There's a great deal of innovation that targets the commercial and non-commercial broadcast industries — most seemingly aimed at "big-time" operators or network content creators — but there's a niche for the smaller operator, too. ENCO Systems in Southfield, Mich., continues to refine its field-proven automation workhorse to provide unique operating solutions, some of which even a high school radio station can use to advantage.
WBFH/Bloomfield Hills is an award-winning, nationally-recognized public service station of the Bloomfield Hills School District, situated among Detroit's northern suburbs. WBFH is unusual in that it is a high school radio station, one of just 13 in the state of Michigan. It is staffed and run by teenagers and has been a fixture on the FM dial at 88.1 MHz since 1976.
The station has attracted a great deal of attention since moving in September from a temporary converted-classroom studio in the back of the former Lahser High School to new, glass-walled, highly visible showcase studios smack-dab in the middle of the brand-new Bloomfield Hills High School.
As one can imagine, there have been a great many changes to the operations side of the program, but we continue to rely on the DAD automation system from ENCO.
WBFH has been using ENCO's DAD system and software for more than a decade and a half. ENCO's philosophy of continuous process improvement fits in with our mission statement to provide state-of-the-art technical equipment and real-world experience for our students, from which each can fashion a skill set that will transform them into great communicators, whether they choose to pursue a career in mass communications or to use their talents in other disciplines.
Some technical details: Our DAD System is configured for four studios; each has a computer that is linked to the ENCO DAD server, on which is all of our music and production material. It's a straightforward arrangement. We have about 4 terabytes of storage available at this time.
EASE OF USE
We've seen the growth of DAD's power and versatility and are sold on its many virtues. Forget for a moment its many complex tools and powerful engine; the first consideration for us is ease of use.
WBFH educates and turns neophytes in to broadcasters. Although most youngsters have mastered smartphones and video games, the thought of being behind a microphone while driving a computer can be a bit intimidating, even for the most savvy teen.
The Presenter component of the DAD system is graphically simple and easy to follow. The screen is divided in two: six automation slots on the left side of the screen and the ability to call up any number of other tools on the right. The clean lines and logical layout afford a quick-learn for someone using our DAD automation for the first time. We've had elementary and middle school-age children — as well as school board members — mastering the operation quickly. (We offer air time to all elementary and middle school students as well as district members.) A drag-and-drop motion has the host playing hit music in seconds and gaining on-air confidence in minutes.
Of the automation systems on the market, DAD provides us the best tools with which to customize the look and feel of our automation system.
A right-click on the task bar of an open window allows our staff to change the colors and the font size of the screen graphics. This may not be that important from the broadcast engineering perspective, but that's an important factor when your school colors are purple, black and silver. Teens love to show their school spirit every chance they get.
HIT MUSIC. HOT TOPICS. SPORTS TALK. AND DROP BOX.
For the most part, music plays during the course of the broadcast day. The music is picked and processed by the many members of our music department. When processing music, there many tasks at hand: setting heads and tails, establishing segue markers, normalizing the cut and then sorting the music to the correct storage folder on the hard drive.
The Dropbox component of DAD ensures that tasks are completed uniformly. We set the rules and Dropbox takes care of everything from converting audio to injecting it in to the DAD library. Again, a drag-and-drop from one of our three production rooms sends the audio file to Dropbox and then off to our master server. (Desktop icons connected to our main server allow quick sorting and processing.) The same goes for audio production of our promos, public service announcements, liners and donor announcements.
WBFH is run completely by teenagers, and not every student has the time, the motivation or the patience to immerse him- or herself in the wonders of what DAD can do, and that's understandable. Our core student managers have simplified much of the daily process, enabling maximum efficiency from our staffers.
While concentrating on the best-of-the-old and the best-of-the-new music available, a great many of our staffers love to talk about current events, news and sports. The ability to create mini arrays of audio drops in Presenter allows our students to be creative by including actualities and sound effects during their broadcasts. Since teens often forget to arm the recording decks in DAD, the neatest feature for our managers is the timed audio background recording feature that lets us capture the sports events we cover as well as keepsake programming featuring parents of our staffers on the air.
The support team at ENCO has been outstanding. Not only do they have the patience to answer our questions and help us get back on track when an occasional curious teenager messes with some DAD settings, but team ENCO goes out of its way to offer advice on how to tailor their software to high school radio operations. Because of this, we recommend ENCO to existing and future online and low-power FM broadcasters in need of powerful software tool to succeed. It's helped WBFH become one of the most-recognized and celebrated community broadcasters in the state of Michigan.
Wittebols is the WBFH assistant station manager/technical director for Bloomfield Hills Schools, Bloomfield Hills, Mich.