Tieline Provides Operational Power to NPR's Inaugural Coverage
Chris Nelson Mixing at the Capitol Building on Inauguration Day
All broadcast technicians at some stage in their lives would admit to having been a bit nervous before a broadcast. In fact, some people say that if you're not a little bit nervous before a broadcast, maybe you haven't thought through every possible angle!
Careful Planning = Successful
Well nobody can accuse the team at NPR of not planning meticulously for live events, especially if the recent live broadcasts from Inauguration Day in Washington D.C. are any example.
"The broadcast was pretty much as big as it gets for NPR and it was months in the planning," said Charlie Mayer. "In fact, we were basically in full swing planning for it straight after the Presidential election."
Charlie is the News Operation Manager at NPR and he oversaw the logistical side of planning for the event. "It was a huge engineering feat and it was an incredible event to be involved in," he said. "There was a vast amount of pre-planning and testing prior to Inauguration Day and I had support from a large number of people, including Chris Nelson, our Technical Director."
"Chris really picked up the ball and ran with it and he was involved in planning the technical nuts and bolts of what equipment was used at each broadcast location," said Mayer. "We liaised regularly about the equipment he would need for the broadcast," said Mayer. "He told me he wanted to use Tieline codecs from some of our locations because of their portability and ability to broadcast for long periods of time using 12 volt battery power."
"Technically, we went to extraordinary lengths with all aspects of the broadcast and we left no stone unturned in terms of testing," said Chris Nelson. "Finding reliable power sources was a bit of an issue, so the ability of the Tielines to operate using batteries was critical. I wanted to use the Tieline codecs because of their small size, ease of operation and ability to connect for long periods in very cold weather using lead acid batteries," said Nelson.
"We used ISDN to connect because we could arrange for reliable connections in each of the locations we were broadcasting from," he said. "This included dialing all connections beforehand using the MPEG Layer 2 algorithm at 128 kbps to make sure they would all connect reliably on the day."
"In fact, to check the codecs' battery performance we simulated the expected cold weather on Inauguration Day by placing a lead-acid battery into the freezer at 11 degrees Fahrenheit for several hours," he said. "We also chilled the codec to 38 degrees Fahrenheit and found that we could get about 4.5 hours of broadcasting from them with a single battery under these conditions."
"We also found that if we placed the codecs and batteries in thermal bags this helped to keep the gear warm and they also provided protection from dust," said Nelson.
"The weather was so bitterly cold that we were provided with a vehicle permit from the secret service for the use of a roving ‘warming' van," Charlie Mayer said. "This was for people to climb into and warm up."
"Even though many of our reporters have used Tieline codecs, we decided to send a technician out to each location in case there were any technical difficulties," said Charlie Mayer. "This was a prudent decision given the extremely cold weather, concerns about power availability and the logistical difficulties in getting around because of the number of people and security lockdown."
"We used six Commander G3 codecs in total," Chris Nelson said. "We had two codecs at each of our Mall East and Mall West locations and a single codec at the Lincoln Memorial and Freedom Plaza locations. Each codec was connected to two ISDN B channels for redundancy."
"An NPR reporter at each location used a codec to send live reports directly to our Washington NPR bureau's master control," said Nelson. "Reports from each location were sent about every 15 minutes and were broadcasted live between 6am until 3pm.
"The studio at NPR in Washington has facilities for eight separate ISDN connections and eight mix-minus feeds and these are all routed via master control," said Nelson.
"Separate mix-minus IFBs were routed from the studio, via master control, into rack unit codecs and then fed to the remote broadcast locations," he said. "This allowed the director and producer to talk live to each reporter across the mix-minus IFB feed sent to each remote codec."
Extending Network Coverage
"Our second codecs at both Mall East and Mall West were used by our visiting member stations throughout the day," said Charlie Mayer. "Our technicians dialed their stations remotely over ISDN using MPEG Layer 2 at 128 kbps. These stations use a range of different codec brands and they all connected successfully throughout the day."
"Another codec was connected to the European Broadcasting Union in Switzerland," said Mayer. "Broadcast time was allocated to a large number of different European broadcasters and they did stand-ups continuously throughout the entire day. The connections were routed to the various broadcasters from the European end."
"The Inauguration Day broadcast was a terrific team effort and a credit to everyone involved," remarked Bud Aiello, NPR's Director of Engineering Technology. "We were extremely pleased with the overall broadcast and it was a big success for the NPR network, which is made up of hundreds of public radio stations across the USA."
"It was a unique plan and I don't think anyone else provided coverage anything like on the scale of what we did," said Charlie Mayer. "It was a phenomenal challenge but we couldn't have been happier with the results."
"I clearly remember that it was a relief to feel my feet again!"
Chris Nelson recalled with a smile. "Seriously though, it was a
great challenge and it provided a great sense of achievement when
we pulled it all together successfully. It certainly ranks among
the largest events I will ever work on."
NPR and Tieline Applications
NPR currently uses Tieline codecs in a number of different applications including:
- ISDN connections and for recording to external recording devices.
- Studio-in-a-box kits: remote broadcast kits with mics and Tieline codecs that are capable of connecting over IP, Euro or US ISDN, and POTS.
- Home office studio: codecs are used to send audio using wired IP connections from the homes of reporters/announcers.
- Live Internet streaming: codecs are used to stream live concert audio using IP as the primary connection.