On the outside, most listeners would say a radio station's daily operation seems fairly simple: Play the music, run the shows, say the news and sell the advertising. However, those of us who work on the inside know that “fairly simple” is a gross understatement. Many systems must run smoothly and in tandem in order to create a marketable product. One system in particular is critical to public safety and taken very seriously by the FCC. It's another broadcast acronym: EAS. While important, EAS can be tricky. The EASyCAST encoder/decoder from Trilithic has taken away most, if not all of the potential EAS headaches. It is designed with FM and AM facilities in mind.
Upon purchasing the EASyCAST system, the firmware, software and hardware will be specified for radio broadcast. The system is designed for television and radio, so FM and AM users will ignore the character generator and other video keying features and set the encoder/decoder to operate in broadcast mode. The system is housed in a 2RU chassis and has a front LCD screen and buttons that allow for setup and operation on the physical unit. Phoenix connectors on the back allow for quick integration into an analog signal chain and easy connection to logic controls. Programming using the front control panel is handy, but the beauty of the system is its IP configurability. The EASyNIC expansion upgrade includes a network/modem card that can be installed in the field. A firmware upgrade can be made (via RS-232) to EASyCAST systems not shipped with EASyNIC IP compatibility.
A little more than basic knowledge of IP networking is necessary for initial setup. The system will need a static IP address assigned by the local switch or router. Once the system has found a home on the local IP network, telling the software which system to look for is as simple as entering the IP address of the new system. Multiple EASyCAST systems can be managed using the software and friendly names can be stored to identify each system. The software should be installed on a PC that is accessible to management and on-air staff. The system can be configured and monitored by more than one PC with EASyCAST software, but care must be taken to load the updated configuration to each PC when changes are made to the physical unit. Otherwise, one PC will see the correct configuration and the other will not.
|Performance at a glance|
Manageable via IP
Easy to program events and generate tests
Manage multiple EASyPLUS systems from one PC
Store logs as data files or print outs
Monitor up to four FM, AM and NOAA frequencies
The rack-mounted unit can be expanded to include up to four FM/AM/NOAA radio receivers on two audio expansion cards using 75 F connectors. Tuning the cards, in addition to adjusting ATT and FSK tone modulation settings is done by using the software, as is the case with all other controls. Ultimate care should be taken when adjusting these settings, and the user will find that the default tone modulation levels should perform correctly on the air. The unit houses a front-panel-mounted speaker and microphone for monitoring tones and messages and generating voice messages. For improved voice messaging, an external source such as a control room microphone or control console output can be connected to the unit.
FIPS made easy
Remember FIPS codes? Trilithic has made it easy. Setting the city of license and other municipalities and counties is done with drop-down menu. All 50 states and 24 other regions ranging from American Samoa to the Virgin Islands, Guam and Micronesia are included. Under the events tab, the familiar three-letter EAS events (such as RWT) are listed and can be set to automatically forward by checking a box. The event can also be set to forward manually or it can be delayed as much as one hour. The EASyCAST system can operate in automatic, manual, global (manned) and unmanned modes.
Generating a test or an actual alert starts under the utilities tab. Using the EASyCAST software, select the event from a drop-down menu. Then select the county or area for which the event will be issued. Once all the parameters are correct, simply click “Send Event to EASyCAST.” At once, the unit will air the test. The correct corresponding header and EOM are present, depending on the event selected. Originating an actual event, including a voice message, while more complex, is actually easy to conduct using the system. The user-generated voice message (up to two minutes in length) will play out between the header and EOM of the test or alert generated. Air staff should be most familiar with the encoder functions under the utilities tab.
The EASyNet controls the EASyCAST via telephone. Local emergency authorities can access and override the system and issue necessary information. This requires close collaboration with local officials who would need to know the correct telephone touch pad commands.
As usual with EAS operation, keeping records of all tests sent and received and other events generated by the EAS encoder/decoder is critical. The system logs all activity, which can be viewed under the logs tab using the EASy Plus software. Printing, saving and other log management options are available. The EASyCAST unit will store more than 1,000 EAS log items, but it is recommended that the logs be cleared periodically and stored elsewhere. When logs are saved, they are stored as .TXT files in a folder on a specified hard drive. The logs can also be printed for hard copy backup and archiving.
Numerous other settings are available and very easily accessed when using the EASyCAST management software. In the event that multiple EAS units must be monitored and managed, each unit can be controlled from one PC workstation. Upon IP setup, the software is very intuitive. Within a few minutes of browsing through the available options under each tab, the user will find the setup to be simple. Care must be taken to keep the configuration settings updated on each PC used to manage the hardware. In addition, logs should be saved and printed periodically. After a brief instructional period with air staff and management members, the entire radio station team will find the EASyCAST EAS system to be a friendly tool for public emergency event notification.
Wygal is the programmer, engineer and Web designer for Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA.
Editor's note: Field Reports are an exclusive Radio magazine feature for radio broadcasters. Each report is prepared by well-qualified staff at a radio station, production facility or consulting company.
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