazy stuff in the rack room where now I do it all on software.

But that being said, I was very cautious. Kirk will know that I had many conversations with Marty and many conversations with a few of his competitors about, okay, what's the backbone of this system? Is it tough? Is it resilient? I can't be off the air. I cannot have a system that's not going to work. If it screwed up on me I'm going to have Kidd Kraddick staring at me going, "What did I spend all this money on?"

So it's up to us as technicians and engineers to do the legwork and do the research and really shoot holes in it. I know we all fall in love with stuff and we really want to buy it, but you have to also look at it from this perspective of, is this thing going to screw me? I've got to make sure that the technology I'm putting in, although cool and fancy and neat and awesome has got to work... And it came down to little things like this microphone.

When Kidd started there was a Sure 5B hanging here. He loved that mic, but I came in and I said, "Dude, I've got the mic for you. You're going to love it."

Popped it in. He loved it. But if that mic wasn't going to work for him in the proximity work that he wanted to do, then all of a sudden I had to go and swap it back out and I look like an idiot.

So it's up to us to make sure that we're doing the right thing, and the technology that we're putting in for folks is the right technology, I guess is the way to put it.

Chris Tobin: Just spot on with that. I could tell you from my experience working at an old news radio station, we had a lot of technologies we were trying out for spot news coverage and other things.

One thing I did learn was working with reporters, if you could find the ones who were the, how would you say, the tech savvy type that were willing to try something new because they just knew that it would make sense for them and why not? They're willing to take the arrow, if you will.

That worked. But I also will tell you, and I go back to this again... I've said this to a lot of folks. I just told a few people at a university the other day I was at. If you don't walk a mile in someone's shoes that you're working with on the other side, the technical side, so in your case, Kidd Kraddick. It sounds like he was a great guy to work with.

Then you will never really be able to get across that divide as to, is this technology right or wrong or am I willing to take a chance?

So as you pointed out, two years process, Axia or the competitors, can it do this, what's the backbone, how do I know I have 59's reliability...? Will I be on the air in almost all conditions? The reason you can do that and you got to where you are is because you know what the other side wants. You understand where they're coming from.

So you can look at it and go, "You know, that's a great box you got there. It's got nice, shiny buttons. There are a lot of flashing lights. It will look great on camera. But knowing the way my guy works, when he hits that button on the left to the blue one, that's definitely going to go off the chassis."

They will look at you matter-of-factly. "No, no, it's perfect."

But you have to go up there and go, "Well, let me see." And you hit it and that's when you find out."

Rob Chickering: Yeah.

Chris Tobin: And I've done that a couple of times. Kirk knows that I don't hold back when it comes to certain things. I did have an Axia system in my facility and I will tell you that we definitely put it through its paces in the early days.

Rob Chickering: Yeah.

Chris Tobin: But it worked, and I can honestly say for three years we had zero outages and I did update the memory cards during that time while we were on the air. We did not go offline when I did it. That was also something a few of the folks in support were very panicked over, but we made it happen.

[crosstalk 00:32:01]

What's that?

Kirk Harnack: I was going to say, we've got to take a break here in just a second. But I hear a common theme here that we're talking about. I do want to explore it just a bit more and then get to the studio tour.

That is this notion of, I'm looking at buying something, a technology, a brand, some gear, and what should I know that nobody is telling me about it? So that's why you want to talk to some users. But let's think about that and explore that.

Right now I want to remind our viewers and listeners you're watching and listening to This Week In Radio Tech. It's our 223rd episode. Chris Tobin is here with us and so is Rob Chickering. He is the VP of operations and engineering for Yea network and the Kidd Kraddick morning show or Kidd Kraddick in the morning show.

We're going to get some more of tour of his studio shortly.

Our show is brought to you in part by the folks are Lawo. Now Lawo is a name that a lot of US engineers are not familiar with. It's a name that you want to learn something about. Lawo makes lots of audio consoles and routing systems. They've been known for making great big consoles, but they do have a line of smaller consoles. The one that they would like you to know about is their crystalClear. It's the virtual radio mixing console.

