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The changes in automation
Consolidation and technological advances have made radio automation affordable and necessary for modern broadcast facilities. In response to the industry, automation systems are becoming better described as digital-asset management systems. Simple cart replacement isn't the goal anymore. Stations expect digital playback systems to help manage media inventories, automatically record and insert live feeds and voice tracks, work seamlessly with satellite formats and operate as a live assistant for shows. The need for interaction, control and insertion from a distance has become extremely important, as have WAN-based media sharing and the ability to manage multiple stations from a central site.
Most manufacturers have addressed these needs, and now these systems offer much more than radio automation. Many systems available are designed to take advantage of interaction with Rich Media associated with radio and audio content. This capability has direct applications as stations exploit their Internet presence. Automation systems can send “now playing” data to Web pages, and some companies offer solutions that allow listeners to hear radio on specially designed audio players with a station logo and sponsor ad space, as well as methods for Internet listeners to click and find out more about the music or spot being played or even begin a purchase process. This type of interactivity is still in the early stages but expect this information and extra features to be a part of future digital radio iterations.
Perhaps the decision has been made for the engineer, as a member of a larger company. If this is the case, this information may be able to give you an idea of how the system works and how its features can be used in the station. Use this information as a beginning, following up the research by contacting the manufacturer or the broadcast equipment dealer for more information.
Audiovault has been the basis of Broadcast Electronics long history of radio automation. Its current product line includes the standard, Vault2, a system based on non-proprietary hardware, but is designed for large radio operations and VaultXpress; a low-cost. In the Vault2 and VaultXpress systems, the company employs the familiar AVAir and AVRecord user interfaces. Vault2 stores all audio files on shared file servers and uses individual workstations for playback, production and traffic. VaultXpress uses individual workstations that store and play sound files locally. The company offers a wide variety of Web-centric tools that work with Audiovault products. It licenses Everstream's proprietary technology as a new service called SoniXtream; an integrated set of tools and Web interfaces that provide Web managers with tools necessary for complete rich media management; ad serving, insertion and management; branded audio players; reporting and even services like media hosting and multiple audio channel origination.
RCS offers the standard software for music and promo scheduling with Selector and Linker. Master Control XV is the companion automation product with integration into all RCS products. RCS has built a its customer base by maintaining the programming focus of its products. The company offers interfaces for most traffic software and, through Linker, offers tools to manage the rotation of all non-spot and non-music elements on the station, such as promos and sweepers. Master Control's Enterprise edition is designed for large interconnected radio stations with shared music libraries and scheduling. The Master Control system is available with Internet voice tracking, which allows talent to record tracks and create voice insertions from anywhere in the world. For Internet applications or station Web presences, the company offers the iSelector fully branded Internet player. ISelector lets users hear Internet radio stations customized to their musical preferences within any musical genre. SplitStream ad insertion allows unique commercials to be sent to individual Web listeners. RadioShow is a real-time Web animation and interactivity product that integrates with Master Control. RCS Webcasting and its other Internet tools are designed to allow radio stations to extend their on-air presence to the Internet easily.
Broadcast Software International
BSI offers an inexpensive automation, cart replacement and instant audio product with Stinger. The companion products offer automation solutions for stations on a tight budget. Its systems use standard PC hardware and the Audioscience audio adapters. The Simian automation system can manage satellite operation playback, live assist and background recording. External controls are managed by optional external trigger and relay packages. Simian interfaces with most traffic systems. Using Webconnect Pro, Simian systems can be controlled and managed via the Internet. The BSI software systems are is designed to use CoolEdit Pro for production and can play Microsoft standard audio files, MP2, MP3 files and TM Century files. BSI also offers a digital cart replacement, Wavecart and a PC-based instant audio player. BSI's software was recently selected to power Radio Kabul, which is the BBC's first entry into the reformed nation of Afghanistan.
Cartworks offers one of the least expensive options for automation. Its system uses individual PC workstations for live assist, voice tracking and satellite automation. Audio from home computers, professional digital audio workstations, the Internet or most any source can be played by Cartworks without conversion. The system supports standard Microsoft .wav, MPEG and many other digital audio formats. Cartworks supports CoolEdit and Saw 32 for production. The system was designed by broadcast engineers and boasts real broadcast engineers and computer programmers on its 24-hour support lines. Check the free software section of its website for some useful engineering ware.
Scott Studios has been ubiquitous in small and medium markets, and has focused on providing solutions for combined operations and custom applications. Their current SS32 products offer configurable user interfaces designed by station talent. Voice tracking and newsroom software are available. There is a phone call recorder available, but the system is designed to integrate with production software like Audicy, Sound Forge and CoolEdit. Access to audio cuts can be obtained quickly using a cart wall screen, which is accessible remotely or even over the Internet. Scott integrates with all popular traffic and music software systems and offers solutions for Internet ad substitution that works directly with its on-air systems.
Digital Media Systems
Dalet's system is an ambitious product designed to support a multimedia environment. Dalet approaches its digital delivery system as a component of a complete digital asset management system. Its Multimedia scheduler system provides scheduling capability for radio and for many other associated media. Dalet holds to a “produce once, broadcast many” approach, which allows its radio broadcast system to integrate with its audio production, digital content management, news and playback systems. It has developed a common set of production tools to simplify the production and delivery of multimedia content through a multitude of platforms. Dalet offers a radio automation system with collaborative capabilities and standard integration into audio, video and Web systems. Dalet's system has developed a large following in Europe, and is the system of choice for the Paris-based NRG group. It has also gained U.S. approval as the selected digital asset management system for XM Satellite Radio.
