The changes in automation
Dec 1, 2002 12:00 PM, By Barry Thomas, CPBE CBNT
Consolidation and technological advances have made radio automationaffordable and necessary for modern broadcast facilities. In responseto the industry, automation systems are becoming better described asdigital-asset management systems. Simple cart replacement isn’t thegoal anymore. Stations expect digital playback systems to help managemedia inventories, automatically record and insert live feeds and voicetracks, work seamlessly with satellite formats and operate as a liveassistant for shows. The need for interaction, control and insertionfrom a distance has become extremely important, as have WAN-based mediasharing and the ability to manage multiple stations from a centralsite.
Most manufacturers have addressed these needs, and now these systemsoffer much more than radio automation. Many systems available aredesigned to take advantage of interaction with Rich Media associatedwith radio and audio content. This capability has direct applicationsas stations exploit their Internet presence. Automation systems cansend �now playing� data to Web pages, and some companiesoffer solutions that allow listeners to hear radio on speciallydesigned audio players with a station logo and sponsor ad space, aswell as methods for Internet listeners to click and find out more aboutthe music or spot being played or even begin a purchase process. Thistype of interactivity is still in the early stages but expect thisinformation and extra features to be a part of future digital radioiterations.
Perhaps the decision has been made for the engineer, as a member ofa larger company. If this is the case, this information may be able togive you an idea of how the system works and how its features can beused in the station. Use this information as a beginning, following upthe research by contacting the manufacturer or the broadcast equipmentdealer for more information.
Audiovault has been the basis of Broadcast Electronics long historyof radio automation. Its current product line includes the standard,Vault2, a system based on non-proprietary hardware, but is designed forlarge radio operations and VaultXpress; a low-cost. In the Vault2 andVaultXpress systems, the company employs the familiar AVAir andAVRecord user interfaces. Vault2 stores all audio files on shared fileservers and uses individual workstations for playback, production andtraffic. VaultXpress uses individual workstations that store and playsound files locally. The company offers a wide variety of Web-centrictools that work with Audiovault products. It licenses Everstream’sproprietary technology as a new service called SoniXtream; anintegrated set of tools and Web interfaces that provide Web managerswith tools necessary for complete rich media management; ad serving,insertion and management; branded audio players; reporting and evenservices like media hosting and multiple audio channel origination.
RCS offers the standard software for music and promo scheduling withSelector and Linker. Master Control XV is the companion automationproduct with integration into all RCS products. RCS has built a itscustomer base by maintaining the programming focus of its products. Thecompany offers interfaces for most traffic software and, throughLinker, offers tools to manage the rotation of all non-spot andnon-music elements on the station, such as promos and sweepers. MasterControl’s Enterprise edition is designed for large interconnected radiostations with shared music libraries and scheduling. The Master Controlsystem is available with Internet voice tracking, which allows talentto record tracks and create voice insertions from anywhere in theworld. For Internet applications or station Web presences, the companyoffers the iSelector fully branded Internet player. ISelector letsusers hear Internet radio stations customized to their musicalpreferences within any musical genre. SplitStream ad insertion allowsunique commercials to be sent to individual Web listeners. RadioShow isa real-time Web animation and interactivity product that integrateswith Master Control. RCS Webcasting and its other Internet tools aredesigned to allow radio stations to extend their on-air presence to theInternet easily.
Broadcast Software International
BSI offers an inexpensive automation, cart replacement and instantaudio product with Stinger. The companion products offer automationsolutions for stations on a tight budget. Its systems use standard PChardware and the Audioscience audio adapters. The Simian automationsystem can manage satellite operation playback, live assist andbackground recording. External controls are managed by optionalexternal trigger and relay packages. Simian interfaces with mosttraffic systems. Using Webconnect Pro, Simian systems can be controlledand managed via the Internet. The BSI software systems are is designedto use CoolEdit Pro for production and can play Microsoft standardaudio files, MP2, MP3 files and TM Century files. BSI also offers adigital cart replacement, Wavecart and a PC-based instant audio player.BSI’s software was recently selected to power Radio Kabul, which is theBBC’s first entry into the reformed nation of Afghanistan.
