TOPradio Preps for the Future

The Belgian station remains competitive through its use of advanced technology and DAB+ digital radio
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TOPradio host Wouter De Vries takes the audience through the evening drive with “Kies voor De Vries” (“Check with De Vries”)between 4–10 p.m.

GHENT, Belgium — Hit/dance-formatted TOPradio recently upgraded its on-air and production studios.

Initiated last year, the operation included the installation of new automation software, the integration of two new consoles, studio equipment and furniture.

TOPradio is a steady player on the Belgian Dutch-language market. In addition to its 15 terrestrial frequencies throughout the Flanders, the station was the first station in the region to commit to DAB+, two years ago.

GEAR
The station relied on the Radiohost automation software from Danish firm, Radiohost since 2003. According to Bruno Heyndrickx, TOPradio director, “The Danish package did very well, but when upgrades started to fade out, we decided to check out the market for a new playout system.”

At IBC2015, Broadcast Partners launched the AerOn Studio automation software. Heyndrickx received a brochure and made an appointment for a demo of the new software at Broadcast Partners’ HQ in Terneuzen, Netherlands.

“We were immediately convinced of the quality of the all-in package,” said Heyndrickx. “AerOn Studio features an integrated commercial planning software and different types of format planning tools, playlist generators and jingle players, editing systems — the package also includes plenty of modular functions, which makes it very complete.”

After a few months of trial testing, TOPradio decided to integrate the new software in the station’s workflow. “Initially, we simply added AerOn Studio on our server and had it running alongside our Radiohost software,” he explained. “We installed one extra PC and both systems ran in a parallel. This allowed us to thoroughly work with and test the playout software. Broadcast Partners offered excellent support, fine-tuned the system, and guided our team through the various functionalities.”

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The Axia IQ digital console and Broadcast Partners’ AerOn playout
system in TOPradio’s on-air studio.

In the same move, the station decided to upgrade its complete radio database — tracks, station imaging and jingles.

“The AerOn software includes broad parameters, allowing us to assign the right key to each individual track: recurrent or hit record,” added Youri Beaumont, TOPradio station manager.

“Our musical format has evolved during the last decade, but we remain faithful to the ‘new music’ concept (dance and new releases) and our adage: ‘We love music!’”

STUDIO UPGRADE
After a major mains failure incident at the end of last year, the station’s production studio was irreversibly damaged.

“In the end we recovered part of the damages from the insurance company but since we had to build a new studio from scratch, we decided to refurbish both the production and on-air studio,” said Heyndrickx.

“We replaced the two mixing desks and opted for two new Telos Alliance Axia IQ digital consoles and a Livewire AoIP network, incorporating both studios in one network.”

The two studios were overhauled and equipped with new studio furniture. In terms of workflow, this resulted in the production studio being used as a broadcast studio, while the on-air studio was being refurbished.

Belgium-based broadcast contractor TVV Sound installed the two Axia consoles and the Livewire network and handled all of the upgrade. “We also added Neumann BCM 104 mics on mika! arms, JBL LSR308 digital studio monitors and a new Telos Hx6 telephone hybrid system,” said Edo Dijkstra of TVV Sound. “For the final processing to the FM transmitter we installed an Omnia.11.”

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The station installed new furniture and equipment during the overhaul.

DAB+ PIONEERS
Two years ago, TOPradio was one of the first six stations in Flanders to transition to DAB+. Norkring, DAB+ network operators decided to go ahead with the technology when a minimum of six stations committed themselves to the new platform. In May 2015, Norkring began with two transmitters in Flanders, offering the DAB+ signal.

For TOPradio, DAB+ opens up new potential in terms of audience reach. “The FM dial in Flanders is saturated — with no future prospects, despite the upcoming 2017 FM radio licence review. We broadcast on 15 FM frequencies but our reach is quite modest — we achieve a 30 percent coverage of the territory with no growth prospects whatsoever,” admitted Heyndrickx.

“DAB+ for us is a step-up to new listeners. At present, DAB+ is pretty much an ‘automotive’ story. Car audio sets are crucial to spreading DAB+. At home, radio suffers competition from audio streaming, Spotify and the DigiBox digital cable network, offered by telecom providers.

Although we were quite skeptical about DAB+ two years ago, I believe that DAB+ is poised to bring more nationally-licenced commercial stations like TOPradio to the audience. Something we cannot achieve with FM today.”

Heyndrickx is well aware that the popularity of DAB+ is directly linked to the evolution in the automotive industry and the introduction of the new technology in cars.

In November, Norkring initiated test broadcasts with thee additional transmitters in the provinces of Limburg, Antwerp and West-Flanders with the goal of obtaining full coverage in the coming months.

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Dylan Lamon of TVV Sound installs new cabling and
technical equipment in the TOPradio on-air studio.

INCREASING AUDIENCE
“I’m happy to say that we see a slow but steady growth in our audience,” boasted Heyndrickx, “We get reactions from people everywhere, including listeners in the south of The Netherlands. When public broadcaster VRT, today on DAB, transitions to DAB+ this will mean extra promotion. And we already know that DAB+ listeners don’t return to FM anymore.”

To optimize the DAB+signal, TOPradio assigned Broadcast Partners to install a new audio processor. “Our‘neutral’ [meaning no regional advertisements] DigiBox-feed, (Digibox is an HD set-up box from Belgian cable service provider Telenet) used for the cable network transmission, is also routed via AoIP to Norkring who then multiplexes it onto its transmitters. We’ve tested various brands and types of audio processors and the Orban 6300 definitely was the best choice for us,” he says.

The new TOPradio studios were put back on air at the end of April. Lounge-chill formatted station ZEN-FM, operating under the wings of TOPradio, uses the same studios for broadcasts and streaming, using a Omnia.11, version 3.0 software. In July,the station, with a loyal following on its streaming services and on FM, alsobegan broadcasting onDAB+.

“The digitization of radio through the DAB+ platform is essential if one wants to make radio futureproof. DAB+ offers a pristine sound and is easy to use — I believe our growth lies with DAB+ and our new studio configuration is ready to deal with it,” concluded Heyndrickx.

Marc Maes reports on the industry for Radio World from Antwerp, Belgium.

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