When you choose an
automation system for your radio station, you commit to an
environment, a framework that affects many aspects of station
operation. The system must interface with traffic systems, music
software and programming sources coming from numerous locations. And,
if the station has been using a particular system for many years, its
entire workflow can be built around the functionality of the existing
This is the problem
I recently encountered when my old friend John Anthony, owner of
KTTN(AM/FM) and KGOZ(FM) in Trenton, Mo., wanted to upgrade his
automation system. They have been using a legacy Computer Concepts
DCS DOS-based system since 1994. Before that, they used carts and
reels for audio playback.
Over the years, the
station procedures, from logging to on-air to post-air auditing, were
built around the functionality of that legacy DCS system.
So, when it came
time to talk about replacing their system, I was concerned about
maintaining the familiarity of the systems as much as possible. We
looked at several systems in a variety of price ranges. Eventually we
set our gaze upon dcsTools.com and contacted Rich Habedank of C-R
The company has a
set of programs designed for users of legacy DCS and its
Windows-based successor Maestro systems. However, they also offer
XStudio, an application that has developed into a full-blown
automation system, which uses the same structure as DCS/Maestro
systems. This suite of programs includes software for production, log
editing, merging, conversion of audio from other formats and
automatic recording of network audio.
XStudio began as a way to take DCS/Maestro audio files out of the
studio. Legacy DCS supported both PCM and aptX data-reduced audio,
but because of the cost of hard disk storage at the time, most
stations used the aptX compressed audio option. The audio was stored
in a proprietary file format called DAF.
Some of the later
systems could use MPEG compressed audio. But the DAF file format
prevented these files from being used outside of the DCS/Maestro
software. XStudio originally was designed to play those files without
special hardware. But, as the software matured and features were
added, the program became a system of its own.
For the XStudio
installation at KTTN/KGOZ, local engineer Randall Mann built a RAID
5-compliant Windows server with mirrored drives and a gigabit switch.
We bought five off-the shelf studio Acer machines running Windows 7
in addition to the server. We used M-Audio Delta M-44 audio cards,
which feature two physical (balanced) input and output channels, in
addition to the virtual channels available in XStudio.
numerous audio switchers so we also purchased three Broadcast Tools
ACS8.2 audio switchers and one SS16.4 switcher — all of which are
supported. Total cost of hardware was about $5,000.
we purchased three copies of XStudio Automation, four copies of
XChange (the production module) and two copies of ezSuite (the
logging, audit and reconciliation module) and a few other sundries.
Total software cost, about $8,000. This puts the comparative cost of
the system in the “low-to-mid” range. There are less expensive
systems, but none that would maintain the current functionality.
predecessors, XStudio is a log-driven system. The program log appears
on the screen, just as it would have appeared on paper. As spots are
played, a red check mark appears to show it has played. Program
titles and log comments also display just as they do on the paper
log. Up to four virtual audio playback decks appear at the top of the
screen. Audio may be steered to additional outputs, if they are
XStudio brings a lot
of new functionality to the table as well. Multiple pages of hot
buttons are especially useful. Each can be programmed with audio or
can be used to call predetermined functions. The air staff quickly
learned they could each have their own screens. The news department
uses them for actualities, programming the buttons just before their
KTTN(FM) is an
old-fashioned full-service station, with live announcers during the
day and a satellite format at night. They also carry a heavy schedule
of local sports, University of Missouri sports and Kansas City Royals
baseball. XStudio handles all of those with ease.
One of the features
added at our request was the ability to “remap” incoming relays
from satellite receivers. This change can be done manually using a
hot button, programmed onto the log, or triggered directly by a
In addition, there
were some legacy practices that our new system was able to
accommodate. For instance, the staff was accustomed to all audio
coming out of a single pot on the console, which was easy to
configure in XStudio.
No doubt the biggest
benefit of the system is that the dcsTools system uses the same
conventions as DCS/Maestro, especially traffic and audit logs, and
the multicut cart system.
In the days of tape
cartridges, many stations would put multiple cuts on a single cart.
The original DOS-based DCS system maintained this functionality. In
the years since, most systems have abandoned multicuts in favor of
allowing the traffic software to handle this job. However many
stations, including KTTN/KGOZ, use this feature every day. At least
75 percent of the “carts” in their system are multicut. XStudio
(and its production module, XChange) maintain the ability to handle
multiple cut “carts.” Up to 99 cuts may be “rotated” on a
single cart number. Using a pop-up window in XChange, you can also
control which cuts are being used currently, and which is
We also are using
dcsTools’ XStudio Recorder software, which handles all automatic
recording. KTTN/KGOZ delays dozens of audio items each day from four
networks. XStudio Recorder handles these automatically, two at a time
in many instances.
The new system
brought many new features to the table, including CD and MP3 ripping,
direct importation of files from email and Adobe Audition. Remote
access works well, too.
Easy to install and configure
Familiar file structure
Easy multicut carts
An automated ingest function would be helpful
Price: Customization options affect total price but dcsTools says estimated starting figure for an installation is $1,895.
For information, contact Rich Habedank at C-R Media in Minnesota at (952) 949-9450 or visit www.dcstools.com.
I encountered a
couple of minor problems during installation. For instance, I had to
modify some of the log templates because there are differences “under
the hood” with XStudio, as far as how it executes log-driven
But the biggest
issues were human. The staff was accustomed to large, simple
DOS-based screens. Some of the staff, especially some with limited
computer abilities (and poor eyesight), found the Windows screen
presentation “too small.” I have to remind myself, even in this
day and time, that many everyday users are still not computer-savvy.
This is especially true in smaller stations with more mature staffs.
I was able to increase the screen and cursor sizes to accommodate
some of these concerns.
Given a wish list,
I’d like to see a secondary log. Many systems have a method of
loading a secondary log to use for network sports and such. After
the event ends, the system returns to the main program log.
I’d also like to
see an automated ingest function. Many programs and features are now
distributed by FTP sites. I wish the system had a way to
auto-download and convert specified files into the system without
Service and support
after the sale has been very good. Every time we’ve had an issue or
feature request, dcsTools has been responsive to our needs. The
products continue to evolve. The “input relay remap” feature
mentioned above was our request. We recently asked for a module that
would auto-import files that have been downloaded by FTP. They are
working on such a product at our request.
After several months
of transition, the new installation has worked out well. We are able
to maintain their existing workflow, while bringing modern hardware
and software into the mix.
Morris is a contract engineerand
he also does ABIP “Mock
for both the Missouri Broadcasters Association and Oklahoma
Association of Broadcasters. His career spans more than 40years, beginning as a teenage
disk jockey at KWAK(AM)
in Stuttgart, Ark. He
has been in programming, management and engineering. His
personal website is www.artmorris.com.