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A New Appreciation of Software’s Power

“One bright spot of the pandemic was how it opened our users’ eyes as to what the automation could do”

Arrakis Apex automation screen
A screen from Apex automation.

This interview is excerpted from the ebook “Automation: The Next Phase.”

Arrakis Systems was one of the earliest digital automation manufacturers. Ben Palmer is president of the company.

Radio World: How has the pandemic changed workflows for automation?

Ben Palmer: Fortunately, when the pandemic started, most of the automation software world already had the remote features built-in ready to go.

For example, our APEX automation software always had the ability to be remotely controlled and operated. Things like scheduling, voice tracking, live assist, all of this can be handled anywhere with an internet connection and some basic hardware.

As a result of the pandemic, we simply saw our customers begin using these features on a larger scale. Studios would often have a single staff member in the studio, with the rest of the live crew doing their shows from home. Scheduling, reconciliation, audio management, all managed remotely.

Had the pandemic happen 10 years earlier, it would have been a much tougher scenario. One question is whether this will become the new norm, or will it go back to how it was?

Ben Palmer of Arrakis Systems and daughter Whitney.
Ben Palmer and daughter Whitney.

RW: What capabilities does automation have today that you wish more broadcasters knew about?

Palmer: One bright spot of the pandemic was how it opened our users’ eyes as to what the automation could do.

In the early ’90s when we first released digital automation, I feel like it was a gradual process for customers to understand the power of a software-based automation system over the old cart and CD systems. It was much like this prior to the pandemic. Most didn’t fully appreciate the flexibility that had already existed; now it is impossible not to.

That said, it is important to recognize the importance of security. I’ve noticed that some automation systems, and software, use proprietary “security” and are using open ports on their routers. This can lead to some security risks that can easily be exploited, giving a stranger keys to your studio. It would be smart to do a security audit for your studios.

RW: What does virtualization mean to you and how does it affect your products and customers?

Palmer: Virtualization is a great tool. Both our automation and console products utilize the latest features, and it makes all the difference in the world. Even though the pandemic has been a unique experience, life emergencies have not been unprecedented. Throughout the years we have heard of studios taken down by floods, tornadoes, cats (true story, a cat took a studio off the air).

Virtualization has enabled these users to take their studios and run them from their homes, RV or anywhere they need. Being prepared is important, and a lot of it is simply realizing what features are already built-in to their existing systems.