WheatNews January 2022

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WHEAT:NEWS JANUARY 2022  Volume 13, Number 1

YEAR IN REVIEW. WHAT A LONG, STRANGE TRIP IT'S BEEN

Here is a snapshot of major broadcast events in 2021 and a peek into the year to come. 

THE VIEW FROM 2020

Some of the most important changes came out of 2020 but, as we all know now, that was just the beginning. When this video was made at the start of 2021, little did we know that in a few months we would complete the largest studio contract in the history of Wheatstone. We had no idea what lay ahead: a two-fold increase in manufacturing capacity, a surge of new product developments, and more and more studio projects. This, despite a major parts shortage that sidelined other manufacturing plants. By the end of 2021, we had become stronger, smarter, and better in so many ways. But we’re getting ahead of our story. 

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PANDEMIC AS THE MOTHER OF INVENTION

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As the pandemic lingered on into 2021, we were all getting a little stir crazy and even contract engineers working from home were getting inventive with AoIP. Here’s how one ingenious engineer used open-source tools to set up his home WheatNet-IP mixer on a subnet a time zone away in order to test out a few of his scripting routines for a station client. 

READ: Another Interesting Pandemic Project

The mini-mixer turret directly behind Chris Fonte in the lead picture is in South Carolina connected to an I/O Blade in Minnesota. 

This is what can happen during a pandemic when even contract engineers are working from home and having to get inventive with AoIP. 

Using a set of well-known open source tools, Chris set up this Sideboard turret at his home office in South Carolina so that it’s on the same subnet as the I/O Blade at RadioDNA’s lab in Minnesota. He’s connecting the mini-mixer right into one of the u-mixers on the Blade in order to test out scripting routines for a project he’s doing for Oregon Public Broadcasting, which is itself requiring a little more inventiveness as a result of the pandemic. 

Oregon Public Broadcasting is remoting in more guests in recent months and hired Chris to automate codec routing, talkback feeds and other remote functions through its WheatNet-IP audio network of I/O Blades. The pubcaster will be using the Sideboard for controlling headphone mixes and initiating talkbacks to multiple producers or remote guests without looping in the board operator. 

Because Chris is bridging the network on both sides, it doesn’t matter if devices are located 1,200 miles apart or down the hall from each other. The Sideboard thinks it’s talking to a Blade on the same network…because it is.  The source selectors, faders, buttons and meters work as if the Minnesota Blades were in Chris’ house. 

Connectivity is made through a standard consumer grade Internet link, and even behind a consumer-grade router on one side, it takes less than 60 milliseconds from when he pushes a button and when the desired event happens on the Minnesota system. 

Setup is per WheatNet-IP as usual, with a master and slave topology and without having to reprogram between different subnets and back. For his purpose, Chris set up the audio and control separately in order to stream the audio. Although he could have just as easily set it up as a multicast via a multicast proxy on his router, he went with unicast because he was transferring just one feed and he wanted to keep the traffic on the connection down. The WheatNet-IP ACI control and real-time audio meters use less than 60 Kbps.

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Chris is working on similar projects for stations that serve multiple markets or those with a smaller studio that is served by a mothership studio but does the occasional show. He believes that phase II of the pandemic will be about more creative ways to extend network control. “Everybody’s thinking about being able to be at the station to do what you need to do without actually having to be there,” he commented.

His method effectively removes the WAN gymnastics by simply adding a local studio to the regional studio subnet or by tying together WheatNet-IP systems in separate locations on one subnet so that it looks like one giant WheatNet-IP network across two, three or more markets. Chris suggests splitting up a range of subnet IP addresses designated by location, in the case of a multi-site network, and using TAP ports to create a Layer 2 (no routing needed) VPN and bridging the networks. For ongoing studio-to-studio operation, an Internet connection is required along with codecs to stream audio between the two locations. “You could probably do that with a Blade 4 so the audio is always on and ready to broadcast, and you’d know it was reliable and you wouldn’t have to wait for the staff to relaunch a piece of software every time,” he said, referring to Wheatstone’s new Blade-4 I/O unit that has built in codecs. 

Chris is a network and software engineer specializing in automation and WheatNet-IP audio networking with a background in studio buildouts and operations (contact him at chris@fontasticllc.com). He was part of the RadioDNA team that built out and networked new Hubbard studios in Chicago and Washington, D.C. For Hubbard’s WTOP facility, he was responsible for custom scripting more than 50 WheatNet-IP talent stations with selectable sources and their associated devices and tallies as well as custom scripting of virtual screen interfaces and switching panels throughout. 

Currently, he is experimenting with routing streamed audio via WheatNet-IP audio drivers directly into the Sideboard headphone section over long distances, which would open up a pool of accessible sources on the far side that he can script to automatically route into and out of the headphone quickly as needed.

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Above: To network between the Sideboard in Chris’ home lab in South Carolina and the I/O Blade at the RadioDNA lab in Minnesota, Chris is using a pfSense router with OpenVPN inside running on a hypervisor virtual machine. On the far side, he’s running an OpenVPN client on a Linux PC. He’s using TAP ports rather than TUN ports, which allow him to create the VPN on Layer 2 and therefore bridge the networks at both locations. Shown is data networked in real time between the two sites. It takes about 70 milliseconds from the time Chris clicks on the mouse and the desired event happens on the far side. 

