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Flashback: 2009

Dr. Chet LaPrice, Operations Manager of 90.5 WERG, relates the story of a phone call from the dean's office one afternoon that lead to a major upgrade for the radio station that year...



It was right around this time 15 years ago that I got a call from Dr. Tim Downs, head of what was then called the College of Humanities, Business, and Education. He was on the other end of the phone telling me that he was in a private meeting with AJ Miceli.  Miceli was then the program director for the Department of Theater, Communication, and Fine Arts, under which 90.5 WERG was operated.  My initial thought: “bad news,” but I would have been summoned to the office in-person if that had been the case.  So, intrigued, I asked what was up.


Well, they informed me that they had just completed a major purchase for the radio station that I had been pushing for for several years: The Scott Studios S32 Digital Studio Control System, now known as Wide Orbit Digital Automation for Radio.  The Summer of 2009 was going to be a busy one…

 

The first 12 years of my career – at WERG, WLKK, K104, and WXTA – had been spent using CD's, audio carts, turntables and reel-to-reel tape – the tools of the trade for many decades.  Digital started gaining a foothold in the 90’s and radio begin making a widespread transition around the year 2000.  And it wasn't a slow transition: I remember the day that the new equipment was brought to WXTA and we were online within 72 hours.  We never looked back to analog.  If any stations are still using tape on a regular basis, I don't know of them. 

 

When I took the job of operations manager for WERG in 2002, The administration had already made the investment in digital technology for Gannon's radio station.  The system wasn't state-of-the-art, but it got the job done... after a fashion.  It enabled us to go 24-hours-a-day and freed us from the constraints of when no students were available for air shifts because everybody was in class.  However, pre-recording content for automation was… problematic.  The system would hang for no reason, resulting in dead air – often in the middle of the night.  Switching from live to prerecorded segments was a maddening process, and students were often late for class after their shows.  There was no customer support; we finally devised a six-step process through trial-and-error that usually worked (listed below).  Also: the digital files were not .wav – they were highly compressed .mp2 (not even .mp3) which resulted in a flat audio presentation.  So, I began lobbying for a replacement: a process that took years of research, funding, shopping, haggling, and making a compelling case for.

 

I had used AudioVault during my time with WXTA and WRPL and it worked fine.  But the Wide Orbit system was becoming an industry standard and would allow for much “future expansion” as we stretched our creative capabilities – something I wanted to do. 


Importing the audio elements was a problem: there was no way to transfer the files from the old DigiLink system to Wide Orbit, so we needed a CD library.   We already had a TM Century GoldDisc library that I had invested in back in 2004 so the older titles wouldn’t be a problem.  Also – we could now “rip” audio into the new system, saving us a considerable amount of time.  The old DigiLink had required real-time dubbing… For new music releases, we subscribed to a company called – in the most interesting of coincidences – ERG Music.  They sent us a new CD full of current tracks on a monthly basis.  We worked on the connections and wiring all summer and through the fall: technicians from Wide Orbit and our engineer, Mike Kobylka, handled the physical installation of the hardware.  Student managers loaded-in the music and other audio elements we would need for a seamless transition.  Near the end of the semester, we were ready.

 

On December 2, 2009 at 9am in the morning we made the switch, and Clarissa Schneider (pictured, behind the board) began her show using the new Wide Orbit system.  Live shows, pre-recorded shows, long-form content for our weekend broadcasts, informational content through our affiliations with NBC NewsRadio and Erie News Now – it all runs through the “brain” of the Central Server.  And our students operate the system on a daily basis.

 

The importance of having industry-standard infrastructure cannot be overstated.  Students are learning on the systems that they will be expected to be fluent in for professional environments post-graduation.  Our service to the university and community is augmented by the creative content our students and volunteers provide; Wide Orbit makes it all work.   When the original systems reached end-of-life, we replaced them over the summer of 2017, and then again in 2022.  Many thanks to Wide Orbit tech Mark Parrish, who oversaw a major software upgrade for us this past week.  All things seem to be running normal: the main WERG studio, the Audio Production Booth, both Adobe Audition production workstations, Studio C in the Audio Production Classroom downstairs, and the main server that talks to everything and creates periodic backups.  It’s a far cry from the “two turntables and a microphone” we had in the Zurn Science Center basement back in the old days… but the spirit of creating great radio at WERG has never diminished.  Looking forward to the fall semester.  But let’s enjoy the summer first!

 

 

WERG alums... remember this?? 

DigiLink Arrakis IV: Going from “Live” to “Automation”

You will need to insert an automation code into the playlist that shows up on the bottom half of the screen.  After your last weather break and you are back into music, use the mouse to highlight the first song after the legal ID – it will turn red.

  1. Click “Go to Auto” – an automation code will appear in the log between the legal ID and the first song of the hour.

  2. As each of the last three elements in the decks are done playing, the yellow “stop” light for each on the computer will blink, indicating that the DigiLink is no longer loading elements for you to play; it is preparing to do it itself.  As each deck begins playing, make sure that its appropriate pot on the board is potted up and turned on.  IMPORTANT: if they are off, don’t turn them on until that particular element is scheduled to play or you will fire it on top of what is already playing!!

  3. When you start playing your last “Live” element, and all decks are now on and potted-up, click “AutoPlay” so both it and “AutoLoad” are both blinking green.  Stick around to watch the transition to AUTO mode to ensure that it happened without incident.

  4. After the last of the three decks is done (that should be the Legal ID at the top of the hour), the screen will switch from “Live Assist” to “Automation” on its own and the next song will start playing automatically.  If you hear silence for more than ten seconds, “coax” the Arrakis into working by clicking “Stop” and then “Start” on the left side of the computer screen.   DO NOT ATTEMPT TO FIRE ANY DIGILINK ELEMENTS FROM THE BOARD OR OLD SONGS WILL REPEAT!

  5. The station is now in automation to play pre-recorded material.  Double-check to make sure that all three decks are potted-up and turned on or we will have dead-air.

 

Compare with instructions for Wide Orbit.

  1. Click “Live” on the screen to toggle control between Live and Automation.

 

 

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