What to Do Before All Is Lost

Your station likely is spending a lot of time and money putting audio segments together every day. Often these pieces are aired for their lifecycle and then forgotten. The issue becomes what to do with these segments later.
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Your station likely is spending a lot of time and money putting audio segments together every day. Often these pieces are aired for their lifecycle and then forgotten. The issue becomes what to do with these segments later.

This article poses many important questions and lots of possible solutions. It also deals with the questions you must answer when setting up an archive or backup of your audio pieces.

We will discuss the keys to a good backup, some of the potential solutions that exist and some recommended steps to take in backing up your audio files.

First questions

The first decision you need to consider before developing your backup plan is how much of your audio you want to store.

Depending on the needs of your station, the budget and content, you may have very different archive needs from every piece of audio you generate to small segments done occasionally.

You will also need to think about how long you want the archived files available. Sometimes audio gets dated very fast and is not really useful anymore, so it’s important to know what needs to be kept for 1 month vs. 50 years.

The audio stored could range from something “nice to have” to something you absolutely must keep. So consider how secure to make the archives.

Typically radio station archives will continuously grow as more material is generated and it is a good idea to estimate the growth. Once you have the answers to these four major questions you can begin to develop a backup plan.

  1. How much past material will be archived?
  2. How long do you want it available?
  3. How secure does it need to be?
  4. How much it will grow each month or year?

What are you willing to lose?

There are three keys to maintaining a valuable archive: high quality in the backups, a universal format and redundancy.

When starting to determine how much you will store, the idea of compressing the audio probably will arise. Many consumers use compressed formats for their audio like MP3 or AAC, but for professional broadcast use, quality is too important for a lossy compression, in my opinion.

Formats like MP3 and AAC do have the benefits of taking up much less storage space, but not without a cost. Unfortunately, they permanently delete some of the audio.

If you do want to compress the audio in your backups it is important to look into a lossless compression. A good example of this is FLAC, a Free Lossless Audio Codec that can compress up to 24 bit audio files. There are several lossless compressions that exist, but FLAC seems to be one of the best right now.

This brings up another key with regards to backups: The format you save in is important.

When deciding what format to save in, consider the future and find a format that will still be around when you need to access your archives. The WAV format seems to be the most common and universally accepted format. This format is normally uncompressed and often used by experts. Two benefits of WAV files are that it can be very high-quality audio; and many software programs can edit the files. The major drawback is the large size of files.

Again, selecting a format that will still be in use when you need it is an important factor to consider and you must find one that meets your needs.

Medium

When considering the format of the audio you also need to decide on what media you will use to store the files.

Many types of storage media exist and are used by different companies. Without reviewing them all, the most common used for backups are CD (compact disc), DVD (digital versatile disc), hard-disk drive, Flash drive and DLT (Digital Linear Tape).

Each media format has its own advantages and disadvantages and can be useful or not depending on your backup situation.

The compact disc originally was developed for digital audio and is still the standard for physically storing media. The CD has two major drawbacks for archive use. A CD typically only holds 650 to 700 MB of data or around 80 minutes and is reported to have a lifecycle of anywhere from 18 months to 100 years. But three years seems to be the most common estimate for the life of a CD and this is just not enough space or time for most archives. I would only recommend a CD as a short-term backup media.

A DVD is a little better than a CD; its lifecycle should be a little longer and it can store more than eight times more data. Certain DVDs can be burned on both sides and sometimes in dual layers for increased storage space. DVD-Audio has advantages over the CD in that more audio can be stored and the quality of the audio can be set higher. DVD is a good format for personal use when the content needs to be high quality and does not need to last more than five years.

The medium you probably use on a daily basis and more than any others is the hard-disk drive. These come in several formats and numerous sizes.

The lifespan of a singe hard drive can vary from 18 months or less to 15 years or more. Typically drives come with a warranty of three to five years. Hard drives are unique in that regular use is good for the drive. You will find that a disk will last longer spinning in a system than sitting on a shelf; the startup and shutdown process is hard on disks.

Hard-disk drives can be set up in many ways and used internally in a computer, externally in an enclosure of some sort, combined with several drives, or even in several systems over a SAN (storage area network) to reach the storage needs you have. The maximum size on a single hard drive on the market seems to grow every day; now it is right around 1000 GB or 1 terabyte per disk.

Hard drives are also relatively cheap considering the amount of storage they provide and many ways they have of protecting the data on them. More on that in a moment.

Flash drives and tape drives are also common for backup uses. The lifecycle of a Flash drive is tough to determine and appears to be based more on how much it is used than how long it has been used. Flash drives range in size from 32 MB to over 64 GB and claim to allow around 10,000 write/erase operations in a lifetime. Flash drives are useful for personal backups and can often hold more than a CD or DVD and are also more durable.

Tape drives such as DLT are common in massive archives such as archive.com. The DLT tape should last around 30 years and can range in size from less than 1 GB to over 800 GB. The drawbacks of tape: it is slow to record on; tapes are more expensive to buy; and they take up more physical space.

More than one

Redundancy in backups is another key and can help in your choice of formats and media.

Having all your station backups on one hard drive in one format is a start; but it would be better to have at least two copies of everything. Perhaps your station could start with one copy of all your archives in the WAV format and a smaller backup in FLAC or another compressed format.

When dealing with redundancy you are ensuring your audio will survive in the face of failure. On the smallest scale your backup could be two copies of your files in two separate folders on the same hard drive. However, better to have two copies on two separate hard drives. Better still, the hard drives should be in different computers.

Redundancy allows you to plan for a failure, whether it is a hard drive developing bad sectors or a building catching fire.

If your audio is important enough you may want to look into off-site storage redundancy. This can be as simple as asking the staff to backup all their data to a DVD and take it home with them, or as secure as hiring a company like Evault to store your audio files and guarantee they will be available when you need them. There are many companies like Evault (www.evault.com) that offer “a complete solution that keeps your data secure, compliant, and easy to manage.”

If you don’t have the resources available to spread your backup out, you may want to consider setting up a RAID configuration on your archive system. There are two RAID configurations that are valuable for redundancy in a backup: mirrored or striped set.

Mirrored drives require at least two disks and are called a RAID 1. In this setup the exact same data is on both disks and if one fails the other has an exact copy of your archive. RAID 5 is the most common striped set configuration and requires at least three disks in the computer.

Striped set configurations spread the data over all the disks and they each work as a backup for the others. In this system if you experience a hard-drive failure, as long as one disk is still working you can replace the bad disks and the data will be rebuilt.

Developing a proper archive for your station involves answering important questions and then taking necessary steps to backup what is needed. You never know when a failure could occur, so the sooner you start the better.

Share your ideas about archiving and backup methods. Write to radioworld@imaspub.com.

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