Now the crystalClear console is a DSP engine that's a one rack unit box. It goes in a rack. It doesn't even have to be nearby the rest of it, and the rest of it is a touchscreen computer using multi touch technology. On this touchscreen, there's your virtual radio console. There's a visual representation.

Twenty years ago I knew this was going to happen at some point, and here it is from Lawo. The functionality... You can do all the things that you would with an ordinary console. It's just a touchscreen now, and like all Crystal consoles the crystalClear offers integrated auto mix and auto gain.

You see, a few buttons on the console do a lot of things. The auto mix function adjusts the levels of active and inactive microphones, giving a constant ambient that allows an interview to be conducted without technical operation.

The console then manages the mic mix for you while talent conducts the interview. The audio mix also works perfectly with automated voice overs like to air. So while auto gain provides yet more simplification, this feature calibrates all mic signals at the press of a button. The operator doesn't have to understand db values and overloads because auto gain takes care of that automatically.

Some of the other features that you'll want to know about, as I said, a multi touch mixing control so just like a real console you can put several fingers on the touchscreen and move faders up and down. Touch a button and move a fader at the same time if you need to. Very intuitive operation.

It has three stereo mixing groups, program one, program two and a record bus. Integrated Q or pre-fader level that does come with metering. Programmable scene presets that recall every detail that there is there. Precision stereo PPM meters, so this is a great way to watch your metering. Plus Euro and US operating modes for fader start or button start, so whichever part of the world you grew up in and started using radio, the Lawo console, the crystalClear, probably operates exactly the way that you want it to.

Talk buttons appear automatically on mix minus channels so you can talk back to somebody who is on a mix minus, somebody on a codec or a phone call, and there's support for guests with talk back to them too. Plus there are 20 sources available. Any eight can simultaneously be on the console at the same time because there are eight faders on the graphical user interface.

All the audio stays in the engine. It's the PC. That is the touchscreen... Is for control only. Also there is optional Ravenna AOIP interface and it's AES 67 compliant. So if you're worried about connecting to other studios and other AOIP systems, well, they've got you covered there. Lawo has been at the forefront of Ravenna and AES 67 development.

So if you want to check out this console let me encourage you to do so. Go to It's L-A-W-O. Under products look for their radio consoles and then find the crystalClear console. You will also find a short video with Mike Dosh, who is now the director of virtual radio products there, and he's explaining the Lawo crystalClear console. Check them out on the web.

Thanks again for their support of This Week In Radio Tech.

All right. We're talking with Rob Chickering, the VP of operations and engineering for Yea networks.

Chris Tobin: Yay.

Kirk Harnack: Chris Tobin is along with us too. We are just talking about something before we get into the study tour that Rob is going to take us through, and that was, boy, when you're buying a piece of gear, man, maybe it's a big thing like a transmitter or maybe you're buying a tower or a big antenna. Spending money.

My fear is that there's something about this product that I should know, maybe some bad stuff that the sales rep isn't telling me and I'm not finding in the brochure, of course. They're only going to talk about good stuff. What are people's real world experiences with this product or this technology, and hey, audio over IP or even IP connections for codecs is a big part of that for folks who haven't used it or have had a bad Skype session once in their life. Then they think IP doesn't work.

How do you approach that trepidation or that doubt about a new technology or product? Let's start with Rob first. Go ahead, Rob.

Rob Chickering: I ask lot of questions, and I think I spoke to probably four or five folks in your list of users and asked them questions that were pertinent to me.

Because everybody's use of technology is the same and in many ways is very different. It depends on what's their 24/7 up cycle. If it goes down, do they have four backups? So their decision process might be a little different.

I've got one studio. So when I looked at the architecture of the system I designed mine for my setup. But I think you've got to look at the technology, make sure it applies, and in many ways I think the engineer now is handed a list from corporate that says, "Here are the five things you're going to buy this year."

I think probably what has changed in the older days is we used to submit... I don't know if it still happens because I'm not in corporate radio anymore, thank God. But you submitted those capital requests and it was up to you to make sure that you were buying the stuff that you needed.

