Sep 1, 2004 12:00 PM, By Chriss Scherer, editor
The current trend in facility design involves two major components to complete an on-air system. One element is the audio routing and mixing functions, which are becoming increasingly tied together. The other is the audio storage and playback system, commonly referred to as an automation system. From the humble beginnings as a way to provide unattended playback of scheduled material with various mechanical methods, today's automation systems are computer-based and provide much more than just audio playback.
What has long been called an automation system was at one time singular in function; it now actually handles various automated tasks. The primary function is content management: storage and playback of audio files on demand. Add to this the ability to load schedules and apply certain rules to fill time automatically and you describe nearly all the systems available today.
While audio storage and playback are still the key functions, an automation system has actually shifted its primary function to become a facility event controller. Through event triggers, such as contact closures, serial data strings and other control paths, the automation system is able to automatically record audio feeds or capture audio files and control external equipment such as audio processors, routing switchers and satellite receivers.
WAN, LAN, thank you ma'am
The need for interaction, control and insertion from a distance has become important, as have WAN-based media sharing and the ability to manage multiple stations from a central site.
Computers excel at storing and manipulating data, so affecting audio data is a natural function. However, new data needs have become important for stations. Program-associated data (PAD) � the basics of song title and artist name � are being used today to feed RBDS encoders and station websites with �now playing� information. This data will also be transmitted on an IBOC stream. With plans to provide radio receivers with more detailed displays, additional data can also be provided, such as an artist's concert dates and information about the performer. Similar added data can be applied to commercial audio files as well.
This data can be tied to audio files and delivered on a schedule through the automation system. The PAD information is likely already part of the stored audio file, so retrieving it for on-air delivery is not a complex matter. This data may be a part of the audio stream or a separate data stream.
The supplemental PAD, such as concert dates or artist news, can also be stored and retrieved as needed. Most systems already have the capability to provide live copy with any audio file. This live copy is simply stored data. Not to over simplify the idea, but data is data to a computer, regardless of whether it is fed to an in-studio monitor or made available to an RBDS stream.
Multi-channel audio is a developing technology for IBOC. There are currently two ways it is being developed. The Tomorrow Radio project, a joint effort between NPR, Harris and Kenwood, adds a supplemental audio channel (SAC) in addition to the main channel so that two program streams are created. Most automation systems can handle more than one program stream, although it is preferable to have a separate workstation to provide the second stream as backup. The other form of multi-channel audio of IBOC is surround sound. While still dealing with audio data, surround-sound files will have a different format than traditional mono or stereo files. Systems vary in this capability today, but it is something to keep in mind if your station is considering an IBOC roll-out with an eye to the leading technology.
An overview of available automation systems
OSModesSound CardsThird-party RAID support?File FormatsNon-native file support?Control ModesPADPlaybackPurchaseSupportAEQMar4Winwww.aeq.es W M, L, F, S, T Digigram yes * * S, E, C, E@sy * L P * Features: Modules available for new editing, voice tracking, scheduling; ArrakisDigilink Extremewww.arrakis-systems.com W M, L, F, S, T any yes W, 2, 3 yes S, C separate L, S, N P, L T Features: 16x3 switcher with built-in audio cards required for satellite operation; switcher also facilitates installation and separates PC functions from broadcast functions Broadcast ElectronicsAudiovaultwww.bdcast.com W M, L, F, S, T Digigram, Soundblaster yes W, B, 2, 3 yes S, E, C separate L, S, N P, L U Features: Includes integrated CD ripper; supports multiple sample rates and compression types simultaneously from a single audio channel Broadcast Software InternationalSimianwww.bsiusa.com W M, L, F, S, T any yes W, B, 2, 3, TM Century, Dolby AC-2 * S, C * L, N P T