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NPR Upgrades with Lawo
Facility Showcase, April 2010
As an internationally acclaimed producer and distributor of noncommercial news, talk and entertainment programming, NPR reaches a combined audience of 26.4 million listeners weekly. Member organizations operate 784 stations, and 117 public radio stations present NPR programming. In an effort to increase operating efficiencies while containing costs, NPR is in the midst of a dramatic multi-phase facility enhancement that places virtual console and audio networking technology at the forefront of the veritable radio station's operations. Designed to facilitate a high level of self operation for reporters and on-air talent, NPR deployed technology from Rastatt, Germany-based Lawo, with all sales and technical support coordinated through the company's North American offices in Toronto.
To a large extent, the upgrade revolved around Lawo's Crystal console and core, a Nova 17 router core, a Nova 73 HD router with VSM software, and VisTool software. By taking advantage of VisTool's programming and configuration capabilities (the software provides support for touch-screen displays, thereby enabling users to circumvent the complexity of learning signal flow on more conventional audio mixing consoles), NPR and Lawo were able to create an environment where users are largely self-sufficient in conducting interviews and producing content. The various interview and reporting facilities now revolve around touch-screen displays or small LCD switch panels with a minimum number of controls to simplify common tasks such as source selection, signal routing, level control and related functions. This virtual console technology -- in conjunction with Lawo's Nova 17 and Nova73 HD audio networking systems -- is dramatically affecting NPR's day-to-day activities.
Bud Aiello, NPR's director of engineering technology, is responsible for the design, development and implementation of the new systems. After an extensive review of NPR's previous production model, Aiello and his team designed an environment that makes use of virtual console technology. An interview room, a tracking room, six “phoner” booths and a remote San Francisco booth are all integrated with two administrative stations -- MCR (the master control room) and OPS (the news operations desk). Presently, the only rooms slated to have tactile, hardware-based faders are the newscast booths and production suites 3 and 4.
"Our first installed system is called the Interview Room" Aiello explains. "Though not an on-air facility, this room utilizes a Lawo Crystal core and dual touch-screen monitors for the user interface. There are no physical push buttons. Here, a show host or a reporter touches the on-screen icons for his and a subject's microphones, or selects a phone interview. He or she also has the resources of the master control routing switcher and can communicate with anyone in any of NPR's remote locations around the world via IP, ISDN, satellite or other means of remote access."
In addition to input and output routing from NPR's production system, the operator is able to title cuts and start recording. Through the virtual console, the mix, mix minuses, and various feeds to the headphones and production system occur. The system judiciously applies compression and gain control to maintain consistent levels and prevent downstream overloads. A second component of the Interview Room is a producer area for logistically complicated interviews. Here, the producer can sit adjacent to the Interview Room and control the mix with a second touch screen.
"The challenge with the Interview Room was the process of creating all the necessary mix minuses to make this facility viable without a sophisticated mixing console," Aiello says. "The individuals using this type of room typically are not skilled console operators. With our new virtual system, this issue has been addressed and, in the process, a high level of self sufficiency is implemented."
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