Radio World April Ebook 2021 - Automation: The Next Phase

Page 1

Automation The Next Phase APRIL 2021


Sponsored by












April 2021 eBook FOLLOW US CONTENT Managing Director, Content & Editor in Chief Paul J. McLane,, 845-414-6105 Senior Content Producer — Technology Brett Moss, Technical Advisors Thomas R. McGinley, Doug Irwin Technical Editor, RW Engineering Extra W.C. “Cris” Alexander Contributors: Susan Ashworth, John Bisset, James Careless, Ken Deutsch, Mark Durenberger, Charles Fitch, Travis Gilmour, Donna Halper, Craig Johnston, Alan Jurison, Paul Kaminski, John Kean, Peter King, Larry Langford, Mark Lapidus, Jim Peck, Mark Persons, Stephen M. Poole, James O’Neal, Rich Rarey, Jeremy Ruck, John Schneider, Randy Stine, Tom Vernon, Jennifer Waits, Chris Wygal Production Manager Nicole Schilling Managing Design Director Nicole Cobban Art Editor Rob Crossland ADVERTISING SALES Senior Business Director & Publisher, Radio World John Casey,, 845-678-3839 Publisher, Radio World International Raffaella Calabrese,, +39-320-891-1938 SUBSCRIBER CUSTOMER SERVICE To subscribe, change your address, or check on your current account status, go to and click on Subscribe, email, call 888-266-5828, or write P.O. Box 282, Lowell, MA 01853. Licensing/Reprints/Permissions Radio World is available for licensing. Contact the Licensing team to discu ss partnership opportunities. Head of Print Licensing Rachel Shaw MANAGEMENT Senior Vice President, B2B Rick Stamberger Chief Revenue Officer Mike Peralta Vice President, Sales & Publishing, B2B Aaron Kern Vice President, B2B Tech Group Carmel King Vice President, Sales, B2B Tech Group Adam Goldstein Head of Production US & UK Mark Constance Head of Design Rodney Dive FUTURE US, INC. 11 West 42nd Street, 15th Floor, New York, NY 10036

All contents ©Future US, Inc. or published under licence. All rights reserved. No part of this magazine may be used, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any way without the prior written permission of the publisher. Future Publishing Limited (company number 02008885) is registered in England and Wales. Registered office: Quay House, The Ambury, Bath BA1 1UA. All information contained in this publication is for information only and is, as far as we are aware, correct at the time of going to press. Future cannot accept any responsibility for errors or inaccuracies in such information. You are advised to contact manufacturers and retailers directly with regard to the price of products/ services referred to in this publication. Apps and websites mentioned in this publication are not under our control. We are not responsible for their contents or any other changes or updates to them. This magazine is fully independent and not affiliated in any way with the companies mentioned herein. If you submit material to us, you warrant that you own the material and/or have the necessary rights/permissions to supply the material and you automatically grant Future and its licensees a licence to publish your submission in whole or in part in any/all issues and/or editions of publications, in any format published worldwide and on associated websites, social media channels and associated products. Any material you submit is sent at your own risk and, although every care is taken, neither Future nor its employees, agents, subcontractors or licensees shall be liable for loss or damage. We assume all unsolicited material is for publication unless otherwise stated, and reserve the right to edit, amend, adapt all submissions.

Automation: The Next Phase


he “pandemic year” put new demands on automation and other software-based media management systems that serve radio companies. But it turns out that most of these systems were well equipped to Paul meet this challenge, in part because McLane broadcasters already valued remote Editor in Chief operation and control. Many of the key capabilities already existed in today’s leading products, so the software was ready when broadcasters needed to redeploy at scale. Yet there are lessons to be learned from the experiences of the past 14 months about how radio workflows around automation have changed and how they may change further in the future. We asked our ebook sponsors to comment on that question. We also asked what virtualization means to them, about the impact of the cloud, about how to keep radio local while using these tools. We also wanted to know about their tech support philosophy, service plans and how their product designers are responding to broadcast customer needs in 2021. And consultant Gary Kline returns to share insights into the kinds of questions a buyer might ask themselves when considering a new automation system. As always I welcome your comments on this ebook or any other Radio World content at radioworld@futurenet. com. That email address comes right to me.


The Three Rules of

Software: API, API, API


Radio Automation

Goes Mobile


A New Appreciation

of Software’s Power


Products Get Smaller,

Faster, Easier to Use


Smarts Sees Resilience in

Smaller Markets


BE’s Demuth: Reliability

and Redundancy Are Crucial


You’re Buying More

Than a Product


Automation: The Next Phase


The Three Rules of Software: API, API, API

For RCS, remote operation and open architecture are mission-critical


CS is all about broadcast software — from its Selector music scheduling system, introduced in 1979, to its 2GO browser-based extensions for mobile devices such as laptops, smartphones and tablets. Philippe Generali is president/CEO of RCS.

Above Zetta2GO

How has the pandemic changed workflows for radio broadcast automation users? Philippe Generali: The first thing engineers had to do was figure out a simple, easy setup that they could ship to the show host. We’ve seen different choices in various countries depending on what’s available locally, but essentially engineers started shipping a little mixing console and a microphone that sounded decent — whatever the talent needed to talk remotely and sound like they were in the studio. And clients that work with RCS software knew that Zetta2GO was an option. It’s built to operate remotely on any type of computer — tablets, PC, Mac or even phones, | April 2021

so there was no need to ship a computer for the host, no need to have a special IT setup, just a decent internet connection. Will we go back to what it was before? What’s the new workflow going to be? Generali: It’s funny, the 2GO browser-based extension — of our traffic software Aquira, of our music scheduling software Selector, of our automation system Zetta — was seen as a bit of a gadget before. People said, “Yeah, that’s nice but I don’t really see myself operating the automation system on a tablet from a remote location.” But suddenly it became mission-critical. Tech support calls went through the roof here and in Europe and in Asia as people started to work from home. Many were asking about “that 2GO thing.” Our support people were being asked, “Can you help me set it up? How do I operate it remotely?” This has changed the way engineers perceive working remotely as well as how good it can sound.

Automation: The Next Phase Meanwhile, you can repair your network locally without any problems.

