TWO RIVERS, Wis. — Metro North Communications’ WEMP(FM), 98.9 MHz, is a fairly new FM station licensed to Two Rivers, Wis., featuring an easy listening format. The station piggybacks on a tower used by its sister station, WLKN(FM) 98.1. Both stations are located on the western shore of Lake Michigan, in Manitowoc County. While WLKN’s transmitter site is less than four miles from its studio and offices in Cleveland, Wis., the studio for WEMP is eight miles in the opposite direction.
I built the station from the ground up, and looked to Internet-based audio delivery for the studio-transmitter link to overcome obstacles at our tower that precluded a microwave solution. A regional cellphone provider was renting on the WLKN tower for many years before WEMP arrived. This created a real challenge for locating a second microwave STL antenna, not the least of which was wind load on this older tower structure that dates back to the mid-1980s. IP audio also seemed appealing for giving us the digital audio quality I desired.
I first learned of Barix IP audio solutions, now distributed in the U.S. by LineQ, from two rather uncommon sources. The first was a Midwest grocery chain. It uses Barix devices to send audio to their grocery stores from their home office, with the ability for headquarters to customize ads and other announcements in each store. I received a second glowing reference from a Dallas-based church that was using Barix equipment to do Sunday remote broadcasts over a Detroit area radio station.
These references sold me on Barix and the viability of IP audio for our STL. I chose the Exstreamer 1000 IP audio decoder/encoder, as it delivers the deepest feature set of the Exstreamer family, including providing four contact closures. While not used in WEMP’s initial deployment, the future flexibility of using the contact closures for rebooting equipment or monitoring was notable in our choice of model. We purchased two Exstreamer 1000 units: one as the encoder in our studio, and one as the decoder at our transmitter site.
Configuring the Exstreamer units was straightforward through Barix’s intuitive browser-based interface. The controls were easily accessed from the studio by using the station’s PC, while a laptop at the transmitter site provided similar setup convenience. I configured static IP addresses at both ends and reinforced security with a strong password. To give us the studio-quality audio we required at the transmitter plant, I set the Barix box to deliver MP3-encoded audio at 192 kbps, which was the highest bitrate that our internet service provider at the time could reliably keep up with.
Not only was setup easy, but once the units start working, their reliability and resilience to any internet disruptions mean you can sleep confidently all night. In the rare event of the loss of the internet circuit, the units automatically “ping” each other until connectivity is reestablished, allowing minimal downtime.
In addition to the system’s reliability, the Barix STL solution has also delivered the audio quality we wanted. WEMP’s easy listening format requires full dynamic range, without static interference and fade. As a non-microwave solution with digital audio, the Barix Exstreamer proved to be a perfect, cost-effective solution from a reliable supplier.
Since installing the Barix Exstreamer STL solution a year and a half ago, I continue to learn of other satisfied Barix users in our region, including a regional Wisconsin sports network feeding multiple affiliates from one sending unit at its studio. This type of future-proof flexibility further validates our choice of Barix as our IP audio codec supplier. There are a variety of options available for internet-fed audio, but for the price, reliability, quality and ease of installation, in my experience the Barix Exstreamer 1000 is the best in the field.
For information, contact Brenda Stadheim at LineQ/Barix at (866) 815-0866 or visit www.barix.com.