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Above: Shown is the Sideboard in South Carolina browsing and selecting (left) and pinging (right) the Blade in Minnesota. 

a·rack·no·pho·bi·a

noun: extreme fear of racks and what we did about it

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By March, broadcasters everywhere were experiencing a·rack·no·pho·bi·a and looking for ways to introduce more fluid workflows without adding racks of gear. We introduced our fourth generation I/O unit for WheatNet-IP, the Blade 4, which is the first to integrate audio codecs, audio processing, utility mixers, interoperability, and software apps in one RU. 

READ: a·rack·no·pho·bi·a

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The fewer racks, the less you’ll spend on cabling, cooling and other rack room expenses and the more room you’ll have for that news or talent station you need. 

That’s the idea behind our new Blade 4. 

This is our fourth generation I/O access unit for the WheatNet-IP audio network, and the first AoIP access unit to integrate audio codecs, software apps and interoperability protocols with audio transport and control in one I/O unit.

Philosophies differ in how much utility to put in these I/O units. Many believe in strictly limiting function to the I/O only. But we’ve long been a proponent of putting as much utility in the I/O unit as possible. 

Our thinking: You’ll need to rack up something like a Blade for every junction point in any AoIP network anyway, so why not double down on that rack space with routable audio tools along with the I/O to make the necessary crosspoint connections between devices and functions?

The Blade 4 difference is that we’re well past doubling down here.

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Like the Blades before it, Blade 4 has a built-in operating system. But this one is much faster and more capable. You can run useful AoIP applications from the front panel, or on a 4K monitor that you can plug into the back of the Blade 4. No desktop or laptop or tablet required.

08 EncodersScreen

Add optional Opus, MP3 and AAC codecs at any time. Rather than rack up another dedicated codec to run audio out remotely, you simply install the codec directly on the Blade itself. No rack, no other hardware needed. 

06 LogicScreen

Built-in NMOS for device discovery and AES67 multichannel support and packet timing adaptability to interoperate with a wide range of environments and gear, from pro equipment to other AoIP networks. No additional rack space needed here, plus interoperability to gear that you’ve already racked up and want to make good use of. 

05 UMixScreen

Blade 4 has all those legacy Blade features too, including utility mixers for online mixing of sounds or segueing remotely between feeds and routable processing tools for audio refinement anywhere in the network. 

The Blade 4 is proof that a little hardware can go a long way. 

COMPARING NEW PROCESSOR TO YOUR FIRST LOVE

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We quietly introduced our new MP-532 multipurpose audio processor and it wasn’t long before this FM/AM/HD/stream processor became the talk of the industry. We knew we had a winner when we turned the head and ear of Jordan Tuck, who sent us this email comparing the MP-532 to his first love. 

READ: WHEN YOUR FIRST LOVE WAS AN FM2000

By Jordan Tuck, Audio and Field Tech, Michael Patton and Associates 

The FM2000 was the processor I grew up listening to when I was in my teens. This was the sound that I noticed, the sound that started my interest in audio processing. I always noticed how it had more air and detail in the high end. It never audibly distorted but had this silky high end that I’ve not been able to recreate since. It was a very loud box, clean but loud, with this strange texture in the high end. 

The sound on that box is what inspired me to get into processing over ten years ago. Wheatstone stopped making the FM2000 a long time ago, but I compare every processor I evaluate to it still. 

MP532 FRONT

When I heard about the MP-532, I was cautiously optimistic that this mystery processor I’d been hearing about might do the same thing, so I brought one in to test. This is some new processing technology, for sure. It’s different in many ways, but I can hear that familiar high end that I loved about the FM2000. 

The MP-532 might even sound better; it’s certainly better behaved! 

JordanTuckInStudioThe AGC section is almost identical to that of the FM2000. I am a big fan of that tried and true five band AGC and compressor. The one onboard the 532 seems to be a revised and cleaner version of that familiar five band AGC and compressor. The clean and "unaltered" high end that this box can create and pass through was a surprise. Where other boxes tend to roll off a bit of the high end, this one doesn't sound as if it's doing any high frequency roll off. To some, this may sound a little brighter than they like. I thought so too, and fortunately, could change it easily.  

The limiter section in the MP 532 is clean, fast and accurate, and it holds its own when pushed hard. You can go anywhere from clean and dynamic to loud and proud with just a few adjustments. I found I can recreate that 80's radio sound but also create some very consistent new sounds too. Of course, it does clean processing very well. This box seems to handle any song, and music format, and also seems to handle speech very nicely with no objectionable "clipper distortion" or clipped sibilance issues that some boxes can create. This box also does very nicely with my preset on some familiar "processor stress test tracks" that I use. It can be laid back, punchy, flat, scooped, boosted, filtered, you name it. I haven't found anything it can't tackle. 

I find that pretty much every processor I like doesn't really have a "house sound," which means they don’t sound clean and clinical. Another bonus about the 532 is that its settings and adjustments both on the unit itself and on the GUI are far less complicated and confusing for me to figure out. It is simplified and logically laid out. 

The stereo generator is accurate, clean and stout. The analog outputs are also equally stout and clean. 

The single rack height also makes this a very small and compact unit to install and implement. There are no fans inside to make any noise either. Studio friendly. It doesn't draw attention to itself either. 

With the 532, I found a lot familiar inside that I loved in the older processors I've used from Wheatstone, but with many nice added updates and a cleaner high end. The bass punch is very, very fun to listen to. My door panels in my car rattle! There is still that "texture" in the high end that I loved about the FM2000, plus this unit has a better laid out GUI. It's small but packs a punch. I’ll probably end up buying a few. 

