One of our biggest challenges lately has been how to connect the new studio and the old studio. In other words, we have to send the audio signal from the new studio on the campus of the Purdue Calumet Commercialization Center to the transmitter at the old site so the signal can go up the tower and broadcast terrestrial AM radio.
This is not an easy task. Our original plan was to send the signal over the air via a marti system. We have some of this equipment and it should be relatively easy to put an antenna on the Purdue building and put an antenna on the WJOB tower. We would then transmit a signal from Purdue to WJOB, where it would be received, run back down the tower to the transmitter, and then broadcast terrestrially.
The biggest problem with this solution is that Purdue hasn’t redone their roof yet and we don’t want to install a permanent antenna until they do. Roofers should finish by the time winter sets in, so realistically we couldn’t install our marti system until Spring.
So what to do in the meantime?
As a test over the summer, we simply used the internet. We mixed down the analog audio into a digital signal which we ran into a computer. We then used an app – Mixlr – to generate a stream on the internet, which we picked up at the old studio and ran through our board to the transmitter and up the tower.
This system worked reasonably well except for breaks in the Comcast internet connection. Remember, our new studio is on Indianapolis Boulevard where there is reasonably new fiber and other infrastructure. The main studio is in an industrial section that has old everything – telephone, electric, gas, sewer, and little or no fiber. The aging infrastructure is one of many reasons we’re developing new studios.
It was embarrassing to be doing a radio show with a guest and callers and then my phone would blow up – “DEAD AIR.” “You’re off the air again.” “Can’t hear you.. nothing but static.”
As the chief technology local radio guy officer, I had to come up with a solution to continuously connect the two studios AND provide a backup system AND for now do it without the use of our marti system.
You can do a T1, but that’s really old technology. The answer is a VPN. Or to be more precise, a double VPN.
Here’s how it should work. We have Comcast at both ends, new studio and old, and we connect them with a Virtual Protocol Network. What that means, essentially, is that we carve a direct connection between the two buildings out of the vast internet and we’re always live on the same network. This is theoretically much more reliable than simply using the internet.
For you geeks, we’ll generate an analog signal out of the menagerie of mixing boards I designed and run it into our video system, a V4EX four-channel switcher. You would think that you had to buy a translator, but the V4EX works just fine.
Take the digital audio signal out of the V4EX and run it into a Barix Exstreamer. This creates the connection necessary to make the VPN. And then from the Exstreamer run the audio to a Sonic router and send the signal, aiming at a static IP at the old studio.
Pick up the stream at the old studio on another Sonic router,and then run into a Barix Instreamer and then into your mixing board. We haven’t done any of this yet so I’m not entirely sure if we’ll have to mix the digital signal down to analog to get it into our 50-year-old main board.
So there. I settled on this system after consulting for hours with people like Tom Vanderhayden, Lew Noe, Chuck Pullen, Mark Smith, Bob Henning, Mike Sienicki and Paul from BSW (where I bought the Barix streamers). Comcast has been installed at old and new sites, so we’re set to erect the first VPN it in the next few days.
But what if Comcast goes down? What’s the backup system? The answer - a second VPN that's not Comcast.
We fiddled with several solutions – a temporary microwave system, a simple phone line, Vonage, Google phone, T1 and other possibilities. And then over the weekend I was dinking around the internet and saw that you could get Uverse internet for next to nothing. Last time I checked it a year or so ago it cost a bunch more.
So why not make AT&T the backup system? At first glance, it seems a bit cumbersome to install Comcast high-speed at old and new studios… AND install AT&T at both sites too. But the cost of internet has come down and this solution seems do able.
So we would still mix the digital signal at the new studio down to digital… but at the Sonic router we would have a built-in switchover to AT&T if Comcast goes down, with the same automatic switch at the router at the old studio.
Once again, our aging infrastructure at the old studio comes into play. We can get as much AT&T internet as we want at the new studio at Purdue… but at our old studio behind a car dealership and next to an electrical supply house and a fence installer, we can only get less than a meg.
AT&T and others assure us that if we don’t run anything else on the Uverse internet at the old station it should be enough bandwidth to accept just the audio stream. We’ll see.
For now, I’m going back to bed. I’ve got four hours of radio to do in two hours and I’m up half the night trying to figure out a whole bunch of tech stuff. Later on today, Ryan Walsh and I take a two-hour tutorial with the folks from BSI-USA.com who supply us with our Simian radio automation software.
We’re in the final stages, hopefully, of establishing a trigger and closure system that will allow us to take full advantage of floating breaks. We’ll tackle that one later.