Field Report: Computer Concepts Epicenter

At a first glance, Epicenter might seem like just another audio routing switcher, but behind the front panel and flashing lights, there's a lot more going on. The Epicenter is designed to give operators the feel of a conventional control room, yet the look of something from the future by interfacing with several of the new digital control boards like the Logitek NuMix or ROC consoles. Epicenter's power comes from taking all of the electronics of a studio and combining them into a central audio control center.

Performance at a glance
  • Combines all facility audio routing into one central location
  • Routes audio and control logic
  • Reduces wire and cable needs
  • Interfaces with a variety of control boards and computers
  • Flexible, powerful and economical
What's inside

Epicenter is housed in a typical routing switcher type chassis, which holds up to 16 audio cards. These audio cards can be digital or analog, and each has 16 inputs or outputs. The Epicenter can tie up to four of these chassis (or bays) together using fiber optics for the interconnection, giving a total capacity of up to 1,008 inputs or outputs in any combination. Each of the Epicenter bays also has slots for additional cards. The bay is controlled by a System card, which contains a microprocessor to tell each of the audio cards what to do. This card is connected to a PC via an RS232 serial port to allow easy programming and setup. The PC is only needed to make changes in the routing, and thus a crash in this computer will not cause a problem with the Epicenter. Redundant system cards in each chassis allow backup should a card fail.

Interfacing to the studios is achieved through the use of a Multi-Protocol plug-in card. This card contains six RS-422 ports to connect to the audio control boards and two RS-232 ports, which can interface to a digital storage and automation computer system. Remote control start and stop logic for automation systems can be controlled via these ports. Logic to start other conventional devices can be accomplished through relays located inside the audio console. These relays are controlled by the Epicenter, not the control board, which opens up even more flexibility.

New thinking

In most on-air studios, the control board contains one or two line selector modules to expand the number of available inputs. With a routing switcher, these line selectors can be replaced with a module that can select any input into the switcher. With Epicenter, every pot on the control board becomes a remote line selector that can select any input into the router. The electronics also provide options for pan, stereo/mono/phase mode selections, gain trim, and a count-up timer. Future expansions will allow equalization and other processing controls through a DSP card.

The main difference between the Epicenter and a standard audio routing switcher is the power of the outputs. In a standard routing switcher, each output can be assigned to play the audio connected to any of the inputs. Epicenter allows each output to become a mixing bus. Through the use of a control board, or software on a computer, each output can mix up to 24 inputs. The gain of each input can be controlled separately using the pots on the board, or through programming of the computer. The audio electronics are housed within the routing switcher. The control surface connects via a CAT5 cable through the RS-422 port. This allows the user to create mix-minus buses controlled by the console, or to be fixed through software.

When wiring the Epicenter, all inputs and outputs are connected to the pack plane through WAGO connectors. Bringing out all of these inputs and outputs to a punch block is advisable and will make it easier to make future changes. Since no audio runs through the sudio console, all of the studio wiring is contained in a separate rack room.

The Epicenter is designed to operate with third-party controllers like the Logitek NuMix.

It doesn't take long to get the hang of programming the Epicenter. Programming scripts tell Epicenter how to handle inputs and outputs. Start by setting up the control board with a pool of the sources you would like the console to access. Logic and audio features are assigned to the input source via the program. This allows all features to work the same, even on another console in another studio. A name is assigned to each source, which will appear in the display on the control surface over the selected pot.

All the eggs in one basket?

One concern about having a single system controlling audio and containing control board electronics is redundancy and backup. In the arrangement for Cox Radio's six Orlando stations, the Epicenter comprises four bays. Each bay is configured as one large router. A typical control room might have three CD players. Each player is connected to a different audio card in at least two bays. Should a card or bay fail, we don't lose all our players. Our automation system is configured the same way. For the air chain, the digital and analog inputs to the audio processor are fed simultaneously from different output cards and bays on the Epicenter. If the digital output card fails, the processor will switch to the analog input, and we are back on the air in under a second. Epicenter can reduce the number of back-up audio processors needed in a six station combo. The inputs and outputs of the back-up processor are routed through the Epicenter and can be routed to any of the six station's air chains.

Computer Concepts
P: 800-255-6350
F: 913-541-0169

Soon, the system will be integrated into the news/talk station. Stored console configurations will accommodate local and network programs and allow the setup of the board to be changed through the touch of a button. Epicenter can control background network recordings automatically.

Steve Fluker is the director of engineering of Cox Radio, Orlando.

More online

See how Cox Orlando's Epicenter proved its value during the stations' coverage of the September 11 attacks. Go to …WWW.BERadio.COM

Editor's note: Field Reports are an exclusive BE Radio feature for radio broadcasters. Each report is prepared by well-qualified staff at a radio station, production facility or consulting company.

These reports are performed by the industry, for the industry. Manufacturer support is limited to providing loan equipment and to aiding the author if requested.

It is the responsibility of BE Radio to publish the results of any device tested, positive or negative. No report should be considered an endorsement or disapproval by BE Radio.

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