A broadcast console makers perspective

I received a great email from Michael “Catfish” Dosch, console designer for Telos / Axia Audio Systems.  The email was sent in response to a comment I posted on the WEBE WICC Studio Build Out post.  I thought the email was very interesting and informative, presenting a perspective that most broadcast engineers do not often see or appreciate.  I asked Mike if I could use it as the basis for a blog post and he agreed.  I am not going to blockquote the entire thing, but here are the unedited email and pictures.


“Ken said you had a concern about the ruggedness of our consoles as compared to the old PR&E boards. You might not know this, but I was with PR&E before joining Telos. In fact, I designed many of those old PR&E boards. I guess that makes me an old console designer. Ahem.

The Element design is more modern in construction and styling, but it is no less rugged than those old PR&E boards. In fact, you could stand on it if you wish. The top is a 1/4-inch machined aluminum plate supported by structural aluminum ribs on the backside. The chassis itself is made of custom extruded aluminum structural pieces and machined aluminum side panels. The flat sheet metal on the bottom is not structural, it’s only a cosmetic cover. You’ll see a lot of folded sheet metal in other consoles because it’s cheap and easy. But it’s not as rugged as the Element approach which is why we chose to go with a more complex and expensive mechanical design.

Telos Axia console cross section
Telos Axia console cross-section, Courtesy of Axia Audio / TLS corp

One very visible difference between Element and PR&E consoles is the use of Lexan on the front panels (PR&E would use aluminum or steel on the top panel). This might seem less rugged, but it is actually chosen because it is a more durable surface than painted and silkscreened metal. It is more scratch resistant and it is rear-printed so that the markings never wear out. Silkscreens would wear off under heavy use — particularly next to faders and monitor controls — and look horrible over time. These Lexan panels will look just as good after 15 years as they do now.

But Lexan for all of its durability has its own limitations. The edges can crack under abuse. This is why you see many older Wheatstone consoles (they have used Lexan overlays for many years) with cracks and tears at the very edges of the plastic. This is particularly troublesome in the fader slot. A frayed edge on a faders slot can cut your fingers. That is mighty unpleasant! So when we decided to use Lexan, we wanted to have all the benefits and none of the drawbacks.

So we designed a machined recess on each channel that allows the Lexan insert to have its outside edges protected by the aluminum. More obvious are the bezels around each button and even the fader slot. Look carefully and you will notice that all of the control bezel edges are above the lexan. The edges of the lexan are not exposed and therefore not prone to cracking, chipping, or splintering.

Axia Audio console control surface, courtesy of Axia Audio / TLS corp
Axia Audio console control surface, Courtesy of Axia Audio / TLS corp

In this drawing, you can see the panel without the lexan. The machined pocket to protect the outer edges of the Lexan, plus the raised edges of the button and fader bezels to protect the edges around the holes. These button guards are also designed to prevent accidental actuation of the buttons. And while the guards are designed to protect accidental actuation, they never hinder deliberate activation. Notice the guards at the sides of the ON/OFF buttons and not on the top and bottom. Even operators with long fingernails will have no problems with these controls. The small round keys are engaged with a light touch of the fleshy pad of the fingertip.

Yes, I think we built great consoles at PR&E. But Axia was a fresh start, a chance to raise the bar even higher, by retaining many of PR&E’s better attributes and improving upon some of the weaker areas. DIPswitch configuration has been replaced with the convenience of the web browser. Spill-prone motherboards and electronics have been eliminated from the control surface. Unreliable monitor pots have been replaced with optical rotary encoders rated for 5,000,000 rotations.

And you asked about the faders. This is a particularly important component in a broadcast console. PR&E used Penny & Giles faders for many years. We used their Series-4000 faders in the X-Class consoles (BMXIII, AMX, ABX and STX). This was their top-of-the-line fader at the time and performed beautifully… for a year or two. Then our clients started experiencing field failures at a very high rate. We worked with P&G on a return/rework/replace program that took years to clean up. Our clients were disappointed and we spent a fortune making things right. It was that experience that caused us to begin searching for alternatives.

