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User Report: Oregon Public Radio Broadcasts Through Chaos

Comrex helps OPR navigate new remote broadcast workflows

The author is sound supervisor for Oregon Public Radio in Portland, Ore.

I began working at Oregon Public Radio 15 years ago and am now the sound supervisor. In essence, I work for the news department and am responsible for the final sound quality.

My job varies day by day, hour by hour. On any given day, I’ll hop from engineering something for a live broadcast, to mixing a music session for an audience in our performance space, to doing post-production mixes for a documentary series on our own channel.

When stay-at-home orders were put in place in Oregon, we needed to work quickly to get our staff set up to work outside the studio.

Studios at Oregon Public Radio
With most staff at home, the studios at Oregon Public Broadcasting have been rearranged to prioritize remote broadcasting.

We ordinarily have about 120 people, including talent and reporters, working in the building on any given day. In March, we had to cut down to 12, but we were still producing all of the shows we normally do, including our locally-produced “Morning Edition,” a locally-produced “All Things Considered” and our flagship daily talk show called “Think Out Loud.”

On that show, newsmakers come on and discuss what’s happening in the state of Oregon and southwest Washington. The focal point of my effort when stay-at-home orders were put in place was making sure that that show stayed on the air — it gives us our highest ratings, and it’s where people tune in for information.

We’ve been using the Comrex Access codec since it was first released. They have always been important to producing “Think Out Loud” because they allow us to go into parts of rural Oregon and broadcast the show from places that usually wouldn’t get a visit from a radio show like ours. We’ve gone all over the United States to do the show with Access units.

Now, we’ve been using them to make sure that our hosts don’t have to come into the building. It’s been pretty huge to keep everybody remote — the fewer people here, the safer we all are.

Comrex Access Rack Units
Comrex Access Rack Units

ISDN is not an option, and it hasn’t been for a long time — it’s not possible to get a line without a good deal of planning from any provider. (Not to mention, it’s prohibitively expensive — one time, an ISDN line was accidentally left connected over a four-day weekend, and we were stuck with a $6,100 bill.) Access has been a great solution for us because in addition to sounding great, it doesn’t come with a line charge.

We’ve been using Access in concert with other Comrex products. We have Comrex Opal for guest interviews, and we have three Comrex Access rack units to connect with our hosts from their homes. We also have one Comrex BRIC-Link here which we use to connect to all our remote bureaus — it’s a dedicated link that lets us connect to other stations throughout Oregon and Washington.

Comrex Opal
Comrex Opal

I have the host of “Think Out Loud” outfitted with a portable Access unit, the attachable mixer and a headset mic, and he’s been broadcasting from his son’s bedroom.

The only hurdle is the quality of his home internet, but so far, it’s been smooth. Because he can’t be in the studio, we connect him with multiple guests simultaneously using a combination of tools.

For instance, we routinely have multiple-participant interviews where one guest is connected over Opal, a second is connected with BRIC-Link, and our host is using an Access, and they’ll all be talking to each other. These tools enabled us to come up with a smooth solution for working outside the studio in the course of just a week.

I’ve been an evangelist for Comrex for a while, and our experience with its codecs over the course of the COVID pandemic has confirmed why. If we didn’t have effective equipment, we wouldn’t be on the air. But because we’ve had Comrex, we haven’t had to sacrifice any of our programming.

Radio World User Reports are testimonial articles intended to help readers understand why a colleague chose a particular product to solve a technical situation.

For information, contact Chris Crump at Comrex in Massachusetts at 1-978-784-1776 or visit