Again, if that console went down corporate is going to call you and go, "Hey, you bought this. What were you thinking?"

So I don't know. Did I answer the question or did I jump around? I'm not sure.

Kirk Harnack: Yes. Both. Let's see what Chris Tobin has to say, because Chris is the kind of guy like you, Rob. Chris will just jump into a new technology if he sees promise into it. He'll figure out how to make it work. You get that sense of, is this fundamentally flawed or is this fundamentally good and maybe manufacturers' implementations aren't quite right?

Chris, why don't you address this thing about trepidation or fear of new technology or product.

Chris Tobin: Well, I would say... I can assure you that in the early days of my time in learning technology and it still continues, the learning part, I burned myself many a time literally and figuratively. RF burns, that is. I learned a lot from that.

I have to say, back in my youth, not that I'm not young now, I worked part time in a cobbler store. A shoe store. I'll never forget the guy I worked with, he was 60 years old. He was fixing shoes, making shoes for life. He said to me, "Understand how the shoe is made."

I said, "Well, yeah. It's made out of leather."

"No, no, no. Leather is easy. That's just the cow. Understand how the parts come together and how they can be resilient on their interaction. Learn that on anything you do and you'll be in great shape."

Fast forward to, say, I'll use my Axia install as an example because I did get a lot of pushback on that technology. Everyone looked at me and said, "Why would you think to do it that way when it's using Ethernet switches or it does this, or it does that?"

I looked at them. I said, "Well, let's see. If it's using an Ethernet switch and preferring Cisco or the high high end HP, those are tier one products. So there must be something to it. What are we missing? Why are we thinking this is wrong?"

They give me examples. You say if you use Skype and it fails and it's, like, oh, Skype failed. IP doesn't work. I talked to some of the IT people that were telling me why they thought this would be a problem and they explained to me their woes and they explained to me what their problems were in their world.

I'm, like, "Wait a minute. You've got a lot of tools at your fingertips you haven't used. It's not my fault you chose not to go down that path."

So understand what it is. Jump in maybe both feet if you've really done your homework, or one foot. Just know it. In the case of IP it's a known entity. You control what it does. It doesn't control you.

Like I've told many folks I've worked with for outside broadcasts or remotes, you control the environment you have a better chance of a remote going off successfully. You let the remote environment control you and I can guarantee you $100 on the table it'll fail.

Rob Chickering: Amen.

Chris Tobin: Or it'll have a very poor outcome, and anyone who has done these types of things know exactly what I'm talking about. Once you take that thinking and apply to your new technology approach, trust me, it works.

Will you get burn? There's always the chance. But remember, learn from your failures and you'll succeed at a greater pace. Don't learn from your failures and you'll never know what it means to succeed. You'll just sort of go with the flow. That's the difference.

I'm telling you, it works. I told your artier, Real Audio I was using in 1996 to do network audio newscasts. People looked at me like I was nuts. I was, like, "Well, how else are we going to get this audio out of a remote location where I was covering a plane crash in Nova Scotia on the middle of an island."

They're, like, "Well, we've got the [inaudible 00:42:00] but we have a datalink. What can we do?"

My TV counterpart said, "How did you guys get audio out of that location? We can't get a KU truck in there to get video."

Guess what? Good Morning America was using my idea to do audio for the B roll, but they had a skill shot of a reporter on location with us in the radio network. Okay?

Now if you took today's thinking and said, "What are you, nuts?" That was the equivalent of Skype but without the video component. That's what you do. You look at it and you say, "I know this. I know this. I can do this. I can control it. I'm going to make it happen."

It worked. Did we have a few failures on that project? Oh yes we did. But the end result was they needed to get something out of a remote location and they found something that worked.

Today you can do the same thing. Now it's even easier in some respects.

But I think Rob has definitely done it his way. I know you've had stuff come through there. You're, like, "Oh boy. We shouldn't have done that, but it worked."

