Wire in the Broadcast Plant
Wires - cables - represent one more collective item to plan, document, manage, and maintain in a broadcast facility. Considered in terms of equipment volume, capital expense, installation labor, or maintenance, a broadcaster’s wire plant is a significant investment and ongoing expense. And the larger the wire plant, the more these costs increase. Ethernet/IP-based infrastructure is changing this equation. We’ll examine modern facility wiring infrastructure with markedly less cable, lower cable volume, and far less initial and ongoing management and expense.
The Elephant in the Room
In a typical multi-studio radio facility, the investment in audio and control wire alone could easily exceed $10,000 to $20,000. To that figure add wire management accessories, dozens of punch blocks, and cross-connect wire. Then, add architectural, volume, and weight consideration for placement of literally hundreds to over one thousand audio and control wire pairs. Now add the considerable labor cost to terminate and crossconnect all these wires, test them, and either document them or check that the installation matches the planning documentation.
The wire plant, taken as a whole, has likely been the largest component of a broadcast studio installation. Compared to the other parts of a radio studio facility, wire was at or near the top of the list for cost, weight, volume, installation handling, and most certainly installation expense.
The ongoing cost of the wire plant has been significant as well. Any time broadcast equipment is added, removed, reconfigured, or repurposed, some re-wiring has been necessary. Add to all this the cost of labeling and documentation, which for some multi-studio facilities has constituted a part-time employment position.
The 1990’s was the decade of Time Domain Multiplex, or “TDM” routing. While reducing wiring was never a promise of TDM switching technology, there was some simplification of the wiring plant, with some degree of order and certainly convenience.
However, in a typical TDM router-switched facility, we see that a multitude of wires are still required. The wall of punch blocks shown has about 3,000 terminations from multi-pair cables, and nearly 1,000 cross-connect terminations. Not included in the total count are the connections to and from the end devices themselves, nor any of the control signal (GPIO) terminations.
Clearly, point-to-point and even TDM audio switch based infrastructures impose a heavy burden for the wire plant. For decades, this burden has been understood and readily accepted as part of the cost of doing business in a multi-studio radio broadcast facility.
Less Wire? WHY?
Thousands of wire terminations imply a dozen or more points of potential failure for each source and every destination in the facility. Even where some inputs and outputs are routed through old-fashioned patch bays, those connections and the patch jacks and patch cords - as well as the jack “normals” - are subject to failure - failure discovered just at the time of need.
What if we could have all the connectivity and routing we need with a lot less wire - and requiring only a tiny fraction of the wire terminations of TDM systems? Less wire. Fewer terminations. No walls of punch blocks. Less grounding infrastructure. Far less time spent stripping, cutting, punching and documenting.
What if that same system provided ultra-reliable connections, automatic re-routing, fast configuration with simple reconfiguration as needed, remote config and troubleshooting, and even self-documentation?
Let’s see and hear from radio engineers and contractors who got rid of fifty to eight percent of the wire in their studios and rack rooms. They slashed their installation costs an time by - conservatively - half.
TOM RAY, NEW YORK
“By building the new WOR facilities with IP-Audio networking infrastructure, we didn’t have to install over 2,000 feet of
multi-pair cable. For all audio and all control wiring, each of my 9 studios has just 2 runs of CAT6 – and one of those is a backup. This reduction in home-run, inter-studio wiring gave us a 60% savings over traditional methods.”
“We also saved close to 1,000 feet of cross-connect wire per studio. About 9,000 feet of 2-pair cable in total.”
“Thinking about installation labor costs, we saved two days per studio – 18 days altogether - by installing an IP-Audio network.” These engineers have but one thing in common; they’re all using IP-Audio networks. Simple, reliable CAT5e and CAT6 cables, carrying linear digital audio in a world-standard realt-time format, have eliminated the time, expense, trouble, and real estate consumed by point-to-point and even TDM switch-based audio infrastructure.
TYLER EVERITT, CANADA
A small, community station worked with us in relocating their studios, and the equipment was too old to consider moving it. They asked us to provide a quote on supply and installation of new studio gear.
