WheatNews Sept 2020

WHEAT:NEWS SEPTEMBER 2020  Volume 11, Number 9

Four Minutes to Air

Covershot

The folks at KING-FM, Seattle, had just finished installing this magnificent new studio and had made it through their grand opening ceremony when Covid-19 hit.

By the time anyone had given any serious thought to the LXE console shown here, it was a Sunday night in March and no one was around except one board op who was there to cover, live, the evening choir at Saint Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in downtown Seattle. 

What better way to bring a sense of normalcy to listeners during this time of uncertainty than the liturgical music and Gregorian chants of The Cathedral Choir, right?

But at a few minutes before live air, something went wrong. 

“I get a phone call from the board op literally 4 minutes before they were supposed to go on live who said she had a problem,” said Erik Utter, the integrator on the studio project, who immediately opened up his laptop and loaded up the Remote LXE software that let him take control of the control room LXE console. “I was able to remote in to the system, fix the issue with the codec, and while I was at it, punch up the right source, bring the fader up, and trim the level, all just in time to go on like nothing had happened.”

Whew.

Take the KING-FM Studio Tour of the station’s new WheatNet-IP audio networked studios. 

Click on the image below for a gallery of images.

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Cable Hacks from the Expert

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Source: KING-FM TOC, Seattle, courtesy of integrator Erik Utter, Utter Associates. 

This is what controlled chaos looks like from the back of a TOC rack. 

All cables are tagged with source, destination and the signal running across it. Labels are easily identifiable, so you know instantly that a cable is connected into patch bay A1 in rack 8 on one end and patch bay D17 in rack 17 on the other, and whether it’s routing the on-air signal or that of CD player 2, for example.

You can’t see it from this photo, but the big fat bundles of 100 or more cables that run vertically down the rack are bundled into hexagons. Smaller hexagons fit together to make one giant hexagon bundle similar to a beehive. Why a hexagon? It turns out this is the most efficient way to fit cabling in a rack, according to integrator Erik Utter of Utter Associates. 

Notice, too, the Velcro® straps. “We moved away from the Zip Ties a number of years ago, mostly because it makes it difficult to make the inevitable changes,” said Utter. Two or five or seven years down the road, his clients won’t have to cut through dozens of Zip Ties to remove a cable and then replace all those Zip Ties when they’re done; just loosen the Velcro strap and slip the cable in or out and Velcro it closed.    

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Here’s a closer look leaning into the rack. Those are BLADEs at the top and you’ll see that there’s not an idle I/O in the bunch. Utter likes to connect every single input and output that is physically on the BLADE, whether it’s a BLADE in the studio or a BLADE in the server or equipment room for future-ability reasons. In the above case, he wired all I/O through the DSUB-25 connectors to either E3 bulkhead panels or patch bays, even if they’re not yet designated for use. He finds that connecting I/O to the E3 bulkhead or patch bays as shown here is much easier to manage, helps keep things neat and tidy, and makes troubleshooting stress-free because cables are spaced apart and “you can get big fingers in there to move things around.” 

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been behind a patch bay and I’m trying to figure out where the connector is for CD player 3 or something simple like that. This, I can just scan the labels and get my hands on the cable I need in no time,” he explained.   

As for which cable to use, CAT6 or CAT6a, he advises using a mix. Cat6A carries 10 Gbps to Cat6’s 1 Gbps, but the cost is significantly higher, both in labor and materials. Plus, there’s not a lot of equipment out there that benefits from more than 1 Gbps. The exception might be the trunk lines between the studio and the equipment room or between a mixing booth and recording studio where there’s a good chance that equipment will come along eventually to utilize 10Gbps and where it would be challenging to upgrade the cable infrastructure later. 

Whatever cable category you go with, Utter recommends independently testing and certifying cable. That’s going to protect you from something simple like a kink in the cable that could make it difficult to pass the necessary bandwidth, he said. 

To see the studios, consoles and other equipment that all those cables connect to, take the KING-FM Studio Tour of the station’s new WheatNet-IP audio networked studios. 