Rob Chickering: Yeah. I think you said something that helped me answer that question better, and so I'll jump back on it. I think when I was designing this system or laying it out and looking at some of the competitors, I think what it came down to was I wanted one finger to point if something went wrong.

I think when you're adding different manufacturer's equipment between power stations... I've got a Cisco switch here, or five Cisco switches, I got a little gun-shy of some of the architecture that I was going to have to do with other systems or I was going to have multiple, multiple switches everywhere. I was, like, "Okay, if that switch goes out I'm screwed. I've lost multiple mix engines. I don't know which mix isn't working. I'm going to be chasing tails," and it's not like you can grab a [inaudible 00:43:34] set and start figuring out where audio is going.

You've got to figure out what lights aren't blinking. So when I looked at this system, and with any system you look where it's going to fail. It's going to break. Something will break. I mean, you just can't control everything.

Now thank goodness, knock wood, nothing is broken in here. But if something did break I would know how to work around it or I would have a work around. So I think in your design and in your research of a product, figure out what possibly could break. If it's going to break, who are you going to call? And if it's going to be, "Oh, well, that's not really ours but we put it in our box," be careful with that.

You want to be able to go to a company, and Axia is a perfect example, make a call to tech support and it's their gear. You're going to get an answer from a tech who knows the manufacturer because it's their stuff. It's not like, "Oh, that's somebody else's motherboard that we put in there, or oh, we just heard that they're locking up now."

Those are the things I think you have to look at nowadays. Things are combined together. You've got different products. Everything is told to talk together, but sometimes they don't or you didn't do a switch config right in a Cisco switch. Uh-oh. It may not cause a problem now, but all of a sudden you've got jittery audio and its static- y and you're, like, "What the heck is going on?"

Well, is it the Cisco switch? Is it the broadcast manufacture's piece of equipment? Which is it?

So I think you have to minimize those kinds of conversations so you can quickly fix things and have workarounds.

Chris Tobin: Well, on that note you just reminded me. When I do look at the technologies and stuff I do talk to customers and ask the manufacturer or representative to give me a list of customers that are willing to talk, and I will tell you with the Axia project, and this was something I know I definitely had an argument with on a couple of people at support, but I prevailed anyway...

One of their customers had a very nice system installed very well laid out. Just everything as it should be, which you would expect in a traditional IT deployment that was required for the switches. However, that customer had a catastrophic failure take place and I observed it. I was, like, "Wow, that's interesting. So let me get this straight the way this whole thing went down."

They recovered and were able to get things back, but it was an interesting failure point. So I looked at my set-up and said, "Gee, I can't afford that. I'm a 24 hour news station and that would definitely get somebody's attention." So I took the approach of... Each studio, we have four studios that go to air every 20 minutes. We rotate through the studios for the newscast.

So instead of doing a single core approach where you can do a Cisco switch and the high speed bus on the back, you make it appear as one virtual IP address. I decided that each studio would have its own switch, and then the fifth switches in the rack was programmed all the protocols necessarily so if we had to one switch dies only one studio out of four goes down. The other three continue to function and we can move all those Kat five cables down to the fifth switch and be back online if we've moved over.

I will tell you that I talked to several CC and Es about this approach and they could not understand why you want to do that when you should be able to do the master and slave approach with the Cisco switches and the high speed bus in the back.

I have them the example of the other customer and they said, "Yeah, that's an error that could happen."

I said, "Well, I can't afford that [inaudible 00:46:56] stereo." You don't understand. When it hits the fan my radio station is where people tune. I can't have that.

Kirk Harnack: IT's silence, not data.

Chris Tobin: Exactly. So it's important to definitely question or ask the questions of the current users and try and listen carefully or observe where things have gone wrong and be gentle about how you ask, "Okay, the system is working great. When did you have a bad time? I'm curious. Or what did you learn from the incidents that took place? The learning curve? Growing pains?" Whatever you want to call it.

That's the secret sauce that you'll find out. That's when you'll be able to sit there and say, "Do I take this technology product because it has the common platform or do I go with the other guys that do this motherboard in a box and I think its going okay?"