One Project Manager suggested getting a cheap analog console and using that. The installer said, “No, no. Let’s use an Axia iQ. They are so much simpler to wire. We can be in and out of there a lot faster.”
As we’ve seen numerous times, the labor-saving effect of using IP-Audio for the studio consoles and wiring allowed us to install studios within their budget.
ANDY LINTON, IRELAND
”In 2007 Total Broadcast Consultants completed a 3-studio installation using a TDM-based digital system. During this we utilised over 3,000 euro’s worth of multicore cable and terminations, which took three men three weeks to install.”
“A year later, and for the same radio group, we installed three studios at another location, this time using the Axia IP-based console and routing system. On this installation we used one box of CAT-5 cable (70 euros), approximately 150 euro’s worth of terminations, and it took two men less than one week to get the three studios live.”
“That does it for me.”
CHRIS TOBIN, NEW YORK
At WINS, New York, our project was to retrofit 5 studios plus the Master Control Room. Because we chose to use an IP-Audio system - that is to say, Networked Audio - we saved, 300 feet of multi-pair cable. We installed four Axia Element consoles & one Radio Systems console with Livewire IP-Audio. Being a 24-hour news operations we needed complex routing with split-second execution. Because of the IP-Audio infrastructure we didn’t have to outsource the cabling, and we saved half the time over previous cabling methods.”
RICHARD FULTON, SOUTH AFRICA
A recent project in South Africa had TruFi Electronics replacing racks of old equipment with quite a few blank rack panels. Project Director, Richard Fulton, says, “After replacing all the Distribution Amps, A/D converters, patch panels, etc., these are the same racks. Now there are only the master clock and UPS in the one on the left. All other equipment on the right, with PC’s behind the middle rack blank panels. This radio studio and the Master Control Room open up into a shopping mall, just next to the movie house. Plenty of foot traffic now sees the racks. I’m sure they don’t know about the IP tech behind such a minimal showing."
“We don’t use patch panels in the studios any more. However, we sometimes use a 1U breakout panel which has RJ-45 on the one side and XLR on the other. Some radio engineers prefer to keep a convenient I/O panel available.”
“We have found that the current technical ability of the radio engineer is more geared to PC than to the original analog audio, so conventional patching is not greatly understood - nor is it missed.”
Fulton continues, “ Considering what we were installing just a few years ago: You have to add many DA’s - typically 1 on each PGM buss to feed other inputs, maybe an A/D converter or two and what about unbalanced to balancing amplifiers (especially if you are going through a patch panel).”
“Then there is the wiring. I think it takes one person about eight hours to wire up one patch panel from point to punch block - and that is a better quality of patch panel - one that is already programmed for you - normalled, half normalled, etc.”
“Also, with analogue we wired every input into the mixer onto a patch panel, so typically we would have at least 2 analogue patch panels and another if you were running AES, in each studio.”
“Then there is MCR. I have been to a station that had two studios, one news room and one voice booth and they had seven patch panels in MCR!! So in wiring days that would be about seven + studios= about 12 wiring days.”
“We recently did an installation for a traditional all-digital console,” continues Fulton. “That’s a bit of a reverse for us, as we’ve been in the IP-Audio world for a few years now. The builder had to add additional cable trays because we had to have so many ties going from MCR to each studio. Very different from the “skinny” wiring of IP-Audio.”
MATT GALEK, NEW YORK
“At the Metropolitan Opera in New York, our project was to retrofit one studio and several remote interview and announce locations around the opera house. We looked at several technologies, but IP-Audio was not only our best, but our only option. It turned out that some of the wire conduits in The Met were already too full to pull any more cable, and the old cable infrastructure was inadequate. There was room, however, for a few CAT5e cables.”
“By going with an IP-Audio approach, we saved over 400 feet of 16-pair cable. We installed the IP-Audio wiring in roughly half the time. Again, older methods would not have worked due to tight infrastructure.”
Concerning wiring labor, “We didn’t have to outsource, so we kept control and saved money, too.”
“Mic and source logic features allowed us to make easy work of our special logic needs. IP-Audio offers easy implementation and flexibility.”
BILL CLINE, PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty built a new facility in Prague, Czech Republic. With about fifty studios and a large Master Control Center, it was critical to reduce the wire plant to a manageable size, while maintaining a ten-year mean-time-between-off-air-failure calculation.
