Most every broadcast operation is slightly different in their set-up, workflow and equipment load-out. No ‘one-size’ fits all solution typically exists, but in the current climate of sorting out how to broadcast remotely and have staff self-isolated at home, there are definitely some solutions for a full-featured broadcast that have not been full explored by a number of operations. The good news is, for many AoIP broadcast facilities, a LOT of the required gear is already on hand.
The Basic Setup
So, let’s roll back to where we’re at. COVID-19 hits and engineers everywhere get the marching orders to figure out how to allow their announcers to broadcast from home. A codec for audio transport (with a backfeed from the studio) and a microphone gives you a typical client/sales remote. Adding in some kind of VPN connection to your automation computer (Chrome Remote Desktop, Remote-PC, TeamViewer, etc) allows your announcer to push their buttons and hotkeys. That is your basic “just get them on-air from home” setup and it definitely works for AoIP as well as legacy Analog studios. The negatives with this route is you are left with live channels up and active on your broadcast console fully dependent on announcers remembering to turn off channels at the remote end, possibly one or more channels is multiple users are dialing in throughout the day. You’re also limited to running playout, hotkeys and station-side elements at one set and pre-determined level. Host mic levels can be adjusted on the Home side codec. As a quick fix, it works. As a longer term solution or option for future self-isolation events you are missing a number of the bells and whistles your audience has come to expect from a broadcast.
The Next Level
With an analog console your remote control options are next to none. Moving to the AoIP world, many options do open up. As the Axia Audio dealer for Canada, our solutions focus on the product we know and supply. With an AXIA AoIP console in your facility and a Livewire network you have a few options on how to remotely control your console:
- AXIA SoftSurface – install on a PC in your facility that your announcers have VPN access to. You’ll have full control of an Element or Fusion console as far as levels, on/off, signal routing etc. If your console at the studio doesn’t have motorized faders, just remind anyone physically back at the plant to run the fader all the way down and then up to re-latch to ‘local control’. The computer that hosts this program will require two NICS. One for the Livewire network, the other for the public internet. The SoftSurface opens as a Window which can be moved and scaled to some extent. SoftSurface is also 10% off right now as a special offer during COVID-19 from Telos Alliance.
- IP-Tablet. Element, Fusion, QOR 16 and 32 based console engines can all be controlled remotely via IP-Tablet. Run the signal through a secure WAN, or again, build out a Tablet screen that lives at the station which your staff dial into via their home PC. When IP-Tablet launches it likes to take over the entire screen (it’s designed primarily for Tablets after all). IP-Tablet can also be licensed for an xNode and a custom panel created for the internal mixer. IP-Tablet core software and modules are 10% right now as a special offer during COVID-19 from Telos Alliance.
- Pathfinder. Custom fader panels can be built in Pathfinder and Pathfinder Core Pro that become a web based interface which can be opened on computers connected to the Livewire network. A number of console controls and panels can be built out. These panels can be built to size. Not all console configurations/options are available.
- Quasar. The new AXIA Quasar console comes complete with an HTML5 replica of the physical console out of the box.
- …the future. Stay tuned for more announcements from AXIA in this space.
Being able to start and stop automation and fire a hotkey or ‘digital cart deck’ remotely can relatively easily be managed by ensuring the Automation computer is accessible to the outside world via the public internet. Some users keep their Automation system ‘air gapped’ or isolated as much as possible, and this connection would then be controlled in a two-step process. ie: dial into a computer or server in the building which then has a VNC connection on a pre-defined port to the Automation computer. Some automation systems now offer apps for remote control / voicetracking as well. Depending on your remote console solution and how much control you have over bus assignments, you may also be able to voicetrack on your active master control playout terminal with the correct routing in place. Or, you can utilize a system that makes that so much easier:
- WebDAD. At Pippin Technical, our ‘house brand’ of automation comes from ENCO Systems who have been doing computer based radio automation since the 80’s. Their iDad and enDroid apps have allowed for remote voicetracking, inserting field recorded audio into an active playlist and start/stop control for years. Their latest evolution is the WebDAD option for the DAD radio playout system. An HTML5 interface, your staff simply log in via any HTML5 enabled device. Phone, Tablet, Computer…you name it. They’ll have full real-time control of the Automation system back at the station. Connect a mixer or USB microphone to the device they’re using to control, and again, your staff will have the ability to remote voice-track, or record and insert audio into the playlist or library. Need to bring on a new announcer or reporter? Create a user account, set their permissions, and they’re contributing from home.
To be honest, when self-isolation hit, our DAD and WebDAD clientele were not the ones reaching out for guidance on how to manage the new workflow realities. ENCO had those contingencies well covered.