Some of the talent will say, “I’m happy to work from home.” This was done before of course, but only for megastars like Rush Limbaugh, big syndicated personalities who were able to have their own studio at home. This will now be accessible to pretty much anybody who works at a radio station. But there’s more. If you have a talented program director who is joining your operation but he doesn’t want to move, he can work with Selector2GO from wherever he is. When I was a program director and on-air guy, somebody told me, “Be ready to be move around a lot.” I asked why. He said, “Because if you’re successful, you’re going to be hired in a bigger market. And, if you’re not successful, you’re going to be fired and have to move to a lower market. So, you’ll move no matter what.” But those days might be over. How do you keep radio live and local if more people are remote from the market? Generali: There’s a lot on social media that will allow you to monitor the situation in your home town. And what I call the “utilities,” traffic and weather — now you can have them anywhere you want. Services like Waze and weather services provide local information. But you may not necessarily have to be far away from the studio. You could just work from home in the same town, if you want to. It doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily on the other side of the planet or are in a different time zone. The beauty of work-from-home means that, the days you want to come in, you can; the days you don’t want to come, you don’t. You can still know the local life and what’s going on locally.

Below Philippe Generali

What are potential buyers of systems asking for these days? Generali: “Can we have a metered service? We don’t want to build capacity for things that we use only once in a while.” So we discuss with them about whether they operate on premises or whether they operate remotely from the cloud. We’re going to be very active in the cloud, particularly on the international side. We also get questions about how to protect stations from cyberattacks, a new plague that engineers have to worry about. When you speak with an engineer who’s had ransomware installed on a network, you know this is a terrible thing. We offer Cloud-Based Disaster Recovery, which allows the operation to run safely from the cloud. For instance, if you need to turn off all the machines hosting your onpremises software, the program will allow you to still run your voice tracks, which were uploaded a few minutes earlier, your commercials, your songs. They make the station sound like it’s still there and working fine. | April 2021

When someone asks whether they should be in the cloud, what is your dialogue? Generali: Some people say, “Oh, you have to be a multicity operator to be on the cloud.” However, we have companies that are very small, and some that are very big, considering cloud-based operation. As an engineer, you have to talk with management, you have to see how it’s going to change the operation of your stations. When you go onto the cloud, you’re going to trade cap-ex for op-ex. Instead of buying a big machine or set of machines that you’ll put on the balance sheet and depreciate, which is not going to impact your EBITDA, now you’re going to go with monthly fees, your cloud costs, bandwidth and software licenses. These costs have to be integrated into the way the station works. Do you need a different footprint on real estate? Do you have different staffing needs? Do some people go part-time to adapt for a cloud environment? It’s a profound change. You can’t go to the cloud just for the sake of going cloud. It’s not as simple as, “Should you buy an Exchange server for email or should you put the staff on Office 365?”


Automation: The Next Phase Do you find resistance to the idea of recurring costs that go with software as a service? Generali: Yes, though we have found that the international community is more open to it. Sometimes there are needs for a cloud-based environment, sometimes for a more hybrid system. But the cloud is a means to an end. It’s not a thing in itself. Prospective customers ask things like, “Can we have a Christmas channel that would start on Dec. 1, run for one month at the end of the year, and only pay for that month?” Or they would like to do a special internet channel in the memory of rapper DMX for a week, so that they can play all his songs but without having to buy a separate machine or set up anything. The flexibility of metered service is appealing to content creators. Right now you could go on a metered service within minutes, just the time it takes to put a few hours of logs together, and then you’re on the internet.


One engineer told me he wishes there was more joint development between automation and network infrastructure companies. He actually said, “I’d love to see an automation company put the whole console surface right into the automation system and make it one product.” Generali: I would gladly invite him to one of our booths at shows. We’ve been demonstrating such technology for the past few years in Europe and in Asia. For example we presented a fully integrated demo on a gigantic 42- or 50-inch touchscreen. With the HTML Zetta2GO interface, you can operate a virtual console from Wheatstone or Axia on a flatscreen monitor. Zetta2GO is browser-based and everything is HTML. It is the ultimate virtual setup. You put a DJ on one of those integrated systems, which has the automation and the console and everything on one gigantic flat surface — tilted 20 to 30 degrees so it is easy to work with. It’s easy to start and stop the music, put pots up and down, cut voice tracks and do everything on one integrated system. This is made possible because the software is developed using APIs. The end of the big monolithic design of software applications is here. You cannot afford nowadays to have one big EXE and a few DLLs. All of the modules have to be independent and talking to each other by API. It allows features that talk to each other. It allows remote control of every module independently with a light software client like

a browser. That, of course, allows moving the software to the cloud, which will be a must for any manufacturer. And to your point, having APIs everywhere allows easier communication between vendors for better system integration. What else should we know about where this class of products is headed? Generali: API, API, API, the three rules of building software for a solid solution. Your products should be able to interact with anybody’s, including your competitors. I believe in open architecture, whether you are running in the cloud or on-premises. By design, software in the cloud is based on micro-services and pieces of software that are containerized and able to talk to each other. But having that structure with on-prem software allows various vendors to interact with each other. We at RCS like to be insulated from that; that’s why we offer music, scaling, automation, traffic all in one. You only have one phone call to place in case of a problem. But we still build our software with APIs. And I think we have to mention tech support. Tech support is more important than ever in an environment that can be decentralized for operations. Engineers aren’t always on hand to answer questions. So who do you call? Tech support is really one of our fortés. It has been for the past 30 years. It’s so important to have this personal touch. Every one of our engineers picking up the phone and answering is being graded by the people they talk to. We cover 24 hours, seven days a week. Even on Christmas morning, you can call us. Having that touch with the user is more important than ever in a remote work environment.

The flexibility of metered service is appealing to content creators. | April 2021

Automation: The Next Phase

Radio Automation Goes Mobile Native access and control is a selling point for ENCO


NCO’s business started with computer-based process control for critical industrial applications in the early 1980s, but it soon focused that technical expertise on broadcasting. In 1991 its first digital audio delivery system, DAD, replaced manual cart systems commonly used to sequence and play audio content. Bill Bennett is media solutions account manager.

