Radio Preps for 2017 Presidential Inauguration

AoIP is the order of the day as ISDN dwindles in the rear-view mirror
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WASHINGTON — If you can’t get a ticket to the presidential inauguration on Jan. 20, don’t worry; there will be plenty of coverage of the day’s events by radio organizations, including live feeds, website video and posts on a variety of social media platforms.

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The inaugural will take place on the west side of the U.S. Capitol, viewed here from across the Capitol Reflecting Pool.

Westwood One News, Fox News Radio, CBS Radio News, NBC News Radio, ABC Radio News, Voice of America and National Public Radio are among those planning to devote lots of manpower and technology, well aware of the historical nature of the event.

The radio nets plan to trot out all kinds of coverage utilizing streaming audio and social media platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, along with traditional methods to reach radio audiences.

As of late December, the Presidential Inauguration Committee was still finalizing details of where broadcasters will be positioned as President-elect Donald J. Trump raises his hand and is sworn in from the platform on the west-front steps of the U.S. Capitol building. The Senate Radio-TV Gallery also helps coordinate broadcast media for the event.

Jeff Fitzgerald, executive director of operations for ABC News Radio, said plans for a “talk show row” somewhere at the Capitol were in the works.

“Historically, the networks have created and supported these events for our affiliates,” Fitzgerald said. “The radio networks have formed a consortium of sorts this year to accomplish that.”

There are nine official events scheduled for the day and a lot of ground to cover, from the morning worship service and procession to the Capitol for the swearing-in and the inaugural address, then a luncheon before the formal precession down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House and finally concluding with the inaugural ball.

Unsurprisingly, given the nature of the recent campaign, the inauguration of the country’s 45th president is generating keen anticipation, according to radio network news executives.

“There is tremendous interest in this particular event driven in part by the president-elect,” said Chris Berry, senior VP and general manager of NBC News Radio. “It’s a tremendous civic lesson for our listeners.”

THE TECH BEHIND THE SOUND

Audio over IP will be the backbone of radio’s broadcast network infrastructure for Inauguration 2017, network officials said. IP audio tools, utilizing a variety of hardware and software, have mostly replaced older fixed technologies like ISDN and POTS lines.

Field codecs can connect to the internet with wireless links like Wi-Fi and 3G/4G modems via a cellular provider.

This will be the first presidential inauguration during which radio networks do not generally expect to use ISDN, according to one network official. Verizon representatives told broadcasters during the planning stages that obtaining ISDN is no longer a realistic option within the Washington beltway, according to one expert. “Even if it were,” the technician said, “its use is cost-prohibitive.”

Fitzgerald of ABC News Radio said most of the radio networks will be located on a platform near the Capitol about 30 yards from the presidential podium where President-elect Trump will take the oath of office.

“From there we will use a Comrex Access unit plugged into wired internet connection along with a wireless backup,” Fitzgerald said.

ABC News Radio will use IP codecs to transmit multiple audio paths from across Washington, he said, but the parade presents unique challenges because of possible spotty internet bandwidth along the route.

“We’ll have a correspondent on the media truck traveling the parade route, but we plan to use microwave technology to broadcast along the route,” Fitzgerald said.

In case of total internet failure, the network will have BGAN satellite equipment capable of creating an ISDN-quality feed as a back-up, Fitzgerald said.

Inauguration day weather is always a huge consideration as radio networks lay out their preparation plans, news executives said.

Westwood One EVP of News and Talk Programming Bart Tessler points to cold and rain as the top concerns when it comes to their day-long coverage.

“You plan and go ahead and hope for a decent day. There have been inaugurations where it is too cold to even be outside. Our coverage will focus on the swearing in and inaugural address,” Tessler said.

Part of Westwood One’s coverage package — which tallies about a dozen people on site at the Capitol and other event locations — includes doing a number of custom reports for a variety of large market affiliates, Tessler said.

The technology package for conducting such a huge live remote calls for a variety of devices and techniques, according to Zach Akey, director of engineering for Westwood One Washington. The network’s technical needs vary site by site.

“This is really the first inauguration that we are totally getting away from ISDN. Most everything will be IP audio using Comrex Access codecs. We utilize the CrossLock feature where possible to aggregate LTE and Wi-Fi and/or dedicated MIS. Other options include smartphone recording,” Akey said.

Westwood One reporters will carry Marantz PMD620 or PMD620 digital recorders, Akey said, and utilize laptops loaded with Adobe Audition for editing. Shure SM58 and Sennheiser MD 46 are in the mic package.

“We will utilize Luci Live as a filing app or an audio over IP backup to the Comrex units,” Akey said.

Akey said all equipment will be tested over a two-day period just prior to the rollout. “Our goal is to the give our staff the maximum amount of flexibility that we can.”

Greg Peppers, executive producer of AP Radio, said the network will offer its affiliates live coverage of the inauguration from the U.S. Capitol, anchored by White House Correspondent Mark Smith.

“AP Radio also will cover the inaugural parade with correspondents Jerry Bodlander and Ed Donahue along the parade route. We are planning to use IP technology to report live from the Capitol and along the parade route,” Peppers said.

Smartphones may not be of much use for filing reports near the Capitol; Pepper said it’s widely believed that the U.S. Secret Service jams cell phone signals in close proximity to a president or president-elect.

Fox News Radio will provide coverage for their broadcast network stations, Fox News Talk Digital and Mobile Channels, along with partners SiriusXM on Channel 450 Fox News Talk and Fox News Headlines Channel 115, according to a Fox News Radio spokesman.

FNR has transitioned to IP-based broadcast solutions for its coverage but will still utilize POTS and existing ISDN circuits for redundancy at certain broadcast locations.

All FNR broadcast locations will be equipped with Mackie mixers and MacBook Pros loaded with Adobe Audition for audio editing and digital audio propagation, the spokesman said.

FNR “reporters will be equipped with iPhone, MacBook, Skype, Report-IT Tieline app and air cards with discrete telco providers for redundancy. We also give the ability to reporters to broadcast via BGAN satellite from certain broadcast locations,” according to the network.

The radio network utilizes Neumann BCM104 microphones for its news division and EV RE27 mics for their network talk divisions.

In addition, FNR will team with Fox News Channel for inauguration day coverage. FNR will be able to access satellite broadcast trucks for third and fourth channel audio delivery along with utilizing IP codecs from Tieline.

“The Report-IT app via iPhone and Android smartphones with Tieline SmartStream Plus increases and enhances the reliability of smartphone broadcasting when connecting to Tieline’s Merlin and Merlin Plus IP codecs,” the Fox News Radio spokesman said.

CBS Radio News, which totals nearly 700 affiliated stations around the country, is expected to provide affiliates with inauguration reports, despite trimming some veteran news talent from its news operations in early December including top Washington correspondent Barry Bagnato. Other notable CBS Radio News hosts lost in that shakeup were anchors Harley Carnes and Bill Whitney, according to those familiar with the changes. Also, CBS Radio News VP Harvey Nagler will be retiring from the radio network just prior to the inauguration.

The network declined to comment about specifics of its inauguration coverage plans.

Don’t expect the radio networks’ coverage of the story from the nation’s capital to conclude with the inaugural balls. Demonstrations are expected to accompany the inauguration. For instance, hundreds of thousands of women are expected to march near the Capitol one day after Trump’s inauguration.

“We expect those large demonstrations in Washington to be epic,” NBC News Radio’s Berry said.

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