Visiting the master studio was music to my ears

Ever since I installed Windows 7, whenever my computer comes out of sleep mode I swear I hear the first two notes of the B.J. Thomas song Hooked on a Feeling. And then there’s the computer at the lottery booth in my building that, whenever an instant-win ticket loses, it goes into the opening riff of Spirit in the Sky. “Da-dowwwng”.

I sort of expect it to continue with “Da-dowwng da-dowwng-dowwng-dong.”

Taking Care of Business
You see, back in university I was a disc jockey, and music seems to always rattle around in my head. So I recently decided to rekindle old memories by visiting Ted Hyland and Steve Lunn who are taking care of business every day at Newcap Radio in Halifax.

Headquartered in Dartmouth, Newcap holds over 75 licenses throughout the country. What I toured was actually two radio stations in one: Kool 96.5 FM and Q104. Newcap’s facility on Kempt Road, with two master studios and three production studios, is less than two years old. It has the latest in state of the art equipment, having transitioned from analog to being totally digital.

General Manager Hyland explained that this “audio over IP” technology provides capabilities not previously available, such as downloading and storing material on a computer, stitching radio program segments together, and having the station run automatically from their computer room. They can also bring in feeds via Skype or patch in audio clips from the Internet, and can automatically stream their shows to their web site.

The Heart of Rock and Roll
Director of Engineering Lunn walked me through their two main components: an “Automation System” by a company called RCS, and a “Control System” by a company called Axia. The Automation System manages the content and controls the schedule. Its main screen looks like a scheduling calendar, with songs and other content pre-scheduled. Every so often you see a red stop sign, and when that point in time arrives, the system pauses and lets the broadcaster take over.

The broadcaster talks and then presses a green Start button and the system takes over again. The calendar is continuously being programmed, with some of their material pre-programmed for up to five days. In fact, the studio is unattended every night, yet the heart of rock and roll keeps on beating. The automation system even keeps track of Canadian content.

The Control System controls and digitizes all input and output, and provides the switching required to accept different feeds, such as microphones, telephone call-ins, and the Internet. What you see is basically a big sound board.

Hello Darkness My Old Friend
Besides the sound board, the only equipment in the control room are microphones, computer screens and keyboards.  All the processing is being done in the server room, on computers running on a Microsoft platform. Each studio has its own computer, and every computer has a redundant failsafe system.

There are also uninterrupted power supply units and diesel generators in case of power failures. As well, there is a unit that checks for continuous audio, and after ten seconds of nothing but the sound of silence, pagers start going off.

Up On the Roof
Once the audio leaves the computer, it goes through an equalizer, where it is “shaped” for a specific audience. Bass and treble, for example, are set to what Newcap executives have determined to be their audience’s preference. The Q104 output, Lunn explained, is shaped differently than the Kool FM output. From the server room, the signal is sent via cable to a microwave tower up on the roof that sends it to an antenna on Geizer’s Hill in Fairview, where it is transmitted to your radio.

To be CRTC compliant, all radio stations are required to record and keep all on-air content for 35 days. For this, Newcap uses radios tuned to their stations which store this content on computers.

I Can’t Stop This Feelin’
Doing this story was one of my most enjoyable assignments. The server room was really impressive, and must have held about ten times the equipment of ours at Nicom. But I mostly enjoyed the comfortable master studio, with its cool controls, large windows, and its modern lighting hooked on the ceiling.

Which reminded me of the old DJ joke: “You just heard Hooked on a Feeling;  which is better than being hooked on a ceiling isn’t it?”. Da-dowwwng!

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