10 Below Bill Bennett

How has this past year changed workflows for your clients? Bill Bennett: Historically most radio production has been done in the studio, with someone directly iterating with their DAD system at the station. And over the course of a day, that could be perhaps 10 different people needing access to a production or on-air system at different times. Then suddenly, all these people are working from their homes. But the station can’t have eight or 10 separate DAD physical installations, located at each of their homes. That’s one of the examples where WebDAD shines, as it’s a browser-based remote control client, allowing those remote users to connect via VPN back to the main DAD

systems at the studio, and keep focused on churning out their content, whether they have a PC or Mac. Are there new capabilities that have come to the fore? Bennett: ENCO users are finding new ways to work while remote or mobile, with our HTML-5 based mobile automation solution WebDAD, which allows for native remote control of our DAD automation system over the public internet via VPN connection. It’s also a great resource when using part-time talent who need only limited access to some systems or only at certain times. WebDAD allows users access to the most popular DAD features remotely via browser, whether down the hall or across the country, making it a key component for today’s decentralized radio workforce. It gives them native connectivity and remote control of their DAD system, where they can do things like library and playlist maintenance, change up their content live with array panels, perform voicetracking, upload audio files, edit heads and tails, and more. What have manufacturers learned that might affect future designs? Bennett: The customer more than ever is ready to trust the cloud for storage, playout, automation and for the sharing of audio and video assets, as well as collaborate on shared documents, notes and rundowns. Pre-COVID, a lot of radio stations still used a more simplified methodology, not wanting or needing to adopt a cloud- or -nternet-based solutions. But the pandemic changed everything and they instantly required it. Many manufacturers, including ENCO, have been saying, “We have been building out this elegant, flexible way to gain native remote access to your playout over a IP network from a simple web browser” And people were already becoming familiar with Web-based editing of documents collaboratively via products by Google, Microsoft Office and so on; so that’s been helpful to grease the skids in radio production workflows. The customer is learning there are many different ways to produce a show, both live and tracked from different locations, literally without skipping a beat now. What is the role of virtualization? Bennett: Virtualization is a term used a lot these days. With ENCO’s products, it means a powerful path | April 2021

Automation: The Next Phase

forward, allowing customers to do things such as build fault-tolerant radio automation solutions that are dynamically scalable, more immune to security threats and are easier to maintain with lower cost of ownership. Same with our WebDAD product that virtualizes a DAD playout and automation environment allowing radio talent to build and track their productions from locations far away from the physical DAD installation, securely. It really opens up a whole new set of flexible options for the production folks. If a broadcaster has to change playout sources from physical studios to a cloud-based instance, perhaps for disaster recovery, if they have a cloud-based playout system in-sync with that — for example, ENCO has our DAD DR solution — that cloud-based system is controlling what’s on the air and feeding the transmitter and streaming end points or streaming CDNs. And now with Zoom, Skype and the rest, it’s possible to have a fairly high-fidelity audio interview with people all over the world at the same time, where they can see each other’s reactions — then you’ve built a kind of virtual studio at that point, which is super flexible.

that you can access your playout securely from anywhere on the Web; and your systems are also automatically being backed up for you at the data center, so you’ve got some redundancy built into your cloud system that you may not be able to have at the station — or may lose, if a terrible disaster happens at the station.


Will automation and related software systems move fully to the cloud? Bennett: Enthusiastically, yes. I am certain we are going to see a mix of hybrid solutions as well as fully cloud-based solutions. The best for most broadcasters probably is a hybrid solution. But one of the coolest things about the cloud is

Presenter running in a HTML5compliant Web

Are there special configurations that people are asking for? Bennett: Yes for sure. For one, they want their remote workers to have access to their on-air systems, and WebDAD brings that to the table. Their staff keeps connected with a familiar interface, from the comfort of their Web browser at home. Also, for those who are at the station but need to keep physically distanced, WebDAD can be installed on computers throughout the station, allowing production staff to access DAD to manage playlists and so forth, without having to go in and out of studios where others have been. Another is ENCO’s automated speech-to-text captioning product called enCaption. It makes live voice interviews accessible to the hard of hearing and deaf communities by creating real-time captions of what’s spoken on the air, which can then be delivered to the radio broadcaster’s website in real time.

browser, on a remote computer, linked by a native IP connection. | April 2021

Are there customers doing particularly interesting or notable things right now? Bennett: We have a customer in California that has a full


Automation: The Next Phase

The customer is learning there’s many different ways to produce a show, both live and tracked from different locations, literally without skipping a beat now.


DAD solution in the cloud, running six concurrent radio stations, all hosted on Amazon Web Services and using WebDAD to control it. There are zero physical facilities, it’s all cloud playout. That’s six live concurrent stations that access the playout system from anywhere on the internet. They just need a WebDAD client on the browser and the login back to the main system in the cloud and they can control what’s on the air. And we’ve got a customer, again on the West Coast, using our video playback platform ClipFire to generate dynamic graphics for news, weather bugs and icons and to squeeze the video in and out of the frame or enlarge and shrink the video to make the graphic sit better. It’s an automated way to help a broadcaster put more contemporaneous texts, news data and crawls into their linear broadcast channel. It’s neat for radio because of the evolving space around visual radio.

One engineer asked me, “Why do automation companies offer a basic version and then try to upsell me, why not build it all into one product?” Bennett: DAD is used by small community stations and multinational broadcasters alike. Stations of these different sizes have different needs and we focus on meeting the exact needs of each station instead of upselling every possible add-on feature to stations who won’t need it. Additionally, both of these stations are using the exact same automation engine. There’s no “DAD lite,” your local volunteer station has the same rock-solid automation and asset management as a major-market media conglomerate. And then there’s the engineer who told us that most of his automation issues involved Microsoft issues. | April 2021

Bennett: Microsoft updates can bring many benefits. They ensure up-to-date security features are installed to keep your station on the air and secure, for example. Updates are a necessary part of life and provide real benefits. Our support team is well-trained in Windows and knows how to navigate these updates, so stations don’t need to use outdated, vulnerable versions for years. Our support team allows you to have the best and safest Microsoft OS experience without sacrificing your uptime or radio automation experience Describe your tech support operation. Bennett: ENCO’s technical support operation is focused on not just helping the customer work through questions or problems that may arise, they also have a proactive perspective, to be a resource our customers can consult with before they make changes to their technical systems. The team’s backgrounds span production and system engineering, software development, on-air talent and more. That experience helps them efficiently support the work of the station engineer. One engineer told me he thinks the industry is hungry for more and better joint development between automation software companies. Bennett: This is a fun topic to explore, because we’re already doing it. Nowadays consoles can fire off playout with GPIOs, physical or over IP; and automation can call up entirely new console presets and configurations. There’s also some metadata exchange taking place, like showing program title and artwork generated from the automation, in a console GUI or even all the way to the head unit in the car, with ENCO’s Padapult RDS product. We’re going to see more and more of this, thanks to industry standards across both the audio transport and control protocols — but it may take a bit longer for the control system to simply read your mind.

