Field Report: Burk Watchband

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Nassau Broadcasting owns 14 stations in Vermont spread from the northern border town of Derby Line to the Southern Vermont Town of Bellows Falls. When I started with the company three years ago there was no off-the-shelf solution for monitoring all the stations from one location. When Burk introduced Watchband at NAB2007, I immediately ordered a unit to evaluate. Watchband more than exceeded my expectations: Not only can I now monitor all 14 stations from one location, but I can also monitor all the stations plus our competition from any location that has network access.

Watchband requires a computer to generate the Web interface and stream audio. I chose to buy a small HP P4 workstation running Windows XP Pro with a built-in sound card and 2GB of RAM. Out of the box, setup is simple and all the cables, serial cable, audio cable and whip antenna are included. I chose to connect all of my units to the house antenna for added coverage. Install the software, connect the cables, set some basic configuration, and Watchband is up and running.

Basic setup

The first setup question answered is where the Watchband radio is located. This allows the software to build a database of the stations you should expect to hear and their expected field intensity based on your location. Once finished with the basic setup questions the screen jumps to life with a large frequency display, field intensity meter and spectrum display. Navigating through the menu provides specific information about the station being monitored. The tuner button displays frequency, PS and PTY information, as well as scrolling RDS info. The owner button gives the licensee's name, call letters and frequency. The RDS tab shows all the standard RDS information if it's present. The FCC button displays information from the FCC database, including call sign, city of license, ERP distance and bearing from your location.

On the left side of the screen Watchband has a compass display that always shows the distance and bearing to the monitored station. The middle of the screen has basic tuning controls: scan, seek, AM, FM mono and FM stereo. There are six user-programmable presets buttons divided into five preset banks as well as preset scan. The bottom of the screen has the large spectrum display that gives a full view of the FM or AM band. Watchband can display the expected field intensity against a sweep of the spectrum to compare expected against real world. Watchband can also tune by clicking on each signal in the display.

Performance at a glance

Alarm reporting
Log and skim audio
Compare signal strength
E-mail alerting
Streaming audio
Playlist generation

As if the basic functions didn't make Watchband very useful there is a whole suite of reports that can be generated with Watchband.

The scheduler menu can program an endless number of jobs. I have the machine in White River Junction watch my AM change power levels and record this information. If it sees a problem, the system sends me an e-mail as a backup to the remote control. Watchband can record audio, log RDS information, log audio levels and field intensity. Plus, it can schedule this to happen every day, week, month or just once. These jobs can be scheduled for a specific station or a list of stations, or let it scan the dial and record data.

The reports button can create reports on the data collected with the scheduler. Depending on how the captured data is set up, playlists can be created from the RBDS info collected. Field intensity reports and audio phase, peak and average levels reports are all available. A report can be created to tell you everything you want to know about any station.

Recorded audio can be played back at a later date. This is perfect for letting the programming department record the morning show or letting the morning show hear the competition.

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