We've all heard this happen, breaking news events are unfolding and the station is airing a commercial. The choices aren't good: dump out of current programming or wait for a break and risk missing the next big event on air. Why not give the station and the air staff another choice? Finish the current event and then go to the breaking news in its entirety. Leaving the current program abruptly is not graceful and certainly not professional. Leaving a commercial in progress is definitely costly. Waiting for a press conference to begin is capable of putting your listeners to sleep or worse, they will switch stations. Usually, there's no need to carry the first words at a press conference, the sound technician asking “can everybody hear me?” Now, you don't have to. 25-Seven Systems has manipulated the concept of time and has rearranged the way live events unfold. If you can grasp the bucket theory of a digital delay, you will see the ATM is a refinement on that technology and several new applications of a sometimes confusing process.
Audio is stored in a 15-minute continuous buffer capable of playback at any time while the recording process continues. The buffer of the ATM can be played out 20 percent faster than it was stored. The full 15-minute buffer now takes only 12 minutes to play back, and this can be done while the ATM continues to record. Before the sales department reads this and sells that extra time, realistically we have found play-out should be limited to about 10 percent, which is the equivalent of six minutes inserted per hour.
Installation of the system is straightforward, audio in, audio out and an Ethernet interface for the time sync and remote capabilities. Once installed, the operators acclimated quickly and were running in just a few minutes. We use our ATM strictly for press conferences and other live feeds that don't occur on our clock.
Performance at a glance
Adds time to audio programs
Variable time compression ratios
Self-synchronizing to external clock
All of us have all fallen in love with the concept of time shifting our favorite TV programs. So much so that Tivo is now part of our vocabulary. I like to think of the ATM as an audio Tivo on steroids. The system allows us to absorb the few seconds or minutes of dead time before a press conference and allows for a more graceful exit when the conference ends. Record the press conference and not miss a beat of on-air time. Begin a recording and while that recording continues, start the playback in real time or faster. In a recent instance, we used the ATM at the start of a press conference while we were still airing a commercial. The commercial ended naturally and playback from the ATM began. We were 45 seconds into the press conference and started play out. With 45 seconds in the buffer and the output set at a 10 percent faster rate, we caught up with the live press conference in about 450 seconds (7.5 minutes; this info is all on its front-panel display). Once caught up, we switched to the live feed of the press conference. This all sounded so natural no one noticed. The commercial aired, the entire press conference aired and we were done with the event at the same time we would have finished without the ATM.
To aid this process the ATM displays the current time, the amount of audio stored in the buffer, the compression rate and the time expected to rejoin live programming. You can speed up or slow down the play-out to accomplish the required “out time” while the ATM is recording and playing. When the buffer is empty the unit loops the audio through the box. Conceivably, the system could be left in the air chain. The sound quality is superb, with no change in pitch and no audible artifacts, even at 10 percent compression. The changes are perceptible only when the same non-compressed material is played side by side.
The rear panel of the ATM.
Timing and more
The system features selectable analog and digital inputs and analog and digital outputs. A TCP/IP connection, configurable GPI/O and a serial connection are included on the back chassis. One big plus about the included Web interface is that there's no need to dig through countless menus, the ATM's Web interface looks exactly like the front panel. Internet connectivity allows synchronization to the time server of your choosing, just enter the IP address.
We've fed ours to and from our router for added flexibility and have control of the front panel via the Web interface. During the hours of the day when our station is automated and the ATM is idle, the production department wanted in on the act. The ATMs Web interface comes in handy for those times when standing next to the box isn't practical. One useful application is commercial production that arrives somewhat longer than 60 seconds. This can now be dubbed to exactly 60 seconds, on the fly, without a calculator. Record the spot into the ATM's buffer and set the playback for exactly 60 seconds. No more trying to edit that 62 second spot into a 60 second avail. Many popular software editors have a time compression feature, but I have found that most do not sound good. Some software editors simply change the play out rate and do nothing to restore the original pitch.
There are audio samples on 25-Seven's website that are useful. The site also shows various connection scenarios for use in satellite delivered programming and automation integration. The ATM can ingest the satellite program, store the network cues and then play out with the cue location adjusted to fit the exact placement in the original program. The cues are imported and exported through the GPI/O interface so they operate just like the contact closures you now use for automation.
Rigg is engineering supervisor for KFMB-AM & FM in San Diego.
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