Automation: The Next Phase

New Appreciation for Software’s Power Arrakis finds that the pandemic opened a lot of eyes


rrakis Systems was one of the earliest digital automation manufacturers. Ben Palmer is sales engineer.

How has the pandemic changed workflows for automation? Ben Palmer: Fortunately, when the pandemic started, most of the automation software world already had the remote features built-in ready to go. For example, our APEX automation software always had the ability to be remotely controlled and operated. Things like scheduling, voice tracking, live assist, all of this can be handled anywhere with an internet connection and some basic hardware. As a result of the pandemic, we simply saw our customers begin using these features on a larger scale. Studios would often have a single staff member in the studio, with the rest of the live crew doing their shows from home. Scheduling, reconciliation, audio management, all managed remotely. Had the pandemic happen 10 years earlier, it would have been a much tougher scenario. One question is whether this will become the new norm, or will it go back to how it was?

Above Ben Palmer and daughter Whitney.

What capabilities does automation have today that you wish more broadcasters knew about? Palmer: One bright spot of the pandemic was how it opened our users’ eyes as to what the automation could do. In the early ’90s when we first released digital automation, I feel like it was a gradual process for customers to understand the power of a software-based automation system over the old cart and CD systems. It was much like this prior to the pandemic. Most didn’t fully appreciate the flexibility that had already existed; now it is impossible not to. That said, it is important to recognize the importance of security. I’ve noticed that some automation systems, and software, use proprietary “security” and are using open ports on their routers. This can lead to some security risks that can easily be exploited, giving a stranger keys to your studio. It would be smart to do a security audit for your studios.

Below An Apex user screen. | April 2021

What does virtualization mean to you and how does it affect your products and customers? Palmer: Virtualization is a great tool. Both our automation and console products utilize the latest features, and it makes all the difference in the world. Even though the pandemic has been a unique experience, life emergencies have not been unprecedented. Throughout the years we have heard of studios taken down by floods, tornadoes, cats (true story, a cat took a studio off the air). Virtualization has enabled these users to take their studios and run them from their homes, RV or anywhere they need. Being prepared is important, and a lot of it is simply realizing what features are already built-in to their existing systems.


Automation: The Next Phase

Products Get Smaller, Faster, Easier to Use

DJB embraces the world of hybrid and all-remote workflows


JB Radio was founded in 1995 with what was then a DOS-based automation system. Led since 2012 by Ron Paley, its lineup now includes automation, logging and content retrieval software offerings. Adam Robinson is the vice president of corporate operations of DJB and former operations manager and director of engineering and IT for the Evanov Radio Group.


Below Adam Robinson

The basic question of the year: How has the pandemic experience changed workflows for your clients? Adam Robinson: Change, for the most part, has been remote control, remote access and remote workplace. DJB was well positioned for that, given that our software has always been designed for “unattended use.”

We’re seeing hybrid models everywhere; some are using the studio, some are working from home; in some cases, you’ve got half of a morning show in the studio, half at home. The software is there to help them work together in a common workspace. It’s fair to say that most automation systems had the ability to do some remote functionality. But we really got tested when users themselves started coming up with unique scenarios. Instead of asking us, they came back and said, “Hey just so you know, we’re using your software like this.” Can you provide an example? Robinson: Sure. WBGO — one of our biggest customers, their transmitter is in New York City — is a listener-funded jazz station. They came to us last year and said, “We need a solution to replace everything, because we need to be able to manage this remotely.” This was our dearly departed friend, engineer Chris Tobin. We got them turned over in about eight days. We were anticipating a hybrid model, some people in the studios, some working from home and some at the transmitter site; and we would set it up so that all the elements in the background could talk to each other. But the staff all started working remotely. They took shifts for who logged into what machine when; and they built a whole model that has no studio, no physical plant outside of three computers running at the transmitter site. The programming people, the traffic people, the on-air staff, the producers — everybody does their work and then logs in remotely, uploads it and off it goes. Then they started figuring out ways to automate. For instance, using our Radio Spider program, they’re able to put all of their information into a shared drive. Spider grabs it, pulls it out and pushes it to the automation system. What automation system is WBGO using? Robinson: They’re using our DJB Radio platform, our workhorse. They’re going to upgrade to our latest platform, DJB Zone later this year; but just using our tried and true DJB Radio software platform, they were able to accomplish all of this. | April 2021

Automation: The Next Phase


What capabilities may come as a result of experiences of the past year? Robinson: We’re in the process of developing apps that are going to allow for more users to access things remotely. You should be able to work from anywhere; and you shouldn’t have to use a different interface because you’re working remotely. We’re creating an environment where you’re using the same interface no matter where you are, bringing everybody together in a centralized or virtualized server space.

Above On-air screen of

station and make it so that clients could broadcast from “anywhere.”

DJB Zone.

When you talk with clients, what concerns do they raise? Robinson: The biggest is the reliability of public internet connections, because no matter where you are, you’re at the mercy of whatever connection you can get. If you are in a major market, a Chicago, New York, L.A., Phoenix, you’ve got internet up the wazoo; but if you’re in a little town in middle America, you might not have the infrastructure. Because it all comes down to bandwidth. So we’re trying to create systems that don’t rely so heavily on big bandwidth usage — to rationalize the amount of bandwidth available and create processes that allow people to experience the same level of complexity that you would in a major market, but in smaller markets.