The market for high-end faders is quite small. There are tons of consoles out there for live sound, home recording, etc., but these products are sensitive to costs and generally use very cheap faders. There just aren’t enough high-end recording consoles or broadcast consoles being built to attract a lot of fader vendors. After a lengthy search, I disqualified all but two fader companies: P&G and a Japanese firm by the name of Tokyo Ko-on Denpa (TKD). I assigned one of our engineers to create a set of environmental and life-cycle tests to see if the TKD faders could keep up with the P&G faders. We were all shocked by the results.

Out of 100 of each type tested in various environmental conditions and physically cycled for the accelerated equivalent of 10 years of heavy use, we had only one TKD fader failure, compared to more than half of the P&G Series 4000 faders! We defined “failure” as any deterioration to specifications or any discontinuities. All the failed units had discontinuities (audio dropouts). We were able to clean the failed TKD fader and it passed the retest. About half of the failed P&G units were cleaned and passed the retest. So in the end, the practical results were TKD 100% good and P&G 75% good. Not what I expected at all.

We then designed a TKD fader into the Radiomixer. We watched the customer support logs carefully for problems. Out of the first 1,000 console channels shipped, we saw one TKD fader failure during the first year. Warranty replacement of course. The failure rate did not increase with use as you would normally expect. We were seeing consoles with 3 or 4 or 5 years of heavy use with no fader problems at all. I have heard of 20 year old Radiomixers with original faders still working great.

One particularly elegant feature of the TKD fader used in Element is a side loaded wiper arm. This prevents liquids or other foreign matter from spilling into the fader slot and directly into the fader element. This feature alone is probably responsible for extending the useful life of the faders by a considerable amount. Of course, these can be disassembled and cleaned just like a professional fader from P&G, they just don’t need it so often.

Axia Audio TKD faders, courtesy of Axia Audio / TLS Corp
Axia Audio TKD faders, courtesy of Axia Audio / TLS Corp

Some have the misconception that if a fader is not P&G, it must be cheap. Actually, these are very expensive faders, about the same cost as P&G. But they are so well made, I think they’re worth every dollar. I know there are still some folks out there who remember P&G’s glory days when they made bullet-proof faders. I remember fondly those days as well. But in my experience, the TKD fader is superior to the equivalent P&G fader. We feel so confident, that we warrant all Axia consoles for 5 years, including all components….”

End Quote

That is a great explanation of what goes into one of these consoles right from the designer.  The pictures are courtesy of Axia Audio / Telos Corporation and special thanks to Mike for taking time out to give us a glimpse into the mind of a console manufacturer.

WEBE WICC studio build out

You know those fancy new facilities pictures with the accompanying article you can normally find in the trades?  The article usually expounds on how this guy made the decisions on purchase then these guys worked hard and pulled it all together.  Here is the work hard and pulling it all together story.

WEBE and WICC have been in the same studio building for several decades.  The Pacific Recorders and Engineering equipment, while great, is tired and worn out.  On top of that, an F1 tornado ripped the AC units off the roof last June, ripping the membrane and doing extensive water damage to the facility.

The cleanup/water damage mitigation took some time.  All of the carpet and ceiling tiles needed to be replaced.  The walls needed to be resurfaced with new drywall.  In some cases, modifications such as removing a storage closet from the engineering room, moving a door, and building a new talk studio and WICC control room needed to take place.  In short, lots of dust, dirt, and disruption to the station equipment and staff.  It has not been trouble-free, as several times computers and consoles failed due to age and dirt.

Sometime about the beginning of December, new equipment and furniture began to show up and the project was underway.

Cumulus Bridgeport new equipment
Cumulus Bridgeport new equipment

All of the new equipment was stored in the program director’s office.  Heh, the program director’s office.

Cumulus Bridgeport new rack room
Cumulus Bridgeport new rack room

A new rack room was designed around the old one.  The old racks are out of the picture to the left.  The original rack room had a door into the hall, that has been replaced by viewing windows, the door has been moved to the engineering office, next door.  I kind of like the windows, it lets visitors see the fancy computers but keeps them out of the room itself.

Cumulus Bridgeport Op-X servers
Cumulus Bridgeport Op-X servers

The existing automation system is being replaced by Op-X.  This is the business end of the Op-X audio servers.  All of the network connections are Gigabit using Belden Mediatwist (1872A) Category 6 cable.

