In previous Tech Tips articles I have discussed the importance of exceptional remote control of your facilities. My definition of “exceptional” is a sufficient level of control/telemetry/status that unscheduled trips to a particular site are reduced to as near zero as is practicable.
Many of the ideas to get to that goal have been discussed (e.g. generator battery monitoring, block heater current, SNMP monitoring of UPS battery health, etc.). If you are aware of an issue before it becomes an issue that others are aware of, you will be able to schedule a convenient time to make a site visit and bring along what you need (which saves yet another site visit). I will now round out our remote presence in another domain entirely by introducing granular remote audio monitoring.
As you are probably aware, a variety of streaming receivers is available, which serve us well to listen to our stations from afar as well as to monitor the RDS stream, pilot level, RSSI, etc. These are fantastic troubleshooting tools, and as a matter of fact, the Inovonics 635 was essential as I was switching transmitters back in Richmond while sitting outside the GM’s office in Honolulu. This combination of remote control and audio monitoring provide me a sort of “virtual presence” back in Virginia (enhanced with the webcam I had facing the front of the transmitters).
What if we were to go a step further and have the ability to monitor any source in our plant from afar when we’re making changes, rebooting a device, or in order to help us isolate the root cause of an issue which has been reported to us? Fortunately, this is easily accomplished.
The first step is to buy the popular and versatile Barix Instreamer box and wire it as a destination on your router system (if you have a router system — if not, read on). Next is to have some means of remote access to your router system (check with your router manufacturer for the best method to remotely access your system). The final steps are to set the Barix box to stream out in the “internet radio” mode (see Barix instructions) and to download a free media player (I prefer VLC Media Player available at: https://www.videolan.org/vlc/).
With this well-tested arrangement, I have been able reliably to identify the root cause of many the reported problems over the past several years. So, if the jock texts you that there’s noise in one of the Comrex units or the automation channel on the console has a level imbalance — or — the “IFB has some other audio on it …” (this just happened last week), you’re neither relying solely upon their input nor are you relying upon them to help you isolate the source of the issue.
With the combination of router remote access and the Barix Instreamer, I can “walk” through all the audio sources and listen to each stage of the audio chain on my iPhone — and with surprising clarity.
Much equipment in use today provides a web page or telnet access, which allows you to investigate the device you suspect is the root cause and reboot or reconfigure as you believe is necessary.
In case you’re curious what the “IFB has some other audio on it” deal was, it turns out the board op had another of the Comrex units in use at another site by another one of our stations selected for “Off-Line” mix, which was sent along with desired audio to the remote site. As it happened, I was at lunch, but with my iPhone, I could hear what the probable cause was and asked the board op, “Say, is Comrex One in Off-Line???” They have upon occasion asked me if I’m Gandalf or something …
Now if you’re the engineer at a facility that doesn’t employ a routing system, your flexibility may be a bit more limited, but you could purchase a Barix Instreamer and a Broadcast Tools switcher (or use some old automation switcher you have lying around) to select the input to the Instreamer and restrict the wiring to those sources you feel are most vital to monitor from afar.
If you have an old PC available, you could “VNC” to the PC and install the Broadcast Tools free “NETSWITCH” software to remote control the source input. A bit clunky, but it works!
My primary aim in what remains of my career is to make our increasingly-complex and busy jobs as productive and efficient as technology permits. In other words, work smarter, not harder. Remember, no one is really impressed by how many hours you work or how often you need to drive to a site; and no one save the oil companies benefits from the time you spend driving.
Dennis L. Sloatman is vice president of engineering for Summit Media.