Managing Peak Overshoots in Streamed Content

REAR v3 flatPeak overshoots are equal opportunity annoyers in both streamed and on-air content.  But unlike analog, digital audio gets ugly once it tries to go past 0dBFS, the point at which there are simply no more bits left and nasty distortion ensues.

The recommended peak input level for most codecs is around -3dBFS so a limiter is necessary to ensure that level is never exceeded. But not any old limiter will do. Aggressive limiting and its byproducts can be problematic because codecs can multiply the audibility of limiting to the point of being objectionable, and often at the expense of removing frequencies that add to the quality of music. A good streaming processor will avoid aggressive limiting altogether. This is why in the case of StreamBlade, we designed the processor to anticipate overshoots earlier in the processing stages and designed specialized final limiters that don’t add the program density that can set off issues with the codec.

Disaster 2020 Checklist

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There’s nothing about natural disasters and strange weather that shocks us anymore, although 2020 could be our year. Wheatstone’s factory is located in North Carolina and we’ve seen it all. Here is your annual disaster planning checklist by our seasoned engineers. They’ve added a few more to the list just because it’s 2020. 

Double down on redundancy. You know the drill. Every facility should have redundant servers, redundant networks, completely redundant everything. We’re so bullish on redundancy that we added dual Ethernet ports and dual power supplies to our new WheatNet-IP I/O BLADE-4 units, giving you hitless protection switching at every I/O point in the AoIP network.

Reestablish islands of reliability. Studio networks have a way of expanding, and those so-called islands of reliability could now be one large landmass the size of Australia. If one studio goes down, they all will. You can reestablish some isolation between studios if you strategically place smaller or edge switches throughout. Better still, a true distributed network will give you more points of recovery should the unthinkable happen. For example, each I/O BLADE in our WheatNet-IP audio network carries a complete map of the entire connected network in its onboard memory. All it takes is one I/O BLADE anywhere in the network to automatically reestablish connectivity in the event of a disaster.

Use separate circuit breakers. True story: one of our larger network installations involved an elaborate web of interconnected edge switches segmented to dual redundant core switches to isolate studios. Only problem was, those core switches were racked up a mere two feet from each other … on the same circuit breaker. Luckily, an astute Wheatstone field engineer caught the error before it became a problem. Make sure you’re setting up islands of reliability all the way to the circuit breaker.

Leave enough network ports open on switches. If you’ve added to your audio network, you might have used up all those switch ports you thought you’d never use for an added news station here, another announcer position there. If that’s the case, our field engineers suggest you redistribute the workload more evenly across your existing switches or add one or two more edge switches. Should a flood or fire take out one switch, you will have enough ports on another switch to accommodate anything that’s left hanging. 

Fireproof network cabling. Don’t add fuel to the fire. Using plenum-rated Ethernet cables in key studios is a little extra insurance that could make all the difference between containing a fire to one studio or a fire that wipes out your entire facility.

Dual purpose everything. If you can, set up your consoles and studios to serve dual purposes and always get equipment that can do more than one or two things. You’ll notice that our Wheatstone consoles have layers of controls with presets so they can serve dual, often quadruple roles in the station. Along those same lines, WheatNet-IP BLADEs have silence detectors, virtual mixers, and a slew of other options built-in so you don’t have to add the equivalent in outboard gear or go without. Add codecs and software apps to that list in the case of our new BLADE-4. All of that distributed across the network is not only smart as far as being able to stretch your dollar, but it’s also good for disaster recovery.

Create a remote access path. Do you have a secure path to remotely access the studio in an emergency? If not, you should. A separate line will give you one more entry point for you or someone on your team to gain online access to the studios via remote software like our Remote LXE or ReMIX, which lets you take control of the studio from your laptop. 

Empower your network. Make sure your studio network knows what to do in an emergency. It should be able to detect silence in the program chain and know which studio or source to switch over to the instant it happens. In the case of WheatNet-IP audio networks, this can be set up easily using our software. The hardware I/O units are already self-empowered; if a disaster should take out an I/O BLADE or group of BLADEs, the other BLADEs in the network will automatically reconfigure to continue operating as usual.

