Tieline Codecs used as STLs over IP
Scott Schmeling, Chief Engineer, Minnesota Valley Broadcasting.
Tieline, how do I use thee?Let me count the ways.
My name is Scott Schmeling. I'm the Chief Engineer for Minnesota Valley Broadcasting, a family owned group of radio stations across southern Minnesota. Minnesota Valley Broadcasting was started nearly sixty years ago by Don Linder. Today his son John is at the helm, although Don still takes an active part in the daily operations of the company. We have seven stations operating out of our Mankato location. Tieline is operating at three of our locations performing a variety of tasks. Let me tell you how it all started.
KTOE in Mankato, Minnesota, is a Minnesota Twins affiliate. In November, 2006, we were making plans to send our morning team (The Morning Blend consisting of Don Rivet and Red Lewis with Pete Steiner - news and Barry Wortel - sports) to Twins Spring Training in Ft. Meyers, Florida. Our manager asked me to have an ISDN line installed at the motel where they were staying so we could broadcast the morning show live poolside. I told him about the Tieline units and that they could work on an internet connection. The thought of no installation fee or long distance charges made his eyes light up! He said to ‘check on it'. After talking with Tieline, a demo was scheduled.
Because of the number of people involved in Florida, we chose the iMix for the remote site and the TLR-300 Commander rack unit for the studio. The equipment arrived the day our guys were flying out, so we prepped and tested everything and over-nighted it to their motel. They took a POTS set along - just in case. Good thing they did because a problem with a FedEx air craft delayed delivery by one day! The first morning's program sounded like any other telephone remote. Mr. Murphy certainly made his presence known!
Day two started with the POTS equipment again, but as soon as the Tieline equipment arrived the POTS was "swept off the table" and Tieline plugged in. Back at the studio we watched as the connection established itself. We got a "pair of 99's" almost instantly, indicating excellent line quality, and heard the audio in cue. When we potted the Tieline up and could hear them in the monitors, there was a moment of awed-silence followed by one word, "WOW"!!!! It was incredible! I know the phrase is over-used, but they sounded like they were "in the studio"! You could even hear birds chirping in the background. To prove they were poolside, one of the guys splashed his hand in the water. Now picture this contrast....they were enjoying 60-degree Florida weather poolside...WE were experiencing a Minnesota blizzard!
In addition to our on-air team, several loyal Minnesota Twins fans (and KTOE listeners) had also made the trip to Florida and were in attendance for the morning broadcasts. The programs included live interviews with some members of our "Poolside Audience" as well as members of the Minnesota Twins' organization.
We discovered that by wiring the "Send" output of our Gentner telephone interface to the Input of our studio Tieline unit we could easily control what was being sent back to the remote. We could feed them a mix-minus, which allowed them to hear what was on the air when they were not talking, or we could send them Control Room mic audio so they could communicate with the board op. This was especially helpful since, as I had mentioned earlier, we were in the middle of a good-old Minnesota blizzard and we had lots of storm information to get out. The crew in Florida did have control of our computer system through a VPN connection, but considering the complexity of the morning show we opted to also have a board operator. Even though everything worked flawlessly, we never regretted that decision.
After the demo was finished and we purchased the Tieline units we planned our studio installation for the most flexibility. At the time, there were four stations in the building that we wanted to be able to use the Tieline equipment with easily. The Tieline outputs were wired to all stations' consoles. To easily select what station was feeding either channel of the Tieline we installed a Broadcast Tools SS 4.2 switcher. We wired a mix-minus feed from each of the studios to the inputs of the switcher and adjusted for proper audio levels. Since the SS 4.2 switcher has two outputs and the Tieline has two inputs we have total flexibility. With a recent addition of more stations, we have replaced the SS 4.2 with an 8-input version. We can easily switch ANY studio to EITHER Tieline channel.
I asked Red Lewis, part of KTOE's "Morning Blend" for his impression of the Tieline equipment. He said, "I Love it! After so many years of Marti's, or on the phone when the Marti didn't work, I can set up the Tieline in just a couple minutes, hit a couple switches, and like a snap we're on and rolling!"
I should mention here that although the Tieline can be used as a stereo device, we configured it as DUAL MONO. We could not foresee ever doing a stereo remote and by running it as DUAL MONO, we can run two remotes on two different stations simultaneously.
We've used Tieline on countless remotes. In one instance, we were setting up in the food court of a local mall for the morning show. Wireless internet was available so we bought a "Wireless Bridge" for the Tieline but had trouble setting it up and decided to "try something". We enabled Internet Connection sharing on the laptop controlling the computer back at the station (it was using the wireless connection) then plugged a small network switch into the LAN port of the laptop and the iMix into the switch. Again...a pair of 99's meaning a rock-solid connection. The Tieline was "riding" on the VPN connection along with the laptop that was controlling the automation back at the studio. Everything ran flawlessly, it was a beautiful thing! I don't remember for sure, but I think we said, "WOW" again!
