Fairfax Upgrades Its Distribution Network
SYDNEY — One
of Australia’s biggest live audio
suppliers has overhauled its national
distribution network. Fairfax Radio Syndication,
which supplies over 250
commercial radio stations at 120 sites across
Australia with live content, has
installed new equipment including products from
(IDC), Mayah and Newtec.
Fairfax is one of Australia’s
longest-established media groups. Its syndication company now distributes more
than 3,000 hours of audio per week to radio broadcasters throughout the
country, including sporting events, news talk and contemporary music formats
from a wide range of suppliers, alongside its own network of news talk
stations. In 2012, the Fairfax technical team was awarded an Australian
Commercial Radio Award for engineering excellence.
Max Healey, systems analyst at
Fairfax told Radio World: “We’ve been doing distribution for a long time — we
had the old IDC FlexRoute receivers and head-end equipment dating back to 1996,
and it still worked beautifully. But it had long stopped being supported, and
by 2011 it was well and truly time to plan for a change.”
The content that Fairfax distributes
includes major sporting events such as Australia’s most famous horse race, the
Melbourne Cup, so reliability is critical.
“Satellite is much better because
you’ve only got a few points of failure. If I’ve got the program coming into me
in Sydney and I know I’m sending it, but I don’t have it coming back, then I
know it’s the satellite provider that’s got the problem,” Healey said.
Chief Engineer of Radio 2UE (L) and Max Healey, Systems Analyst at
“Or if I’ve got it coming back off my
receiver, but one of the stations hasn’t got it, then it’s likely to be their
local set-up. Whereas with IP you put it out on a network, it goes through many
routers, and when somebody can hear it and someone else can’t, is it their
equipment or a provider’s router? It can be hard to track.”
According to Healey, another
requirement is the ability to use the bandwidth to its best advantage. “For
example, in the mornings we have several talk formats used on AM radio that
require relatively low bandwidth. However, in drive and on the weekend we carry
nationally syndicated FM music formats that are best delivered at high
bitrates,” he said.
Fairfax has installed IDC’s SuperFlex
Pro Audio receivers and head-end equipment, including Net Manager and Event
Manager, supplied in Australia by Omnicast.
The system uses 12 Event Managers and
one Net Manager, with each receive site using SuperFlex Pro Audio receivers.
These include an on-screen display, which helps stations identify and eliminate
any problems by showing information such as signal quality and audio levels.
Fairfax can also drill down into more
detailed receiver data, which allows for deeper problem solving and network monitoring.
Switching to the DVB-S2 standard meant more efficient use of satellite
spectrum, and the new system’s IP capabilities gave Fairfax extra content
As part of the overhaul Fairfax
looked at each component in the broadcast chain. “We use IDC for the satellite
but then you need audio encoders and we liked the Mayah products, which produce
the MPEG encoding for us,” Healey said.
“One of the good things with IDC is
that because it’s all standards-based, you can mix and match things like this.
We also use a Newtec encapsulator-modulator, because it’s one box that does
both functions, and they’ve been great with support too.” Advantech serial
terminal servers complete the set-up, allowing the existing control equipment
at content creation locations to work without modification.
At the receiving end, the radio
stations just need one of the IDC satellite receivers. “It’s completely
seamless for them. We’ll switch between their network morning program and the
Fairfax news service,” said Healey.
“The station just has the two
channels coming out into its console and the receiver switches where the audio
is coming from internally, and they don’t see it — they just get a
continuous stream of audio. And that is what’s great for them because the
pulses stay the same, everything stays the same — the station wants to
just be able to put the fader up, put the satellite on air and rely on it.”
The customized hardware is controlled
by a management system developed internally by Fairfax, which allocates
resources and configures the best path for each customer. The program-booking
interface lets customers view schedules and make booking arrangements.
The system also monitors feeds, and
automatically recovers from common faults — it will apply end pulses to news
feeds if the presenter forgets to press a button. It will also detect failed
components in the audio chain and can automatically find alternate paths.
Fairfax also works with advertisers
to deliver and detect radio commercials. Healey explains that in the old days,
advert distribution was all done on the satellite because that was the only way
to get it.
“As the Internet started to get
better coverage in the regional areas, that system has gone online. So when
people started asking, ‘Why don’t we email the audio?’ — we
said, ‘How about we can tell you not just whether the radio station downloaded
it, but whether they played it when they said they did?’ And that’s radio
monitoring,” he explained.
The system offers watermarking, where
the audio is inaudibly encoded, and fingerprinting where it detects the audio.
A combination of the two methods allows clients to receive a full report
showing precisely where their adverts have been played, alongside activity from
Will Jackson reports on the
industry for Radio World from London.