By Charles Karel Bouley
The Karel Show
SAN FRANCISCO — Technology has changed every part of our lives and that is especially true for those in the arts, particularly broadcasting. What it used to take a truck to do, now takes less than a briefcase and cost 1/100th the original price.
Radio today is changing; no longer is it just terrestrial. It’s the stream, it’s the podcast, the Twitter, the YouTube — it’s moving at the speed of sound. But many hosts are not. They are stuck in their studios doing the same type of radio that worked 20 or more years ago.
Hosts need to be out interacting with the community. They need to be at events, not just covering them. They need to be creating events, not just advertising them. They need to show up at unexpected places and do unexpected things. They need to be entertaining and relevant, and that means they need to get out of the studio.
The Comrex Access unit makes that possible in ways never before imagined. I’ve been doing major market talk radio for almost 20 years. Over that time, to do a remote we’ve traditionally had to drop ISDN (Internet Standard Digital Network) lines — high-speed data lines created by the phone company for then high speed data communication. Now, everyone has moved on to DSL, cable, FIOS and left ISDN behind, leaving its main customers radio stations and broadcasters. Phone companies don’t see a large profit in that, so many are discontinuing ISDN lines all together (Verizon will not offer them in the Northeast USA any longer, AT&T made a similar announcement and more will follow).
And, the lines are expensive. Mine has been $70 a month for over 12 years. That’s almost $10k all told. Plus there’s the ISDN CODEC (Coder/Decoder) that is required. The gold standard is the Zephyr by Telos. These can cost thousands and aren’t that portable. Plus, they need a mixing board to interface with more than two inputs.
Enter the Comrex Access unit. I first used one on the Oscars Red Carpet in Los Angeles. I was able to go live with KNX 1070 with the unit in my hand (it’s about the size of an old cassette player) on the red carpet using a cellular card installed. The Access can use WiFi, POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) and Ethernet and has USB ports for cellular modems or other USB devices. It gave me the flexibility no other radio host had on that carpet. I was able to move and I had only handheld equipment with which to deal.
The Access and I would meet again for my annual trek to Ireland for the St. Patrick’s Day broadcast. Again, in the past, when I’ve gone I’ve had to be at a hotel with an ISDN line (many have them in Europe, or did) or had one dropped in advance. On our first trip there with KFI AM 640, Emiliano Limon, producer and techie extraordinaire, had to come with us with a lot of equipment to make the show happen. This year, I went with my MacBook Pro 13 Retina, the Comrex Access, and a microphone with a few cables. My computer provided streaming bumper music through Spotify, sound clips and commercial clips through Sound Byte for Mac (a radio CART program with timed playlists for bumpers) all output with a stereo mini-plug to the Line In on the Access. My Sony wireless microphone system plugged into the Access directly.
Prior to leaving, I contacted KGO and GCN (my station and my network) and got the needed settings. Using the Access configure command is so easy anyone can set up a remote connection with a little information. All you need is an IP Address instead of a phone number, and any usernames or passwords for the receiving end. There’s even a BBS built in so the connected studio can type messages to you while on air.
So in Dublin I went live via Ethernet, the same all over the country for eight days. When I came back I had to go to Humboldt for a gig, and went live for KGO, San Francisco via WiFi from the Red Lion Inn after my live stage show at the Wharfinger Building. No one knew I was in a hotel, on WiFi. And testing the connection and staying connected was basically free so the station had peace of mind.
Now, is ISDN more reliable than IP to IP broadcasting? Yes, at this point. But does the Access work consistently delivering studio quality sound from anywhere in the world, be it a pub in Ireland or hotel in Arcata? Yup, at least it has for me.
Back at home, I connect from my home studio using it daily now. It has replaced my ISDN altogether. But it doesn’t just replace the ISDN, it frees me from it. Today, if I wanted, I could go live from a local coffee shop, from a location where there’s breaking news or from the beach; so long as there’s internet or even a 4G connection for my NetZero personal hotspot (which the Access connected to via WiFi no problem).
The era of IP to IP broadcasting is rapidly coming to radio and Comrex is leading the way with the Access. Combine it with its optional four-channel mixer and there’s an entire studio in a unit that can be hand held.
Hosts, do yourself a favor. Get up. Get out. Go live from interesting, entertaining places. Get into the communities you serve. Travel. Do it all, and do it live on air. With a Comrex Access it’s about as easy as it gets. And getting more and more reliable by the day.
The internet is everywhere. Your show should be, too.
The Karel Show is heard weekdays 3:00 pm to 6:00 pm PST through GCN (Genesis Communications Network) and CRN Digital Talk Radio and in an app from the iOS and Android app stores. The show also streams a live UStream show daily. The Karel Show is also heard on KGO, San Francisco Saturday at 9:00 pm and Sunday at 7:00 pm. Follow Karel on Twitter @thekarelshow, Facebook at www.facebook.com/iamkarel and at his website www.thekarelshow.com.