Field Report: Harris PR&E NetWave

December 1, 2011


Radio stations WCTO-FM and WLEV-FM serve the Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton market in eastern Pennsylvania, what is known locally as the greater Lehigh Valley. The two stations offer a mix of local and syndicated programming, following a model that creates a unique listening experience for local and Web audiences.

Harris PR&E NetWave

Both stations have rosters stacked with local talent, broadcasting live from our consolidated studio facility. While the Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton market is firmly entrenched in the "medium market" world, local broadcasters have access to a large base of listeners. Arbitron''s latest figures rank the market at number 69 on a list of 282 U.S. radio markets.

The challenge boils down to staying cutting-edge in an active market that may not pull in the financial numbers of a New York or Philadelphia. This means giving our on-air and production staff the tools they need to broadcast a high-quality on-air product while remaining within budget.

Console requirements

We set our sights on the studio environment, with a focus on upgrading our on-air consoles. There were two primary requirements: The consoles needed to operate in a stand-alone manner today, with the capability to expand to a networked solution in the future.

Performance at a glance
◊ All sources appear on VistaMax network
◊ Heads-up meter assembly
◊ Four program buses, one offline bus
◊ Three frame sizes (8, 16, 24 inputs)
◊ Dual router option available

We looked at many available options and contacted SCMS. Our sales representative Doug Tharp immediately suggested that the Harris PR&E NetWave digital on-air console would meet our requirements.

The NetWave is built for situations such as ours. It can function without the need of router or CPU connectivity, allowing a station to essentially plug in, assign sources and get on the air without hassle.

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Taking it to the next level seems simple. Harris offers a network activation kit that serves as the control surface for an entire networked audio infrastructure. This essentially makes each input available anywhere on the network.

The NetWave itself does not require the purchase of an additional box in the studio, which helps to keep costs in check. All networking is accomplished on board, within the console. This minimizes the chance of failure, localizing the rare troubleshooting process.

We like the idea of the dual-fader network option. This comes in the form of an upgrade kit that supports input labeling and toggling between sources, allowing operators to flexibly assign sources to each fader without numeric limitation.

We have no plans to change the microphone faders and automation faders. The NetWave makes for an ideal choice in this case as we can upgrade the modules we want without being forced to pay for those not needed.

General features

The general feature set is ideal for our on-air needs. Most importantly, the NetWave comes standard with two mix-minuses, with the option to triple the amount to six. The NetWave also allows you to assign full mix-minus and Telco features to any two faders on the console. This flexibility gives the on-air staff reasonable input as to where the Telco faders are assigned.

Still, the future possibilities are what truly impress.

Most radio facilities that have gone the networking route have been steered to the consolidated networking architecture. This is a fine solution of massive studio operations with multiple studios, where everything on the network ties back to a central routing system. Harris offers a reliable system for this approach in its VistaMax range.

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It makes far more sense to localize the networking options for a facility of our size. This is why we are leaning toward a distributed networking architecture based on Harris's new PR&E range of distributed audio networking devices. We are particularly interested in the VMExpress and VMConnect products, which deliver a 32x32 localized network routing solution for under $7K.

The system is easily expandable should we need to add another router and double the I/O capability to 64x64. All connections from console to router are made via simple CAT-5 connections, minimizing the wiring infrastructure within the studios. This feels like the perfect fit for our two studios as our needs evolve.

Installation

Installation was simple. The NetWaves used the same familiar connectors as the previous consoles we were replacing, making it a matter of simply relabeling each input. The sensible layout and intuitive nature made setting levels and programming the console easy. This was accomplished under the hood, further centralizing and simplifying the setup process. The hassle of crawling around under the console and tinkering with a GUI at a laptop for hours was eliminated.

User-friendliness extends from the operator to the engineer. The light, compact 2RU universal power supply made life easier during the integration process. Training the staff to use the new NetWave consoles also proved easy. The console retains the looks and feel of a traditional on-air console while offering the modern flexibility that digital studios require today. It is easy to add sources and adapt to changes from the board operation perspective. The on-air staff report positive feedback on its look, sound and operation.

Harris
◊ 800-622-0022
www.broadcast.harris.com
broadcast@harris.com

With the NetWave operating in standalone fashion today, we have made great strides in out studio upgrades by adding two 24-fader consoles to our facility. The project was done well ahead of time and came in under budget. We look forward to adding the VistaMax networked audio solution to our system in the near future.


Klima is chief engineer for WCTO-FM and WLEV-FM, Bethlehem, PA.



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