Choosing and installing an IP-Audio network infrastructure allows RFE/RL to duplicate the most critical components, without complex, bulky, and rarely-used physical patching arrangements.
Bill Cline, Director of Engineering, says, “Before deciding on IP-Audio we were looking at other solutions where you would have fiber connectivity between the audio engines and the central main frame of audio engines and switchers. Once we saw the unified networking approach taken by IP-Audio, that became the clear choice over single-vendor systems.”
“We never even considered installing standard audio cabling in the new building as we knew this technology was bulky and timely to install.”
The IP-Audio network at Radio Free Europe is quite large, with over 4,000 sources and nearly as many destinations. Thanks to a standard Ethernet/IP topology, a network of this size is standard and straight-forward to design, install, and configure. Studio-level redundancy is easily achieved by affording two core paths through the network for any audio channel that crosses from one studio to another.
MILAN KICIN, BRATISLAVA, SLOVAKIA
In Slovakia, IP-Audio became popular and even mainstream as the government broadcaster, Slovak Radio. Soon after, Radio Express, Bratislava, built out with IP-Audio.
The savings in wire and wire management are readily apparent from photos of the rack room.
Recently, another Slovakian broadcaster, Europa2, rebuilt with an IP-Audio infrastructure. Some of the old, point-to-point wiring was photographed before heading to the dump.
And while a look inside a studio equipment rack shows a number of CAT5e cables, note that these are all short, local cable runs, connecting mics, headphone amps, and a few local sources.
The IP-Audio nodes in that rack connect those local sources and destinations to the rest of the network. Note the two CAT6 cables that connect this rack and studio to the rest of the facility.
Milan Kičin of Elvia Pro, an equipment and installation supplier in Bratislava, Slovakia, says, “Installation of IP-Audio small systems reduces 10-25% of wires. In big systems it reduces 20-40% of wires instead of a conventional approach. Big advantage for installers and long-term for radio engineers is simplicity and software configuration.”
NIKOLAY DITLOV, ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA
Nick Ditlov has installed and maintained radio broadcast gear in Russia for over 30 years. He’s seen it all, and much of it from the old Soviet Union’s infrastructure.
Nick says, “I can just only repeat the words of my chief of installation team, Artem Stanovov: ‘When we are quoting studio installation labor costs without Axia-Telos gear (due to some customer’s request), we are setting the price 1.5 to 2 times higher, than when we can install our now-familiar IP-Audio network. And this is just for the labor costs, not including more wire and supplies.’”
This is the old audio routing wiring from a Russian Government station in Moscow.
And here is the replacement audio routing system using IPAudio nodes and an Ethernet switch. The actual infrastructure wiring is quite minimal, with only some short I/O wires to the source and destination equipment.
Nick continues, “Just yesterday I received an email from Artem (he is far away in the West Siberian town of Barnaul making an installation with traditional mixer and audio switcher systems).”
Artem told me, “If not for this stubborn customer, I would have already returned home to my family now and have possibility to go to NAB. But now I estimate finishing of installation only on April 13, and I am not even sure about this date. The software for the cross-point switching matrix is very limited in functionality. There are as minimum 3 or 4 problems which make using of the software very inconvenient, and at least 1 or 2 problems that make using it impossible. Where is my lovely Axia and Pathfinder? Next time I will quote them 3 times more than our regular, IP-Audio installation.”
So these are facts of life...
RODNEY BELIZAIRE, NEW YORK
Rodney Belizaire’s project was to retrofit a new audio routing switcher into the existing, legacy analog studios of WQXR-FM. His goal was to remove a lot of old wiring and simplify the aging WQXR wire plant.
According to Rodney, “By installing an IP-Audio based system we saved 500 feet of multi-pair cable. Thinking about other wiring accessories, we saved about 50% of the time/labor vs. our previous cabling experiences.”