You said the buzzword of the year, virtualization. What does that mean for a company like DJB? Robinson: The sky’s the limit. Once we get our heads out of the physical radio space, we stop thinking in terms of tactile user interfaces, about control rooms and consoles and touchscreens, and we start thinking about radio as more of a virtual environment. I wrote last year in an article in Radio World that we have the ability to take our automation systems and push them into the cloud. We just need a server, then we have all these apps that go on top of that to allow users to be able to remote into it. Had this pandemic happened five years ago, it would have been a different situation; but we were already in the process of doing this centralization model, to find ways to remove the brick and mortar side of a

We hear a lot that this is part of a larger migration that was coming but accelerated by the pandemic. Robinson: We were given the mandate from the biggest users of automation that they wanted to centralize and virtualize as much as they possibly could, so we were already moving in that direction. But how do we make it so that virtualization doesn’t destroy the core of radio? How do we keep it so that your station or cluster still has that live, local feel? | April 2021

Automation: The Next Phase A lot of that is up to the talent, but we have to provide them with tools to do that, whether that’s cameras that show the Main Street of whatever town they’re broadcasting from, or software that provides them with current weather updates from their environment. Our automation comes with built-in weather software that allows users to put in the ZIP Code and it will tell you the forecast and the current temperature and the highs and lows in whatever city you’re working in. There are free or low-cost software products that might appeal particularly to buyers with smaller budgets. Is there an argument against those? Robinson: It comes down to two things: support and the engineering behind these programs. I’m not going to speak ill of any of them, but these are apps that were created by software developers, they weren’t built by radio people. DJB’s software is built by radio engineers for the radio industry, and we have a whole bunch of price points that we sell at so that we can tailor our software for the smallest of broadcasters to compete with those free or very inexpensive products. And we have stuff that competes with the big guys for major market or multiple market scenarios plus virtual offerings. Tech support is something readers often ask me about. Robinson: The level of tech support we offer is, as far as I’m concerned, everything that you need to be able to keep your radio station on the air 24/7. Our support packages are tailored to our users. You buy a manageable annual support package from us. That includes updates; that includes 24/7 off-air support, it includes access to our ticketing system and our online resources. We’re a full-service company and we pride ourselves on our relationships. Our customers are our partners, not just people who buy stuff from us. What do you see coming as far as joint development between automation companies and manufacturers of other devices? Whether it’s a surface or anything else? Robinson: I think that’s a natural next step. It’s the evolution of broadcasting, it’s the evolution of where we’re going. The hardware companies are building more software; and we’ve talked to all of the major manufacturers about synergies, about cross-platform development. All of our automation products, both Radio and Zone, work really well with driver support for Wheatstone and Axia. We’re in the process of building support for SAS consoles and routing systems. There’s going to be more commonality. If somebody asks me, “Hey, I really like Product X, can you talk to it?” Well, yeah, we probably should.

Are there big improvements yet to be made in automation? Robinson: Absolutely; but I think we’re at a point where a lot of our customers just want something simple that works. We have “realized the dream” of automation software; and now the communication infrastructure, the rest of the world, is starting to catch up. Everything is internetbased. I’m on a cellphone, and you’re talking to me on a hosted VoIP system using a server in who-knowswhere. We’ve realized the dream of being able to work from anywhere, do anything anywhere, have access to anything from anywhere; now we just need to refine it. We also have to ask, “How many of the features that are already offered are customers actually using?” You’d be surprised to find out that for a lot of them, it’s less than 50%. So we are looking at finding ways to make things smaller, faster, easier to use. We’re probably looking at fewer features rather than more these days. Anything else to know? Robinson: DJB is an up-and-coming software company. Our big plusses are our support, our partnerships with our customers and the ability for us to be able to pivot quickly. In terms of innovation, are we looking at AES67? Is that the future? Or are we looking at SIP-based servers and the Opus codec for being able to transport audio from place to place? Is virtualization going to appbased or does it continue to be core programs running on established operating systems that we create interfaces for? These are the questions circling around our development meetings, and the only way to find the answer is to give it a shot. We have a catchphrase: “Yeah, we do that!” That’s kind of the mantra for DJB.

You’ve got half of a morning show in the studio, half at home; and the software is there to help them work together in a common workspace. | April 2021


Automation: The Next Phase

Smarts Sees Resilience in Smaller Markets

Pandemic “has absolutely kicked every one of us” but customers are amazingly flexible

S 18

Below Debbie Kribell and Johnny Schad

marts Broadcast Systems grew out of a radio station in Emmetsburg, Iowa, and introduced its first software in 1983. We spoke with software developer Johnny Schad and the company’s manager Debbie Kribell.

What do you see as the most important trends or capabilities readers should know about in automation? Debbie Kribell: Working remotely. John Schad: Yes. Remote control of systems, remotely contributing content, remote management of content, being able to distribute data throughout multiple systems. Another big item is security. Our systems are Linuxbased, so that puts us a little ahead of the game versus Windows-based systems, which are much more susceptible to viruses, such as CryptoLockerstyle viruses. We can still get hit with them though. We have a couple of [products] we’re about to release that will help safeguard data as much as possible. And because we’re Linux-based, we have the network monitoring tools to investigate people trying to attack our systems. We can see them trying from all over the world. So far we’ve had a pretty good track record of

data recovery and blocking the attackers, but we see this as a big issue, especially as we work towards more distributed system, where you’re constantly interconnecting with other machines. With that in mind, any particular advice for users? Schad: If you’ve got a system dedicated to, say, production, in your automation system, or any Windows system, be very, very cautious about Trojan Horse emails — somebody emails you saying, “Hey, you’ve won a contest, click here.” Kribell: Or free music. Schad: A warranty. Some of them look very deceptive. Kribell: They’re getting pretty good at it. Schad: “There was a problem with your bank statement, click here to figure it out.” And in short order, a system can be compromised Stations adopt virtual private networks, where they put their entire organization essentially behind one LAN that’s spread out over the internet. This is great for functionality, but it also introduces a whole different side of security. Laptops are most commonly a problem, they’ll get infected and then log into your VPN, bypassing the firewall, and they can contaminate your entire empire if you’re not careful. So really scrupulous use of internet tools. Kribell: And backup. You can’t have too many. Schad: There’s no CryptoLocker virus in the world that can stand up against an offsite backup that you’ve safely put in a bank vault somewhere. Our normal systems have at least two or three automated backups; and we have a product called “Super Paranoid Backup” that allows customers to cycle through USB drives, put those on the server and take them offsite. Will automation eventually all be in the cloud? Schad: Sure. Although one has to remember what the cloud means. All the cloud is, is somebody else’s computer. Stations should make use of cloud services; but when it comes to 24/7 automation, and maybe it’s just a control freak in me, but I would rather have the computer that’s running my station under my own roof. | April 2021

Automation: The Next Phase Right A screen shot of Skylla in Portrait View. “We’re experimenting with this configuration making better use of vertical space in a studio,” Schad said.


