Game Time for IMG College

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Game Time for IMG College

Oct 1, 2013 8:30 AM, By Ben Blevins

On any given Saturday during college football season, IMG College's Audio Division can have as many as 30 concurrent broadcasts feeding any number of our 2,200 affiliate radio stations at once. All live, and each as unpredictable as the next. In fact, over the course of a year, we'll produce 35,000 hours of live college sports programming.

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Each broadcast is fed live into our 47-studio complex at IMG College's headquarters in downtown Winston-Salem. On game day more than three dozen studio hosts, board-ops, and technical producers are grabbing highlights and audio from games across the country to share with our listeners. On one side of the aisle might be a UCLA broadcast; directly across could be a Georgia broadcast.

In 2007, Chris Ferris, VP of audio, built and opened an incredible new facility serving as a great base for our operations. When I started in 2010 they were still working from a very analog environment, which at the time served the company - then known as ISP Sports - well. Shortly thereafter, amid a merger with IMG Worldwide, we were in need of growth and more flexibility. A lot had to change, and quickly.

Our goals were simple: IMG Audio had to consolidate its resources and develop a more efficient and flexible environment, while improving to the highest quality of audio. With 30 studios already in place, we approached the project in two phases. First, was to update our current TDM routing system, which we were close to outgrowing. We needed to move to a plug-and-play environment. The second phase was to add a second set of studios to accommodate our new networks.

Studio console and network equipment requirements were simple: ease of use and reliability. Should the unexpected happen, we needed to be able to move audio across the network or change things on the fly. Our previous routing system had a huge point of failure in being solely dependent on a PC to run the system. We needed something that could continually function, despite an occasional failure. As part of this undertaking, I met with Jay Tyler of Wheatstone along with Shannon Nichols at BSW. After only a few meetings, it was clear Wheatnet-IP and an AoIP network was our future.

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Game Time for IMG College

Oct 1, 2013 8:30 AM, By Ben Blevins

The layout

Before getting started, Kelly Parker from Wheatstone came in to offer advice on network and studio flow. With his help and support from the fantastic staff at Wheatstone, we determined that the best approach was to divide our TOC into two halves - one side for inbound and the other for outbound, with essentially a hallway dividing the two halves into two distinct engineering rooms. Each side contains the appropriate equipment, whether it be Telos Zephyrs, Comrex STACs or PCs for encoding audio to partners' websites, auto-answer couplers for backups to affiliates, or satellite receivers to monitor our broadcasts.

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The centerpiece studio of IMG, which hosts anything from Oregon's Ducks Insiders daily show to the nationwide Notre Dame IMG Sports Network.

Also included in that is our primary backhaul, which is provided by Clear Channel Satellite. We have a 6MB MPLS circuit point-to-point from Winston-Salem, NC, to Denver. We're using Worldcast Systems APT Equinox codecs to handle our audio and GPIO, with ISDN redundancy built-in - in case of a network failure or maintenance. We have 34 channels of audio from our headquarter studios to Denver. Also traveling down that line are UDP commands as redundancy to our contact closures and regional copy insertion to run our networks with the XDS platform.

There are two Core Hewlett-Packard 4800-48G switches that support each side. We also have backups racked, which are programmed and ready to go. It's just a matter of literally moving patch cables from the main to the backup switches, and we're live. Smaller HP ProCurve 2810-24G switchers then support two studios per switch, dividing the workload of each.

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An IMG studio host in one of the 41 workstation studios.

Our decision to go with Hewlett-Packard switchers has to do with our corporate leanings. All our desktops and laptops are HP, and the corporate network is run from HP switches. We had the built-in support for HP already, so it was logical to go that route instead of going with Cisco switchers, which most AoIP networks have been built around. Wheatstone support helped with our initial setup and made setting up our network very simple.

