For Radio Broadcasters, Working From Home Is Old Hat
Using a softphone application, reporters or talent can call into a VoIP broadcast talk show system using a software-based HD Voice codec.
These days TV broadcasters are working feverishly to work out new remote production workflows for stay-at-home talent, but for radio broadcasters it’s been business as usual. In fact, many engineers have found that the remote control features they already use for troubleshooting are highly extensible and can be slightly modified for use by production staff.
Those who have made the partial or full transition to a modern Audio over IP studio infrastructure are particularly well-positioned to handle the rapid onset of virus-related staffing restrictions.
“A lot of the concepts involved with remote broadcasting are the same as a normal remote broadcast that radio stations have been doing for some time,” said Shaun Dolan, Senior Support Engineer at Telos Alliance. “Using software tools designed for remote monitoring and diagnostics, you can control the console and talk back to the producer or engineer at the station from anywhere in the world.”
Therefore, if you already have a modern audio over IP system, you don’t need a new core infrastructure. You might have to add a few pieces of software to get it to operate how you want remotely, but core functionality is already there to leverage your investment in a modern AoIP system.
Having full control of the console requires opening up the firewall and setting up access for the right individuals. Not only do you need to have everything set up correctly on your end, but you have to support producers and DJs with things like BBM clients (e.g., instant messenger). That means household Internet connections must be solid and reliable.
At home, on-air hosts regularly use their computer for show prep, while keeping a talent panel open on their phone for easy microphone and talkback control.
“We’ve seen broadcasters hand out mobile hotspots for their teams when Internet connections are spotty,” Dolan said. “There are some folks that have been doing things with Pathfinder Core PRO logic flows to mitigate against silence if they lose connection.”
Telos offers three different software applications that are now being used for remote production. There’s Axia SoftSurface, which is a multitouch-enabled Windows application for console control; Axia IP-Tablet, an application made for touch screen functionality and highly portable control of systems and mic processors; and Axia PathFinder Core PRO. Pathfinder is a larger, logic-based system that can be used to address a variety of control functions that might include automation of an Audio over IP phone system (used for talent interviews).
For example, the Axia Fusion console (and StudioEngine) are controllable via the SoftSurface application, IP-Tablet, or a Pathfinder Core PRO HTML5 User Panel. Users can run these console control applications on a producer’s tablet connected to a VPN for the full multitouch experience. For even quicker setup, or when network conditions are poor, the application can run on a PC at the studio facility or at home, accessed by an existing remote desktop service.
Most talent is accustomed to seeing and controlling their microphone status, so having a way for them to do this remotely is important for them to feel comfortable when hosting from home. Using Pathfinder Core PRO, a talent panel can quickly be created to allow control of the codec channel that a host is using. Producers can email a link to this panel (accessed via VPN) to the host who can open it on any modern browser. This means that the host can use their computer for show prep, while keeping this talent panel open on their phone for easy microphone and talkback control.
IP-Tablet comes in handy if you want to operate remotely while controlling all of your systems—a phone system, profanity delay, and mic processors.
HD Contribution Audio
Many broadcasters are finding that they do not have as many traditional hardware codecs on hand as they’d like. Using a softphone application, users can call into a VoIP broadcast talk show system using an HD Voice codec. This allows reporters or other recurring talent to contribute high-quality voice audio without needing to tie up a valuable hardware codec.
Remote users will also need to make many quick routing changes. Using a modern AoIP routing system, an engineer can create selective routers to show a simplified X-Y router on a per-station basis to avoid searching through potentially thousands of sources and destinations.
Another option is to create simple switching panels for common route changes, such as routing an automation system, backup studio, or satellite receiver to air.
“Our stations needed a way for engineers and non-technical staff to identify what is routed to air and make changes quickly,” said Cameron Boswell, an engineering consultant. “User Panels can be created for each air chain to allow this simple control from anywhere."
While there are many advantages to having board operators on duty, some stations are looking for ways to let automation take over and allow more staff to stay at home. However, this does not mean that the station engineer must leave home to wire new closures from a satellite receiver to a relay box.
Using a modern AoIP routing system, an engineer can create selective routers to show a simplified X-Y router on a per-station basis to avoid searching through potentially thousands of sources and destinations.
“Pathfinder Core PRO can monitor many satellite receivers over the network and translate network cues into route changes or commands to start the automation system stack,” said Brian Sapp, Partner at consulting firm Inrush Broadcast Services. “In this way, I can set up automated shows with perfectly timed breaks and imaging from across the country without any onsite intervention whatsoever.”
A Backup To You
While broadcast engineers are great at having backup plans at the ready for equipment failures or disaster-recovery scenarios, it is easy to forget about having a backup plan if you are temporarily unable to go to work. Telos Alliance’s Dolan said that now is a good time to refresh your assistant on critical portions of the broadcast infrastructure with which he or she may not be familiar. If you do not have a co-worker in the engineering department, you can find a local contract engineer via the SBE's Contract Engineer directory.
“Spending a few hours showing them your facility or documentation may prove invaluable if you need to press them into action at a moment’s notice,” he said, adding that stations have had to be resourceful during these trying times.
He said that since talent can’t get into the studio, some customers have chosen to replace some of their live programming with pre-recorded syndicated programming on the COVID virus. Given the mandated restrictions on travel, the engineer might not want to travel to the station. The Pathfinder Core PRO software can connect to the satellite receiver and not only scrape the audio from that receiver but also grab cues for local imaging, ad breaks, etc. and automatically translate those network commands into actions to be taken on the AoIP network (changing audio routing). Alternatively, PathFinder Core PRO can control the station itself or the station’s playout system.
Using Telos’ various software options, stations have been able to set up those workflows remotely, so the engineer does not have to go into the station.
“The software we’ve developed for remote monitoring and diagnostics can help work around staff limitations,” Dolan said. “Users need to be resourceful and harness the technology. And they already have, in a different way. If you can install Zoom, you can install SoftSurface.”
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