Cartworks offers one of the least expensive options for automation.Its system uses individual PC workstations for live assist, voicetracking and satellite automation. Audio from home computers,professional digital audio workstations, the Internet or most anysource can be played by Cartworks without conversion. The systemsupports standard Microsoft .wav, MPEG and many other digital audioformats. Cartworks supports CoolEdit and Saw 32 for production. Thesystem was designed by broadcast engineers and boasts real broadcastengineers and computer programmers on its 24-hour support lines. Checkthe free software section of its website for some useful engineeringware.
Scott Studios has been ubiquitous in small and medium markets, andhas focused on providing solutions for combined operations and customapplications. Their current SS32 products offer configurable userinterfaces designed by station talent. Voice tracking and newsroomsoftware are available. There is a phone call recorder available, butthe system is designed to integrate with production software likeAudicy, Sound Forge and CoolEdit. Access to audio cuts can be obtainedquickly using a cart wall screen, which is accessible remotely or evenover the Internet. Scott integrates with all popular traffic and musicsoftware systems and offers solutions for Internet ad substitution thatworks directly with its on-air systems.
DaletDigital Media Systems
Dalet’s system is an ambitious product designed to support amultimedia environment. Dalet approaches its digital delivery system asa component of a complete digital asset management system. ItsMultimedia scheduler system provides scheduling capability for radioand for many other associated media. Dalet holds to a �produceonce, broadcast many� approach, which allows its radio broadcastsystem to integrate with its audio production, digital contentmanagement, news and playback systems. It has developed a common set ofproduction tools to simplify the production and delivery of multimediacontent through a multitude of platforms. Dalet offers a radioautomation system with collaborative capabilities and standardintegration into audio, video and Web systems. Dalet’s system hasdeveloped a large following in Europe, and is the system of choice forthe Paris-based NRG group. It has also gained U.S. approval as theselected digital asset management system for XM Satellite Radio.
DADPro is the heart of Enco’s product line, which uses a standardworkstation platform with multiple types of on-screen windows that canbe tailored for different types of applications and operator expertise.The player windows are capable of live assist or fully automated modes,and transparent transition between modes, with full support ofcrossfaded or overlapped segue transitions and voice tracks. Even spotrotations can automatically insert accurate time announcements andtags. Some of the players can be user-customized cart walls orinstant-play hot buttons for cart replacement applications. Therecorder windows can be used for automatic phone recording, simpleediting and automated and unattended network feed acquisition. Multiplerecord windows can be opened at once. The Enco system can also use thecart head control surfaces, known as fish finders, used by the OrbanAirTime system. Control of external gear can be achieved using serialcommunications or its custom GPI. Enco can provide full graphictwo-track waveform editing and a separate multichannel editor. Fileimport from editing software is also supported. The DAD system can becontrolled via modem and can be configured for Global WAN, which allowscentral control of multiple sites.
The Finland-based IBM radio automation product, Radioman, has been aquiet entry into the field. The IBM system was originally developed forthe Finnish Broadcasting Company by Jutel Oy for its nationwide radiosystems, but has recently been chosen by the BBC World service fortheir operations as well. The Radioman system is designed specificallyfor collaborative operation, and is useful for news and talk formattedstations. Multiple departments can be working with filessimultaneously: a news person can be writing copy and inserting soundbites, the production operator can be editing and preparing audio cuts,the programmers can be adjusting and updating the schedule and thetalent can be reading the copy or playing the prepared audio at thesame time. As is typical for IBM, the Radioman product is designed tobe a complete automation solution and encompasses a vast array ofproducts for scheduling, editing, Internet and digital broadcasting,data transmission and file management.
