On December 13th, 2012, the Federal Communications Commission will begin to enforce the rules outlined in the much-talked-about (and oft misunderstood) CALM Act. This legislation-turned-law was created to address the so-called "loud commercial" problem that startles families off their sofas when blaring ads contrast with quieter programming, sending popcorn – and complaints to television stations – flying.
Joe Addalia, Director of Technology Projects for Hearst Television, was tasked with making sure all of his company's stations are providing CALM-compliant audio to those viewers.
You might expect someone whose company owns twenty-nine TV stations in the US, reaches around 18% of the country's households, and programs sixty-two discrete channels to be a little nervous, but to the contrary, he's pretty calm himself.
That mood stems from the choice of the Linear Acoustic® AERO.air® Transmission Audio Loudness Manager and LQ-1000™ Loudness Quality Monitor as the standard equipment pairing to control and meter loudness at all Hearst stations.
"CALM isn't going away," Addalia points out. "We knew we had to address compliance head on. Hearst doesn't take shortcuts, we don't compromise on quality, and we don't look for band-aid solutions just to get by. We wanted to do this right, so I researched all of our options and kept coming back to Linear Acoustic."
It was during that research that Addalia discovered that some of the other projects he was working on – including finding standardized solutions for audience measurement encoding, upmixing, downmixing, and better quality audio processing – could also be accomplished with a single product, which turned out to be the AERO.air.
"On the surface, it's not an inexpensive product," admits Addalia. "But when you look at all that it does, suddenly it's a bargain. We get full control over our audio, which sounds fantastic, a solid downmixed signal, Nielsen encoding located where it's supposed to be in the chain, and CALM-compliant loudness control in a single 2RU box." That type of consolidation is important in Hearst's view. "Stations get into trouble when we make things too complex. AERO.air addresses so much with one box and really simplifies things."
How much does Hearst like AERO.air? "We're putting them on the main HD channel of all of our stations. Once that project is done, our goal is to have identical, fully redundant backup transmission chains for every station, and each of those will all have an AERO.air as well."
In keeping with the company's no-compromise approach, Hearst has also installed a Linear Acoustic LQ-1000 Loudness Quality Monitor in each station. "We use the VGA output of the LQ-1000 to feed a section of the monitor wall in the master control room so the operator can always keep an eye on loudness," said Richard Monn, Chief Engineer of Hearst's Orlando operation. One of the meter's inputs looks at the primary encoded HD signal full time, while the other is used on a rotating basis for the required spot-checking as well as multi-cast channels or audio playing back from a server.
Plant-to-plant consistency is very important to Addalia. "If you walk into a Hearst station in Jackson, Mississippi, you'll see the same gear you see when you walk into our station in Boston. Once we find the products that best meet our needs, we like to form a close relationship with the company that makes them and deploy those products across the board. For loudness control and metering, it's Linear Acoustic all the way."