Rob's right. You really need to understand the big picture and then bring it down to the granular part where you say, "This will work. I'll get my 59s reliability and I'll be in great shape."

Yeah. I definitely broke the mold on that one. But it paid off. I can assure you we had a couple of incidences where, as a matter of fact, when I was switching memory cards that's the reason I could get away with it because the switches weren't talking to each other.

Kirk Harnack: Let's jump right in to show and tell time.

Rob Chickering: Yes.

Kirk Harnack: Rob Chickering, you went to some trouble to get us a camera shot into this good looking Kidd Kraddick studio there. Why don't you show us around? I want you to save the little thing we talked about for last, if you would.

Rob Chickering: Okay.

Kirk Harnack: Give us a tour.

Rob Chickering: So I'll talk loud so I stay on mic [inaudible 00:48:26]. It says operator's position.

You've got multiple op ex screens for playback of drops, bits. Here's your obligatory Axia screen and there's another op ex screen there. It was kind of old school. Likes the old 360 system. He could run with that.

Chris Tobin: Sure.

Rob Chickering: This is the cool part of the studio. He liked to play piano on the fly, so.

Kirk Harnack: Oh my goodness. Look at that.

Rob Chickering: [inaudible 00:48:57]

Kirk Harnack: It's a keyboard of a different kind.

Rob Chickering: Yes. That's right. [inaudible 00:49:01] regular keyboard.

Kirk Harnack: By the way, how do you solve the keyboard problem? Do you have multiple keyboards in there for different computers?

Rob Chickering: There's one keyboard for the op ex. That's right here. That just slides under. That gets used very infrequently because of it just mousing and searching through on the windows.

I've become a big fan of the wireless keyboard and the controller.

Kirk Harnack: Yeah.

Rob Chickering: They do get a little messed up, but we do have a lot of markings, like, "Hey, this is the left screen mouse." You know? Things like that.

Or, "Hey, this black house that looks like every other mouse is the op ex mouse." So marking everything was very fortunate.

Then, like I showed you before, that looks into the control room and that's got the larger element surface. This is a smaller one. This was kind of when we talk about technology and taking risks... When I told Kidd he was going to go from 26 faders to 10 there was a little bit of a revolt on my hands so I had to kind of walk him through the whole process.

He used to have control of the on air three POT next gen playbacks, so that was playing back the log. He also had all of his button bar playbacks. He had IRs. Phone POTS. He had all the mics for the hosts.

So basically I took all of that out of his control and left him with things to playback audio. So I really wanted him to operate more as an island with a board op operating out of the control room with all the major stuff and doing the master mix, because his mix wasn't always the greatest. His mic would be 20 db hotter than everybody else's.

Kirk Harnack: Of course.

Rob Chickering: Yeah, of course. It's all more me. More me.

Kirk Harnack: Yeah. Exactly.

Rob Chickering: So the console, the ability for the console to be agile was a key for us. We operate in here in two modes. We have an on air mode and then we have a record mode, and the record mode is mainly used when we shoot television.

Now, back when we put this in we were doing television during the breaks of radio. So we would finish radio break, go into a nine minute silent point where the affiliates took over. During those nine minutes they would be shooting television. So we designed the console... The problem with that was that the audio feeds through the TV guys had to be different depending on what mode we were in.

So we did a lot of back end trickery where we have a mode on the console. We have a mode switch built into a soft panel. So on air mode and record mode, and in record mode the mics for the hosts are rerouted to these faders.

He loses this right hand automation and then when he goes back to on air mode he gets to his right screen automation bag and he doesn't have the mics anymore. In the backend in Pathfinder we're then switching on the fly, depending on the profile that has been pulled up on this console, what is going to the TV cameras. So the TV cameras would get a mix out of the other room or they would get a mix out of this room.

Now it became a little problematic when we started doing hybrid feeds, because Kidd had two phone hybrid POTS in here and we have the other two phone hybrid POTS in there. Okay. So now we've got a problem because what happens when the mics are in here? Then the mix minus is okay, but when the mics are in the other room and Kidd is only in here then the mix minuses have to be different.