Prophet has had a long history of offering automation systems fromits modest beginnings in Ogallala, NE. In use at Sirius SatelliteRadio, its current product � NexGen � offers tools forcompanies who are consolidating operations and voice tracking orfully-automating their stations. Prophet’s WAN-casting system enablesstations to share data and audio between interconnected sites, allowingsmall stations to be voice-tracked, programmed or updated from combinedradio facilities, consultant’s offices or remote broadcast locations.Clear Channel Communications, the parent company, is now installingthese systems and is using WAN-casting features in markets throughoutthe United States. The NexGen system is composed of program modulesthat can be purchased and configured to meet the stations’ specificneeds: Auto Phone Call allows remote talent to phone-in traffic,weather and news alerts to be included into the programming. The timeannounce and temperature announce modules allow fully automated systemsto play accurate time and temperature announcements, helping maintainthe live station sound. The company also offers its Wizard multitrackaudio editing system as well as an automatic digital reel-to-reelsystem for unattended recording of network feeds.
Since 1984, MediaTouch (now iMediatouch) has developed touch-screenautomation and digital audio systems for radio. Its current productsuse standard PC hardware and allow remote operation of its automationsystem from multiple locations. The software programs have codecs byQ-Design (MP2), Fraunhoffer (MP3), Microsoft (ADPCM & Windows WMA)and PCM. All formats can be played in overlaps simultaneously,regardless of audio card capability. Its touch-screen interfaces aredesigned to reduce or eliminate the mouse pointer table chase andincrease the speed and efficiency of live-assist operations. TheiMediatouch system offers a flexible voice tracking function thatallows talent to record voice tracks as far into the future as thereare schedules in the system. OMT offers two products specifically forInternet integration: Adcast, which is a spot-substitution productuseful for dealing with a station’s AFTRA issues, and MediaMultiStream, which is a multichannel live audio stream encoder. ItsiMediaLogger has also been used with some Internet sites to providerecorded archive show clips for on-demand Internet listeners.
Arrakis offers its software free of charge with Digilink Free. It’sa radio automation package designed for stations and Internetbroadcasters with limited budgets, and augments Arrakis’ product lineof consoles and studio furniture designed for cost-conscious radiobroadcasters. Arrakis now offers Digilink+Plus for an additionalcharge, which adds RS232 serial control, multiple sound card supportand greater scheduling features to Digilink Free. Digilink Supreme is afull-featured automation system that offers broadcast-quality balancedaudio, logic controls and full satellite automation capability. Arrakisalso offers related programs, such as an audio file manager andscheduling tool are available. Support is available on a fee basis.
Computer Concepts has been a reliable player in the digital deliverysystems arena. Although the company was purchased by Scott Studios andhas been moved to the Scott headquarters, the DCS and Maestro productlines are still being supported and improved. The current version ofMaestro, 3.1 boasts support for Windows 2000 and XP as well as moreaudio cards from Digigram and Audioscience. This version offers globalsite support that allows for audio distribution and control of multiplestations and server sites.
Computer Concepts has also increased support for audio switchingdevices from Broadcast Tools and its own digital audio engineEpicenter. New waveform editing features in the Voice Tracker and cartediting programs. The Transposer option rips CDs directly into Maestroformat which makes music formats easier to implement.
LPB’s products fill a low-cost niche for radio broadcasters. Itsautomation products continue this practice. Webjocky is an inexpensivecart replacement solution for stations with limited budgets, Webcastersor LPFM operators. The system supports MP3 and .wav file playback andincludes a 36-key instant player. The system offers on-air, Next andplayed LED indicators, on-screen faders and individual muting for eachchannel. Salsa is a larger-scale station automation system and offersGPI controls scheduling, news and traffic solutions as availableoptions.
Additional automation system providers
Broadcast Technical Services Group
Management Data Media Systems, Inc
Netia Digital Audio
On Air Digital USA
Register Data Systems
ScheduALL by VizuAll Inc
Smarts Broadcast Systems
Digital delivery and cart replacement is simply a small portion ofthe services offered by today’s automation systems. Use thisinformation as a starting place, contact the manufacturers and discussthe station’s particular need. They can offer the best ways tointegrate a system into the station and help to plan an installation inthe future.
Thomas is a contract engineer in Los Angeles and chief technologyofficer of Stratosaudio.