The author is engineering manager for Southern Cross Austereo, Melbourne
MELBOURNE, Victoria — At SCA in Melbourne I lead a team of very talented engineers in one of the head-end markets that service the HIT, Triple M and PodcastOne networks around Australia.
The engineering team in Melbourne is part of the wider Technology Services division and is responsible for ensuring reliable broadcast of local and networked programs, design and layout of studios, IT equipment servicing, outside broadcasts, maintenance and testing.
The “Hughesy and Kate Show” has been on-air for 17 years and is one of the flagship national shows for the Hit Network. It is broadcast over 48 stations in metro and regional markets, with a reach of more than 2.6 million listeners. Based in Melbourne, since 2017 the program has consistently been one of the top rated shows in the drive time slot. The longevity of the show, the chemistry between Hughesy and Kate, and the quality of the content produced, makes it very important to the Hit Network.
BROADCASTING FROM ITALY
Co-host Kate Langbroek had always planned to have a year away in Italy with her family. Kate and her husband decided that if they were to make the move it would need to be in 2019. After making the decision, management at Southern Cross Austereo put forward the idea of Kate broadcasting remotely from Italy, rather than losing her from the show.
Initially we expected to be hiring a studio at a local radio station in Bologna. However, it soon became apparent that Italian stations operated very differently. There were very different standards to what we were used to, plus a huge language barrier between our team and their management. Therefore, we decided to set up a studio ourselves.
Whenever we approach outside broadcasts, particularly for large shows, reliability is at the forefront of our decision-making. For the Hughesy and Kate Show we needed to implement IP streaming technology that was compact and simple to use, with the flexibility of redundant IP streaming, remote access and uninterrupted power.
SCA owns versions of almost every Tieline codec available and in Melbourne we primarily use the Tieline Merlin and ViA codecs. After using the ViA for multiple projects in the lead up to the Italy project, we knew without any doubt that it was the right fit for the application.
Andrea Cole from our engineering team went to Italy to set up the studio in an office space. We hired an office space from an American-Italian documentary filmmaker. Room acoustics were a challenge, however Andrea worked with the owner to build acoustic panels and make the broadcast area more useable. We decided that Ethernet LAN connections would be the most reliable option, so our world-class networking team designed a solution allowing Hughesy and Kate to feel as if they were in the same room.
To get the remote studio onto our WAN, we installed an SD-WAN appliance attached to the fiber-connected internet router. This allowed all the devices in the room to be visible on our network and accessible like a studio in our building. Once everything was set up, we could easily access the codec remotely. Software defined networking has come a long way in recent years, and we are using it more than ever to connect our facilities over long distances. In this case it proved an absolute winner.
Our primary fiber connection was paired with a Netgear Nighthawk LTE modem using the TIM network in Italy to provide SmartStream Plus redundant streaming over Ethernet to the ViA.
Our studios can combine multiple return mixes with talkback and IFB functionality on a single mono audio source. Each day the team would do a combined segment with the “Carrie & Tommy Show.” One day we had Kate in Italy, Dave Hughes in Maroochydore, Carrie at her home studio and Tommy in Darwin.
Four locations, four ViA codecs, and all sounding like they were in the same room. Days like this are pretty normal for our drive shows. We love the challenge and without the ViA or Merlin, we couldn’t deliver such flexibility.
We used the Toolbox web-GUI for 90% of our configuration, which gives us great control. We can remotely adjust Kate’s send/return mix, mic and headphone levels. With the ViA’s built in audio processing we can deliver a clear-sounding broadcast-quality line paired with a Neumann KMS 105 microphone, which is the same mic we use in our studios. In my opinion no other mic matches its sound and with the ViA it ensured Kate’s audio quality matched that of our studio.
The show has been on air seamlessly for nearly a year now. From the start Kate felt at home with the setup and was extremely happy with the result. She would continuously praise the reliability of the technology. Dave Hughes back in Melbourne said it was: “Incredible! The technology worked better than when we’re in different studios around Australia.”
In terms of the codec itself, there were no issues. The ViA is portable, simple to use, robust, flexible (with its multiple ways of connecting), sounds great, and has everything built into it that you need to make OBs reliable. We have used them in cars, busses, bikes, boats, beaches, bars. Doesn’t matter where you are, it does the job.
There has been discussion now that we use so many ViAs in the field as to whether we even need to build studios anymore! I’m sure that would never eventuate, but we often laugh about where the future is headed with such great technology becoming available.
For information, contact Charlie Gawley at Tieline in Australia at +61-8-9413-2000 or visit www.tieline.com.