At the recent Technorama Conference, there was a show-and-tell segment where some neat tools and gadgets for broadcast technicians were showcased. In the interest of borrowing good ideas, here’s my own roundup of nifty radio broadcast tools, gadgets and dohickeys.
This company from the Czech Republic makes affordable FM Broadcast Analysers. These small units tune from 87.5Mhz to 108Mhz, and present you with a whole heap of info about individual FM carriers. Check your modulation levels, deviation, pilot tone, signal level and more. There’s an in-built screen for quick access to your data, and a feature-packed Windows application to get the full information.
The Intel NUC range of mini-PCs are a game changer. These tiny boxes pack a fully-featured Intel x64 chip, support 2.5″ SSD drives, and are so small you can mount them anywhere. I’ve mounted these things under studio desks, behind TV screens, and in ordinary offices too. Some units contain a fan, but it’s so small and quiet it doesn’t cause any noise problems in studios. These can run fully-fledged Windows 10, and pack a punch. I’m currently using one for my main desktop. At only a few hundred dollars each, you can’t go wrong.
Serial is great, but it’s impractical to get it connected to a lot of computers these days or run over longer distances. With these Serial/IP converters, any Serial-enabled device can be connected to a Windows PC via your regular IP network (and a software driver). (P.S. There are other similar devices on eBay and Ali Express for a lot less cash)
Australian Monitor sell a range of balanced/unbalanced converters. These are marketed at PA installation contractors, but are very useful for broadcasters too. Take any unbalanced signal and immediately balance it (with a built in level adjustment trim pot).
If you have presenters bring their own laptops and plug in via 3.5mm jacks, then this is the box for you. This small ARX box is a USB Audio Interface, with both inputs and outputs. You could have one of these permanently connected via XLRs into your audio console, and simply provide the USB cable to presenters to plug into their laptops. This will undoubtedly give you better audio quality than the headphone output on consumer laptops.
Stereo Tool is the best FM Audio Processor that you’ve probably never heard of. It’s 100% software based, and has professional features you’ve probably heard in commercial boxes such as Declipping, Multiband Compression, and FM Single Side Band. This is the real deal, and it costs only US$500 for the full license. Hans van Zutphen is the genius behind this software, and he also happens to license some of this technology to other broadcast manufacturers such as Omnia.
Dante Via is audio-over-IP software, which allows you to stream live broadcast-quality audio between PCs and compatible hardware. It’s a very easy way to get into the world of IP audio, without investing in more expensive broadcaster-oriented driver software and hardware. It can even run without multicast-compatible networks. As Dante moves towards AES67 compatibility, you may soon be able to use Dante Via with other AES67 compatible equipment.
StudioHub is a Cat6 wiring standard for audio signals. Use regular RJ45 connectors and Cat5/6 cable for audio transmission. Consoles such as Axia use this to get high-density audio I/O on their 1RU boxes. There are breakout cables to XLR, 1/4″, RCA and more. Better still, you can wire up your own if you don’t want to buy the official ones. Never terminate audio cable to Krone blocks again – just use StudioHub!
XLR Male to 1/4″ Female. Female RCA to XLR Female. XLR Male to Male. These are all adaptors we need as “get out of jail free cards”. I usually solder my own, but when I’m in a hurry I generally buy from Alternative Imports in Victoria. They sell cheap and cheerful connectors.
Many people know Barix for their budget STL codecs, but now they also sell a range of remote GPI/O devices. These small boxes provide you with serial ports as well as analog I/O and relays – all of which can be remotely controlled via a LAN or WAN. These boxes could be perfect for remote control of transmitters, delegation switchers, and other non-IP enabled broadcast equipment.
MikroTik sell one of the most feature-packed, value-for-money routers on the market. These boxes are seriously high performance. Not only do they perform well, but they are also compatible with a range of 4G USB modems. I highly recommend them.
This thermal camera attaches to your phone, and shows you heat hot-spots around your radio station. Use it to check switchboards, equipment and cable for potentially fatal faults.
If you need to get data from here to elsewhere, via the sky, Ubiquiti have the products for you. They sell point-to-point IP links, in unlicensed 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz ranges. Many community stations use them as Studio/Transmitter Links, although not without caveats. Just a couple of weeks back, a Central Coast station got their Ubiquiti STL running pure Livewire directly to the processor at the TX site. Very cool.
Make sure your IEC cables aren’t dislodged from the back of equipment by using these locking IEC connectors. These special connectors lock onto any equipment by applying a lot of pressure to the pins. Your equipment doesn’t need to do anything special to support these leads.
The HackRF One is a Software Defined Radio with a tuning range from 1Mhz to 6Ghz. You can connect it to free software such as GNU Radio or SDR# to receive and decode any signals in this frequency range.
Many jurisdictions require broadcasters to constantly log all audio as it’s broadcast. The VRS software makes this easy and affordable. It supports continuous audio recording to several audio file formats, and will split the files into segments of pre-defined length. The single-channel continuous record version only costs AU$159.
Add RDS to your FM station for as little as AU$250. These RDS Encoders can connect to any FM Transmitter via the SCA input connector. Send realtime data via serial or IP (depending on the model) and also add preset information to display at certain times.
Have I missed anything good? Mention it in the comments below…