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Game Time for IMG College

Oct 1, 2013 8:30 AM, By Ben Blevins

The operation

Most of our remote crews are using Telos Zephyr Xstreams as their primary method of connection. A lot of our networks are also using audio over IP with Comrex Access. We employ a Traversal Server account from Comrex to make it easier for any of the 40 rack or portable units we own to find one another whether in the field or our studios. Adding to that, we've pushed to have hardwired data added to the broadcasters reciprocal agreement in the Southeastern Conference as a trial. This gives our broadcast crews access to the big campus networks and a reliable connection back to the studio. Chris Crump and Comrex have been great in helping us set guidelines for what is needed. Our hope is to create a standard that the rest of the conferences can adopt in the coming years.

We started with 30 existing studio workstations before the merger. We have since added 13. We have two sets of identical studios. Our studio workstations are built in a cubical type environment, each able to produce feeds to any number of our networks. We use the Mackie Oynx 1640i, Telos Zephyr Xstream, Comrex Access or Matrix, DBX 1066 compressor/limiter, Airtools 6100 broadcast delay, Sennheiser HMD-25 for on-air and communication, and two PCs for automation and general use.

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Jacob Potter, an IMG Audio producer, hosting the Arkansas Razorbacks football broadcast.

We converted six of our enclosed studios to Wheatstone E6 consoles, including our two studios in the front of our building visible from Trade Street. In those street-side studios, we installed E-6 control surfaces with a 12-fader layout. This layout gives onlookers an interactive experience by being able to listen to high-profile games broadcast on outside speakers, while displaying our impressive-looking consoles. In addition, we dropped the E-6s into furniture made by our local woodworker. Also in the studios are the IP 88AD Blades, Telos Zephyr Xstream and Comrex Access IP audio codec. We're using the Symetrix 528E mic processors and Yellowtec Mika arms for microphone and monitor support.

We use Audio Vault 9.20 for our automation much like many of our affiliates. With that, our producers are cutting game highlights using AVRPS, so we are able to share high quality audio across all of our networks, improving the information we can offer listeners - not just the score, but how it actually happened. Audio Vault is also sending GPIO commands to our backhaul for local automation contact closures and UDP or RS-232 commands for regional copy insertion. In our E-6 studios, we use Wheatnet's IP Driver to send and receive audio to Audio Vault, while avoiding the hefty costs involved with sound cards. This feature has worked great and will continue to become a staple in our facility.

Our biggest emphasis is being able to run any network from any studio at any given time. For Florida Gators broadcasts, for example, we'll dial in sources for the stadium talent, the producer, the tailgate show and the host (who is located in a different city). All of that (mix-minuses too) are programmed as an event to any of our E-6 consoles. At a moment's notice, we could pick up and move the entire broadcast almost seamlessly. Without the flexibility of Wheatnet, this would take significantly longer and potentially be noticeable to our listeners should it happen while we are on the air.

The flexibility of our design has also allowed us to handle impromptu special requests. During the BCS National Championship game, for example, actor Vince Vaughn happened to be there watching from the sideline. As a Notre Dame fan, Vaughn wasn't going to be available at halftime for an interview. Not a problem; our great Notre Dame remote engineer and producer, Bill Karambelas, fed the sideline mic back to us on another ISDN channel and Wheatnet's ability to route that audio into another studio allowed us to record the interview off-air for playback as if live later on.

Thanks to Wheatstone's Wheatnet IP, we've built an environment where IMG Audio can accomplish what was once thought impossible - bringing every listener a real-time, exciting college athletics experience each and every week.

Equipment List

Yellowtec Mika
Worldcast Systems APT Equinox
Wheatstone E-6, Event Scheduler, four-channel IP driver, Navigator, PC-XY-IP, WheatNet-IP88a, WheatNet-IP88ad, XYE-R-IP controllers
Tieline Commander G3
Telos Zephyr Xstream, Zephyr
Symetrix 528E
Sennheiser HMD-25
Mackie Oynx 1640i
ESE ES-289E, ES-185U
E-V RE-20
DBX 1066
Comrex Vector, STAC, Matrix, Hotline, BRIC-Link, Access
Clear Channel Satellite Services
Broadcast Electronics AudioVault 9.20
Barix Instreamer 100
Airtools 6100

Blevins is technical operations manager at IMG College.

October 2013

Buying a new transmitter, inside IMG College, frequency coordination of wireless mics, on-air telephone systems, and the Radio magazine annual Salary Survey....

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