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User Report: Mix FM’S VS300 Still Going Strong

South African community station leans on Nautel for effectiveness, cost-efficiency

View of the master transmission rack, which houses (from top) the Nautel VS300, Broadcast Solutions Electronics 250W FM backup transmitter, and ancillary equipment as used in the audio chain. MIDRAND, South Africa — Mix 93.8 FM is a licensed community radio station broadcasting from Midrand, South Africa, serving the local area and northwestern parts of Johannesburg.

In an effort to minimize costs and keep things simple, the station’s transmitter is co-located at the studio premises. Prior to upgrading to a Nautel VS300, the station had been broadcasting using a traditional, analog transmitter but had no RDS capability and lacked the capacity to fully monitor the transmitter conveniently via a GUI.

Station management opted to install the Orban Inside audio processing option when purchasing the Nautel and since installation in late July 2011 the station has been happily on air. (Needless to say, the old transmitter has been relegated to the “backup” unit). The Orban Inside works for all audio input — analog, AES, USB and even Shoutcast streaming audio — configurations.

While the infrastructure in 2011 was basic at best, the transmitter has been running at high output power without hassles. The exciter audio quality has been excellent and even though a diverse range of music and talk (with varying source quality) gets aired, the chain has been tweaked to try and be forgiving to the various musical genres and presenter competencies. The GUI has been a great way to control the transmitter and the logs and email alerts have been extremely useful, as well as being pretty cool too.

When the transmitter suffered with a minor LCD problem (but remained on air), this was resolved promptly with assistance from Nautel and the local distributor. Vaughan Taylor of LS Telcom, based in South Africa, has always been on hand to support and assist when necessary but even while operating under less than favorable circumstances (including the occasional power outage due to a lack of stable backup power), the transmitter has just kept going and going.

With a new studio having just been recently built, the old infrastructure has gone through a serious upgrade. A new master control/transmission room now houses the IT, audio and transmission infrastructure, and a recently acquired AEQ Arena digital console controls a BC2000 TDM audio router, which feeds the VS300 with AES digital audio directly.

A momentous occasion for the station — presenters Olive (R) and Chelsea (L) with Steve Milosevich (behind control desk) go on-air from the new studio. The Nautel VS300 advanced user interface is seen on the studio monitor pictured left. Taylor served to coordinate the design of the AEQ digital audio router install, along with the rest of the feed infrastructure. A mix of analog and digital inputs and outputs were configured to allow for greater flexibility. Sources for the router include not only the new studio’s mics and playout systems but also an IP audio device for OBs, satellite receiver feeds, and an FM receiver for confidence monitoring.

Mix FM has in fact decided to take good advantage of the VS300’s ability to accept and switch between multiple audio input sources — using the GUI or an assigned GPI — and, by simply having the main and backup studios available on different presets, planned studio maintenance or failure will be extremely easy to deal with — a basic redundancy was implemented by using the VS300 balanced analog inputs for audio feed from the old studio. Having the capacity for USB playout makes total audio loss a highly unlikely event.

A recent VS300 upgrade to version 4 software was painless and has now unlocked even more features for the station to use. The previously annoying clock drift seems to have been ironed out with the use of NTP and the redesigned preset loading process is now a breeze.

All in all, the VS300 has proved to be a compact, all-in-one solution which has fit the bill nicely and hasn’t required any serious head-scratching or overly technical setup to get running smoothly.

Mix FM is proud to be flying the Nautel flag high.

Hayden Koch is station engineer at Mix 93.8 FM in Midrand, South Africa.