A Capitol Move for WUIS
Mar 1, 2014 8:01 AM, By Greg Manfroi
Last year, we moved the Illinois Public Radio bureau from a temporary location to a newly remodeled State Capitol Press Room. The previous setup for the Capitol bureau had two workstations with full-size broadcast consoles. The reporters wanted the news bureau to operate like an office with desks rather than a radio studio. We still had to produce broadcast-quality audio for 11 member stations. A weekly half hour forum must be originated with guests who need headsets to hear hosts on the other end of an ISDN line. I chose two eight-channel Wheatstone SideBoard control surfaces to interface to our WheatNet-IP Intelligent Network, which I had installed four years ago to upgrade the studios of WUIS Public Radio located on the campus of the University of Illinois in Springfield.
Each SideBoard has a footprint of 6"x18", and I ordered them in the desktop mount configuration. Each Sideboard controls one of the two virtual mixers in a single I/O Blade, which is similar to an IP node, but with more functionality built-in. I made a short tether with strain relief for the CAT-6 and dc power cable so the SideBoards can be moved off the desks by the reporters if desired. This allowed for four microphones, two phone hybrids, one ISDN codec, three audio feeds from other areas of the Capitol, an aux input for a portable device, guest headphone feeds, three AoIP drivers for three computers providing four stereo channels of I/O per computer, and two legacy mini disc recorders. The only equipment on a reporter's desk is the SideBoard, two active audio monitors, a microphone, LCD screen, keyboard and mouse. All other equipment resides in a 19" rack on wheels in a corner of the bureau. Using the SideBoard scripts, I illuminate the programmable button LEDs for the hybrid and ISDN sends when active, and flash the button LEDs when the sends have been seized by the other SideBoard so the reporters always have a visual indication of who is feeding what.
An IP foundation
Four years ago, I decided to install IP audio routing because I figured the system would reduce build time. Four years later, I'm still reducing my build time in just about any project I undertake -- and there have been a few.
The SideBoards are installed at work desks at the state capitol.
When I first installed the system, I was concerned about setting up the Cisco switches because I had no prior experience with an enterprise-class switch. Wheatstone assured me it had simple instructions to configure the switches. It actually was simple. The port settings are identical with the only difference being the speed. A port assigned to a physical Blade, which are similar to I/O nodes, is set for 1Gb/s. Ports for everything else on the network (IP drivers, controllers) are set to 100Mb/s for network efficiency. The first room I completed was a new on-air studio. After the first studio was done, I attacked the remaining studios one at a time, including one studio that consists of an Omnirax table with positions for one host and four guests. The host position has a Wheatstone GP16 panel. These little panels communicate via TCP/IP on an Ethernet connection. They run scripts that make them very versatile. Scripts are created with the script wizard and editor within the GP16P setup software provided by Wheatstone. The GP16 panel allows a program host to switch different sources to the speakers or headphones, provides talk-back to individual studios, and has a cough switch. The panel also controls the host mic and monitor speaker volume (with up/down buttons).
Fast forward a few years: We had a morning host that would sleep through the alarm clock on occasion and be late for the morning shift. I was asked if there was some way I could set something up to alert the host and news director if a warm body was not in the news booth to start morning drive. I use the programmable buttons on the E-6 control surfaces to allow operators to switch any studio direct to air. During morning drive, the news studio is manually switched direct to air by the morning host. An advantage to the programmable GP panel I had in the talk studio was that a script running on it can interact with other parts of the WheatNet-IP system. I added a periodic timer and startup subroutine to the GP16 script. The timer had a function that queried if the signal ID of a source (News Studio Program Buss A) was connected to a destination signal (Input to the Air Chain). If the condition was true, a soft logic input was set to the one state. This soft logic signal was connected to a physical logic signal using the Wheatstone IPNav software. I had a spare Broadcast Tools WVRC-8 remote control available, so the physical logic output was routed through a raise relay on the WVRC-8 remote control before connecting to a status input on the same remote control. A schedule programmed in the remote control closes the raise relay every weekday between 5:40 a.m. and 6 a.m. If the news booth is not routed to the air chain during this window an alarm condition is created and the WVRC-8 dials one of the news lines. The remote control is connected to the POTS line downstream from a Comrex Stac hybrid so there is no possibility the remote control could disrupt a call that is being aired or recorded.
Wheatstone has scheduling software that could make the logic cross point connection only during the time window, but that would have been an extra cost and I already had the WVRC-8 remote control on hand.
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A Capitol Move for WUIS
Mar 1, 2014 8:01 AM, By Greg Manfroi
Stick to the script
The GP16 panel comes in handy when experimenting with scripts. I wanted to know if a script could be written to make one of Wheatstone's GP or LCX rack mount panels into an audio switcher with a safety button. I wrote a test script for that purpose and it worked as planned. To return the GP16 panel back to normal I just downloaded the original script back to the panel.
Studio A is used for production and live programming.
The Wheatstone AoIP drivers are handy in the news booth, and they are about half the cost of a professional four-channel sound card. Instead of having a generic source called "Computer" I can name the AoIP sources with their function names. On one computer there are separate AoIP sources/destinations for Editor, Skype, Internet, and NewsReady.
Studio C handles talk shows, interviews and fund drives. The GP16 panel is in this studio.
I had a number of speakers (the angled enclosure type that were ubiquitous on the walls of many radio stations in the 1970s) that were installed by being laid face down on top of drop ceiling tiles throughout the station. I feed them via a Wheatstone Blade output. Normally the speakers are fed audio from NPR's squawk channel. During EAS alerts our Endec decode relay causes a momentary connection to feed EAS alert audio to the speakers. In addition, EAS alert audio interrupts cue audio in every studio. There is a silence sensor that causes a momentary connection of alarm audio to the speakers. The source for the alarm audio is a LM556 timer circuit that emulates the Star Trek "Red Alert" sound. The drop ceiling panels are porous allowing the speakers to be audible everywhere in the station without having retro speakers hanging on the walls.
Studio B is used for production and live programming.
The IP system has proven to be a good fit for us, providing broadcast quality audio with easy configuration. We will be able to freely expand without disrupting operations.
Manfroi is the chief engineer for WUIS Public Radio in Springfield, IL.
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