Field Report: Belar FMCS-1

April 1, 2013


Since 1964 Belar has produced professional broadcast equipment and today, broadcast engineers are universally familiar with Belar. From the moment I started in broadcasting I used Belar modulation monitors to evaluate my stations' modulation and other important parameters. As rudimentary as those old units now seem, I knew I could trust and rely on them. Our FMM-1 and the FMS-1 units were directly wired to the studio monitors and I'd make many a DJ panic when I'd fail to remember this and press one of the CAL buttons -- ppfff!!!!

Belar FMCS-1

My high expectation for Belar products was certainly upheld when its Wizard line was introduced. These are professional quality monitors with extremely high reliability and accuracy. No longer did we have to send the units in for calibration, DSP did that job right from the front panel. Usually using the auto-cal function wasn't even necessary because the Wizards don't really ever drift. So solid are these, that in the 15 or so years I've been using them, I can count only two failures. Both on FMSA-1 stereo monitors and both were quickly and economically repaired by Belar factory service.

Ultimately, the time comes when one looks for improvement and even the most dependable instrument gets cast aside for whatever the next generation brings. The Belar FMCS-1 is that next generation tool. Beautifully engineered, well executed, and solid as any that Belar have placed before it.

The FMCS-1 is more than just the next generation in modulation monitoring. Along with improving on what the Wizard system does, it combines several Wizard boxes into one DSP based component. Along with the obvious FM modulation and stereo monitoring and demod capability, the FMCS-1 incorporates an RDS monitor, two SCA monitors, and a spectrum analyzer. This obviously saves space and installation time, but also allows an engineer to have on hand monitoring devices he'd not necessarily have bought separately. Where the Wizard system required options such as the DC4 or OPT2 down converter for direct connection to a transmission line sample or the RFA-4 RF amplifier for off-the-air measurements, the FMCS-1 does not. All of these inputs are supported directly.

The FMCS-1 is HDRadio aware and includes filtering options to improve analog measurement accuracy when used in the company of HD carriers - a feature that will be of increasing importance as we move to higher power HD signals. Add the FMHD-1 for detailed HD Radio monitoring and measurement.

  Performance at a glance  
  ■ RF filtering improves HD Radio measurements
■ Frequency agile
■ Spectrum analyzer
■ Email and hardwire alarms
■ FM and two SCA demods, RDS analyzer
 

Where the Wizard system features a respectable software and RS-232 remote control interface it only has a few simple contact closures for peak indicators and a "general" alarm. The FMCS-1 adds full IP connectivity but can also be used with a modem or direct connected via RS-232 if needed. Discrete alarms are reported by email via an SMTP mail service and a complete replication of the front panel is by way of Belar's WizWin software. There are also four user-assignable relay-isolated outputs for direct connection to virtually any facility remote control system.

The WizWin software included with the unit can support up to eight devices including the legacy Wizard system and the CSA-1 spectrum analyzer. I have Belar equipment spread around throughout my cluster so I simply have a nicely labeled tab assigned to each device on the connections page of the software. Data logging can be configured too.

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Using the WizWin software to interact with the unit remotely is intuitive and straightforward. Operating the unit directly isn't difficult either but I may have chosen to add enter, menu, and back keys to the front panel rather than limiting all user input to the jog wheel; but that's a minor issue. The full color display is well laid out and super sharp. All available data is divided into 12 pages with access and interaction via the jog wheel. Rotating the jog wheel steps through pages or menu selections, pressing or holding the wheel in makes a selection or invokes a menu display; it's responsive but takes a bit of time to get familiar with.

software screens

Naturally the best part of the FMCS-1 is the very accurate and detailed information it provides about what's being broadcast. In fact, the unit provides nearly every bit of essential modulation data and more. Information about RF modulation and stereo multiplex are provided in both summary and detail views with bargraph meters. A surprisingly good and very handy three-page spectrum analyzer allows for close inspection of the composite spectrum and gives the user ability to confirm radiated energy is within limits. The unit incorporates two SCA monitors and an RDS monitor with a full page dedicated to basic RDS data, too.

Six balanced and two unbalanced analog outputs as well as four AES unbalanced digital outputs are provided. All are user assignable to output any combination of audio from each demod as well as the pilot tone, stereo matrix, and a test tone. Alarms can be setup to close one of four user-configurable contacts, send an email, display on the front panel, or any combination of the three. Thresholds and timeouts are fully user adjustable. All network I/O is handled by the Lantronix XPort AR embedded device server that now supports SMTP mail relays. Analog and LVDS digital composite outputs round out the rear panel.

  Belar  
  610-687-5550
belar.com
sales@belar.com
 

Normally I prefer discrete components to an all-in-one box because rarely do combo units make a positive impression on me. The combination AM/FM/cassette recorder/turntable I had as a teenager did everything I wanted it to do; just none of it well. This Belar and its sibling, the FMHD-1, are notable exceptions and are more than worthy of a few rack units in your transmitter room rack.


Kernen is chief engineer of Greater Media Detroit.



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