CLEVELAND — It’s
as if Frank Foti lives by one rule: Your ears shall experience audio to the
fullest extent of the law of physics.
Foti accepts the
award at the 2013 NAB Show. He thanked several people including his father, his
grandfather and his business partner, the late Steve Church.
by Jim Peck
ears and his knowledge of algorithms have served the founder of Omnia Audio
well through a career highlighted by breakthroughs in audio processing.
NAB called Foti
a “mostly self-taught” radio engineer. Foti’s technological highlights include
being the first to apply look-ahead limiting in multiple bands to audio
processing, integrating standard FM and HD Radio processing within a single
processor and developing composite filtering, which made it possible to run FM
subcarriers with aggressive composite audio processing, according to
addition, the prolific Foti almost singlehandedly has pushed the concept of FM
stereo single sideband suppressed carrier, or SSBSC, into broadcasters’
consciences. Describing him, colleagues use words like driven, assertive,
colorful and upbeat.
Foti, 57, was
honored with the 2013 NAB Radio Engineering Achievement Award in Las Vegas. The
award recognizes people who have made significant contributions to broadcast
engineering. Jay Adrick of Harris was chosen for the
TV Engineering Achievement Award.
is what Foti has spent decades doing — the NAB mentioned his “tireless
evangelism toward the general improvement of broadcast audio quality” — but his horizons
are broader now. In early 2012, he assumed the reins as chief executive officer
of parent company the Telos Alliance. Former CEO Steve Church was ailing at the
time, and died about five months later.
Foti has since immersed himself in the
workings of the group’s five product divisions — Telos Systems, Axia Audio,
Linear Acoustic and the recently acquired 25-Seven Systems, as well as Omnia —
to position the company for what he calls the future of mobile connectivity.
a daily basis, we are looking at ways to get signal from this point to that
point, which transmission systems need to be coordinated and what will the
future of the vehicle be like when people listen to audio, TV or movies,” Foti
are so many innovative ways coming in which music and entertainment will be
delivered in a mobile environment. That is the place we need to be, and audio
processing figures prominently into all of that.”
engineering career began at a small radio station in Willoughby, Ohio, in 1975.
WELW(AM) served as the gateway to bigger opportunities in his hometown of
Cleveland. Foti soon joined Malrite Communications’ WMMS(FM) and WHK(AM), and
was mentored by Chief Engineer Jim Somich.
“He told me later that he didn’t hire me
because of my experience, but my drive, energy and willingness to learn was off
the charts,” Foti said.
emphasized the on-air sound at the two stations, which were both top-rated in
the city. “Jim wanted WMMS to stand out on the dial through something called
audio processing. That hit home for me. Together, we studied it, researched it,
modified it and tweaked it,” Foti said. “We home-brewed a lot of things. It was
like going to engineering college with a major in audio processing. Plus, I
learned electronics along the way.”
Foti then took
his custom audio processing presets to KSAN(FM) and KNEW(AM) in San
Francisco before heading to WHTZ(FM) in New York as chief engineer. He moved to
WHTZ about two weeks prior to its famous format change in August of 1983. He
and PD Scott Shannon were probably most responsible for its sound and personality,
‘Gonna kick ass’
was an energy level that I loved about the radio station life, especially at
Z100. I knew that Z100 was gonna kick ass. The vibe was that of a winner. We
went from worst to first in 74 days. It was a lot of fun,” Foti said.
His audio processing
accomplishments at WHTZ from 1983 to 1987 led him to shift to full-time
manufacturing with the founding of Cutting Edge Technologies in 1988. In an
interview about 12 years later in Radio World, he said its first product was
“The first piece I started modifying was the
Aphex Model 700. I was building Vigilantes in my apartment, by myself. Drill
pressing everything to re-do the front panels,” he said at the time.
commercial audio processor built from scratch at Cutting Edge was the analog
application of look-ahead limiting in multiple bands, a company press release
said Foti accomplished this in part by placing pre-emphasis after the limiters
in his digital broadcast audio processor.
familiar to industry conference attendees for the numerous papers he has
delivered, joined forces with Steve Church at Telos Systems in 1992 and became
minority owner of the new entity. There he launched the Omnia.fm, his first
remember Steve [Church] and I listening to the first generation of DSP-based
broadcast processors, and realizing we could make a difference. A big
difference,” Foti said. “So I went into hibernation, and along with some ideas
collaborated on with Steve, we created the first DSP-based hard-limiter
[clipper] that didn’t alias.” Aliasing distortion is an additional distortion
within a digital system, he said, that can occur when signal content exceeds
the Nyquist frequency of the system and reflects itself back down into the
useable passband or range of the system.
The audio processing wars that ensued,
particularly between Foti and his direct competitor Orban, did a lot to drive
innovation through the years.
any good competitive environment, both sides are pushing each other. Bob Orban
might see it differently, but if not for Omnia.fm, I’ll bet some of those new
features that came out in later Optimods probably would not have happened,” he
said. In fact, in receiving the NAB award Foti is following in the footsteps of
Bob Orban, who was similarly honored in 1995.