Cumulus Bridgeport wire wall
Cumulus Bridgeport wire wall

All the wiring from the studios and racks are brought to this wall.  The terminations are Krone LSA-PLUS blocks.  AES/EBU digital and analog audio is run on Category 5e cable.

Cumulus bridgeport wire wall Krone block
Cumulus bridgeport wire wall Krone block

Krone LSA-PLUS termination block with Belden Mediatwist cable.  All rack and studio wire runs are terminated on this style block.  Notice the wire labels, every run is labeled with both termination ends and use.  Mediatwist cable is fairly easy to work with, the pairs are bonded, so a special tool is recommended to quickly separate the wires.

Cumulus Bridgeport wire tray
Cumulus Bridgeport wire tray

Wire tray between the racks and wire wall.

WICC new Axia console installation
WICC new Axia console installation

The new WICC control room and talk studio.  The Axia consoles are pretty slick.  They are not a true mixing console in the traditional sense, they are more like a control surface.   Most all of the audio inputs are in the rack room, however, the microphones are digitized in the studio and sent over an IP network to the rack room.   All input and output channels are computer configurable and remote controllable.  Console inputs also have onboard mic preamps and full processing.

Cumulus Axia console set up
Cumulus Axia console set up

Axia console control software.

New WICC talk studio furniture
New WICC talk studio furniture

The new talk studio set up.  This is located where the news room used to be.  In order to stay on the air and maintain the old studios, a sort of musical chairs system needs to be played.  In the end, the WEBE studio and one production room will end up where they started, everyone else will be in a new space.  The news room will end up where the current WICC control room is.

Cumulus Bridgeport network switches
Cumulus Bridgeport network switches

Network audio switches.

Cumulus Bridgeport network patch panel
Cumulus Bridgeport network patch pane

Network patch panel, notice the T568B markings.

Currently, the program directors are loading all there material in the Op-X system.  The time schedule is to transfer WEBE into a temporary studio in about two weeks.

More updates as the project progresses.

Update: The new Axia equipment and Op-X automation is on line as of 2/24.   More pictures to follow.

Update 2: For more information on how the Axia consoles are made, check out A broadcast console makers perspective.

Update 3: More pictures:

WICC new studio with Axia console
WICC new studio with Axia console

WICC studio is nearly done, just a few odds and ends here or there.   This is located where the former talk studio was located.

WICC talk studio
WICC talk studio

WICC talk studio, host and four guest positions.  This is located where the former news room is.

Former WICC air studio, gutted
Former WICC air studio, gutted

This is the former WICC control room.  It has been gutted and several walls are being removed.  This will become the permanent WEBE control room when it is finished.

WEBE temporary control room
WEBE temporary control room

WEBE temporary control room.

WEBE old control room, gutted
WEBE old control room, gutted

The former WEBE control room, gutted.  All the carpeting has been removed and 1/4 inch drywall is going over the old, glue encrusted drywall.  This room will become a production room.

WEBE WICC rack room
WEBE WICC rack room

WEBE WICC rack room viewed from the hallway, approximately where the door to the room used to be.  The old racks to the left are being stripped out and removed.  All of the stations are now on the air from the new racks.

Audio over IP, what is it, why should I care?

IP networks are the largest standardized data transfer networks worldwide.  These networks can be found in almost every business and home and are used for file transfer, storage, printing, etc.  The Internet Protocol over Ethernet (802.x) networks is widely understood and supported.  It is robust, inexpensive, well-documented, readily deployed, and nearly universal.  Many equipment manufacturers such as Comrex, Telos, and Wheatstone have developed audio equipment that uses IP networks to transfer and route audio within and between facilities.

IP protocol stack
IP protocol stack

Audio enters the system via an analog-to-digital converter (A/D converter), often a sound card, at which point a computer program stores it as a file.  These files can be .wav, .mp3, .mp4, apt-X, or some other format.  Once the audio is converted to a digital data format, it is handled much the same way as any other digital data.