Wheatstone began shipping the MP-532 multipurpose audio processor for FM, FM HD, AM and AM HD earlier this spring. 

CUTTING THE STREAMING TIE TO PCs

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By June, broadcasters were finally cutting streaming ties to the PC. In the case of regional broadcaster Great Eastern Radio, replacing rows of PCs with one AoIP streaming appliance meant they could stream 16+ instances from one rack unit … and still add the occasional channel for a sporting event or seasonal promotion, along with relevant metadata and the processing specific to each stream.

READ: BECOMING A LEAN, MEAN STREAMING MACHINE

By Dee McVicker

Internet radio predates AoIP by a decade and it’s hard to imagine what those early years of streaming were like for broadcasters such as Great Eastern Radio. 

Today we can siphon two or four or eight program channels straight off the station’s AoIP network like it’s nobody’s business, each processed specifically for streaming and delivered to the CDN along with relevant metadata. 

But before AoIP, streaming required so many dedicated computers and “for a long time it was whatever processor was sitting around,” said Chris Verdi, the Chief Technology Officer for Great Eastern Radio LLC, a regional broadcaster in West Lebanon, New Hampshire, now streaming 19 radio stations. 

“There was a point in time when we just didn’t have any more old Compellors or Optimods, plus you couldn’t get any kind of streaming consistency or quality through them,” he added. 

Early multipurpose AoIP processors like Wheatstone’s Aura8IP used for cleaning up mics and mixes provided a stop-gap measure. Verdi bought one and added it to his Wheatstone TDM router for streaming a half-dozen music channels out to the CDN. He was still maintaining PCs for streaming and having to keep up with Windows® updates and drivers, but life was good.

Soon enough, Great Eastern Radio had amassed an online following and was adding to the bottom line as a result. The regional broadcaster was streaming regular programming, with 16 transmitters putting out everything from Red Sox games to Classic Rock in greater New England and another three on the tourist island of Nantucket off Cape Cod. All joined the Apple and Google ranks, going from a player app for each station to a single player app for all Great Eastern Radio and another for its Nantucket stations that you could download off of Apple and Google app stores. 

Streaming had arrived and Verdi, along with other broadcasters, was now becoming acutely aware of what those streams actually sounded like. Too often, streaming codecs were spitting out distortion caused by the aggressive processing techniques used in the past —and worse, it was at the expense of quality program content. 

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The AoIP of it All 

Verdi soon added a few AoIP access units to the TDM routed studios in New Hampshire and began talking to Wheatstone about an appliance to handle multiple stream instances, metadata and audio processing. The result: What used to require a row of computers for streaming and another PC for metadata along with an audio processor for each channel was now contained in Streamblade, a Linux appliance that hung off his studio’s WheatNet-IP audio network. No more Windows® drivers, updates or PCs needed.

Cutting its streaming ties to the PC meant Great Eastern Radio could not only stream multiple instances from one RU, but also easily add an occasional channel for a sporting event or seasonal promotion. “At Christmas time we added a button with all Christmas music that our sales sold exclusively to six or eight sponsorships. We will also be adding high school sports so we can stream out those games to the parents of kids in sports without taking up a lot of air time. And with Dartmouth college games, Dartmouth alumni will be able to hear the latest game from wherever they are on the offseason,” said Verdi, who can send encoded OPUS or AAC audio direct to the group’s player app using Streamblade along with his regular streams to his CDN for distribution to the players. 

Verdi4Codecs Rule 

But being able to process each of those stream instances separately and specifically according to the rules of streaming codecs proved to be one of the biggest benefits of Streamblade and soon to follow Wheatstream, which is similar to Streamblade but can be added to any existing AoIP or AES67 compatible network. 

“This is really the first time we’ve had processing made for streaming and that’s giving us far more control over how to make the bit-reduced stream sound good,” said Verdi.

WHEATSTREAM FRONT VIEW BSpecifically, aggressive limiting and other similar techniques used in on-air processing can be problematic to codecs, causing them to multiply limiting distortion and other byproducts to the point of being objectionable and often at the expense of removing frequencies that add to the quality of music.  Instead, Streamblade and Wheatstream, which have a processing chain for each individual stream instance, adapt to incoming programming on the fly to process where and when needed to eliminate the aggressive processing that can interfere with the performance of the codec.

Great Eastern Radio continues to expand streaming to augment radio. “Most fascinating to us, besides the streaming numbers and who’s listening, is where they’re listening from,” said Verdi. Tracking Dartmouth college alumni and Nantucket summer visitors in the offseason indicates that Great Eastern Radio stations are going home with their listeners. 

“We don’t see streaming as ever replacing terrestrial, but we do see it as being integral to our future. If the two work together, both can be very effective,” he commented. 

AOIP BECAME THE RISING TIDE LIFTING ALL BOATS

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As studio projects go, the boats don’t get much smaller than student-run CFAK-FM in Sherbrooke, Quebec. This little college station was just one of many in 2021 to make the cut from analog to IP audio networking with an all-inclusive AoIP networked DMX console. Doing so gave them a few new moves, including remoting in from home, and saved them a boatload on wiring and other costs associated with an analog alternative. 

READ: Upsizing Small Studios to AoIP

You know the saying that a rising tide lifts all boats? 