A lot of our customers are located at their transmitter facilities, in rural locations with iffy internet connections. Failure in an internet connection really compromises your ability to get to the cloud. Kribell: I deal a lot with the traffic, and it’s so important to have control of that data. As Johnny said, the cloud is just somebody else’s computer. If you have a backup on a flash drive, you can pull that out of your purse, because every day you take it home with a new backup on it. It’s much easier and faster than trying to figure out who has it, did we pay for it, trying to find your password. That all takes time; and you’re not in control. Schad: That said, the cloud will be extremely useful for convenience. We have services now — you could call them in the cloud, although they predated that term — for internet transfer of audio files and storage. But to your question of entire automation being cloud-based, I don’t know that I would recommend that at this stage. One engineer told me, “Ninety-nine percent of problems I’ve had are caused by Microsoft messing around with the operating system.” You probably have a unique take on that. Schad: There’s a reason we didn’t choose Windows. And it was not an easy decision. All of our competitors were and are in Windows. But in the DOS days when we were trying to make the leap from Microsoft DOS to one of the many versions of Windows, we weren’t happy with the result. Windows was meant to have a person sitting in front of it, interacting. A system could be brought to a screeching halt with a modal dialogue box, where some kind of an error where the whole system comes to a halt or makes a big “dunk” sound on the air. With Windows you don’t have the control over the sound system the way you do over a system like Linux, which we were able to customize. That was a big learning curve for us, but we really appreciate what Linux has done for us, because we have complete control over the hardware and software in the operating system. We don’t have to worry about software updates, we control what gets updated and when. If your users have a need for technical support, what’s in place to help them quickly? Schad: In some ways I see tech support as our product. It’s almost consultation-level interactions with our customers. Often we are the number they call when they just don’t know what else to do; and often a problem has nothing to do with us, we just happen to know. I just had a call from a customer a 4 o’clock Sunday morning. He had no audio over the air. We troubleshot everything with the Skylla system and found audio on the program channel but no audio on the external air monitors. I sent him after his STL link. | April 2021

Automation: The Next Phase We don’t just say, “It’s not our problem, call us back when you fix it.” We want to get to know the customer. And when you get to know the customer, you don’t leave them hanging. Kribell: Our normal support is 8 to 5 Central time, but we do emergencies 24/7. They are not just a number, they’re a person to us, almost like family. Do people have a contract for a monthly fee, or is it a one-time thing? Kribell: You get free support for six months when you buy the system, then you can pay it monthly, quarterly or annually. It’s very reasonably priced. We’re like a way cheaper employee. On the traffic and billing side, what are the important trends? Kribell: Being able to access your data remotely. EDI, the Electronic Data Interchange, has been a big one with agencies, we’ve been doing that for quite a few years, though I still get people who have never used it. Traffic is still at the basics — getting that order in, getting it on the air, then billing it, doing your affidavits to verify that it ran. That’s not really changing. How do you feel about the health of the U.S. radio industry and the customer base that you rely on, the people who are your clients and our readers, this whole ecosystem that we work in? Kribell: I feel good. It depends on how you’re doing it. If you are taking care of your local market, doing the ballgames and the remotes and the home shows, you’re present, you’re not just music on the air. You are involved in the community, fundraisers, the parade downtown in the summer. When they are involved in the community, I see them continuing to grow. Now, the pandemic has absolutely kicked every one of us. This hurt, none of us were expecting this. But those stations that turned around to help, they’re staying alive. We had stations giving away advertising to keep their clients alive on the air. When they’re doing local, they’re not only helping themselves, but they’re helping that community. Schad: I grew up in radio and I have been hearing predictions of radio’s demise

There’s no CryptoLocker virus in the world that can stand up against an offsite backup that you’ve safely put in a bank vault somewhere. since I was a kid. MTV — video is going to kill the radio star, that kind of thing. The industry is amazingly flexible and resilient, and it has found a new home online. It’s feeling out what it can do there, but everybody has hit on the idea of content provision as being key to its survival and relevancy. The people we market to most are small- and middlemarket stations. That’s definitely our strength. These are the most resilient people, they come up with all kinds of crazy ways to keep their stations relevant in the community. We love being a part of that. RW: You mentioned a pending new security offering. Schad: We’re calling it Portcullis, like the gates at the castle that close down. We think that it’s going to help secure our stations against certain kinds of attacks. Nothing is 100%, but we sure want to cut down on vulnerability. It’s going to be distributed in stages, the basic version first. Later updates will be free. RW: What else should readers know? Schad: The industry is losing a lot of its engineering talent, and as engineers retire, it’s getting harder to find willing people to step in. The IT world is a seductive one. Your average IT person isn’t going to be standing on a metal transmitter floor below a thousand-foot lightning rod in the middle of a thunderstorm trying to get a transmitter back on the air. It’s a difficult job and it’s getting harder and harder to find engineers. That’s something the industry has to contend with. Kribell: Also, sometimes people can get in — for lack of a better way to say it — a rut. If you’re still doing certain things manually —your weather, or countdowns or health shows manually — we have ways to automate that. Schad: Sometimes, users already have features that they didn’t know they have. | April 2021

” 21

Automation: The Next Phase

BE’s Demuth: Reliability and Redundancy Are Crucial

There will always be hardware failures, but how does the automation deal with them?


roadcast Electronics introduced its first AudioVAULT automation system in 1989. The company is now part of the Elenos Group. Bob Demuth is business development manager, studio systems and international sales manager.


What trends in automation stand out for you? Demuth: Automation suppliers have two kinds of clients: larger enterprise clients and smaller, more mom-and-pop clients. Both want the ability to do more with fewer people, to empower the staff they have to do as much as they can and from anywhere. Even mom-and-pops might have a station in Keokuk, Iowa, and a station in Moline, Ill. They aren’t iHeart or Beasley but they still have multisite operations, and they’re looking to maximize their efficiency and labor force. Our development is geared as much as possible to provide remote voicetrack capability, remote production capability, remote scheduling capability, which might be from home or another location.

Above Bob Demuth

When you’re sitting down with somebody who’s considering a system and they say “Well, I hear I need to be thinking about the cloud,” how does that conversation go? Demuth: I’m in development and I also run international sales for BE, so I get both sides of this. Nobody wants all their eggs in a cloud basket. That’s the overwhelming response that I get. They’re happy to have the cloud as a backup, as a storage or transfer point for audio, but nobody wants their final playout audio coming from the cloud at this point. This is a personal opinion, but the next war is not going to be bombs and missiles, it’s going to be an attack on infrastructure. And the major infrastructure that we all use every minute of every day is the internet. Playout from the cloud is only as good as that connectivity. If that goes away, what do you do?

