WheatNews June 2021

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WHEAT:NEWS JUNE 2021  Volume 12, Number 6

BECOMING A LEAN, MEAN STREAMING MACHINE

Verdi1

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. 

Verdi1

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. 

METING OUT METADATA

Taking a page out of the RDS/HD Radio playbook, Great Eastern Radio scrolled song title and artist data on player apps along with regular music programming and added in the occasional weather update or sports score between stop sets. More and more frequently, they would tag a sponsor or scroll an advertiser’s slug line, phone number, or website. 

It made sense initially to capture RDS/HD Radio metadata and process the PAD data through Arctic Palm’s Center Stage program for the formatting needed by their CDN provider Securenet, which would then send the metadata and program streams onto the Great Eastern Radio online app at various bit rates. “That worked, using Arctic Palm. But that also meant another computer to run Arctic Palm,” explained Great Eastern Radio’s CTO Chris Verdi. 

Later, he would bypass the Arctic Palm and tap metadata directly from the Nexgen automation system using Streamblade, which uses Lua transformation filters to adapt the data to the format required by his CDN provider. (CDNs each take similar but slightly different metadata formats, as do automation systems.) 

BREAK OUT THE CHAMPAGNE!
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Above is a quick video tour of Champagne FM.

Congratulations to Champagne FM in Reims, France, on their new studios and a project well done! Spoiler alert: lots of Wheat ahead. 

Click for gallery of images from Champagne FM

STUDIO HACK FOR STOPPING RANSOMWARE

RANSOMWARE

You don’t have to be a major fuel pipeline to be a ransomware target.

Just ask broadcasters in Australia who were forced to abandon a newsroom in March or, more recently, broadcasters in the U.S. who had to shut down email servers to stop the spread of ransomware. 

In both cases, malware was installed covertly on a system that executed a cryptovirology attack and locked or encrypted valuable files on the network. 

The best defense, in addition to restricting access and using spam filters to block malicious emails, is to establish a network segmentation policy. This is to keep malicious ware from moving laterally within your network and infecting endpoints and servers, and demanding a ransom for access to your data.

In the case of the studio network, it’s far better to group studios into separate segments, each with edge switches. You can then connect those segments to one central, redundant switch bank so that if one part of the system gets infected, the rest is isolated. 

It’s worth noting that if you are connecting studios with our WheatNet-IP audio network, a lot of your network is already spread out in separate I/O access units, or Blades. Each Blade has built in audio tools such as mixing for summing and mixing audio at any point in the network, plus will reconfigure itself in an emergency – and, in fact, can recover settings for your entire network! Blades also can be ordered with an audio playback option, which can automatically be triggered for playback by silence detection within the Blade or triggered directly from your console.

To go over your options for segmenting your studio network or if you have questions about studio layout and AoIP in general, contact Wheatstone sales engineers Jay Tyler, Darrin Paley or Phil Owens at 252.638.7000 or sales@wheatstone.com.

 THIS I/O BLADE HASN’T HAD A DAY OFF IN MORE THAN SEVEN YEARS. YOU? 

BladeUptime

Thanks Cox Media Group in Tulsa for sharing. This Blade has been working for 2638 days without a single reboot. 

DO THIS BEFORE YOU RACK UP A NEW PROCESSOR

MP532 FRONT

MPX Outputs

In addition to making sure input levels on studio gear are set for adequate headroom (see Wheat News, May issue), you’ll want to optimize STL paths before you rack up that new processor. 

It’s not always possible to have a linear STL path, but if you’re given a choice, do so. You also will get better results with a composite rather than a discreet AES left and right STL. This is because the stereo generator in a modern audio processor is almost always better than one built into an exciter. Also, once you get your new processor, plan on sending the complete composite baseband over AES, from the processor to the exciter in full digital form. This gets rid of the AD/DA between the two as well as the noise resulting from an unbalanced analog signal in the transmitter building. Wheatstone processors, including our new multipurpose MP-532, include the baseband192 feature for this purpose. 

As you begin to experiment with your new audio processor, we suggest you use a good reference radio you’re familiar with and that you start with a conservative preset. 

Video: Jay Tyler talks about the Audioarts DMX

Wheatstone's Jay Tyler takes you through what a great value the Audioarts DMX IP Console is.

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 our 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? This collection of articles, white papers, and brand new material can help you get the most out of your venture. Best of all, it's FREE to download!

IP TV EBOOK COVER

IP Audio for TV Production and Beyond

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT MANAGING MORE CHANNELS, MORE MIXES, AND MORE REMOTE VENUES

For this FREE e-book download, 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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