So again, in that case, based on a profile change we swap a v mix going to the hybrids and we created a sub v mix, basically, of the mics. So there's a lot of work going on in Pathfinder just with this little button change here, what's going to the cameras, what isolated feed goes to our logger in the back... So we record an isolated mic feed that we have, a mic mix, so we have no program elements or anything like that. So if we need something clean we can pull it off for a later bit or you can re-edit a segment without a music bet under or anything. So there's a lot of back end switching that we do.

The other thing that I was able to do with the system is I didn't buy an intercom. We had an old SAS intercom system. So using Axia we just basically... It's a little bright there, but basically all these buttons are intercom positions, and using the X nodes we're able to break one channel of the headphones. So we created basically a v mix for every headphone position. In those v mixes are every host's mic and every talkback origination point.

Kirk Harnack: Yeah.

Rob Chickering: And on the press of a button it routes that feed, it kills what's going to the normal headphone feed to the right channel and it routes that mic to their headphones in a button press. On a button release they get their audio back. So we basically built the intercom in the backend of the system.

Kirk Harnack: This is like deja vu. With the help of one of the Axia tech support guys I did exactly the same thing for Blair Garner in America's Morning Show in Asheville because they wanted to be able to have that kind of connectivity back and forth without an intercom system, per se.

Rob Chickering: Yeah.

Kirk Harnack: So yeah, that's very cool. Nice work. Real good.

Rob Chickering: Then inside the control room we use the normal talkback buttons based on the assignment of the POTS to talk back to the host position. So each host position, they've got a five button panel that goes to external locations like the producer, the production studio screener's booth. That kind of thing. They can hit a button and then they can talk to each other as well.

So they can communicate within the show pretty nicely. I just couldn't have both channels of the headphones breaking. That would have been a deal ender for Kidd. He had five or six people talking in his ear at one time. He would literally be saying some on the air, talk back, let up the button and keep talking. He would be barking out instructions. So the talkback system had to be super clean and one channel break.

So the x node made that possible. For our previous nodes it would have been a problem. So thank God we bought the x nodes.

Kirk Harnack: Wow.

Rob Chickering: I think that's kind of the basics here. The nice thing is now when we're doing television they go into record mode after the show. We pre tape or re-rack the last hour of the show for previous segments.

So that's running out of the control room and in this room they start doing TV productions. So the rooms can separate and operate as two separate rooms. Actually, we lease that other studio out to a country show. We used to lease that out to a country show. So they were actually doing a country show out of there in the evenings. So we can actually use this for another studio if we needed to.

The systems are basically... There you go.

Kirk Harnack: Oh yeah. There are some power stations there.

Rob Chickering: Yeah. So there are dual power stations in both rooms. So basically the rooms are standalone rooms. The power stations are linked back to a 29 60 Cisco on the one gig side.

We talk about failure. Basically, I know it sounds kind of weird, there's a female RJ 45 barrel connector sitting back basically on top of the 29 60. So I could literally walk in there, unplug the 29 60, butt to butt the two connectors back together and I'm back on the air.

Kirk Harnack: Yeah.

Rob Chickering: And all I'll use is the Axia connectivity of machines that are sitting across that 29 60.

Kirk Harnack: Okay. I was going to say...

Rob Chickering: Everything else is home run back to the power stations, yeah. All the x nodes and everything are sitting on the power stations.

Kirk Harnack: I'm glad you said that, because if I was the bean counter I would say, "Now wait a minute. Why did I write the checks to the 29 60 when you could replace it with a piece of plastic?"

Rob Chickering: Yeah. Exactly. But all the PCs that are recorded off the audio network... But anything critical is basically home runned from TOC back to the power stations and connected to the power stations. So VOX pros, op ex machines. They're all talking right on the power station network side.

