Weather warnings have been pouring into the studios all night about as fast as the falling rain outside. The air staff braces for another round of storms while you try to restore power to a transmitter knocked out by lightning. It's about this time you realize that those tiny rolls of paper in the EAS decoders won't last much longer. The last thing you need to worry about could also be the most critical. Wouldn't it be nice to have all of your EAS equipment logging to a computer?
EAScriber Pro from TDM Data Solutions addresses this problem. EAScriber takes data from third-party EAS equipment and stores it as a Microsoft Access database file or as a text log. Equipped with a modest computer running Windows and a multi-port serial card, it is possible to monitor as many as eight EAS decoders. Once the data is captured, the worries of manual logging or replacing printer rolls disappear.
Any Pentium-class computer will do the job. Station clusters with more than two decoders will need to consider the purchase of a multi-port serial card. TDM can supply the needed hardware if necessary.
The base price for EAScriber Pro covers one EAS decoder. Discount prices apply for use with three or more decoders. TDM provides basic software support free of charge. An annual software maintenance fee of 40 percent per year guarantees upgrades and off-site support. Compared to the level and frequency of FCC fines for EAS non-compliance, I found that the purchase price more than justified any potential fine.
Put into use
EAScriber is a snap to install. Plug in the serial cards and attach the serial cables to each EAS decoder. Install the serial card drivers and then install the EAScriber software; it's that simple. The program provides four easy to navigate panels for data listening, event logging, reporting and configuration.
The data listening page displays the text output from each decoder in real-time. This information is identical to the printer output. One can view activity simultaneously from as many as eight decoders on this panel.
The event log page shows the raw EAS text as received from each decoder as well as operational notes inserted by EAScriber Pro. Once the log has been reviewed, you may write the log to a file. This provides a means for that regular weekly chief operator review. Log files are named using the date the file was saved.
The reporting page allows the user to customize reports by station, time frame or missed tests. Filtered reports can be generated showing required weekly tests (RWT) sent and received with more than seven days elapsed between tests. The same is true with the 31-day required monthly test (RMT) interval as well as a 60-minute RMT relay violation.
The configuration page manages data port configuration and labeling. The user enters station call letters associated with each respective port as well as the data baud rate. A configuration option is available for the Sage Multi Station Relay Panel system where multiple stations use the same decoder. The system is TCP/IP configurable where RS-232 is not practical.
Out of the box
The hardest part of the installation process was getting the data from each air studio to the central equipment room where the logging computer was located. We stretch the limits of RS-232 on a regular basis around the building with runs of 100' or more. To boot, the RF in our facility can create a lot of problems so we run all of our serial data through shielded CAT-5 cable.
The logging computer we use is a 333MHz Pentium II running Windows 98. The multi-port serial card, which we purchased from TDM, is a RocketPort eight-port PCI card. This computer is connected to our network so files can be shared among the engineering group. We can back up these files to external storage media.
Ours was a perfect application for this product. We manage eight radio stations under one roof, so you can imagine the mounds of paper we would go through just to stay compliant with FCC rules. Situated in tornado alley, Kansas City sees its share of severe weather each year. Invariably, a single storm event will generate enough EAS activity to run a roll of paper dry before the night is over. I'm lucky to get the air staff to take an interest in knowing EAS operations let alone training them to feed a new roll of paper in those little printers.
Once everything was installed, we began testing communications between the computer and the decoder by cycling power on the decoders one at a time. Almost without fail the system worked flawlessly. In a couple of cases, communication was established once I corrected my own wiring mistakes.
Because the computer now logs every move the EAS decoders made, we have deactivated the printers. This made us realize how dependent some of our board ops were on the paper printouts. The whirring noise of the printer was their cue that something was up that demanded their attention. It has become a case of solving one problem but creating another. Now we use strobe lights to alert the operator to the most serious EAS events, however other means are in the works to give the operator a visual cue to an EAS alert like storm watches and warnings.
For years, we've talked about the tapeless studio. Now we are moving toward the paperless studio. The final crowning achievement will be the development of an EAS pop-up screen for the board op's Internet computer. This will give our board ops the information they need without the extra paper storage.
Chestnut is is an engineer with Entercom Kansas City.
Performance at a glance
Real time EAS activity database logging
Monitor as many as eight stations
Redundant file logging system
Helps to improve compliance with Part 11 EAS regulations
Database easily integrates with a website
Reporting feature for creating reports filtered by date and station ID
TDM Data Solutions
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