So most of my customers look at the cloud as more of a backup and a transfer medium rather than a primary playout source. I’m an old-school radio engineer, I would rather invest my time and money with a playout system at my transmitter site that’s fully linked. If I lose my connectivity, whether it’s IP connectivity or traditional microwave, at least I have something that’s still running on its own. We’re working now on one of the largest AudioVAULT projects BE has ever done, a major customer that runs a couple of dozen networks. They’re uplinked, streamed and delivered via set-top boxes around the world. One of their design criteria was that we did not depend on their corporate VPN for the distribution of the audio. This is a large company with a lot of resources and some of the best connectivity, but they are not prepared to make their primary, or even backup, broadcast functions dependent on that connectivity. I know National Radio Systems Committee working groups are looking for a cloud-based solution for HD Radio, a solution that takes the hardware out of it and puts the software on the cloud for encoding of HD1, HD2 etc., and centralizing it. But it seems to be driven by the larger corporate broadcaster companies more than the average broadcaster. Our cloud offering is currently about sharing assets via the cloud, with automatic or on-demand transfer to and from the cloud so those assets are available across an organization’s locations. We will be coming out with a cloud-based playout system for backup use later this year. There is no technical reason this couldn’t be used for on-air if there is enough internet bandwidth available for the desired audio quality. But I do not see many people looking for that as their primary cloud source. Do you see more joint projects happening, for instance between automation and the AoIP network? Demuth: Absolutely. We need to be doing more than | April 2021

Automation: The Next Phase Right A user screen on BE’s AudioVAULT V11.


just pumping out automation over AoIP, meaning playing audio over a WheatNet, Livewire or Dante audio driver. We need more of an integrated functionality with console providers. Why don’t we see more joint development? Some of us try to cooperate, but if a company like Telos Alliance decides to do joint development with BE, how do they deal with RCS or with WideOrbit? Will Wheatstone continue to cooperate and develop with BE? Pick one and you alienate the other. That’s the biggest block to all working together is our natural, competitive nature. That, and how do we deal with proprietary information and “trade secrets.” Yet there is more going on than some engineers might realize. For instance, we offer complete remote control capability with both Axia Livewire and WheatNet, we’re doing more than just sending AoIP out of our playout system and plugging it into an Ethernet switch. We’re also able to send control commands to control surfaces, whether they’re virtual or hardware consoles, whether it’s Axia or Wheatstone or Lawo. Engineers need to know about a supplier’s tech support. Demuth: We have a team of experienced customer service people, some who’ve worked there since the beginning of AudioVAULT. As a customer I bought my first AudioVAULT around 1995. We have had some people working since 1990. There’s experience, accessibility, knowledge, also IT skills. | April 2021

We all depend on the operating system, and if the operating system has issues, or if the local installation has issues, we have to be able to identify those and point the engineer in the right direction and not just kiss it off and say, “Hey, that’s your network switch, you’ve got too much traffic.” We have to be able to help them troubleshoot it without fixing their IT issues for them. We are fully manned in Quincy, Ill., 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Central time. Outside of those hours, we have a callback system and try to respond to any emergency call afterhours within 15 minutes. Our average callback is between 15 and 30 minutes. I used to run engineering for Beasley Broadcast Group from 1990 to 2007. I chose AudioVAULT back in 1990 and I never regretted it. What other factors should buyers be considering? Demuth: If I take my sales and development hats off and go back to my engineering hat, the question is reliability and redundancy. Is your audio stored in multiple places? What happens if you lose one of those places? Can you get seamless continuity of broadcast operations from this system? There will always be hardware failures; how does the automation system deal with those failures and provide the broadcaster with rock-solid, reliable playout no matter what happens? Obviously we can’t control power, e can’t control connectivity; that’s the customer’s responsibility. But assuming they can provide continuous power and

Automation: The Next Phase provide continuous connectivity, how do we keep continuous audio play? AudioVAULT offers the ability to store audio on separate servers. So if Server A dies, Server B is reading ahead on that same, or the cloud engine is reading ahead on that Server B. And you can reboot Server A and there’s not even a pop or a click, when Server B picks up. That’s the kind of system you want. If your main playout engine fails, you want not to have to use a silence sensor to switch over to a backup playout engine that’s playing within a half a song of your main one. Ideally you want to go seamlessly to the backup playout system, without any interruption in programming, so that your listener wouldn’t even notice; that’s what AudioVAULT provides. You want tools to maintain and operate your system from anywhere. To do production, to do scheduling, to do cloud control, automation control and maintenance from anywhere. This would be the same if I’m a mom-and-pop or if I’m iHeart. I’m a very small part-owner of two little radio stations in Aspen, Colo., and I chose AudioVAULT back in in 2005. We have a main system in the studio room, a backup system in the studio room and a tertiary system at the transmitter site, which is at a 10,000-foot elevation. In the winter, the only way to get there was with a SnoCat. I wanted a system that could give me that main, give me that backup and give me that tertiary system, and a transmitter in case I lose all connectivity and can’t get up there for 72 hours or whatever. As long as I can send my logs out 72 hours in advance or I could send them out seven days in advance and I’m still on the air. That’s what I want. One engineer said about automation, “If I can’t install it or fix it, maybe I shouldn’t have it.” Demuth: That’s just guys who don’t understand their own limitations and the difference between hardware and IT, software-based, solutions. Hardware is easy to self-install, but software requires specific configuration and integration with IT infrastructure. There is too much risk that an engineer will miss something that will compromise the reliability of the system. You want the automation supplier to install the system and configure it and teach you how to do it properly. You don’t want someone who’s not familiar with the software to be doing this on their own. You want them to be integrally involved with the installation, whether it’s done remotely or on-site; there’s no substitute for the on-site engineer and production people. But all of this stuff is too complex for someone to take a piece of software, run “install” and expect to use it and get the best results.