Then ancillary stuff. They're hung across the 29 60. So if the 29 60 went out I could butt to butt those two connectors together and I'm back on the air. Also, I have analogue backups as well and that kind of stuff. So if for some reason I couldn't get the two to talk to each other I literally have two program feeds coming out of both consoles that I could get back on the air if I needed to.

Kirk Harnack: Now, most broadcasters who get an AOIP system, whether it's an Axia or whether it's one of the competitors, probably half or more of them don't need a PC based routing system. For Axia you mentioned the word Pathfinder a couple of times there.

Rob Chickering: Yeah.

Kirk Harnack: More than just twice. So that's the PC based big honking' switch routing system that takes place. When did it become clear that you were going to need that level of routing designs?

Rob Chickering: Real quickly. Yeah, when I realized that I wanted to have some agility for Kidd to do headphone switching, when I asked the first question I'm, like, "Okay, I want to do the intercom inside the system."

He says, "Okay. Pathfinder can do that."

So immediately I started figuring out that Pathfinder was my path to success. Mark that one down, Kirk.

Yeah. So we were able to do a lot of work, and then once we realized we had Pathfinder we're, like, "Well, wait a minute. Can we do that with Pathfinder?"

I can't tell you how many times we said, "Okay, so when we're doing the country show I want the country show to air over the speakers in the building. But when we're doing the Kidd Kraddick show I want the webcast to feed over the speakers in the building."

I looked at the [inaudible 00:58:00]. "Okay, tell you what. We'll set up a profile change. So whenever Pathfinder sees the profile change for the country show it'll put the [inaudible 00:58:07] over the speakers in the hallways."

So it's just all those little things that you want to have happen in the background automatically, Pathfinder takes care of it for you.

Kirk Harnack: Guys, we've got a hard out time here in about three to four minutes, and this is just fascinating. Rob, I hope you'll come back on the show sometime. This has just been great.

Rob Chickering: Yeah.

Kirk Harnack: Maybe it shows where things have gone.

We've got one more sponsor on the show, and hey, this is the first episode we've ever had three sponsors on the show. Our third sponsor is Axia. Hey, Rob showed you around an Axia console there quite a bit, so I just want to reemphasize something about Axia that is just amazing.

That is this incredible flexibility in routing. Of course, there are lots of systems that can do routing. But with Axia people who understand radio have designed the controls that tell the routing what to do. Those controls are stuff that you're either familiar with anyway or just make common sense, duh.

So when Rob was showing you, hey, when we change where the phones are going to we have to also change where the mix minuses are coming from. Normally you don't have to do that kind of stuff in a typical broadcast situation, but Rob there has a very untypical broadcast situation where they're doing multiple studios and working with the same callers.

When they're changing from the country show back to the Kidd Kraddick show they want to change the speakers in the hallway. Well, Pathfinder is indeed the path, the key to get that done. It's just an amazingly powerful piece of software. It's really quick.

It runs on a Windows server. I didn't mean for this add to be about Pathfinder, although it certainly can be. It makes you able to do so many things that... You used to have to build little blue boxes and [inaudible 00:59:58] boxes and build up relay panels and all this specialized stuff. Once you understand the if, then, else stuff in Pathfinder, the conditions and what they're going to do about it, you can start to build this stuff up in a matter of minutes.

The tech support guys at Axia are glad to help you out in programming Pathfinder. As Rob mentioned and I said, hey, I did the same thing. They wanted some intercom capability, but they didn't really want to buy the Axia intercom. What they needed didn't really need that. They didn't need that kind of flexibility, but they needed to push a button and talk to everybody or push a button or let go of a button and hear everybody. So that's the kind of things that Pathfinder can do... Can move a v mix.

Rob talked several times about v mix, and this is something that we've built into every console that Axia makes. These virtual mixers. The small consoles have one virtual mixer. The larger consoles now have 16 virtual mixers. I use them all the time when I install Axia stuff even if it's just to mix program and preview into the same speakers so that you can use the same speakers for both of these functions that... Here in the US we typically did separate sets of speakers and with, still, individual volume controls for them. They work just like they always have.