As studio projects go, the boats don’t get much smaller than student-run CFAK-FM in Sherbrooke, Quebec. This little college station recently moved into two new studios in the center of Université de Sherbrooke’s busy campus, having outgrown its one-room studio in the residential hall that lacked air conditioning. 

They went with our self-contained, AoIP networked DMX consoles to save on wiring and other costs associated with an analog alternative, an important consideration for a station that was Internet-only just a few short years ago and now broadcasts on 88.3 FM. 

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“The money for this project was provided by the students. They believe in the station so we wanted to create a radio station that was on par with any station you’d find in Montreal,” said CFAK-FM GM Eric Laverdure, who partnered with Marketing Marc Vallee in Quebec on the project. 

CFAK-FM’s new studios certainly rival any studio today, but hardly tip the scale in size compared to a recent Wheatstone multi-million-dollar contract that includes LXE/DMX digital audio consoles and WheatNet-IP audio networking for 247 studios in 32 U.S. markets.

Both happened to be rolling through our factory about the same time – one huge whale of a project next to this two-studio project that included two compact networkable consoles and a couple of talent stations. 

Our point is that AoIP raises all boats, big and small. In fact, the technology we perfected over the years for multi-studio projects has made it possible for us to scale AoIP for smaller stations like CFAK-FM. For example, CFAK-FM’s DMX-16 and DMX-8 console surfaces with mix engine come with IP audio I/O and are fully self-contained with no external Ethernet switch needed. These compact consoles are the very definition of plug-and-play IP audio networking. At any time, CFAK-FM also can add WheatNet-IP Intelligent Network software such as ScreenBuilder for building virtual interfaces or IP Meters for monitoring signal flow, just as any larger, multi-studio operation using WheatNet-IP audio networking would. 

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And it’s fair to say that those synergies go both ways. Remember that large project we mentioned earlier? It just so happens that many of those AoIP consoles are DMX-8 or DMX-16 console surfaces, the very same in use at CFAK-FM’s new studios. 

AUDIO AND THE EVOLUTION OF THE TV NEWS TEAM

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Hometown TV stations saw news studios shrink and staff become more remote, hastening the evolution to production automation systems and smaller audio consoles. With the director and producer now managing the work once done by seven or more people, Wheatstone introduced the Tekton 32 IP audio mixer, ideal for managing audio as a workflow but with easy navigation for occasional hands-on mixing by the producer or director. 

READ: AUDIO AND THE EVOLUTION OF THE TV NEWS TEAM

By John Davis, Support Engineer, Wheatstone

Gone are the newscasts of yesterday when we had one person running the Chyron, another person on the switcher, yet another on the mixer, and several technicians along with a director and producer overseeing cast, cameras and live breaking updates.   

Today, many of those jobs are done by the producer, the director and perhaps a teleprompter operator, who may or may not double as a presenter.   

That’s two or three people with their heads on a swivel trying to manage all the work once done by seven or more people during a typical newscast. The TV news team has evolved and so has the audio mixing system in six key areas. 

  1. Audio is a workflow. Production automation systems are now managing audio as part of a workflow that needs to be coded, normalized for levels, and slotted in as elements in the newscast. This has been true for some time in larger markets, but hometown news operations are now also adopting these systems to produce the news. Bringing audio into the overall production workflow as an element, rather than mixing as you go, requires a much tighter working relationship between the audio mixer and the automation system. For this reason, AoIP console systems today come with 64-channel layering as a standard interface to the automation and some also provide a means for fully integrating the automation and mixer into one native IP audio environment.

  2. Motorized faders are the new VU Meter. Those swiveling heads now doing many different jobs rely on motorized faders tracked to the automation to indicate that newscasts are going along smoothly. Consoles that have motorized faders let producers monitor the faders as they fly and make adjustments when needed. 

  3. Occasional mix-ups.  The two or three newscasts produced in the day of a television station are typically done with production automation whereas for the occasional news report or sporting event, hands-on mixing is generally the norm. Today’s newsroom console has evolved to include more backend functions on the AoIP network and more upfront functions on the surface. Tactile faders on the one hand and touchscreens on the other make it easier to adjust EQ, fix levels and mix in feeds for the producer or director who is busy making sure talent is hitting all their marks and the robotic cameras are pointed in the right direction. 

  4. The shrinking news studio. Virtual production sets continue the great downsizing of the news studios and with this comes a much smaller console. Consoles that used to take up half a room now take up half a desk, thanks in part to AoIP networking. AoIP carries much of the load that once sat on the console and simplifies the layout of the board overall. 

  5. No audio operator onboard. The person overseeing the audio is likely to be the same one running the video switcher, and both of those duties are likely to fall to the sole producer on set. Bottom line: the news studio console has evolved to be far easier to navigate than ever before. 

  6. IP accessibility rules. Booking satellite time for a guest interview and rushing them over to a studio for a three-minute segment is so 2019. Web conferencing is in along with IP overall, and embedders/de-embedders and HD/SDI are out. By connecting routing, mixing and studio control through Ethernet cabling, AoIP opens up accessibility and gets rid of outdated wiring and layers of audio infrastructure. For example, one common upgrade is to drop an I/O Blade at various mic or talent workstations in the studio and run a cable back to a central rack room. Another is to connect the wall of plug-in mics and other auxiliary XLR devices to the control room using one WheatNet-IP high-density I/O Stagebox One and a cable. AoIP mixing consoles come with expansive IP audio networks that can scale all the way up to several network elements and geographic locations, such as across a WAN for use in REMI or other remote broadcast applications.

