Radio has traditionally been a medium where programs featured the spoken word and were broadcast as audio signals over the airwaves.?However, the increasing popularity of simultaneous broadcasts, along with the introduction of new technology, has brought some big changes to the world of radio.
"Simulcasting" is the term used when a program or event is being broadcast in more than one medium. Common examples include talk radio programs which are also broadcast live on television, and televised programs or events which are also streamed live on the internet. In early February, Ozarks’ campus radio station, KUOZ, joined ranks with the other simulcasters when it made its first venture into this world of multi-format broadcasting.
According to Ozarks’ director of broadcasting, Susan Edens, the KUOZ simulcast was made possible by the addition of a TriCaster 300 to the university’s inventory of production equipment. The TriCaster 300 is a portable 13-channel HD live production system, which supports live television broadcasts in up to 1080i resolution, and live web streaming in up to 720p. Edens said that by purchasing this new piece of equipment, the door has been opened for some exciting new programming possibilities on campus, for both the TV and radio station.
Ryan West operates the new TriCaster 300 while Kourtney Risher adjusts the audio from the main radio control board.
The TriCaster unit arrived at Ozarks at the end of January. Edens and the RTV students wasted no time in unpacking it and setting it up. After experimenting with the unit for only a few days, Edens saw what she thought was a perfect opportunity for the students to put it to its first big test - simulcasting an interview with the gospel blues band Brick Fields live on air and as an internet video stream through UStream. "It was kind of a fluke because I saw that they were going to be on the road, and I thought ‘you’ll be coming through Clarksville!’" she said. Edens has known Rachel Fields for some time and thought that an interview with the duo would not only make a great live program, but would provide a perfect opportunity for the students to test the capabilities of the new equipment.
Just after lunch on Thursday, Edens and a group of students set up two cameras in the radio station, and connected all the inputs and outputs on the TriCaster. Ryan West, a freshman RTV major, put on the headphones to monitor the signal coming from the TriCaster and went to work setting up the live internet stream. The band unpacked their equipment - an acoustic guitar and a flute - then entered the studio with Edens while three other students joined West in the radio control room.
As Edens welcomed Brick and Fields to the studio, West and Andrea Avalos, a sophomore physical education and strategic communication major, intently studied the various controls on the TriCaster, and quietly exchanged ideas about what to display on the video stream. Soon, Brick Fields began to play one of their songs, and the sound of gospel blues filtered into the room as Kourtney Risher, KUOZ student manager, adjusted the volume on the radio station’s sound board. "Can one of you guys pull this up on the computer so I can see how it looks?" West asked. Corey Snyder, KUOZ sports director took out his phone, and brought up KUOZ’s UStream channel, holding up the phone so West could view the feed.
"We just got this a week ago," said Ryan West, as he neatly added a title overlay to the live video feed. He watched the sound levels on the TriCaster, and explained that while this simulcast was set up with only two cameras, the new system has inputs for three cameras, with another input that allows the operator to access displays from a networked computer. "DVRs, still titles, effects…these are all things in here," he said.
It was exciting to watch the live interview - to watch as West operated the equipment, sending the program to the internet, and ultimately on to Synder’s phone. But for the students, this first simulcast was about more than just doing something "cool" - it set the stage for a whole new way of broadcasting. The significance of this wasn’t lost on them. "Most [stations] are still using equipment like we have in the control room, which is a bunch of switchers and audio boards, but I think some are switching over to stuff like this," West said. "This new technology is like a mobile production truck."
Snyder, who co-hosts a daily sports program on KUOZ and who serves as sports director for the station, has made a point to keep up with trends in sports broadcasting. He said units like the TriCaster have already made a huge impact in sports programming. "From what they’re saying, it’s getting really popular with colleges and sports technology coordinators because it is so easy and so self-contained. When they’re recording a game or putting together highlights, it’s really easy to use," he said.
Snyder said one major feature that makes the TriCaster unit so appealing for the Ozarks RTV program is its portability. While the switcher in the TV studio master control room performs the same types of functions, it is simply too large and cumbersome to take out of the control room. Now that this new equipment has arrived, he and Sports Soup co-host Kourtney Risher are already making plans to do a live broadcast in the field.
"We’re about to have our first big experiment," he said. "Coach Wiseman and Josh Peppas have decided they want to do something ‘creative’ for homecoming. We’re going to do a kind of a game day show, like [ESPN’s] College GameDay. About two hours before the game we’re going to set this up and we’ll also stream the game live. That’s the plan. When we use this for homecoming, it should bring a new dimension to the production."
After almost an hour-long broadcast, Edens wrapped up her interview with Brick Fields. The band posed for pictures with her and the three of the students, then packed up their instruments and left for their next destination. West returned to the control room, to experiment further with the TriCaster. "Ooooohhhhh," he exclaimed, adjusting different settings as Edens entered the room. "I kind of understand it a little better now. That’s camera position 1, 2, 3, and 4 for the same camera. This was on DVR, and DS-cable 2 was actually on stills, which is why when we tried something, it didn’t work. I didn’t figure that out until later, but I noticed that this one was on title so I just created the title here."
Looking over his shoulder as he demonstrated the camera positions, Edens nodded in understanding. "I really like this program, because it’s pretty intuitive," she said. While the experience from their first official simulcast is still fresh on their minds, Edens said that she and the students will continue to work with the new equipment, doing occasional simulcasts over the next few days as they test different features during daily radio broadcasts. She said these simulcasts will be shown on the KUOZ UStream channel, http://www.ustream.tv/channel/kuoz. She was enthusiastic about how well the first simulcast went, and like the students, is already envisioning other venues where the TriCaster can be put to use.
And what did the students running the TriCaster think? Maybe Snyder summed it up best of all. "This might be going on my wish list when I graduate!" he said, as West laughed in agreement.
Andrea Avalos snapped this picture as Susan Edens, Ozarks’ director of broadcasting, interviewed "Brick Fields" during KUOZ’s first radio/internet simulcast. To view the recording on UStream, go to http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/20174251.
Topics: Communication Studies