Real-time audio transport is the backbone of broadcast these days. From breaking out your old microwave STL gear to ship a uni-directional signal to the station, using a POTS phone line or broadcast loop, or plugging in a modern IP codec the options are wide and varied.
A ‘remote’ codec or ‘field unit’ makes a lot of sense in today’s situation for the amount of other gear it eliminates from the equation. A Comrex Access NX or the Tieline ViA for instance bring IP bonded streams to the table for redundancy, cellular tie-ins for further signal stability or portability, they also have mic inputs (for dynamic or condensor microphones) and headphone amps built-in, so you can just plug in a mic and headphones and you’re good to go. There’s also extra line level inputs so you could utilize another local audio source and feed it back to the studio.
Rackmount codecs like the Access NX Rack, Tieline Merlin or Telos Z/IP One give you a studio side endpoint for your connect. Even the lower price point Bric-Link II or Bridge-IT line will let your field units dial in. They also accept connections from smartphone codec sources like the Comrex FieldTap or Tieline Report-IT apps that can be used to ingest real-time audio from your smartphone, iOS or android tablet if utilizing a mic interface like the iRig, Shure MVi, or any number of USB or Lightning interfaces (provided your smartphone or tablet has the required ports).
One of the last links to a full featured broadcast is being able to take and receive phone calls and interact with the audience over the phone. And not just blindly take a call to air, but preview/screen the caller off-air before going live. This is a workflow that is missing from many of the Work From Home workflows we’ve seen over the past few weeks, and in this time of audience turning to the trusted friends and voices in their community, a vital touchpoint that is missing.
- Telos VX Producer. It’s a PC program that lets you accept, drop and screen calls coming into your Telos VX, iQ6 or Hx6 hybrid. It’s also a free download (direct download link) at the Telos Alliance site. Score!
- XScreen. 3 month free demo for the Light version from Broadcast Bionics. Gives the same connectivity of VX Producer with some more panache and style. Register the FULL version of XScreen and you can screen with a USB headset locally or remotely (if your VPN session transfers audio.
- Bionic Talkshow. Face it, the Bionic crew KNOW hybrids and call control. Talkshow brings the functionality of XScreen along with social media monitoring, skype option and more to the table.
Bringing It All Together
There are many ways to “skin a cat”. We came to blows in the shop and brainstormed a implementation that expands the functionality of a home broadcaster with minimal gear.
Call Control – Telos VX Producer. You can accept and screen a call. It works with VX, Hx6 and iQ6 hybrids which cover off most hybrids in operation these days. It’s free. Can’t beat that.
Playout. ENCO WebDAD. HTML5 control from basically any device. Access to VT remotely for your station (or others you have permissions for), and ability to add to the library (hello commercials and features!) remotely is a potent combo. ENCO is our automation house brand, so yes, we’re biased. But they’re also our house brand for a reason.
Console Control. AXIA SoftSurface. With all the options in play, at this time, it feels the most robust option for ease of use, familiarity and functionality.
Codec. We could have named off a number of options. For overall versatility, rock solid signal and usability we went with the Tieline ViA. Redundant streams, bonded streams, cellular options, along with the ability to use the ViA as a little USB mixer to feed the local computer audio for the WebDAD remote VT option. If you really want to get fancy you can run an air light with the GPIO. That may be overkill…but it CAN be done. If you don’t have a Telos hybrid, but have a VoIP PBX in your facility, there’s even a workflow where your ViA can become a SIP extension and act as its own phone hybrid. There are some lower cost codecs to be sure, but having the mixer, mic inputs and headphone amps all in one compact unit is pretty tough to beat. Speaking of mixer, with a micro USB port, your ViA can also act as a portable USB mixer you can utilize with a local PC for local voicetracking or production when you’re not utilizing it as a live-to-air codec. Options.
Speaking of mic and headphones, you’ll also need those…along with a stand or mic boom. Rode and Acculite make some pretty budget friendly table clamping options for the podcast market that should work just fine.
When selecting the audio source for your codec backfeed, our recommendation is the Control Room Headphone feed. This will allow for the best coordination with the Preview bus when Preview is active. As well, you can monitor PGM1 or even the EXT1 off-air feed if you so choose with a quick button press in SoftSurface.
Again, there are SO many ways to pull a home studio broadcast together. Using the gear on hand, or projecting future CapEx and pieces to slide into your integration and workflow. Hopefully this gave you some ideas on what is out there and what Best Practices may be place. If you’d like to discuss your current loadout and how to enhance the feature set of your home broadcast solution, contact our Solutions Team today. Integration is what we do!