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Optimod 5950 Drives Home the Sound of WCKC

Processor helps “101.7 The Drive” step on the gas

Radio World Buyer’s Guide articles are intended to help readers understand why their colleagues chose particular products to solve various technical situations. This month’s articles focus on audio processing.

Dom Theodore is president of consulting firm RadioAnimal, program director of Glenn Beck’s radio program and VP of programming for The Blaze Radio Network. He and his wife also own three radio stations, among them WCKC(FM) in Cadillac, Mich., “107.1 The Drive,” which plays classic rock. 

“The station didn’t have a processor when we acquired it in 2016, so we picked a unit that was comparable to the other processors in our market,” Theodore said.

“Now, eight years later, many of our competitors have stepped up their game. Our direct competitor moved their chess piece in 2022 and, while we tried to keep up, we found we were doing, at best, 55 in a 70. We needed to upgrade.”

Dom Theodore

After demoing a box from its earlier vendor, Theodore pivoted. “We were familiar with Orban as we have a 5500 on our classic hits station. We needed firepower, so we decided to demo the top-of-the-line box.” The Orban 5950 was their choice. 

Theodore said he was surprised to open the shipping box and pull out a piece of hardware that only occupies one rack unit. “This just shows how much DSP power can be used in such a small space,” he said.

He racked it up and used the front panel to put the box on the network. 

“The front panel was so intuitive that I don’t think we even had to reference any documentation to adjust it. A quick start guide is included for those who need it, but if you just step through the menus, it gets you there.” He fired it up and went with the default preset. The 5950 has dual power supplies, and Theodore feeds it from two different UPS power conditioners. 

Unlike previous Optimods, the 5950 comes with an internal web interface, which means Theodore can log in from his Mac in the car and tweak, something he couldn’t do with the previous processor unless he used Parallels remote access. 

“The web interface is very well laid out, and one or two clicks gets you to exactly where you need to be. Everything is easy to understand, and the contrast of the black background and the lighter colors of the controls makes it easy on the eyes to see and make adjustments.”

The internal web interface allows Theodore to log in from his Mac in the car and tweak.

Theodore describes the audio of his competitor as “almost too sanitary, for lack of a better term.” He’s delighted with his new sound. 

“The Orban brought life to the music, almost like touching the loudness button on the stereo. It was effortless yet impactful. Vocals just come to the front and the soundstage is dramatic. Bob Orban’s MX processing turned a page for everybody in the processing world.”

The station plays music ranging from Zeppelin to Green Day; Theodore said the 5950 handles the differences in decades with ease and never sounds fatiguing.

His audio path is a BMX III — recently rebuilt by Scotty Rice — a Sage EAS box, the 5950 and a composite STL to the transmitter site. No composite processing is deployed at the transmitter.

“Our next step is to begin using dynamic RDS. Up until now, we had an external RDS generator that wasn’t dynamic. The 5950 has a built-in dynamic RDS generator as well as a ratings encoder, options to ingest streaming audio as a backup source and, of course separate HD processing for HD radio stations with delay to match the FM and HD paths,” he said.

“With the 5950, we are now up to speed and, to quote the Eagles, are spending life in the fast lane.”

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