We originate Minnesota State University, Mankato Maverick sports including football, basketball, baseball, and hockey broadcasts. That means we might be in Mankato, or we might be "up North" in Bemidji or Duluth, or FARTHER north to Anchorage, Alaska! We also travel to Colorado, Wisconsin, and other states. If an IP connection is not available, POTS is, and the audio quality of a Tieline on POTS is just as incredible! In fact, when I'm listening to a game using Tieline I can't stop smiling - it sounds THAT good! Tieline quality plus top-notch talent truly makes us sound like the big guys!
Keith Wright of our Marshall, Minnesota, location was ecstatic recently. They had just finished the Lyon County Fair. In the past, using Marti equipment, remotes had to be coordinated among their five stations. And there was always a low-level hiss in the audio (something we'd accepted as an inherent part of the system). This year he used their two Tieline Field Units to connect to the rack unit back at the studio. They were able to run FULL PROGRAMS rather than short remotes from the fair (including a phone line for listener requests) on two stations at the same time. He also used a VNC connection to control the iMediaTouch computers at the studio so no board op was required. Everyone was amazed at the quality and reliability. In fact, response was so great they had to schedule an additional day of broadcasts! They did experience some momentary drop-outs that were traced to a bad Cat5 cable. Once the cable was replace, the problem was gone.
Our most recent Tieline application is the most interesting (so far). Early in 2008 we started building a brand new radio station. Because of locations, conventional STL was not an option, so we checked other possibilities. Our decision was to order a pair of single rack unit Tielines and use them for an STL over IP. The "interesting" part of this is that the transmitter site is out in the boonies (quite literally, in the middle of a Minnesota corn field). It's too far from any central office, so no DSL is available, and of course, no cable, either. However, wireless internet IS available through one of the area's cell phone companies. We had Clear Wave wireless internet installed in February, and after a few adjustments, the Tielines were happy and talking with each other. Of course, in February, there are no leaves on the trees and the fields are bare. In JUNE when we were getting ready to go on the air it was quite a different story! Trees were in full canopy and the corn was well over "knee-high". Our signal level was low and error rate very high. The recommendation was that we put the wireless antenna UP forty feet or so. I mounted the antenna at sixty feet where I could clearly see the Clear Wave transmit site. That increased our receive signal level substantially and gave us a very low error rate. Again, the Tielines were happy and talking.
As part of this project, we also built a studio in New Ulm, a neighboring town about thirty miles away. The plan was to do mid-days from this studio but the rest of the day would be out of Mankato. Equalized phone lines and STL were not an option. Again - Tieline to the rescue! We installed the smaller Field Unit in New Ulm. It connects with our rack unit back in Mankato. We control our iMediaTouch computer using a VPN/VNC connection. Since the music and commercials are coming out of the iMediaTouch (in Mankato), we just send voice or other locally generated audio from the New Ulm studio. The audio we're sending is mono, so only one channel is used.
Because of the latency of the digitized audio, we didn't even consider trying to monitor on-air. The delay of the talent's voice coming back to them in their headphones would have been impossible to deal with. And since the music and commercials are coming out of Mankato, there's no way to monitor them directly on the console in the New Ulm studio. Since Tieline is bi-directional, we send a mix-minus from the Mankato console back to New Ulm. That way, the talent in New Ulm can hear what's on the air. There is a slight delay, but the format is Classic Rock and there is no intro ramping so it's really not an issue. I also installed a relay on the console that switches the on-air monitor source between the mix-minus and true on-air so when the mic is off he hears "air" and when it's on he hears the mix-minus being fed back from Mankato.
As a side-note, I found a hard-sided tool case at Home Depot. It's the kind that looks like a metal attaché case. The iMix, power supply, associated cables, and a 5-port 10/100 switch all fit beautifully inside. Everything is protected, easily transported, and most important, PROTECTED! The case cost about $25.
I have to say, I've been totally pleased with the quality and reliability of the Tieline products. And support has always been top-notch! When we've had "issues" or questions, Bill, Brice and even Kevin have always right there to help. If they don't know the answer right then, they find it.
What a tremendous tool this is for broadcasters. With Tieline equipment we can produce high-quality sounding broadcasts without the high cost of equalized or ISDN lines. With the flexibility of the Tieline products, I can't WAIT to see what we'll try to do with it next! This is so exciting!!