Because of the simplified wiring layout and drastically reduced amount of wire, Rodney reports, “ I did studio wiring myself, rather than using a turnkey vendor as we had in the past.” He continues, “And, here’s a huge advantage of IP-Audio: Grounding issues go away. Ethernet breaks ground loops. Audio is clean and quiet. Users say it’s easy to switch sources – no patching – it’s intuitive. Axia nodes extend I/O right to where you need it. Very convenient. Completely different and better than the old ways of wiring – working.”
GARY KLINE, CUMULUS MEDIA
Gary Kline is Senior Vice President of Engineering at Cumulus Media. He’s also involved with development and deployment of OP-X radio automation systems.
Kline says, “Standardizing on IP-Audio and Axia nodes, we’ve eliminated zillions of cables which normally accompany automation systems. Both audio and wire-heavy GPIO is now in one cable. And that doesn’t always mean you are building a new plant - could be a retrofit. Meaning, IP-Audio could help you right now - today. You don’t have to wait until you rebuild a facility to get benefits from IP-Audio."
JORGE GARZA, UNIVISION RADIO
“Audio over IP has given me unprecedented flexibility over my studio facility,” says Jorge Garza, Chief Engineer at Univision Radio in McAllen, Texas. I love the fact that computer data and audio can coexist in a network, and this really gives unlimited possibilities for broadcast services. Wiring audio components is as easy, just like wiring a computer. No longer do I stock different kinds of audio connectors and cable anymore, just RJ45 and CAT5 cable!
All my connectors and cables are easily available at any local store at very low prices compared to traditional audio cables. I don’t ever want to return to traditional audio wiring and routing.”
JEROME GEHARY, ADEUXI, PARIS
AdeuxI is a Paris-based radio systems integrator. A complete full integrated and turn key solution for a new building without audio cabling. Only RJ 45 for everything. The only cable with XLR was made on site for the speakers and the microphone...
Two of the six studios are similar and bigger than the 4 others. Smart grey ambiance and very modern design. A very interesting platform using all we can do with the pathfinder concerning the virtual using of each studio. New concept for working, you select first the free studio and in a second step you select the programm you want to broadcast and automatically you are affected to he good way...The Axia concept is based on 6 Powerstation linked by a backbone network and 2 independent mix engine for all virtual mixer we need for doing the job of a matrix routing.
The platform confirm our open mind to launch Axia business with all automation provider and all audio equipments provider. In this case, IP-STUDIO worked like a great integrator. The platform is on air for almost two years without trouble.
For the hybrids solution, we have provide 6 NX12 with our controlling software.
Concerning the owner of Espace Group, he’s happy to have done a very huge discount concerning the invest. The Axia Technology make 40% of economy when you can use it for a new platform in a new area.
KIRK HARNACK, DELTA RADIO, CLEVELAND, MISSISSIPPI
Finally, the story of one of my own radio stations. - WKXY-FM in Cleveland, Mississippi. The Control Room is simple enough, though our rack room has a lot of gear for a single studio operation. The automation system, FM processing, STL transmitter, streaming PC, EAS equipment, a 250 watt FM translator, 3rd party RDS encoders and several satellite receivers.
Yet, with all this gear for 1 station, all audio and control - everything important for being on-air - is carried by just one CAT5e cable. It carries all audio in linear, low latency, IP packets, plus all needed control signals between the studio and rack room. The system is fully accessible any time via VPN, pcAnywhere, or VNC.
What I particularly appreciate is this: The initial installation, wiring, and configuration of the studio equipment took one afternoon. Just over 3 hours, actually. That was from no wires run to everything working, sending studio audio to the STL transmitter with audio processing, EAS, and all switching options complete. And for wiring we ended up using mostly scraps and leftover wire from my contract engineering business.
Networked IP-Audio is quickly becoming the standard to which new radio facilities are built. And, while the details of competing systems may differ slightly, more equipment manufacturers are including IP-Audio connectivity built-in to their offerings.
The recent merging of Livewire and Ravenna IP-Audio standards brings to about fifty the number of manufacturers offering broadcast gear that simply plugs into an IP-Audio network. This is welcome news for today’s broadcast engineer. Both new and retrofitted studios and infrastructure become quicker to wire, easier to document, and convenient to configure and change as needed.
Although studio IP-Audio isn’t “wireless” yet, we are using a lot less wire.
Are you doing it right?