A radio station's local personality has always sparked its appeal. But market pressures, such as increased competition for ad revenue, have driven many local stations to join networks to survive. These station groups, many of which have hundreds or thousands of affiliates, have turned to automation to save on labor and operating costs and eliminate operator error endemic to repetitive tasks. While automation benefits the bottom line, it also drains stations of the local character that fosters listener loyalty. So how can a station group benefit from centralized, automated operation while still retaining the unique flavor of each station?
By deploying satellite receiver/media servers at each station site and a Compel network control system at the network operations center (NOC), a station group can migrate from live to file-based radio broadcasting. With a file-based, store/forward workflow, it can send stations local liners, programs and play-out commands that hyper-localize the on-air product.
Instead of DJs sitting at microphones at every station, a single announcer can produce all the local liners any affiliate would need. These short audio segments are a collection whereby the DJs identify themselves, their call letters, market, musical format and other station information. An example would be, “Hello, St. Louis. Bill McCoy bringing you the classic rock hits on WJZT FM.”
The reality is that Bill McCoy sat in a booth and recorded hundreds, even thousands, of permutations of every local liner for every affiliate -- to satisfy different lengths, moods, formats and other criteria. The net effect is that stations across the country deliver a personalized message from Bill McCoy, the familiar voice at that spot on the dial.
While there may be no one physically at that station, there is still work to be done -- running and repeating programs, inserting ads, local liners, even responding to technical or power failures. Let's look under the hood to see how the Ipump 6420 can perform, customize and hyper-localize these tasks.
Central command and control
The Compel network control system for linear and file-based broadcasting
The key to making file-based radio broadcasting work is to control where content is sent and how it will be played. This means sending only those local liners, programs, ads and promos that pertain to a given station. WJZT shouldn't have to deal with/store content intended for WNNL or WXYZ. And the group shouldn't have to waste time and money repeatedly sending the same content via satellite every time it must air.
When content is deposited onto the Ipump 6420 at each local station, it is accompanied by instructions as to how and when to play it. This is orchestrated from the NOC by Compel, which can perform traffic, conditional access and content management. While media can play live-to-air, the real advantage of Ipump 6420 is its store/forward capability. Within a single satellite transmission, all content needed for a certain period of time can be stored onto the media server and played out time and time again without incurring further costly satellite charges.
The secret sauce
The Compel/Ipump 6420 file-based solution has many patented features designed to simplify operational complexity while giving listeners the impression a station is locally derived. Besides the liners mentioned above, these include: parameter addressing, switch groups, show shift, and play shuffle.
Parameter addressing enables the Ipump to automatically identify the most appropriate liner/insertion commands to play out at any given moment.
An Ipump 6420 screen shot highlights its show-shifting capabilities.
Switch groups allow stations to be organized and managed as groups based upon such criteria as time zones, formats or regions.
Show shift enables the rebroadcast of programs at different times of the day without retransmission and without station labor beyond the initial setup.
Play shuffle is a style of the file Play command that causes the receiver to randomly select a file that has all of the correct characteristics -- DJ, music format, length and style -- and shuffle them to keep the presentation dynamic and fresh.
For recorded or time-shifted programming, the Ipump captures commands during the record phase as programs are received, it then time stamps and saves them along with the compressed audio file of the program. During playout, these commands are executed according to the chronological relationship established with the original audio stream.
Liners, programs and ads can be played over live or prerecorded music and enhanced with fades, dissolves or other effects. Also, program-associated data (PAD), a data packet that identifies music titles and artists, can be broadcast -- a critical capability in the age of HD Radio. And in the event the signal or power is lost, Ipump can resort to “evergreen” content to seamlessly fill the gap every time that content is played.
The value proposition
Demand for file-based radio broadcasting is strong and growing. Over the last year, Wegener has received hefty orders for Compel and Ipump products from several radio networks, including Dial Global which recently acquired Jones Radio Network, extending its reach to more than 6,000 stations.
Wegener's intelligent, centralized, file-based workflow enables station groups to manage the delivery of unique program content from each affiliate, maintain a local identity and maximize ad revenue. Since it can also reduce bandwidth, and other costs, this strategy leads to a rapid return on investment and increased profitability.
Pelkey is vice president and systems architect for Wegener, Duluth, GA.