A New Approach to Digital Migration for Radio Broadcasters
A New Approach
The Synergy Concept
Workflow in the Synergy Station
Multi-Studio Multi-Network Stations
Audio Router Control System
Specifying an Integrated Digital Broadcast System
Broadcasting organisations wishing to migrate from their existing analog to digital technology face a major challenge, not only in terms of getting to grips with the technology itself, but with the changes in workflow and working practices which are associated with its deployment.
This affects almost everyone in the organisation – from producers and presenters to systems engineers and maintenance staff, from sales staff to accountants.
Users of analog equipment will be very familiar with the portable nature of media – tapes, CDs, discs, cassettes, hard-drives etc, all of which are very tangible.
The centralised storage of content, which is at the heart of most digital systems, virtually eliminates the need for removable media, and discrete -media equipment such as CD players are typically only used occasionally and for back-up purposes.
Program running orders are available on-screen, as is access to audio content and scripts, and phone-in caller information can also be screen-based. The paperless studio is here.
This contrasts with traditional methods, where presenters, producers and assistants went into the studio laden with media, scripts, running orders and stop-watches, manually crossing off items as they were played, constantly back-timing to the program end.
A significant knock-on effect is that program producers and presenters need to rethink the way in which they work and adapt to make the most of the (many) benefits which this new technology offers; but as we all know, not everyone embraces change to the same degree.
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An obvious example of this is the ease in which programming may be automated, removing the need for staff to be in attendance, or the use of computer programs to control music selection and rotation with almost military precision.
From a technology perspective, traditional analog engineering skills and knowledge need to be replaced with IT expertise and an understanding of digital audio techniques. PCs and servers dominate central technical areas, and studios themselves look more like PC equipment show-rooms than traditional broadcast facilities.
The systems engineer is faced with the integration of several highly specialised hardware AND software based ‘mini-systems’, many of which represent tens of man-years of development and almost by definition are expert systems.
Making these systems communicate with each other, to offer a seamless integration, is typically very time-consuming and can be very frustrating, as it is so easy for individual suppliers to argue that ‘our software is working properly, it must be X,Y, Z….’ and the buck gets passed from vendor to vendor, with the poor old engineer at the mercy of anyone who may take responsibility for the overall system….
To illustrate this, a typical digital radio station could have the following components, from a wide cross section of suppliers:
Music scheduling software Traffic/billing software Playout/automation software Record/editing software News acquisition/capture software Call-screening/phone-in software Text editing/scripting software Logging software Streaming software Mixer control/set-up software Router control software
Broadcast mixers Production mixers Router Broadcast phone-in system CD Players, recorders et al Clock system Profanity Delay Alarms and indicator systems Talkback system Processing equipment Power distribution and management
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The list is not endless, but it is long. Even in the most basic of stations, there is plenty to go wrong, plenty of potential for ‘wrong driver’ issues, incompatibility between software versions, hardware compatibility problems and inter-equipment communication mis-matches.
The big issue is ‘who takes overall responsibility for the system’ – when there are so many unique and individual sub-systems.
There is far more to the migration than simply swapping pieces of analog equipment with digital equivalents – at least if the full benefits of an integrated digital system are to be realised.
And finally, the maintenance engineer is faced with a whole new challenge; there are no more tape machines to align, in fact, very little by way of mechanical maintenance – the majority of issues will be related to software and integration. Traditional maintenance tools – oscilloscope and multi-meter – have very little place in modern maintenance workshops, what is required is a thorough understanding of networks, operating systems, PC architecture, digital audio and comms systems.
The challenge is not just about swapping analog for digital equipment, but in ensuring that your organisation is aware of the implications which the change will impose, and are as prepared as they possibly can be to operate, support and maintain the new ways of working.
Simply replacing analog equipment with its digital equivalent is missing the point – digital technology offers so much more and there are enormous benefits to be had from a successful migration.
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Technical facilities are required to allow the acquisition, editing, production and scheduling of prerecorded
material, and to integrate live content, originating from both within and external to the
station, both for ‘live assist’ and automated broadcasts.