The author is director of sales for Logitek Electronic Systems.
OK. It happened. The FCC has done away with the Main Studio Rule. Much debate preceded the ruling. The arguments are pretty well known, but we’ll briefly recap them here.
Those in favor of the ruling stressed the financial burdens the rule imposed and the fact that the main studio really wasn’t necessary because of ease of access to the station public files through online access.
Those against elimination maintained the position that can be summed up as “How can we be ‘local’ if we are actually ‘remote’? If radio’s key value to its city of license is its attachment to the community, how can we fulfill our mission if we dissolve that attachment?”
Whichever viewpoint you hold, the necessity for a physical main studio that is staffed during business hours is gone. Whether you want it or not, some form of virtual radio is probably in your future. With estimates of cost savings of between $60,000 and $80,000 a year, every general manager and owner will have to consider the feasibility of virtual radio.
About 20 years ago, I was in a discussion group evaluating a product that might offer remote facility control from great distances. It wasn’t ready yet, but the conversation drifted from the possible to the extreme. One engineering manager even postulated the scenario that, with remote access, it could be possible to have your radio station in the garage of a local sales manager. (Yes, you will still need local sales people.) We all chuckled but knew someday it would be possible.
With the advances and adaptation of audio over IP and virtualization of consoles, we can now say that virtual radio is not only possible but here.
While virtual consoles have been around for over 10 years, they never really were accepted as a physical console replacement. But at the 2017 NAB Show, Logitek introduced a virtual console that uses HTML5 graphics to control audio at remote locations. This is not a bare-bones console, but a fully realized version of the physical consoles we have used for years. It even provides multi-touch functionality to finally allow for crossfades. (We know the debate about needing physical faders and buttons. We have a version of that too. But that is a debate for another time.) Other manufacturers such as Lawo and Axia also have virtual controllers.
So we have the control figured out, but what about a cost-effective method for getting talent audio to that salesman’s garage from remote locations and maybe adding some additional talent from other cities?
There are many methods to get audio from one point to another. Comrex, Tieline and APT have had hardware-based solutions for many years. At the 2017 Radio Show, Logitek demonstrated JetLink, a free version of its new Opus-based, low-latency, high-quality codec that sends audio from one PC to another.
A chief difficulty with most codec systems is the time lag between a host and remote guest hearing each other. This can hinder the easy flow of conversation and the immediacy of an interview. Combining the highly efficient Opus software with Logitek’s advanced error control keeps this latency below notice even when people are in different cities.
Since JetLink uses no proprietary hardware, it can be put on any PC making the implementation simple and inexpensive.
Want an intercity link? No problem. Need multiple cities talking because your morning show host is in Denver but the sidekick is in Tulsa? This can all be achieved without special hardware or services.
A soon-to-be-released subscription plan will further simplify operation by providing phone books, intercity directories and the ability to start an interview by having the guest click on an emailed link. The service will also help make a connection through corporate firewalls without the need for engineering assistance.
LOCALISM AND YOU
While virtualization certainly achieves its cost saving objective, it can also be used to foster localism. Talent can still be local. Just because we can operate from a tent at the North Pole, it doesn’t mean we have to. Local talent can still be used to reach the local community. They just won’t be driving to work anymore.
Smartphone apps can be used to connect to people at places of immediate local importance with high quality. Cloud storage can distribute produced programming of local interest. Local podcasters can appear as guests with little effort. Small to national networks can be set up with little cost.
Localism does not have to die with the main studio rule. The use of virtual radio will certainly reduce operating costs. But low-cost, broadcast quality access from anywhere in the community will make expanding localism attractive for many stations. And, as we all regularly hear, localism is the key to radio’s popularity.
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