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WheatNet-IP audio network I/O Stagebox One and a cable can be used to connect a wall of plug-ins to the control room. 

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AoIP console surfaces like this Tekton 32 are made for automation workflows and occasional hands-on mixing. 

HOW ‘BOUT THOSE BRAVES?

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When the Atlanta Braves won back the World Series title on November 3, we were there as you can see in these photos. Wheaty, the AoIP of champions! 

READ: IT’S A ‘BRAVES’ NEW WORLD

The lead photo shows where it was all mixed when the Atlanta Braves won back the World Series title on November 3 after 26 years. The WheatNet-IP audio networked studios at Truist ballpark, home of the Atlanta Braves and the team’s flagship station 680 The Fan, were designed by Gary Kline, who provided us with these shots the night of the game. A hard-working team of professionals at the ballpark and at the Dickey Broadcasting network studios put their all into the broadcast, which was also carried in stereo. 

Click here for a trip back in time to that night in photos, courtesy of Gary Kline. 

SPORTING STREAMS

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The year’s sports season saw stadiums filled with cardboard cutouts of fans, a major uptick in streamed sportscasts, and a new appreciation for audio processing. This is just one of many discussions on using processing made for streaming to avoid aggressive compression and to preserve the subtle audio details such as crowd ambience and ball throws so critical to the sports radio experience. 

READ: Sports Streams

There’s more going on behind the scenes in sports radio than stadiums filled with cardboard cutouts of people.

Like, streaming. 

As internet connectivity begins to reach the automobile, radio broadcasters are making sure they have a place in the new economics of streamed sportscasts. While the overall archetype of production hasn’t changed all that much, there are new processing considerations that go along with streaming sports events. 

Unlike processing for on-air, for example, processing streamed audio takes into account the encoder. Aggressive compression can create distortion that not only masks the subtle audio details such as crowd ambience and ball throws that are so critical to the sports radio experience, but too much compression also causes the encoder to allocate bits to that distortion instead of to the desired program content. This can be detrimental to any stream, but it’s especially bad for low bit-rate streams and it’s doubly bad for sportscasts played out in the high-noise enclosure of an automobile. 
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StreamBladeGUIAn audio processor designed specifically for streaming can mitigate these issues. Our StreamBlade AoIP appliance, for example, uses neural network techniques to precisely apply the right amount of processing to select passages in order to provide consistent loudness and density from one program element to the next without adding distortion. Precision processing is important for all streamed content, but it is critical for sports related content, which has a much higher than usual noise level. Depending on the acoustics of the stadium, noise can vary between 94 decibels (as loud as a lawn mower) and 108 decibels (the revving of a motorcycle engine). StreamBlade uses a two-band final limiter to effectively hold audio below 0dBFS, the point at which digital runs out of bits. Those pop flies and other peak overshoots that happen as part of the game can be managed without the “pumping” or other artifacts that can further degrade the quality of audio passing through the codec. 

THE SEVEN-HOUR STUDIO

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The year gave us plenty of unique opportunities to show off our impressive time management skills! Here’s a video of a new KLZ studio in Denver, which was completely stripped down and rebuilt in about seven hours. 

SPORTING SOUND EFFECTS

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Mid-year, sportscasters began returning to the field with more than a mic. Our VoxPro became a regular at sporting events for quickly recording and editing play-by-play sound effects and music beds for entertaining listeners at home. 

READ: SPORTING SOUND EFFECTS

Sportscasters tell us they will be returning to the field with more than a mic. 

Sound effects and music beds specific to an athlete or a particular play are being created in advance and recalled for playback in the field using the Hotkeys on our VoxPro digital audio recorder/editor

VoxPro is commonly used for recording and editing live call-ins for morning radio shows, although in recent years, it’s found its way onto the field for quickly recording and editing. 

Unique to VoxPro is its controller with scrub wheel plus software editing tools designed specifically for real-time, fast-paced live production. The form and function of VoxPro is dedicated entirely to live coverage so sportscasters can easily drag and drop sound bites into a Hotkey and add fades and effects as needed, all while editing or recording a separate track in a side window AND sending a mixdown to air! 

ALONE ON AN ISLAND AND 45 DAYS TILL CUTOVER

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Studio projects were put to the test throughout the year, and none more so than this Cayman Islands four-station project. This is the story of how one operations manager went from old studios to new in just 45 days using WheatNet-IP ingenuity and little more than phone meetings with his engineer and Wheatstone support due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. 

READ: PROJECT IN THE CAYMAN ISLANDS

Click here for a gallery of the Cayman installation

Let’s say you are alone on an island and given 45 days to install an entirely new four-station studio facility, for which you haven’t ordered new equipment or even so much as laid out the studios. 

Never mind when to sleep. What would you choose for your AoIP system?

We’re happy to report that Mark Lee chose WheatNet-IP audio network for Compass Media’s new studios in the Cayman Islands. And for the record, he wasn’t completely alone, although, as the stations’ operations manager with limited engineering experience, he might as well have been.

The stations’ engineer Bob Smith (RM Smith Associates) was in Texas, where he remained for the duration of the project due to COVID-19 travel restrictions into the Cayman Islands. 

That left Mark alone in a large rectangular industrial space with just weeks to plan, install and transition four very popular stations into a new studio buildout.