So the flexibility of Axia and all the stuff that's built in, a lot of this stuff you don't know you're going to need until you think, "Hey, I want to do this. Can I do it?" Call support. They said, "Of course you can do that. There's 25 stations already doing that," and they'll walk you through how to do that kind of thing.

Then what's cool is how your brain, you the engineer, your gets wrapped around Axia pretty well and Pathfinder and you know what it can do and then you start thinking of stuff yourself. So often times the sales reps or the support guys from Telos, Omnia, Axia, will be out in the field and will find something amazing that an Axia user has done that we never thought of and yet they're doing it.

Some of that stuff is probably right there in the Kidd Kraddick studio where Rob Chickering is right now.

Rob, right now we got just about one minute left. Show us real quick the cool audio routing that you did to change your voice.

Rob Chickering: This is right up the alley of Pathfinder. So you've got a standard soft panel button there. So you've got TC, which is a TC electronics processor, a harmonizer H3000 and a phone. Kidd liked to bounce between these different sounds on his mic, but I didn't want him to have to move around different faders, turn things on and off, pull up a different source.

So at a push of a button… [voice scrambles] This is CNN. And I can undo that.

[voice unscrambles] Now my voice is back.

You can go back and forth with the process, back and forth, and then this one is set for a high pitch… [voice pitches high] This was a voice that he always did. It was the wife of one of the co-hosts. Her name was Kinsey. So it was, like oh my gosh. Turn it back off and you can go back and forth.

And then [inaudible 01:02:49] and we're on the phone now.

Kirk Harnack: Oh, so the phone becomes the mic?

Rob Chickering: Yeah, exactly, and then back. So all of that is done. It's just v mixes set up and then Pathfinder turning on and off sources depending on what the soft buttons are doing.

Kirk Harnack: That's the way it works with this creative talent. They tell you what they want to be able to do and the funny thing is the more you do for them, then they think of other stuff for you to do.

Rob Chickering: Oh yeah. Yeah. Well, I'll tell you, I've got a lot of audio switchers sitting back in a pile back in the storage room because they all went away. My racks are almost empty.

Kirk Harnack: I know.

Rob Chickering: When Marty was here I have four runs of 24 multi pair that are empty.

Chris Tobin: Oh my gosh. Wow.

Rob Chickering: So no more multi pair. It's all Kat six and I love life.

Kirk Harnack: We are out of time. I want to thank Chris Tobin in New Jersey for being with us. Chris Tobin, the best dressed engineer in radio. Where can people reach you, Chris, for your IP solutionist magic?

Chris Tobin: Ah, just at Real simple. Real easy to remember.

Kirk Harnack: All right.

Chris Tobin: Yes.

Kirk Harnack: You are there to help people out in this brave new world of IP audio.

Yeah. All right. Thanks for being with us, Chris Tobin. Appreciate you.

Rob Chickering from Dallas, Texas. VP of operations and engineering for Yea Networks. Thank you for being with us, Rob, and a great tour.

Rob Chickering: No problem. Glad I could be here for you guys.

Kirk Harnack: And thanks to Andrew Zarian back in New York at the GFQ network for switching and producing the show. We appreciate him very much. We've got more incredible guests coming up in the next few weeks. Let me see if I've got one handy for you. Give me just a second.

There we go. Oh, hey, next Thursday Scott Fybush is on the show. He has been on before. He has always got the biggest updates on what's happening with towers and tower sites and the skinny on engineering and happenings around the area. In two weeks from now Chris Alexander will be with us. He's the director of engineering for Crawford broadcasting. He'll be on with us.

So join us next time for This Week In Radio Tech. Our show has been brought to you by the Telos Hx6, the Lawo crystalClear console and the Axia audio routing system and consoles.

Thanks to all of our sponsors for their great support and tell your friends about This Week In Radio Tech. See our Facebook page. Like that if you would. Subscribe to our Twitter feed @twirtshow and visit the website, You can also see our shows even quicker at

All right, guys. We'll see you next week on This Week in Radio Tech. Bye bye, everybody.

Topics: Radio Engineering


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