Produced by the National Association of Broadcasters, the NAB Show is a trade show for pretty much anything and everything that goes into the creation and distribution of media. To give you an idea of what that encompasses, I’ll quote from their website:
NAB Show brings together the entire digital ecosystem and is represented by professionals in advertising, app development, artificial intelligence, audio, augmented reality, broadcast, cable, cloud solutions, cybersecurity, digital video, digital signage, eLearning, esports, film, game development, government and military, houses of worship, in-vehicle entertainment, IOT, IT, live events, mixed reality, mobile, online video, podcasting, post-production, radio, retail, social media, sports, streaming, system integration, television, virtual reality, 5G and more…
That’s a lot to try and cover. More than 1,700 different companies have booths at the show. It’s possible to host this size of event at the Las Vegas Convention Center. With a hair under 2,000,000 square feet of exhibit space and effectively a mile of walking from one end to another, the NAB show can only be described as complete sensory overload. Every manufacturer, vendor, and service provider is showing off their newest and best bits of kit.
What makes this massive event easier to handle is the fact that the majority of the vendors there are not relevant to whatever industry you might be coming from. This is especially true for radio. There are only so many antenna and transmitter manufacturers. Same goes for studio consoles, automation systems, and microphone arms (but not the microphones themselves, that can be a very divisive subject with a colossal number of options on the market). An unexpected upside of having this much variety around you from all these industries is you come across makers of all sorts of things you didn’t realize might be useful to you, either for a current project or something you’ve been mulling over in the back of your mind for a while.
I’ll touch on a few of the manufactures of equipment we’re using in our studio rebuild. First up is WideOrbit. Now WideOrbit provides a lot of different services. What I’m going to talk about right now is their automation system. An automation system for a radio station is a core piece of technology. Automaton systems allow stations to set up and well…automate its daily programming. From what show plays when to what breaks play, when we cut to NPR or BBC News, to loading all the audio files we get from multiple sources. Without automation there would have to be a person in the studio 24/7.
WideOrbit automation will be a massive leap forward over our current system. Our current system is quite old and has to be managed in a fairly antiquated way. Changing something on our schedule could mean editing a several thousand line long text file, creating new files to trigger relays at the correct time, sometimes creating new audio files, all while using a system that is not forgiving of a misplaced comma or spelling error. All in it might be an hour or two to change the program lineup. With the new system that could all be done in maybe 15 minutes. Overall, our current system has occasional bugs that effect our on air quality. Much of this is due to its age which is compounded by the complex and antiquated programming process.
Another major choice when it came to rebuilding our studios were the consoles themselves. Radio consoles are different from what you may have seen in live sound or recording applications. There are far fewer adjustments needed on a radio console. Our final decision came down to Axia Fusion consoles.
This choice was due to several factors. A large part of this was the build quality. One station in the area has Axia boards in use that were installed more than a decade ago and they look and more importantly function like they were installed last week. Metal frames and panels, laser etched labels and markings rather than stamped paint, and replicable modules in the case of damage to name a few. Many of our current consoles no longer have scales next to their faders as the paint has worn off over the years. After that was the use of the Livewire audio over ethernet standard. This protocol is widely supported not just by studio equipment but also some STLs (Studio Transmitter Links, microwave radio systems we use to send audio to our transmitter sites) as well as some transmitters. The last point I’ll highlight on our list is that we would be the 4th radio group in the area to have Axia consoles. It cannot be overstated how helpful it can be having other people locally who are familiar with the same hardware when a problem needs troubleshooting. Fairly often they’ve encountered a similar issue and already know what’s going on.
I can’t list all the different vendors I talked to at the NAB. I’ve got about an inch tall stack of business cards that I need to catalog, and about the same thickness of flyers and datasheets. Similar to the PREC, a huge part of these conferences for me is meeting people face to face that I’ve so far just emailed or read their posts on a public radio engineering mailing list. Especially for someone new to the radio engineering industry, it is invaluable to have a pool of experienced people to bounce questions off of and seek guidance from when needed. There’s a fair amount of truth to the thought that you aren’t the first person to experience any given problem. Odds are someone else has run into that same issue before and solved it, so if you aren’t successful, there’s always value in reaching out for help.
As the last day of the NAB was a half day and my flight didn’t leave until the next night, I took an afternoon for myself to visit the Hoover Dam. While there are many places I would love to explore in the area, this won. At some point in the future I would love to go back and do some desert camping and explore the Grand Canyon, and maybe work in some visits to transmitter sites in the area as well.