Features: Spanish menus; programmable hot keys; rotating carts Broadcast Software InternationalWavecartwww.bsiusa.com W M any * W, B, 2, 3, TM Century, Dolby AC-2 * * * L P * BTSGGeneration IVwww.btsg.com W M, L, F, S, T any yes W, B, 2, 3 yes S, E, C, I/O boards separate or imbedded L, N P,L T Features: Available as a full or modular system Computer ConceptsMaestrowww.computerconcepts.biz W M, L, F, S, T any yes W, B, 2, 3, A, C, WMA yes S, E, C separate L, S, N P U, T Features: Voice tracking via Internet; voice tracking in air studio while on-air; built-in air studio phone recorder-editor; Prot�g� is the a la carte version of Maestro DaletDalet Pluswww.dalet.com W M, L, F, S, T Digigram, Soundblaster yes W, B, 2, 3, WMA yes S, C separate L P T Features: Modular system design; redundant architecture D.A.V.I.D.Latitudewww.digasystem.com W M, L, F, S, T Digigram, Lynx yes W, B, 2, 3, Dalet SND,MFX, WMA, Realaudio yes S, E, C separate or imbedded L, N P T Features: Content Bridge exports and imports files; multi-tier rights management including personal desktop configuration; content distribution and exchange via WAN/MAN; Web-based remote reporter kit EncoDADpro32www.enco.com W M, L, F, S, T Digigram, Audioscience yes W, B, 2, 3, plays AC-2 yes S, E, C separate L, N P U Features: Command language to program complex tasks; conditional programming language for if-then-else administration; Customizable interface for screen colors and layout; security to enable or lock out features NetiaRadio-Assist 7.5www.netia.fr W M, L, F, S, T Digigram, Sounblaster,M-Audio, Terratec, Soundmax, Yellowtec yes W, B, 2, 3 yes * separate or imbedded L L T OMTImediatouchwww.imediatouch.com W M, L, F, S, T any yes W, B, 2, 3 yes S, E, C separate L P T Features: Version 2.2 adds features to eliminate downtime with redundant databases On Air DigitalRadio Suitewww.onairusa.com L M, L, F, S, T Audioscience, Soundblaster yes W, B, 2, 3, A, ADPCM yes S, C separate L, N P U Features: Includes Radio Suite Linux; software encoding and decoding; interfaces with all Windows-based editors, news systems, CD rippers Pristine SystemsCDS32www.pristinesys.com W M, L, F, S, T Audioscience yes W, 2, 3, A, Dolby AC-2, Cart Chunk yes S, E, C separate or imbedded L, N P T Features: Includes music scheduling, voice tracking, editor, RBDS text output, Website text output, audio browser software, audio grabber Prophet Systems InnovationsNexgen 101www.prophetsys.com W, L M, L, F, S, T any yes W, B, 2, 3 yes S, E, C separate or imbedded L, S, N P T Features: Central database and storage can be on Linux; includes integrated automatic music scheduling; optional profanity control module; automatic hot sparring redundancy for on-air workstations; automatic program logging and archive module Register Data SystemsThe Phantomwww.registerdata.com DOS M, L, F, S, T any yes * * S, E, C separate L P U RCSMaster Controlwww.rcsworks.com W M, L, F, S, T Digigram, Moto, M-Audio, Soundscape yes W, B, 2, Cart Chunk yes S, E, C separate L, N L T Features: Living Log eliminates reconciliation; Internet Voice Tracking; Internet Proof Schedule; drag and drop files to editors; e-mail trouble alerts; Segue Editor; programmable Hot Keys Scott StudiosSS32www.scottstudios.com W, L in beta M, L, F, S, T any yes W, B, 2, 3, A, WMA, Cart Chunk yes S, E, C separate L, S, N P U, T Features: Remote control of up to 48 systems via one Internet computer; remote control by DTMF, remote control by Pocket PC; voice tracking via Internet; voice tracking in air studio while on-air; timing adjustment with Audioscience sound card; built-in air studio phone recorder-editor; RBDS out can insert spots in text, weather, contests WirereadyControlreadywww.wireready.com W M, L, F, S, T any yes W, any supported by sound card yes S, E, C separate or imbedded L P T Features: Integrated newsroom and wire capture system in same software; logic operations are independent of sound files and traffic logs; imports traffic and music schedules independently; audio file information is stored in the audio file; automation can distribute information via RBDS and update station websites; can find audio from backup sources including FTP and autofills if needed; can launch third-party applications
* - check with manufacturer
W - Windows 2000 or XP
L � Linux
M � manual
L - live assist
F - full automation
S - Satellite
T - timed recording/playback
W - WAV
B - BWF
2 - MP2
3 - MP3
A - Apt-x
C - Cart Chunk
S - serial
E - Ethernet
C - contact closures
L - from local sound card
S - from server sound card
N - over network to workstation sound card
P - full purchase
L - ongoing license fee
U - free unlimited
T - tiered support based on contract terms