“It came down to me, Jay (Tyler) in North Carolina, and Bob our engineer in Texas to work out the technical aspects of how we were going to do this. It was quite daunting because although I am a radio nerd and use studio gear all the time, I’ve never installed a studio alone before,” he commented. 

He had worked in broadcasting for more than two decades and for stations in the U.K. and Middle East, but always on the programming side and never in an advanced chief engineering capacity. This project was a first for him. 

45 DAYS AND COUNTING 

It was late November 2020 when they started the project, at the height of the pandemic and just 45 days before new renters were moving into the stations’ existing studios that had been their home for more than half a decade. The clock was ticking on a mid-January move-in date when the four would go live from the sprawling Compass Centre, home of popular island newspaper the Cayman Compass. The four stations had been purchased by Compass Media and were being moved to the Compass Centre where it made sense to consolidate all media properties. 

Gold 94.9, Island FM 98.9, Rooster 101.9 and especially Z99.9 have a fiercely loyal listener base; islanders had grown up with Z99.9, a heritage CHR that was the first commercial station on the air in the Cayman Islands 28 years ago. Interrupting programming for a move was entirely out of the question. 

The plan was to pre-wire four new on-air studios and an air talent suite and then to drop in the existing furniture, which had years of life still left, along with a preconfigured WheatNet-IP audio networked studio complete with AoIP consoles, talent stations, I/O units and Cisco switches. Jay Tyler and the Wheatstone support team worked online and over the phone with Mark in the Cayman Islands and Bob Smith in Texas to map out elements and routing paths for the new space. An IT company on the island prewired all the Cat6 runs from the studio walls to the rack room, while inland in New Bern, North Carolina, the Wheatstone factory began turning raw materials into a pre-configured, pre-programmed, fully functional studio system consisting of four L-16 consoles, ten talent stations, and a half-dozen I/O and mic processing Blades and Cisco switches. 

A pallet containing the entire Wheatstone system arrived on the island within 30 days, an accomplishment in the best of times and even more so during a pandemic when getting cargo in and out of ports took determination and a lot of luck. 

INSTALLATION DAY 

“I had never even seen a Blade before,” said Mark. Fortunately, the Blades knew what to do and they were labeled for cable inputs and other details of pre-configuration that would make installation smooth sailing. “I just plugged them in and the Blades woke up as if they knew where they were.”   

While Mark was plugging in Blades, Bob Smith was riding shotgun in Texas on WheatNet-IP Configurator. Mark and the head of IT Ben Taylor had set up a computer in the rack room that had dual NIC cards, one for WheatNet-IP access and another for Internet access. “That allowed Bob to access the software for WheatNet-IP remotely while I was plugging things in. That’s pretty much how we configured all four studios,” he explained. 

Meanwhile, inland in New Bern, Wheatstone’s support team was standing by, although the installation went so smoothly they weren’t needed except for a few activation keys. 

It took less than nine hours to move all four stations. 

As for sleep? “I didn’t sleep very much leading up to the move. It all was a bit of a blur,” commented Mark. 

WHEN THE CHIPS WERE DOWN

SMPTE June 2021 v6

By August, manufacturers were feeling the effects of a volatile supply chain. Along with widespread component shortages, a fire wiped out almost half the world’s supply of high-end AD/DA chips impacting everything from cameras to AoIP systems. Production lines everywhere came to a grinding halt. Meanwhile, in the Wheaty plant, we doubled down on capacity, components and engineering and then completed our most ambitious studio contract ever with plenty of parts inventory and capacity to spare.

READ: WHEN THE CHIPS ARE DOWN

By now, you have heard about the fire at AKM’s plant in Japan and the loss of almost half the world’s supply of high-end AD/DA chips. It has affected the manufacture of everything from cameras to AoIP systems and has caused production lines to come to a grinding halt. 

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen component shortages in the 40+ years Wheatstone has been manufacturing broadcast products. But it’s certainly one of the more impactful and adds to an already volatile semiconductor supply chain. Even the common capacitor has hit 60-week lead times. 

With all this going on, you’re probably wondering how Wheatstone is able to double down on manufacturing. You might even be surprised to learn that we are currently wrapping up a multi-million-dollar contract that includes more than 200 console surfaces, 1,000 WheatNet-IP Blades, 250 mic processors and 200-plus VoxPro digital recorder/editors. 

We are less affected by recent events than most because we’ve invested in large inventories of materials and parts. It’s why we can run our production plant at full capacity this year and the next while others are still struggling to meet current factory runs. 

And it’s exactly why we have in stock and on hand critical components like the AKM audio chip mentioned earlier. Just about every company that makes pro audio, MI or broadcast products uses high-quality ADC/DAC IC components from AKM and one or two other suppliers for analog-digital/digital-analog conversion. Some, like Wheatstone, use ADC/DAC chips from more than one supplier to hedge against single-source bottlenecks like the one we just experienced. 

Why is do we go to such extremes? Because without a steady stream of products coming out of our factory, studio deadlines would be pushed back, budgets would go through the ceiling, and we couldn’t be that partner that every broadcaster needs when they take on one of the most important projects of their careers.   

MORE VIRTUAL ADVENTURES

rickey

WheatNet-IP virtual interfaces ventured far and wide in 2021. This is a tale of three user interfaces: a tablet, a desktop monitor, and a surface-mount touchscreen. One was made into a producer’s interface, another was transformed into a virtual mixer, and the third became central control for two morning shows, two afternoon shows, an evening show, and a 24-hour inspirational program for the Reach Media network syndication.

