In 1995, Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) implemented a DCart system that upgraded us from analog tape to a digital audio environment, including implementing ENPS and ProTools. DCart has served MPR well for nearly 12 years and users love its simplicity and reliability. However, digital audio production and automation systems have advanced significantly in the interim years and pack significantly more features than systems of the past. As new systems came on the horizon, the administrators started wishing for non-proprietary hardware and operating systems with more features and ease of integration, and users started asking for more functionality to improve their efficiency.
In late 2006, after extensive user interviews, we identified 108 requirements within the following 14 categories: Play Audio, Navigate Audio, Record Audio, Edit Audio, Remote Work, Workflow, Playlists, Automation, Integration, File Movement, RBDS and Web Display, Audio Encode, Audio Decode and Technical Requirements.
Along with key users of MPR's four radio services, the engineering and operations departments rated the importance of each of the requirements to their areas. These users and technical staff attended vendor presentations and scored each piece of functionality relevant to the user's area. Netia was the clear choice of the users based on the weighted scores and anecdotal feedback on the overall perceptions of the systems.
MPR completed implementation of Netia's Radio-Assist and Air-DDO systems in January 2007 for our newest program acquisition, Performance Today, a nationally distributed classical music program. We had a very strict deadline as the program was moving from National Public Radio in Washington to Minnesota Public Radio headquarters in Saint Paul. New studios had to be built, audio workstations and servers had to be installed, and users had to be trained on two systems they had never used: AXIA consoles and the play-to-air and production software. Although the implementation team had to work long hours to achieve a successful install, there were no technical issues impacting the studio functionality or on-air sound. The Netia consultants were very responsive during the implementation and worked with us to ensure that the show was a success.
The next project was to implement Netia for “Weekend America,” when half of its staff moved from California to Saint Paul. Adding this additional load to the Netia system was as easy as adding new users into a new group, and new audio tables. The system showed no signs of stress, and we have been very impressed in how simple it was to add additional field types and reuse database fields to suit different groups of users.
Our Netia system has been very stable since its implementation. We have had two instances of the Air-DDO software crashing, but these have been traced back to the DDO110 serial control interface used for playlist transport control and element start/stop. The power supply had come unplugged from the unit, freezing the Air-DDO software.
The Snippet single-track editor is used to segment feeds for Content Depot segments.
Plans are underway to roll out the system to The Current, MPR's eclectic music station in the fall of 2007, our News service in the winter of 2007 and to our Classical Music services in the spring of 2008.
Our current implementation is comprised of two redundant database and file servers, using DBShare, where each client is accessing and writing to each database at the same time. Also, each Air-DDO client (Netia's play-to-air software) caches audio contained in the loaded/planned playlist. This scheme allows for automatic failover to the secondary database server and playing audio from the local hard drive. We have tested this by playing audio from an Air-DDO station, and then shutting down the server. There was no perceptible dropout in the audio.
We have also installed three application support servers running ingest, export and monitoring services. The import module is very extensible and allows direct import of audio residing on an FTP server, allowing field reporters to file from anywhere in the world. We use the import module to automatically ingest audio from Dalet (using XML) and ProTools (using BWF headers).
The export module has worked wonders, allowing us to make MP3 versions of subsets of our audio library available on the intranet, and reducing the number of production licenses for staff only needing to preview audio.
Our database and file servers are single-processor HP DL380 G4s, with local disks to provide storage for the MSSQL 2000 server, but the audio resides on our Hitachi AMS500 SAN, attached to the servers via fiber. Each server has a dedicated LUN for audio storage, so we have two copies of all audio at all times. In our initial implementation we have 2TB available for audio.
Our three application servers are HP DL360G5s with local storage. Each server has two Xeon 3.2GHz processors and 4GB RAM, along with 172GB SAS drives.
We have three Air-DDO workstations that are HP XW4400 with Digigram PCX442 for primary playback and PCX924 cards for PFL output and recording. Air-DDO is configured to have one output dedicated to the playlist, and a separate output dedicated to a cart stack. We have purchased, but not installed, a PCX822v2 card to allow for two outputs for the playlist and two cartstacks. It was recommended by Netia to use a secondary card for recording into Air-DDO, thus the PCX924.
The Record tool can also edit audio files while they are being recorded.
We also have four studio production workstations with Radio-Assist, on a mix of HP and whitebox machines. Netia has recommended a 3GHz processor, 1GB RAM and at least a 40GB HD. These workstations use either a PCX924 audio card or AXIA's 1×1 IP Audio Driver.
Radio-Assist is also installed on six existing workstations, happily coexisting with Outlook, ENPS and other office applications. This is used for everything from playlist editing to CD ripping and single and four-track editing.
In addition to the functionality, reliability, simple pricing structure and knowldegeable Netia staff, the ease of administration of this system is amazing. Adding new users, new groups and new audio tabs is a cinch, and reusing the underlying database fields for other purposes in each tab is really flexible.
Administrators can restrict which tools each group can see when they log into a workstation, as well as only having a subset of the tools installed on each station. This allows for presenting only the tools needed for a user, and really makes the software a lot easier to use, as the users do not feel overwhelmed.
Users have picked up the software very quickly, and the only comments to the contrary are that if you are a ProTools user you will have to unlearn a few things.
The users have reported occasional sightings of French in the English version of the Netia product. Netia has asked us to inform them of any occurrences of French so it can be corrected. On a lighter note, it is not necessary to learn French or even pick up a French-English dictionary to work with the Netia system.
Frequently, technical matters are referred back to France for resolution. Although the staff in France is very generous and flexible with its time, particularly for urgent matters, the time difference can work for or against you depending on the time of day.
Watching the users when they are in the midst of a show is really impressive. The speed in creating new audio, exporting audio and doing edits is on par to our DCart system. We often hear the users comment that they could not do without the Netia system, especially editing audio as it is being recorded. We look forward to utilizing and benefiting from the full capabilities of the Netia system when we install a larger system for the remaining radio services at MPR.
Kapur is the project manager for the Netia installation, and Ringer is formerly the broadcast systems administrator for MPR.
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Performance at a glance
Supports redundant servers
Reads and writes multiple audio formats
Separated production and play-to-air software
Simple user management and multiple groups
Unlimited architecture; just add more servers
On-air workstations cache audio in case of network or server failure
Includes help documentation with screen shots