Talk to your network …so you can detect issues before they become a problem. Your audio network should have admin tools for this purpose. One of the more powerful advantages of the WheatNet-IP audio network is being able to monitor each I/O connection point in the network using SNMP-based management software. This is useful for alerting if a particular port is dropping packets or if a device is heating up and about to fail. Each WheatNet-IP BLADE has a unique Management Information Base (MIB) with necessary data points for tracking bitrates, temperatures, etc.

Backup. Backup. Backup. Our field engineers suggest you back up your crosspoints on a regular basis and put this data on a thumb drive or on a server that is backed up on a cloud somewhere. In fact, we have a crosspoint backup feature in our system software for this purpose. And while we’re on the subject of backups, always keep a working backup generator at the studio and a backup audio recording at the transmitter site so if you should lose connection between the studio and transmitter site, you haven’t left your listeners in the lurch. We offer an optional built-in audio clip player in our BLADEs that can be used to put emergency audio on the air, which can be triggered manually or automatically following a period of silence detected by the BLADE.

Think 2020. If you don’t have a home studio after the events of 2020, we need to talk. There are several inexpensive options. For example, you can set up a small standalone studio at home using a small mixer like our Audioarts 08 or Air-1 with any codec or mic you have. Or, you can remote into the studio console and other gear using a remote app like our ReMIX or Remote LXE (see Remote Solutions). Or, you can do either or both for more than one home studio, which makes it possible to remote in or operate from the home studio farthest from ground zero. 

Any one of these measures can make a difference to your listeners tuning in for updates during a tornado or hurricane or other emergency.

IP. Now Is The Time

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Upgrading or replacing your automation hardware? Now is the time to go IP. IP means no more expensive soundcards, special cables, breakout boxes or external switchers, so it actually pays for itself. 

Moreover, AoIP will streamline your installation and increase workflow by taking advantage of resource sharing, routing, and anything anywhere, all synchronized on a common network. 

Consider an entry-level AoIP system like our DMX console with Audioarts mix engine, which uses IP audio drivers instead of soundcards and has a built-in 5-port switch for networking together a smaller local network. With this, you’ll be able to integrate AoIP routing and control with your automation system through our ACI protocol, so you have data, control and programming all synchronized together on a single cable.  

Wheatstone on Radio World Fall Product Preview • Jay Tyler Previews BLADE-4

Wheatstone’s new Blade-4 for its WheatNet-IP audio network platform steps outside the AoIP box by integrating audio codecs, software apps and interoperability protocols with audio transport and control in one I/O unit. Blade-4 adds new functionality never before found in an AoIP I/O access unit for consolidating facilities and driving AoIP capabilities past the technical as well as geographic limitations of audio networked studios.

Compare All of Wheatstone's Remote Solutions

REMIXWe've got remote solutions for virtually every networkable console we've built in the last 20 years or so. For basic volume, on/off, bus assign, logic, it's as easy as running an app either locally with a good VPN, or back at the studio, using a remote-access app such as Teambuilder to run.

Check out the chart below, and/or click here to learn more on our Remote Solutions web page.

Remote Solutions Video Demonstrations

Jay Tyler recently completed a series of videos demonstrating the various solutions Wheatstone offers for remote broadcasting.

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Click for a Comparison Chart of All Wheatstone Remote Software Solutions

The Wheatstone online parts store is now open! You can purchase spare cards, subassemblies, modules and other discontinued or out-of-production components for Wheatstone, Audioarts, PR&E and VoxPro products online, or call Wheatstone customer support at 252-638-7000 or contact the Wheatstone technical support team online as usual. 

The store is another convenience at wheatstone.com, where you can access product manuals, white papers and tutorials as well as technical and discussion forums such as its AoIP Scripters Forum

 

Featured Demo Gear In The Wheatstone Store Right Now:

PR&E Oasis
Console

OASIS

$5,995.00
$1,250.00

PR&E Netwave
Console

RMX

$8,995.00
$1,500.00

PR&E Impulse 20
Console

RMX

$8,995.00
$1,450.00

Wheatstone
FM-531HD Processor

RMX

$7,995.00
$2,000.00

Wheatstone AirAura X3 Processor

RMX

$13,995.00
$5,000.00

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-- Uncle Wheat, Editor

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