DADPro is the heart of Enco's product line, which uses a standard workstation platform with multiple types of on-screen windows that can be tailored for different types of applications and operator expertise. The player windows are capable of live assist or fully automated modes, and transparent transition between modes, with full support of crossfaded or overlapped segue transitions and voice tracks. Even spot rotations can automatically insert accurate time announcements and tags. Some of the players can be user-customized cart walls or instant-play hot buttons for cart replacement applications. The recorder windows can be used for automatic phone recording, simple editing and automated and unattended network feed acquisition. Multiple record windows can be opened at once. The Enco system can also use the cart head control surfaces, known as fish finders, used by the Orban AirTime system. Control of external gear can be achieved using serial communications or its custom GPI. Enco can provide full graphic two-track waveform editing and a separate multichannel editor. File import from editing software is also supported. The DAD system can be controlled via modem and can be configured for Global WAN, which allows central control of multiple sites.
The Finland-based IBM radio automation product, Radioman, has been a quiet entry into the field. The IBM system was originally developed for the Finnish Broadcasting Company by Jutel Oy for its nationwide radio systems, but has recently been chosen by the BBC World service for their operations as well. The Radioman system is designed specifically for collaborative operation, and is useful for news and talk formatted stations. Multiple departments can be working with files simultaneously: a news person can be writing copy and inserting sound bites, the production operator can be editing and preparing audio cuts, the programmers can be adjusting and updating the schedule and the talent can be reading the copy or playing the prepared audio at the same time. As is typical for IBM, the Radioman product is designed to be a complete automation solution and encompasses a vast array of products for scheduling, editing, Internet and digital broadcasting, data transmission and file management.
Prophet has had a long history of offering automation systems from its modest beginnings in Ogallala, NE. In use at Sirius Satellite Radio, its current product — NexGen — offers tools for companies who are consolidating operations and voice tracking or fully-automating their stations. Prophet's WAN-casting system enables stations to share data and audio between interconnected sites, allowing small stations to be voice-tracked, programmed or updated from combined radio facilities, consultant's offices or remote broadcast locations. Clear Channel Communications, the parent company, is now installing these systems and is using WAN-casting features in markets throughout the United States. The NexGen system is composed of program modules that can be purchased and configured to meet the stations' specific needs: Auto Phone Call allows remote talent to phone-in traffic, weather and news alerts to be included into the programming. The time announce and temperature announce modules allow fully automated systems to play accurate time and temperature announcements, helping maintain the live station sound. The company also offers its Wizard multitrack audio editing system as well as an automatic digital reel-to-reel system for unattended recording of network feeds.
Since 1984, MediaTouch (now iMediatouch) has developed touch-screen automation and digital audio systems for radio. Its current products use standard PC hardware and allow remote operation of its automation system from multiple locations. The software programs have codecs by Q-Design (MP2), Fraunhoffer (MP3), Microsoft (ADPCM & Windows WMA) and PCM. All formats can be played in overlaps simultaneously, regardless of audio card capability. Its touch-screen interfaces are designed to reduce or eliminate the mouse pointer table chase and increase the speed and efficiency of live-assist operations. The iMediatouch system offers a flexible voice tracking function that allows talent to record voice tracks as far into the future as there are schedules in the system. OMT offers two products specifically for Internet integration: Adcast, which is a spot-substitution product useful for dealing with a station's AFTRA issues, and Media MultiStream, which is a multichannel live audio stream encoder. Its iMediaLogger has also been used with some Internet sites to provide recorded archive show clips for on-demand Internet listeners.
Arrakis offers its software free of charge with Digilink Free. It's a radio automation package designed for stations and Internet broadcasters with limited budgets, and augments Arrakis' product line of consoles and studio furniture designed for cost-conscious radio broadcasters. Arrakis now offers Digilink+Plus for an additional charge, which adds RS232 serial control, multiple sound card support and greater scheduling features to Digilink Free. Digilink Supreme is a full-featured automation system that offers broadcast-quality balanced audio, logic controls and full satellite automation capability. Arrakis also offers related programs, such as an audio file manager and scheduling tool are available. Support is available on a fee basis.
Computer Concepts has been a reliable player in the digital delivery
systems arena. Although the company was purchased by Scott Studios and
has been moved to the Scott headquarters, the DCS and Maestro product
lines are still being supported and improved. The current version of
Maestro, 3.1 boasts support for Windows 2000 and XP as well as more
audio cards from Digigram and Audioscience. This version offers global
site support that allows for audio distribution and control of multiple
stations and server sites.
Computer Concepts has also increased support for audio switching devices from Broadcast Tools and its own digital audio engine Epicenter. New waveform editing features in the Voice Tracker and cart editing programs. The Transposer option rips CDs directly into Maestro format which makes music formats easier to implement.
LPB's products fill a low-cost niche for radio broadcasters. Its automation products continue this practice. Webjocky is an inexpensive cart replacement solution for stations with limited budgets, Webcasters or LPFM operators. The system supports MP3 and .wav file playback and includes a 36-key instant player. The system offers on-air, Next and played LED indicators, on-screen faders and individual muting for each channel. Salsa is a larger-scale station automation system and offers GPI controls scheduling, news and traffic solutions as available options.
Additional automation system providers
Broadcast Technical Services Group
Management Data Media Systems, Inc
Netia Digital Audio
On Air Digital USA
Register Data Systems
ScheduALL by VizuAll Inc
Smarts Broadcast Systems
Digital delivery and cart replacement is simply a small portion of the services offered by today's automation systems. Use this information as a starting place, contact the manufacturers and discuss the station's particular need. They can offer the best ways to integrate a system into the station and help to plan an installation in the future.
Thomas is a contract engineer in Los Angeles and chief technology officer of Stratosaudio.
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