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‘Radio Is No Longer Spinning a Dial’

Broadcast and streaming sessions at AES explore new angles on familiar problems

ESPN Vice President of Technology Planning Jim Servies, in yellow vest and seen through rows of waiting racks, conducts a construction tour of facilities in Bristol, Conn. He will speak about audio considerations of the project at the AES show in New York.
credit: Courtesy ESPN
David Bialik has done his usual fine job of assembling sessions at AES to catch the eye of the audio technologist or radio guru.

The convention takes place this month in New York; we told you last issue about some of the show’s themes, and we noted some promising products. Here, let’s focus on broadcast and streaming media sessions, which Bialik organizes.

Among the highlights is a Thursday discussion about “Listener Fatigue and Retention,” moderated by Dick Burden and including panelists Frank Foti of the Telos Alliance, Greg Ogonowski of Orban, Sean Olive of Harman International, Robert Reams of Psyx Research and Grammy-winning producer/engineer Elliot Scheiner.

When I asked Bialik what’s new in the area of listener fatigue, he replied, “What isn’t new? It’s the never-ending battle to have our audience last longer, and to keep them.” He joked that even “Star Trek” was only supposed to be a five-year mission.

Avoiding listener fatigue, he said, “is a never-ending battle,” not just for broadcasters but for consumer electronics manufacturers, music producers and even cellphone carriers.

Bialik himself will chair the session “Loudness Control for Radio and Internet Streaming,” featuring Frank Foti of Telos, John Kean of NPR, Thomas Lund of TC Electronic, Jan Nordmann of Fraunhofer and Bob Orban of Orban. Isn’t the loudness war over? Well, the answer isn’t as simple as you might think, given that Internet streaming has brought a new playing field into the discussion.

“Radio is no longer spinning a dial,” Bialik said. “You’re typing in digital numbers. … It’s going to be a major issue, because now you have stations that have their audio content injected from various sources, as well as Internet streaming coming into the car. Do you have to standardize on loudness? Do you want commercials that are 3 or 6 dB louder than the content, and shakes you up while you’re driving? Will there be a new loudness war?”

Then the track turns to the provocative question “Is it Time to Retire the MP3 Protocol for Streaming?” Ray Archie of CBS chairs a group that includes MP3 innovator Karlheinz Brandenburg of Fraunhofer along with John Kean of NPR, Jan Nordmann of Fraunhofer, Greg Ogonowski of Orban and Greg Shay of the Telos Alliance.

According to the abstract, “It has been over 25 years since the MP3 codec was introduced to the audio community. With lossy audio encoding, such as an MP3, there is a not so fine balance between audio quality and file size. With the ever-increasing availability of bandwidth, file size has diminished as a consideration for audio streaming and codec related loss in audio quality is much more apparent.”

Also of interest is a Friday session chaired by Glynn Walden of CBS about “Broadcasting During a Disaster.” We’ve seen a number of panels over recent years about how stations can best prepare for, and get through, emergencies. The discussion becomes even more important now that the radio industry is leaning so hard on the idea of being “first informers” (yes, radio always has delivered that service; but politically this aspect of radio is a big point right now). The specific subject of the panel is Hurricane Sandy, which spun up almost exactly a year ago. Panelists include Rob Bertrand of CBS, Howard Price of ABC/Disney, Tom Ray of Tom Ray Broadcasting Consulting and Richard Ross of WADO/Univision.

“Content Delivery and the Mobile Initiative” is the subject of a session chaired by Neil Glassman of WhizBandPowWow. With consumer use of mobile on a dramatic up-curve, content providers face big challenges; what does it mean to your business that smartphones and tablets have become critical consumption tools, and that legacy radio receivers are no longer the only consumer option in the car?

Participants are Stephen Baker of Ramp, Karlheinz Brandenburg and Jan Nordmann of Fraunhofer, John Kean of NPR, Damon Love of SiriusXM, Leigh Newsome of Targetspot and Greg Ogonowski of Orban.

Tackling “Modern Audio Transportation Techniques for Remote Broadcasts” are Chris Crump of Comrex, John Kean of NPR, Greg Shay of the Telos Alliance and Chris Tobin of Musicam USA. That session is chaired by Herb Squire. Radio World explored this topic in our eBook “Fall Remote Season Planner” last year; see for all of our eBook titles.

Another subject well familiar to our readers is “Maintenance, Repair and Troubleshooting.” Chairing an AES session on that topic is ace troubleshooter John Bisset of the Telos Alliance, who for years has collected and shared your engineering tips in our Workbench column at Radio World. Helping him in the discussion will be Michael Azzarello of CBS and Bill and Kimberly Sacks of Orban/Optimod Refurbishing.

Valerie Tyler of the College of San Mateo will moderate “HTML5 and Streaming.” This is the fifth revision of the Hypertext Markup Language standard.

“One feature is the media player and how it handles media being downloaded or streamed,” according to the summary. “This session will look into the technical considerations for media to be played back as well as the user interfaces.” Speakers are Jan Linden of Google, Greg Ogonowski of Orban and Charles Van Winkle of Adobe.

And a Saturday session on “Facility Design”will look at the audio planning aspects within two notable recent projects: ESPN’s new production complex in Bridgeport, Conn., and QTV in Doha, Qatar. Sergio Molho of Walters Storyk Design Group chairs the discussion, which includes his colleague John Storyk as well as Jim Servies, vice president, technology planning at ESPN.

Bialik — whose day job is streaming project manager at CBS — likes to emphasize that AES broadcast and streaming tracks are intended to be educational, not sales pitches. And New York is a good market for this content; so many media are centered there, so many commercials are created there.

He says attendees have gotten more sophisticated in recent years, whether they work as radio engineers, DJs or voiceover talent. “It’s interesting how many more come in, some with garage studios, some with big studios — but they all have studios. It’s an audience that’s much more educated than ever.”

For the list of broadcast and streaming sessions see More topics of interest on that page cross over from AES tracks in Live Sound, Network Audio and other topics. And the convention agenda has many more sessions that you might find interesting. (Photos from the “Sgt. Pepper” sessions? A glimpse of the studio of the future, circa 2050? A tour of WNYC and the show “Soundcheck”? An evening of live audio/radio drama? Check, times four.)