IP stands for “Internet Protocol,” which is a communications protocol for transmitting data between computers connected to area networks.  In conjunction with a transmission protocol, either TCP (Transmission Control Protocol) or UDP (User Datagram Protocol) IP forms what is known as the Internet Protocol Suit known as TCP/IP.  The Internet Protocol Suit contains four layers:

  1. Application layer – This is the protocol that contains the end-use data.  Examples of these would be HTTP, FTP, DCHP, SMTP, POP3, etc.  Telos Systems uses its own application called “Livewire” for its equipment.  Wheatstone uses “WHEATNET.”  Digigram uses “Ethersound.”   This is an important distinction.
  2. Transfer layer – This contains the TCP or UDP header information that contains such things as transmitting, and receiving ports, checksum value for error checking, etc.  It is responsible for establishing a pathway through multiple IP networks, flow control, congestion routing, error checking, and retransmission.  TCP allows for multiple IP packets to be strung together for transmission, increasing transfer rate and efficiency.
  3. Internet layer – This is responsible for transporting data packets across networks using unique addresses (IP addresses).
  4. Link Layer – This can also be called the physical layer, using Ethernet (802.x), DSL, ISDN, and other methods.  The physical layer also means things like network cards, sound cards, wiring, switches, and routers.


An IP network can be established to transmit data over almost any path length and across multiple link layer protocols.  Audio, converted to data can thus be transmitted around the world, reassembled, and listened to with no degradation.  Broadband internet connections using a cable, DSL, ISDN, or T-1 circuits can be pressed into service as STL’s, ICR’s, and TSL’s.  This translates to fast deployment; no STL coordination or licensing issues, no antennas to install if on a wired network.  Cost reductions are also realized when considering this technology over dedicated point-to-point TELCO T-1’s.  Additionally, license-free spread spectrum radios that have either DS-1 or 10baseT Ethernet ports can be used, provided an interference-free path is available.

IP audio within facilities can also be employed with some brands of consoles and soundcards, thus greatly reducing audio wiring and distribution systems and corresponding expenses.  As network speeds increase, file transfer speeds and capacity also increase.


Dissimilar protocols in the application layer mean a facility can’t plug a Barix box into a Telos Xtream IP and make it work.  There are likely hundreds of application layer protocols, most of which do not speak to each other.  At some point in the future, an IP audio standard, like the digital audio AES/EBU may appear, which will allow equipment cross-connections.

Additionally, the quality of the physical layer can degrade performance over congested networks.  The installations must be carefully completed to realize the full bandwidth capacities of cables, patch panels, patch cords, etc.  Even something as little as stepping on a Category 6 cable during installation can degrade its high-end performance curve.  The cable should be adequately supported, not kinked, and not stretched (excessive pulling force) during installation.

TCP/IP reliability is another disadvantage over formats like ATM.  In a TCP/IP network, no central monitoring or performance check system is available.  TCP/IP is what could be called a “broadcast” protocol.  That is to say, it is sent out with a best-effort delivery and no delivery confirmation.  Therefore, it is referred to as a connection-less protocol and in network architecture parlance, an unreliable network.  Lack of reliability allows any of these faults to occur; data corruption, lost data packets, duplicate arrival, out of order data packets.  That is not to say that is does not work, merely that there is no alarm generated if an IP network begins to lose data.  Of course, the loss of data will affect the reconstruction of the audio.

Analog digital converter symbol
Analog digital converter symbol

Finally, latency can become an issue over longer paths.  Every A/D converter, Network Interface Card (NIC), cable, patch panel, router, etc has some latency in its circuitry.  These delays are additive and dependent on the length of the path and the number of devices in it.

Provided care is taken during design and installation, AOIP networks can work flawlessly.  Stocking adequate spare parts, things like ethernet switches, NICs, patch cables and a means to test wiring and network components is a requirement for AOIP facilities.

Radio Industry Technology Study

Wheatstone, Inc has sponsored a radio industry future technology study which brings into focus some of the connections between technology and radio business models.   It appears to be very thorough, polling radio professionals on all aspects of technology development and management.

According to Josh Gordon:

While it is hard to predict which of the radio industry’s newest business models will succeed in generating new revenues, we can better anticipate the winners by measuring how fast the technologies that enable them are being adopted.

To find out, we surveyed the radio professionals involved in all aspects of technology management (engineers, and operations and technical management). The results reported in this study can serve as a benchmark for managers to evaluate their own organizations’ progress.

The first graph tells:

Wheatstone Technology Survey Results
Wheatstone Technology Survey Results

Almost everyone believes that the internet will play a greater role in radio (and all media).  This goes against the “radio with its head in the sand” idea that can be found in some corners of the internet (I’d provide a link, but the site has turned on a paywall).

