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A Gripe About ‘Broadcast’ Computers

Paul Shinn wants to get something off his chest.

A broadcast engineer for 27 years, he shares some thoughts with me that I thought I’d pass along for your comments.

“I’m no fan of computers and similar consumer-grade electronics at a radio station,” he begins.

“Back when I got started, stations were turntables and cart machines. One station had a MacKenzie machine (it pre-dates carts). There were consumer-grade turntables, and then there were broadcast-grade turntables. The difference was night and day.

“As for carts, there were broadcast-quality cart machines, and there were consumer grade 4-track machines (which used the same tapes). Again, difference was night and day. You could drop a cart machine on the concrete and it still worked. You could subject it to disc jockeys, and they still worked (the machines, that is).

“I remember when we brought in the first CD players at KWG/B101. Although they were high-end consumer machines at nearly $2K each, they were damaged by disc jockeys. CD players had the ‘start’ buttons smashed through them, decks dislodged, optics damaged, you name it. Meanwhile, the broadcast-quality cart machines outlived every CD player that ever went through the place,” Paul continues.

“Now, I do live in the real world, and I know that all the old stuff is horribly obsolete. However, I have seen computers that were built for military and industrial uses, and I see the consumer-grade junk that passes for a ‘broadcast-quality’ computer today. Junk!

“Here’s my personal rule: If any of the parts for the ‘broadcast’ computer can be found at Best Buy, then it is NOT broadcast-quality. Period. No way I should see an Intel motherboard or a Western Digital hard drive in a broadcast computer. If I do, then I know it is just a prettied up piece of consumer-grade junk.

“I’ve seen a lot of gear come and go during my time as a broadcast engineer. I have earned the right to be judgmental on the equipment inhabiting the airwaves today. I’ve been on the buying teams of two corporations at the NAB Show, and had factory training, etc. Some of the great guys that used to design broadcast-quality gear are long gone, replaced by stuff that can be bought at Best Buy, then adapted using software written by the same brilliant nerds that brought us life-changing greats as ‘World of Warcraft’ and ‘Tomb Raider.’

“To 99.9999% of the population, a computer failure is merely an inconvenience. With that in mind, we still are forced (through lack of supply) to choose these same systems to run our broadcast stations. It’s going to the dogs. And, the dogs are not well groomed.”

So says Paul Shinn. Is his commentary fair? Is it realistic in the computer-driven, cost-sensitive world of today? What do you think?

(PS – Here’s a link to an interesting page about MacKenzie repeaters.)

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