The broadcast engineer is unique in that he can never truly be off the clock. We can all recount endless numbers of midnight phone calls, family vacations dotted with ringing cell phones and daily e-mails, and the occasional drive in to the station to reset something — or worse. Heck, I drove my family from Tampa to Detroit non-stop to fix an STL problem. The fact is, engineers know this is part of their gig and we grudgingly accept it. Of course, who among us would turn away from technology that would allow us to return to our normal lives sooner? The obvious answer: remote facility control.
Gentner designed and built the VRC-1000 touch-tone transmitter remote control system back in the late 1980s. Back then it was a welcome addition to the WRIF transmitter plant because it allowed the engineers to interact with the transmitter without the impediment of a baffled, disinclined or distracted disc jockey on the other end of the phone. Now engineers would be on the front line in the event of a failure or out of tolerance condition; the VRC-1000 would phone an engineer, instead of simply flickering the oft-ignored alarm lamp in the corner of the studio.
Performance at a glance
Multiple communication options
Expandable to 128 channels
Multiple alarm reporting options
Logging capability via site captures
Ability to store macros
Lynx software configuration tool with custom screen creation application
Available Web interface with e-mail and SMS alerting
Gentner dutifully evolved the VRC-1000. Subsequent introductions of the VRC-2000 and the GSC3000 represented the company's efforts to remain parallel with advancements in technology and customer demand. In April 2001, Gentner sold its remote facilities management (RFM) products to Burk Technology. Burk's core business is RFM, so it was a good fit. Burk took the GSC3000 and VRC2500 under its wing and developed software and hardware for the platforms alongside its existing Arc-16 product and accessories.
Post Burk, the GSC3000 has seen the development of Lynx 5, a PC software tool with several enhancements, a handful of directly connected accessories known as G-Link, as well as upgraded internals.
For the unacquainted, the GSC3000 combines all aspects of remote facilities management. It's capable of monitoring, metering and status, issuing commands, collecting data via snapshots (Burk calls them captures) and running macros. The included Lynx software will run on a PC with minimal hardware requirements and provides the primary user interface. A typical site's hardware consists of a GSC3000 I/O unit connected via multi-pair cables to wiring interface panels for metering and status termination and command relay units. Phoenix connectors are provided for wiring ease. The optional voice interface connects to the G-Bus (RS-485) and a Web interface can be connected via RS-232.
The core of the system is the single rack space I/O unit. Available in eight and 16 channels, it has two nine-pin serial ports, two RS-485 (G-Bus) ports, and 37-pin D connectors for wiring interface panels and command relay connection. As many as 16 I/O units can be connected via the G-Bus, providing 256 channels of metering, status and command. The I/O unit can run macros, capture status/metering for logging, issue commands and issue alarms if conditions warrant. Scheduling of commands, captures and macros is also possible.
Command and control accessories
Also a single-rack unit, Wiring Interface Panels provide a convenient termination point via Phoenix connectors. They connect to the I/O via the 37-pin cable. The wiring interface is entirely passive. One is required for metering and another for status inputs.
The Command Relay Unit is an eight-channel unit that incorporates its own power supply for the 16 internal relays. Phoenix connectors and a 37-pin connector occupy the rear panel. Each command channel has two relays so on/off or up/down commands can be implemented for any single function. Two of these are needed to complete an I/O 16.
Forced to live at the logical end of the G-Bus (unit ID #16), the Voice Interface reports alarms and answers incoming calls. It provides for touch-tone interrogation of the system responding with a decidedly robotic voice. A modem can be connected here for dial-up access using the Lynx software.
The Web interface allows the user to interact with I/O units at the site by way of a Web browser and Java, or by IP connection and the Lynx software. The Web interface also sends SMTP e-mail to report alarms. SMS text messaging is supported.
Lynx software, the PC software that provides a viewport and configuration tool, started life in the Gentner offices and received a complete revamping at the hands of Burk. Users can create and view custom screens, calibrate metering, create and execute macros, issue commands, and view metering and status. The software provides a means for connection to multiple sites using any of several connection methods. Custom screens can be created and edited using Burk's custom screen editor application. This allows you to choose which commands, meters and status channels to display. You can choose from several meters, buttons and lamp styles. Choose a background and display them in any layout.
Burk has recently introduced the ability to create virtual channels. These can make complex calculations based on input conditions and mathematical calculations providing “a way to link a single on-screen meter or status channel to several different conditions.” Boolean expressions are also supported.