READ: A TALE OF THREE TOUCHSCREENS

Once upon a time in radio there were three user interfaces: a tablet, a desktop monitor and a surface-mount touchscreen. One was made into a producer’s UI, another a virtual mixer, and the third became central control for two morning shows, two afternoon shows, an evening show, and a 24-hour inspirational program for the Reach Media network syndication. This is the story of how Radio One in Dallas was able to use all three for entirely different purposes. 

rickey

The tablet is too big to be a phone and too small to be a laptop replacement. Yet, for something like this producer screen, which fits nicely on a Microsoft Surface that Rickey Smiley uses while producing his morning show, it works. It’s all on this little tablet: headphone and program feeds, mic controls for guests, and VoxPro inputs for phone-ins. This UI was designed specifically for Rickey Smiley by Reach Media/Radio One engineers using ScreenBuilder tools.

RadioOne Screen2

For the D.L. Hughley show, the engineers at Reach Media/Radio One required a little more screen space. This interface sits on a desktop screen next to a VoxPro monitor in a production studio and is used by Hughley for his afternoon show. “We basically built him a console using ScreenBuilder.  It's a small room, originally intended to be a voice booth only,” said Don Stevenson, CE for Reach Media/Radio One, Dallas.

RadioOne DistScreen

Here’s the screen that started it all. “It’s kind of like a little control center for us,” said Stevenson.  This user interface sits on a 24-inch touchscreen that hangs off a rack in the TOC and it serves as control central for all communications between Reach Media in-studio producers, talent and staff and those remoting in from Anywhere, U.S.A. Anyone can easily do a sound check directly from the UI for any remote source coming in from Comrex Access or BRIC codecs and various other connections, and they can route any of the studio feeds to the Westwood One XDS satellite platform and in the case of the D.L. Hughely show, upload files to the Synchronicity media distribution service. 

There are eleven shows and a 24-hour inspirational program in the Reach Media lineup, all of which have some aspect of remote production. Al Sharpton, for example, does his show from his office in New York, and Erica Campbell produces her show from Los Angeles while her co-host joins in from Dallas. 

The above has been with Reach Media in one variation or another for a number of years and was one of the first screens Stevenson and his assistant engineer Steve Walker made when Radio One’s two Dallas stations moved onto the eleventh floor of the Stone Tower after Radio One purchased a controlling interest in Reach Media. Don and Steve took over engineering for the network syndication after engineer Neal Peden retired a few years later, adding eleven shows to what was already a busy day managing Radio One’s two Dallas stations, KBFB-FM and KZMJ-FM. Both Reach Media and Radio One have four on-air and two production studios, one predominately WheatNet-IP audio networked and the other currently in transition from a Wheatstone TDM Bridge system with a WheatNet-IP MADI Blade temporarily connecting the two networks. A Glass LXE virtual standalone console will soon replace the older TDM board in the Rickey Smiley studio, with a possible second Glass LXE to back up a main studio. 

They’ve since made a few changes to the screen capture above, such as adding a dropdown menu that lets operators quickly select a source that pops up on the screen along with relevant talkback channel. 

2021 MATH PROBLEM: PPM FOR STREAMING

NielsenPPM

By year’s end, 68 percent of online listeners regularly streamed their favorite radio station, presenting an interesting math problem that was solved by Nielsen and a few smart engineers.

Hint: It’s all in the (Wheat) appliance. 

READ: STREAMING? DOES NIELSEN KNOW?

If a tree falls in the forest, can the Portable People Meter hear it? 

Probably not. But PPMs can hear what’s streaming now that we’ve embedded the Nielsen PPM encoder into our Streamblade/Wheatstream appliances. PPM watermark encoding is the newest addition to these appliances, which include audio processing designed specifically for streaming as well as metadata support and multi-stream management. 

StreamBladeWheatstream

The PPM watermark is inserted after the dual-band limiter for a robust, consistent signal that can be picked up by the PPM without interfering with the performance of the audio codec. 

Streamblade and Wheatstream are AoIP and Linux appliances that can do eight instances of audio processing, each feeding up to four streaming destinations for a total of 32 different stream destinations. The Streamblade appliance can be added to any WheatNet-IP audio network and the Wheatstream appliance can be added to any existing AES67 compatible network, including WheatNet-IP.

RADIO PAST AND FUTURE

Bravess9MS CROP

Throughout the year we caught glimpses of the future as broadcasters adapted, expanded, and thrived in these strangest of times. Here is just one of many that stood out. The Bridge was named “Radio Station of the Year” by the Missouri Broadcast Association, and it is one of many we’re proud to call our own. 

READ: RADIO, WE’RE READY FOR YOUR CLOSE-UP NOW

You’re looking at radio past and future. 

In this photo of The Bridge’s Sarah Bradshaw interviewing a musician, you can see that radio is still very much about music and community. But take a closer look. The guy in the background holding the iPhone is a pretty good visual of the future of radio, where connectivity looms large. 

When this shot was taken in December 2019, 90.9 The Bridge of Kansas City was hosting live concerts of local artists in a performance studio shared with sister television station Kansas City pubTV. At the time, planning had been moving steadily along on a major studio expansion for live performances and so much more. As a listener-supported NPR station with an eclectic adult album alternative format, The Bridge was a large visible presence in and around the community with equally sizable donations underwritten by local organizations. 

