Using the i-Mix G3 for Live Sports Coverage over Mobile Broadband
WKFC Sports Announcer Dave Colvin & Larry
with Tieline i-Mix 3G
David Smith is a broadcast engineer employed full time by Kentucky Educational Television, the State of Kentucky's network of non-commercial television stations. In his spare time, he maintains radio stations. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I was recently involved with putting two new radio stations on the air. From the transmission system to the studio wiring, we did two completely new installations. Among all the different pieces of equipment that we bought and installed, I was most impressed with the latest version of the Tie Line CODEC, iMix G3.
The two new radio stations are not co-located and, in fact, are
about 45 miles apart. Each covers a different geographic area and
each represents a start-up operation. They are both are operated by
Lincoln Garrard Broadcasting Company, Inc., which is a company that
has been owned by members of my family since the early
WPBK-FM is licensed to Crab Orchard, Kentucky and has studios in Stanford, Kentucky and WKFC-FM is licensed to North Corbin, Kentucky with studios in London, Kentucky.
The company built the stations with a plan to provide good, old fashioned radio coverage of local events, including local sports coverage. The sports coverage involves in excess of 80 live events per station, per year. Half of those events are away from the home team facilities and are in a variety of locations.
After much research, we determined that the best equipment to use to accomplish the desired coverage with the quality and flexibility that we needed was the Tie Line i-Mix G3, which we acquired from John Lynch at Broadcast Supply Worldwide (BSW). We bought two i-Mix G3 units and two Commander Studio units. Installation was very easy and the units worked right out of the box. We equipped the i-Mix G3 units with Verizon Wireless EVDO capability (wireless broadband service), which allows use of 3G technology to connect to the studio via the internet.
Our company has always had good talent for our local sports coverage but many of our "away" games were covered by cell phones due to the lack of courtesy lines and the prohibitive costs of POTS installation for a single game. The cell phone audio was never up to the standard of quality that we thought was important. The i-Mix G3 uses CODEC technology with a variety of delivery methods: POTS dial-up phone line, 3G wireless internet or wired internet. The audio quality from the i-Mix G3 is studio grade and the connectivity is reliable and easy.
Our first on-air test was the opening basketball game of the season on WKFC. The quality was amazing, especially when compared to the competition's poor signal-quality VHF Remote Pick Up. The winners that night were the local basketball team and the new station in town, WKFC!! Since that time, our i-Mix G3 units have traversed the state of Kentucky and even originated games from Florida. Combined totals for the month of December, 2008, show that these two new stations originated 48 basketball games from eighteen different venues.
This equipment is easy plug-n-play technology but in order for the i-Mix 3G to "find" the Commander studio unit, a static IP address is needed for the Commander. In order to get a static IP, one must usually pay for a higher level of DSL or comparable service. In our case, it took more than a week to have the static IP provisioned for WKFC. We already had static IP addresses at WPBK due to having some other equipment that required their use.
As luck would have it, we needed to use the 3G capability to originate a game in Louisville and send it back to WKFC in London but we didn't have the necessary static IP at WKFC. After looking at each station's sports schedules, we realized that the Saturday game on WKFC would be during a time that we were not covering any games on WPBK.
To make a long story short, we used WKFC's i-Mix G3 to connect to the Commander studio unit at WPBK and then looped the signal through WPBK's i-Mix G3 on a POTS line forty five miles away to the WKFC studio unit. The audio quality was great and the "repeater" at WPBK was transparent, allowing two way communication between our studio at WKFC and the announcers in Louisville.
Thinking that I had just accomplished an unrivaled engineering feat, I told Kevin Webb at Tie Line in Indianapolis about this set-up. He informed me that the WPBK Commander studio unit could have done the same thing without involving another i-Mix G3 by making a dual connection between the WKFC studio unit on a dial-up POTS and the WKFC i-Mix G3 on the internet connection. Moreover, Bill Miller at Tie Line sent me step-by-step directions for accomplishing this trick.
Although, it was a classic example on my part of re-inventing the wheel, albeit a wooden one, when the technology was available for a nice aluminum alloy one, we accomplished our remote broadcast from Louisville to London, Kentucky, with an unattended repeater in Stanford, Kentucky, and some ingenuity. While we now have the necessary static IP addresses at WKFC, one should keep this set-up in mind for the rare occasion where the studio internet service may be down and connection by 3G is necessary or when a simulcast of the remote audio is needed at two stations. Tie Line refers to this as "How to set up two discrete bi-directional channels in Dual Mono Mode."
Our biggest test to date of the 3G technology came when WPBK covered six games in a Holiday basketball tournament in Florida this past December. Our sports announcers made the 800 mile trip to Florida after being told several times by tournament organizers that a courtesy phone line would be available for them to use. Once there, they found out that the games were being played in a brand new gymnasium that had yet to be wired for telephones. It was either 3G or our less-than-acceptable cell phone quality.
The 3G connected right up to our studio unit and other than losing power when a power-strip was unplugged, we had no real issues with using the 3G service for six ballgames over a four day period. Note: Tie Line does offer a battery pack for the i-Mix G3. The audio quality was excellent, even at a lower bit rate, which we used to ensure more reliable connectivity. In fact, one of the fans from the Kentucky team we were covering, was called on his cell phone in Florida during a game by someone listening back home and asked him if he had just yelled something out because they had recognized his voice on the radio. That person told him that the WPBK quality from Florida was so good that it was like being at the game.
With all the different modes of connecting the i-Mix G3 to our studio, this is the only piece of equipment that we have to carry. It is functional, flexible and of the highest quality. By the way, we pack the i-Mix G3 in a plastic carrying case, filled with egg-shell foam that is sold for the purpose of carrying four handguns that we bought at a local mega-retailer for under twenty dollars.