Tech Focus: Radio, Part 1 — Migration to AoIP Helps Keep the Medium Robust

The shift to streaming has provided a technological boost

This year’s World Series is a milestone for broadcast, though a largely unheralded one: it marks 100 years since the first World Series broadcast, on station WJZ, of Game 1 between the Yankees and Giants, when both teams lived in New York City. And of course, it was broadcast on radio.

Audio-over-IP is the latest wrinkle in radio’s carriage of live sports, part of the medium’s strategy for remaining relevant as internet connectivity reaches the automobile, where terrestrial and, later, satellite radio has reigned supreme for most of that century. The technology is keeping up.

Calrec Director, Product Development, Henry Goodman, a primary designer of the company’s Type R modular IP-based audio console, sees IP as the future of radio just as it is for television broadcasting, in part because of the need for pandemic-driven remote-production capabilities. Redundancy, in the form of the SMPTE 2022-7 standard, has become a workable solution, providing dual simultaneous signal paths that act as redundant failovers.

“It was developed for audio for television applications, but now network redundancy has become absolutely necessary for any 2110 environment,” he says, referring to the suite of SMPTE standards that describe how to send digital media over an IP network. “[Broadcasters] of all types have come to expect that level of redundancy in the console.”

That, in turn, drove development of the Type R, which he says marries “hardware redundancy” with software’s virtual backstop. “We have two Type-R cores mirroring each other,” he explains. “If the main one fails, the audio fails over to the other core, and that’s added to the redundancy of 2022-7.”

In fact, while radio has historically taken a backseat to television when it comes to technical innovation, the shift to streaming has enabled radio — and broadcast audio in general — to benefit from the kinds of technical advances that IP fosters.

Streaming Changes Everything

“The overall archetype is pretty much the same as it has always been,” says Phil Owens, senior sales engineer, Wheatstone. “You go to the venue with a remote kit and send the audio back to the station. What’s changing things is streaming.”

Wheatstone Phil Owens: “Radio is trying to extend its reach via streaming, and it can do that in ways that [conventional] radio can’t.”

He cites Wheatstone’s evolving Blade product series. The recently released fourth generation of I/O BLADE, the interface for the company’s WheatNet-IP AoIP protocol, has two OPUS codec channels built in, eliminating the need for an additional codec box to transport audio facility-facility or venue-studio, outputs for monitoring, and a graphic mixer interface. It also supports interoperability standards, such as NMOS for discovery and AES67 for audio transport, and multichannel support for one, two, or eight channels. It has selectable encoding and AGC, peak limiter, and other processing tools developed to optimize the sound quality of encoded audio content.

“For instance,” Owens explains, “at the venue, Blade 4 will give you eight microphone inputs and eight line outputs as well as a mixer, all of which can be accessed and operated remotely. Plus, the built-in mixer has a section of memory reserved for apps and processing, so you can sweeten the program output.”

Essentially, he says, it’s a radio solution that has evolved in a parallel manner to the way broadcast audio for television production has evolved for live sports, addressing both the remote operationality required for cost and COVID controls and deepening the integration of IP and streaming connectivity.

“Radio is trying to extend its reach via streaming, and it can do that in ways that [conventional] radio can’t,” he says. “What we’re trying to do is give radio broadcasters the tools they’ll need to get from the venue to the streaming point and then into the cars.”

Radio Remains on Studer’s Radar

When Evertz finalized acquisition of Harman Professional’s Studer brand from Samsung this year, Studer’s modularized Glacier series solutions, which had been aimed in part at radio production, were part of the package. According to Mo Goyal, senior director, international business development, Evertz, who oversaw the transaction, the company plans to turn its attention to the Glacier series and related products in the near future. Evertz has relocated manufacturing of Studer’s Vista series broadcast-audio consoles, most of which it plans to continue to support, from Harman’s plant near Budapest, Hungary, to Evertz’s facility in Hamilton, ON.

“That was a challenging exercise,” he explains, “to ramp up manufacturing processes that we hadn’t done before, to reset the supply chains for it, and then to ramp up the [sales and support] teams for it in the UK and North America, as well as integrating that technology into our IP workflow” on Evertz platforms Bravo and DreamCatcher.

While the Glacier products are “on pause” for now, says Goyal, they are under review on how they might fit into Evertz’s expanding audio plans. He acknowledged Studer’s existing customer base in radio, including consoles and related systems in a reported 512 Canadian radio stations.

“Radio definitely remains part of the picture looking ahead,” he says. “It’s something we will address at some point.”

As much as radio might seem an antique technology, it remains part of the cultural infrastructure, particularly the automotive branch. That is reflected in survey after survey, even as radio stations and networks themselves move online as well as on-air. Not surprisingly, the hardware is doing the same.

Click here for Tech Focus: Radio, Part 2 — Consoles Have Plenty To Offer Sound for Sports on the Air.

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