The station was thriving, expanding, and connecting on every level: between artists and listeners through live events; between sponsors and community through social media; and even between studios, spaces, and elements through WheatNet-IP audio networking

By now you’re wondering what happened when the future came crashing in on 90.9 The Bridge, just as it had for all of us in 2020 when concert halls closed and listeners retreated to their homes. 

the bridge logoOpening Mic to Takeout Tuesdays, Local Business 
A few things changed – starting, ironically, with the use of those phones we mentioned earlier. “Texting became the norm because all of our hosts were at home and couldn’t get to the studio phone, but we could all log in and see the text line,” said Bryan Truta, The Bridge’s senior director of radio operations. “Instead of ‘call us’ it became ‘just send us a text’ kind of thing.”

With listeners at home, The Bridge’s streaming numbers also shot up 52 percent in the first four months and then climbed another 36 percent two months later. While the station lost out on live concerts, and with it a sizable chunk of its underwriting, it regained most of that funding freefall through listener support. “Our membership went up over 21 percent from the previous year,” said Truta. 

Instead of sponsorships, The Bridge began to fill airtime with pandemic updates from the mayor’s office and with new community programs such as Takeout Tuesday, a weekly segment that featured local restaurants. By mid-pandemic, it opened the mic to other local businesses also hit hard by the lockdown. “We had all this open inventory, so we ended up giving away $15,000 worth of free underwriting in February for minority-owned businesses, and we did the same in March for women-owned business and it was going so well, in April we did culture and arts month like ballet and opera for people who couldn’t have events, and it just kept going,” he explained. 

The pandemic also strengthened The Bridge’s connection to artists, many of whom were homebound and more accessible for interviews. According to Truta, “We talked to more big-name artists the last year than we ever did because they were just sitting around too.” 

As venues opened and listeners eased back into work, The Bridge’s streaming numbers have stabilized close to pre-pandemic numbers and life in and out of the studio has returned to a different normal. 

Where is The Bridge now, in this new, unexpected future? Still connecting music lovers with music makers, as always. But it’s also posting, streaming, and texting as it did during the pandemic and it’s bringing all that forward into a remodeled WheatNet-IP audio networked facility that includes a new courtyard entertainment space, a performance studio seating 100 people, and living room-like studio spaces with WheatNet-IP automated cameras throughout.

“We’re going to have more production space and performance spaces and voicetrack rooms like we planned but with more connectivity to the outside, and just more connectivity in general,” commented Truta. 

The new WheatNet-IP studios are expected to be completed sometime in 2022. 

In August, 90.9 The Bridge was named “Radio Station of the Year” by the Missouri Broadcast Association in recognition of its exceptional community service and listener support. 

IT WAS A STRANGE, BUT GOOD YEAR FOR STUDIOS

Oddly enough, we ended the year having manufactured more products and helped build more studios in 2021 than in any previous year. Along with so many other studio projects large and small, we completed our largest studio contract in just eight months. It included factory staging and system pre-configuration for almost 250 studios and more than 200 console surfaces, 1,000 WheatNet-IP Blades, 250 mic processors and 200-plus VoxPro digital recorder/editors.  

What a long, strange trip 2021 has been but were ready to do it all over again in 2022! 

The Wheatstone online store is now open! You can purchase demo units, spare cards, subassemblies, modules and other discontinued or out-of-production components for Wheatstone, Audioarts, PR&E and VoxPro products online, or call Wheatstone customer support at 252-638-7000 or contact the Wheatstone technical support team online as usual. 

The store is another convenience at wheatstone.com, where you can access product manuals, white papers and tutorials as well as technical and discussion forums such as its AoIP Scripters Forum

Compare All of Wheatstone's Remote Solutions

REMIXWe've got remote solutions for virtually every networkable console we've built in the last 20 years or so. For basic volume, on/off, bus assign, logic, it's as easy as running an app either locally with a good VPN, or back at the studio, using a remote-access app such as Teambuilder to run.

Check out the chart below, and/or click here to learn more on our Remote Solutions web page.

Remote Solutions Video Demonstrations

Jay Tyler recently completed a series of videos demonstrating the various solutions Wheatstone offers for remote broadcasting.

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Click for a Comparison Chart of All Wheatstone Remote Software Solutions

MAKING SENSE OF THE VIRTUAL STUDIO COVERMaking Sense of the Virtual Studio
SMART STRATEGIES AND VIRTUAL TOOLS FOR ADAPTING TO CHANGE

Curious about how the modern studio has evolved in an IP world? Virtualization of the studio is WAY more than tossing a control surface on a touch screen. With today's tools, you can virtualize control over almost ANYTHING you want to do with your audio network. This free e-book illustrates what real-world engineers and radio studios are doing. Pretty amazing stuff.

AdvancingAOIP E BookCoverAdvancing AOIP for Broadcast
TAKING ADVANTAGE OF EMERGING STANDARDS SUCH AS AES67 VIA AUDIO OVER IP TO GET THE MOST OUT OF YOUR BROADCAST FACILITY

Putting together a new studio? Updating an existing studio? We've put together this e-book with fresh info and some of the articles that we've authored for our website, white papers, and news that dives into some of the cool stuff you can do with a modern AoIP network like Wheatstone's WheatNet-IP.

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