The list of
accomplishments for the Wickliffe, Ohio, High School graduate continued to
grow. Foti is credited with inventing the non-aliasing DSP limiter and the low
IMD limiter, and developing composite filtering, according to the Telos
Foti once wore
his hair long and could have been mistaken for a roadie for The Who. If he is a
bit more corporate now, he remains a flamboyant, outsized personality.
Throughout, he has exhibited a highly competitive nature. Known for being
hands-on when it came to installing Omnia processors at stations, he now tweaks
and tunes the business structure at the Telos Alliance.
Past winners of the NAB Engineering Achievement Award are listed. Beginning in 1991, radio and TV winners were named; radio winners are shown.
1959 John T. Wilner
1960 T.A.M. Craven
1961 Raymond F. Guy
1962 Ralph N. Harmon
1963 Dr. George R. Town
1964 John H. DeWitt Jr
1965 Edward W. Allen Jr.
1966 Carl J. Meyers
1967 Robert M. Morris
1968 Howard A. Chinn
1969 Jarrett L. Hathaway
1970 Philip Whitney
1971 Benjamin Wolfe
1972 John M. Sherman
1973 A. James Ebel.
1974 Joseph B. Epperson
1975 John D. Silva
1976 Dr. Frank G. Kear
1977 Daniel H. Smith
1978 John A. Moseley
1979 Robert W. Flanders
1980 James D. Parker
1981 Wallace E. Johnson
1982 Julius Barnathan
1983 Joseph Flaherty
1984 Otis S. Freeman
1985 Carl E. Smith
1986 Dr. George Brown
1987 Renville H. McMann
1988 Jules Cohen
1989 William Connolly
1990 Hilmer Swanson
1991 George Marti
1992 Edward Edison & Robert L. Hammett
1993 Robert M. Silliman
1994 Charles T. Morgan
1995 Robert Orban
1996 Ogden Prestholdt
1997 George Jacobs
1998 John Battison
1999 Geoffrey Mendenhall
2000 Michael Dorrough
2001 Arno Meyer
2002 Paul Schafer
2003 John W. Reiser
2004 E. Glynn Walden
2005 Milford Smith
2006 Benjamin Dawson & Ronald Rackley
2007 Louis A. King
2008 Thomas B. Silliman
2009 Jack Sellmeyer
2010 Steve Church
2011 L. Robert du Treil
2012 Paul Brenner
In that seat for
just over a year, he hasn’t been surprised by much.
“Even though Steve was the CEO, we were
always very in touch with each other in terms of running the business. Whether
it was a tech advancement or expansion, he always called me and we did these
is most interesting for Foti is the level of dynamics that go on throughout the
course of the daily life of the company.
divisions, he said, “have a life of their own, really. They each need nurturing
and need care and love. Then it might need a kick in the pants, too. But the
Alliance is bigger than any one person; it’s wasn’t about Steve then and it’s
not about me now,” he said.
enjoys interaction with people who have an eye to the future “on a broader
scale,” even though he no longer spends all of his time locked to the
engineering bench doing digital audio signal processing.
still have time to do some of that. Steve always said, ‘We should be paid for
what we do best.’ But we have some very talented digital audio processing
programmers to do that work now.”
In fact, the day-to-day business of Omnia,
which makes processors for FM, AM, HD, Internet streaming and production, is
led by Cornelius Gould, co-developer of the Omnia.11.
“I’m learning a
lot since,” Foti continued. “I don’t necessarily come from a background steeped
in business experience. I enjoy reading about Tom Edison and Walt Disney and
learning how those guys pushed the bar. They saw a vision and went for it. We
want to be that way, while remaining fiscally responsible, and more importantly
taking care of the customer.”
Business for the
Telos Alliance is good, Foti said, as the economy rebounds from the
have been fortunate that the companies have recovered financially the past two
years. We have exceeded sales projections and sales have been going up. I know
that hasn’t been common for everyone.”
When the economy
tightened, he said, the company controlled expenses but didn’t cut people. “We
sort of went into hibernation, but we still developed new products across all of
our brands. So when things improved we had product in the pipeline, and we were
able to maintain sales of legacy items along the way.”
Foti points to
international markets, including India, China, Australia, South America and
parts of Europe, as being strong for the Telos Alliance.
he has been in full assault mode in educating the broadcast industry on what he
sees as the benefits of SSBSC transmission, an alternative to double sideband
suppressed carrier systems.
is modulation of the stereophonic subcarrier in the FM multiplex baseband
signal that reduces multipath of the FM channel through a reduction in occupied
bandwidth of the modulated carrier, according to the white paper authored by
didn’t come up with the concept of single sideband for FM, but dug up some
papers and did further research on implementing it. It’s compatible with
existing FM receivers. [SSBSC] eliminates the multipath so HD Radios don’t have
to go into blend as often because the radio senses less multipath,” he said.
implemented a SSBSC option for the stereo generator function employed in the
Omnia.11 FM audio processor. Foti said a number of FM stations in the United
States are using SSBSC technology with FCC experimental authorization.
Foti lives with
his wife Anna Cortes and her 14-year-old daughter in Lakewood, Ohio. He is
active in the Lakeshore Live Steamers, a group dedicated to small gauge steam
engines and locomotives. You can find him April through November tooling around
on his 750-pound steam engine on a track at a county park near Kirtland. Foti
also owns a large HO scale model train collection.