And what is your take on virtualization, a topic we've been hearing a great deal about? Demuth: Virtualization is really important to larger customers because it allows them to reduce their hardware profile. For the larger systems that I’m putting in — I’m not going to say they’re exclusively virtual, but virtualization is the future of computing. It raises some challenges, because if you’ve got four virtual servers on one piece of hardware, you only have one video output. How do you deal with some of interface challenges? Your software has to work a little differently. But I believe it is not only the wave of the future, it is the current best practice for larger operations. Another engineer told me, “I don’t like it when suppliers go back to the well all the time with upsells.” Demuth: AudioVAULT is all-inclusive software. You buy a license and you get all of our tools. There are some options that are add-ons, but we are upfront about them. An example is our remote access stuff. It requires a separate gateway server, because if you’re going to open up your automation system to the internet, which is what you have to do to remote voice track and remotely operate, you need an interface sitting on a firewall. So the internet traffic talks to the gateway server, and then the gateway server talks to the automation system, so the outside world can’t get to your automation system. Another example are our cloud-based tools. They are extras, because not everybody wants those functions, but that’s not an upsell. We’re straight about that from day one, we don’t hide anything. But we don’t sell the production screen separate from the import screen, separate from the automation screen, etc. It’s a single, all-inclusive, license for all normal station functions. And what about low-cost or free software that’s out there? Demuth: What is your tolerance for being off the air? That’s the answer to these cheap automation systems.

The next war is not going to be bombs and missiles, it’s going to be an attack on infrastructure. | April 2021


Automation: The Next Phase

Getty Images

You’re Buying More Than a Product 26

Let’s look at key areas to consider when assessing automation Writer

Gary Kline

is a veteran engineering executive and owner of Kline Consulting Group LLC.


utomation, sometimes referred to as the playout system, is a critical asset at many if not most radio stations. These systems can range from small and economical to enterprise-scale. Regardless of the scope and complexity of the system you use, at some point you’ll be tasked with expanding, upgrading or outright replacing it. More often than not, station management opts to stay with the same automation supplier versus making a complete change. Transitioning to a different system typically means extra work and more disruption to everyday station operations, including retraining everyone. It has been said that the best automation system is the one you know. But does that system give you room to adapt to current technology and workflows?

Questions to ask For the past 15 years, automation systems have done a good job at providing hard drive space, memory, speed, networking, metadata, file management, uptime and GUIs. The days of having to reboot your hardware every day or compressing audio files to fit on the drive are long gone | April 2021

for most systems. Options we needed to weigh in earlier purchasing are no longer an issue with today’s systems, which are rich in features, reliability and capacity. So what key questions should you ask instead? Are you thinking about moving to the cloud? If you are considering either a full cloud infrastructure or a hybrid approach, make sure your supplier has a dedicated development team devoted to the cloud. Cloud-based playout is no easy task; you’ll do well to purchase from a company with dedicated resources. Cloud technology for broadcast is still in its early stages. You want to ensure that the company you choose to saddle up with is committed to innovation for the long term. Be aware that cloud playout will be billed as an ongoing software cost, typically monthly or annually. So your capital expenditure goes down — there is less hardware to purchase — but your operational expenses go up. Think about how that might affect your profitability, and consider other op-ex costs to reduce due to advantages such as less hardware and technical support on-site. Those considerations could lead to a reduced real-estate footprint, decreased maintenance costs or other synergies.

Automation: The Next Phase Whether you move to the cloud now or in the future, ensure that your automation provider does not limit your options down the road. What is your cybersecurity posture? More importantly, does your current or proposed automation system fit within it? Cyber attacks, system hijacks and ransomware are real and present threats and should not be ignored. Sure, you may have firewalls and tight network security inside your plant. But if something sneaks through, taking advantage of a zero-day exploit, you could be in big trouble. What protection mechanisms does your automation system have? What redundancy in situations like this does it offer? That might be reason enough to buy a system that offers at least some form of hybrid cloud that allows for almost instant service restoral.

Are they a vendor or a partner? I think most of us would agree that purchasing an automation system is about as significant as it gets. You can have the best console, transmitter and talent, but everyone suffers without a functional playout system. That includes the audience. So when choosing, ask yourself if the manufacturer is someone you’d consider as a business partner who is there for you before, during and after the sale and installation. Like airplanes and consoles, a playout system, once installed, is in operation for many years. This is not something you’ll be swapping out every year. Take a close look at your proposed partner’s bench strength. How many employees do they have? We all know how important technical support is. How experienced

is their support team? What is their track record for development and focus on the product line? Are they financially sound? You want them to be around for a long time, and you want them to have funding to pursue research and development well into the future. Some companies make a friendly playout system but do not have the funding to develop future technologies or adapt to changing workflows. Does the company listen to feedback and incorporate suggestions into future releases? How often do they update their software (ask about minor releases and major version updates)? Do they have a presence in the country where you operate? What’s my game plan? As in any significant station project, make sure you have a plan from the start. This means you should have a strong understanding of why you are changing or upgrading your automation system. You may need to revisit this question as you dig into the costs and resources needed to execute the plan. It is not uncommon for a stakeholder to ask, “Tell me again why we are going through all this effort and expense.” If you can’t justify the necessities, you may run into obstacles receiving the final sign-off. Identify your upgrade and conversion team ahead of time and designate a leader and key decisionmakers. Typically, these working groups will include representatives from engineering, programming, operations, finance/ management and sales. Each of these departments is affected by the choice of system and feature set, so it is best to include them early in the process. In summary, don’t approach the purchase as though it is a simple piece of gear.



Will my system support interoperability? It is not uncommon lately to find a myriad of technologies in the studio. There are the standard fader consoles, glass (touchscreen) mixers, AoIP networks, video cameras, lighting systems, remote voice tracking, geographically diverse studios, and more. If your studio doesn’t have some of these things yet, it will someday. Conduct a detailed review of the interoperability of the proposed system. Ask about how easily it interfaces to AoIP protocols, especially the control layer. The system should be able to handle basic camera control for visual radio. How easily does it manage remote connections to other locations, especially work-from-home situations that are common in the pandemic? We all made it work, but how simple was the workflow? The bottom line is that you should ensure your next automation purchase can easily integrate into and improve your workflows. You should not have to “work around” the system to make things play nice.

Conduct a detailed review of the interoperability of the proposed system. Ask about how easily it interfaces to AoIP protocols, especially the control layer. | April 2021

Issuu converts static files into: digital portfolios, online yearbooks, online catalogs, digital photo albums and more. Sign up and create your flipbook.