Supply Side is a series of occasional interviews with suppliers in the news. Eric Wiler is the senior director of technology for Jones Radio Networks, which recently launched the Jones Digital Audio Server, a delivery technology platform for distribution of radio content manufactured by Wegener. The company conducted a replacement program of its older Starguide and Wegener networks.
What are your responsibilities?
My position is to manage the technology of Jones’ radio products. This includes the origination and transmission of programming as well as management of our IT infrastructure and software development.
What is the relationship between Jones and Wegener?
Wegener is the primary provider for our content delivery infrastructure. Jones has a longstanding relationship with Wegener, as this is our third delivery system utilizing their receivers. Wegener’s longevity in radio has made them an excellent technology partner, as their 25-plus years in radio demonstrates. When we evaluated our options, they provided the best technology, support, stability and innovation for our needs.
What is the Jones Digital Audio Server?
The JDAS is a content delivery audio server. From a technical perspective, it’s a specialized industrial computer with custom software and hardware. It is capable of not only satellite delivery but also of Internet delivery for non-time sensitive material. The system allows for national, regional or even local content and advertising. We can provide digital audio, analog audio, relays, file storage even PAD data from a single platform.
Why are you replacing older StarGuide and Wegener networks?
We launched our original Wegener digital platform in 1996, the equipment has reached the end-of-life cycle. The Starguide platform, while not end-of-life, doesn’t provide the same degree of flexibility as the JDAS platform.
What are its features that are most useful in your application?
Our biggest gain is the ability to customize content. We can provide a level of programming to our affiliates that was not possible before. We have the ability to program to a station’s individual needs for content, including music, talk and even the option to move shows to a later time — all at the receiver level.
Further, as the advertising marketplace is becoming more complex, we can now fill the need to deliver commercial advertising matched to the local affiliates. Our advertisers no longer need to play spots for snow tires in Hawaii or suntan lotion in Alaska.
The receiver also allows us to capture and replay material based on the station’s specific needs. This can be programmed for the affiliate by our Network Operations Center or by the affiliate station using a browser-based interface on the receiver directly.
Does the server support Internet back channels from the receiver to the uplink for authentication, updating and remote management? Receiver management at the receive station level via Ethernet connection? E-mail alarms and event notification from the receiver?
Our receiver requires a dedicated Internet connection, or at a minimum a POTS phone line, to communicate with the network. Unlike older systems, the ability to verify the operation of the local receivers is a key benefit. We’re able to track a local dish issue and even contact the station to inform them of a local problem in need of attention. Our primary control is via our satellite carrier with status returned to the network via the return path.
Why does the radio industry seem to go through reworkings of the satellite delivery infrastructure on such a predictable basis?
I don’t think we will ever see another system that provides the longevity of the original 1983 Scientific-Atlanta DATS system. We no longer have to only deliver simple audio multicasts but also now compete with other audio entertainment mediums.
As options to the consumer become available, it is key for our industry to respond to the listener. We have a similar situation with advertising dollars; the need to deliver the state-of-the-art in not only delivery but tracking are examples of how technology has moved forward in the last few years.
Satellite distribution has used MPEG I Layer II or Layer III for a long time. Does the JDAS offer new audio algorithms for improved quality at the receiver with higher efficiency?
We currently utilize MPEG I Layer II, primarily due to the robust nature of the algorithm to further transcoding by the affiliate. As the JDAS decoding is software-based, we always have the option of pursing other options.
Will stations need better LNBs or different-sized dishes to work best with the new receivers?
Our platform is designed to operate correctly with the standard recommended downlink package, 3.8-Meter (12 foot) professional grade dish and PLL LNB. These are the same recommendations which have been stressed to stations since the mid-1980s when 2-degree spacing became a concern.
Are you getting into verification of spots and programs?
The JDAS has the ability to monitor the station’s audio. This is a key benefit as station resources become strained with paperwork. The receiver can directly report to the network and save a station hours of work.
Do you recommend acquiring “hot-standby” backup receivers for the new platform?
The JDAS is a professional device and has a number of features to enhance reliability.
I always feel backup equipment is a key component of reliability. This doesn’t necessarily focus only on the satellite receiver but the entire broadcast chain. A surge-suppressor on the satellite coaxial cable and an uninterruptible power supply are just as critical to the reliability of a station.
What else should radio engineers and affiliates know?
The JDAS represents a new era for stations. As the receivers are not just hardware but also a software platform, we plan to add many features over the next several months.
Jones is a leader in the third generation of content delivery, and stations will continue to see benefits to the system for years to come.