As radio networks grow through new builds and acquisitions it is easy to find oneself taking care of a wide mix of transmitter sites and their associated control systems. While keeping a variety of remote control systems clearly and properly understood in the light of day is doable, it becomes a different situation in the middle of the night when you get woken from a deep sleep. This is where standardization and simplicity become the keys to efficient and timely responses to an off air situation.
Golden West Radio has a chain of 41 stations in primarily rural, smaller markets scattered over the Canadian prairies.
We have been a Burk shop since the mid-1980s starting with the TC-8 and then for many years using the ARC-16SAs. Most of them were connected just by a dial up phone line. As we have acquired existing transmitter sites, we have replaced a variety of other remote control systems with the Burk units.
Burk Plus-X 300 I have always liked the Burk philosophy of being able to do local raise/lower functions and have status indications at the transmitter site without needing external button or lamp panels, like you have to do with most other remote control systems. At the sites where we now have IP available we have moved to the ARC Plus, ARC Plus Touch and the Plus-X units. The prime considerations for moving in this direction were economy of scale, functionality and reliability.
Our roll out to the newer units gained real traction when Burk released the ARC Plus-X 300s. We could not justify placing ARC Plus units at our smaller and simpler transmitter sites, but the Plus-X units were certainly cost effective enough to make that move; and they provided all the control and monitoring we needed, albeit without the local controls.
Burk Plus-X 600 The key to the implementation of these units was their ability to connect to a central ARC Plus unit via public IP. Our current configuration is to have one central ARC Plus unit in each of the three Canadian Prairie Provinces.
In Alberta we have the ARC Plus unit at our largest AM/FM site and then have a total of six Plus-X 300s and one Plus-X 600 located at seven separate sites spread out across the province.
In Saskatchewan we have a new ARC Plus Touch at one AM/FM site, which has two external Plus-X 300s that tie into it.
In Manitoba we have an ARC Plus located at the company head office with a total of eight external ARC Plus-X 300s linking to it. We also have an ARC-16 at one of the older transmitter sites tied into it via serial to IP converters over a VPN.
One of many of Golden West�s Plus-X 300 installations Some of the sites are co-located at towers belonging to wireless IP companies so we get IP service from them. At other sites we have DSL service and at others we have installed our own wireless IP links from our studios to the transmitter sites. At sites where we have more than one ARC Plus-X unit running on the same local subnet we have had to change the port on one unit to something else than the default 45000.
Tying back to a central ARC Plus allows us to use one Web page to view the all the units within that province. We have not yet implemented Auto Pilot but we do use the macro feature in the ARC Plus to control backup transmitters, AM pattern change and off site transmitters. A failure of the main transmitter at a given site will initiate a macro which will control an off-premise transmitter with the ARC Plus-X at that site. We also use the email function within the macros to let us know when a standby transmitter is on the air and when it returns to normal.
IP BENEFITS AND CHALLENGES
One of the real benefits of moving more and more to an integrated IP solution for transmitter control is the ability to do so much with our smartphones. I have restored more than a few sites to normal activity with one hand on my fishing rod and the other on my smartphone!
The caveat on all of this is that we are at the mercy of the ISP quality of service. The links that tend to be the most robust are the IP radio links we have installed ourselves or the sites where we are fortunate enough to have access to a fiber link. We have had good success with the Ubiquity Nano Beam for our own IP links.
Plus-X unit connected via wireless Internet The Burk Plus-X units will send an email when any given Plus-X unit drops off of the network. An option we are waiting for from Burk would be a way of configuring that failure alarm delay. Another good option to have would be to get an email when the link is back up again.
A thing to watch for when using the Plus-X units is that when the link does drop out it doesn�t always clearly show that on the ARC Plus Web interface. The last meter and status readings will continue to show as if all is normal but the control buttons will either disappear or grey out. If the raise/lower buttons don�t appear as normal � don�t trust the meter readings or status indications.
Even with some of those limitations, we still feel we have moved in the right direction in going with the Plus-X units. The price point and vital functionality make it a no brainer when adding it to the budget for a new transmitter site, even if it is just a low power translator.
Burk continues to work closely with us and is quick to respond to issues or potential upgrades. Their products are constantly being improved, and they rely heavily on user feedback.
Laverne Siemens is the director of engineering for Canada�s Golden West Radio.