The question is, what are management-type people doing about it?  Some have good ideas on how to bridge the gap between making money the old-fashioned way; selling spots, to making money the new way; brand imaging,  media promotion, and personal contact through new media.  While it is generally agreed that radio stations should stream their audio, many, if not most, make little or no money on this.  If radio is going to make some revenue on internet applications, obviously some new ideas are needed.

Unique local content seems to be the most sought after, things like local news podcasts, or new music, e.g. studio sessions with up-and-coming bands and musicians, locally produced shows that are area specific, etc. Put a 10-second sponsorship in front of those and people will get the message.  Other things like value-added contests can only be heard on the internet.  Interactive radio station apps that have streaming, now playing, recently heard features that link to a .mp3 store for iPhone and Android operating systems.  Text link adds on radio station web pages, etc.

On the flip side of this, huge, great amounts of bandwidth will be required if the internet streaming is going to approach the same number of off-the-air listeners.  Depending on how the radio station has the stream set up, anywhere from 20 to 64 kbps of data transfer is needed for each listener.  For a station in a large metropolitan area, multiply that by 500,000 to 4,000,000 listeners at any one time, and data gridlock ensues.

On the in-house side, the red hot, cutting-edge thing these days is AOIP (Audio over IP), which Wheatstone is heavily invested in with its E console series.  While some might not think of AOIP as a traditional Internet application, it nonetheless uses the same transport protocols as other Internet applications.   AOIP offers some great advantages over other routing systems, as both private (internal) and public (wide area) networking can be used to transfer audio in real-time.  Of course, this is not as easy as plugging the new computer into an ethernet jack, it takes more planning than that.

Wheatstone has published an excellent white paper on Network Design for Ethernet Audio.  Well worth the read.

As AOIP technology develops more, web streams could come directly from the console and be customizable according to destination.  Further, IP logging can create stream user profiles and customizable greetings, listening preferences, and so on.  This would require that the web streaming server be in-house and that the studio facility has enough bandwidth to handle all of the outgoing streams and other content.

Certainly an in-house IT/Web developer will be needed to manage and maintain such a system.

You can download and read the entire studio at Alethea/Wheatstone Radio Survey.  The cliff notes summary is this:

Finding #1: Almost all radio tech people believe the Internet will play a bigger part in the future of radio.

Finding #2:Of the new revenue generating technologies, streaming a station’s signal has the biggest earning potential.

Finding #3: Technologies that require little or no capital investment are being deployed at similar frequencies by both stand-alone and group owned stations.

Finding #4: A technology gap is emerging as stand-alone stations deploy revenue generating technologies requiring investment at only half the frequency as group owned stations.

Finding #5: The revenue generating technology that most group owned stations plan on deploying next is a mobile app, while for stand-alone stations, it is broadcasting in HD Radio, with mobile apps coming in a close second.

Finding #6: There is a big divide between radio stations that are now, or will soon be, making money from streaming their signal over the Internet, and those who likely never will.

Finding #7: The day will come slowly, but in 15 years a majority of radio stations expect they will have more online listeners than RF listeners.

Finding #8: Despite the expected decline in over the air listeners, few stations expect to turn off their transmitters.

Finding #9: Three years from now, radio station technology will be more IT centric with more automation, as well as more networking between stations, IT networks, and office and audio networks.

Finding #10: Three years from now, the stability of each radio station network will be more important, as will networks with no single point of failure.

Finding #11: Three years from now, more audio consoles will be networked together. Also, the bandwidth of those networks will be required to increase.

Finding #12: The top reason group owned stations bought an AoIP network was to reduce maintenance costs. The top reason for stand-alone stations: to share talent.

Finding #13: At stations that have installed an AoIP network, more than a third of stand-alone stations found installing it harder than anticipated, while only 16.7% of group owned stations found installation harder than anticipated.

Finding #14: At stations with an AoIP network, more than one in four stand-alone stations and one in three group owned stations report latency problems.

The study is a good indication of where technical managers see growth.  One thing that internet sites like Pandora have shown, radio broadcasters cannot sit back and be content with the status quo.  Without technical innovation and some outside-of-the-line thinking, the radio will be bypassed by newer more interactive media services.

Something to ponder.