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Tech­nol­ogy Advances and Major ABC TV Projects

The technology involved in my projects evolved over the 36 years I was at ABC.  It started out as purely analog.  The first audio control room I was involved in rebuilding (in 1980) had been installed in 1950 and still used vacuum tube amplifiers. Playback was from reel-to-reel tape, tape cartridges, turntables and two inch quadruplex video tape.  Audio was switched more often by relays than by "electronic" switches.  Audio transmission between distant facilities was by telco equalized radio lines.  Most audio systems were matched 600 ohm (or 150 ohm, as at ABC) power based designs. 

Technologies like AES audio, fiber optic interconnection, MADI, Ethernet, IP (especially IP audio and video streaming), digital storage and file based audio for the most part had not even be dreamed of, and were certainly not used in broadcasting.  Upgrades involved replacing or modifying equipment, not firmware downloads.  PCM and TDM were in use by the telephone companies but not yet in broadcast audio.  The Internet was in its infancy, in use for scientific research at a few educational institutions.  There was no WWW, email, or cell phone.  The personal computer was a kit that experimenters built at home.

Significant audio technologies and devices came and went:  DAT machines, DA88, ADAT and tape storage in general.  Time code synchronizers  to lock video and audio devices together.  Digital control surfaces for analog audio consoles. 

My involvement in audio systems has been one of constantly exploring and learning to use, and appropriately apply, new technology, while still understanding old technology.

Some of the major projects at ABC for which I was the lead systems engineer are:

  • The 2012 all-new purpose built audio facilities in TV7 and TV1 for The Katie Show (now being used for The View). The audio facilities include:
    • A 60 fader Studer Vista 9 digital audio console.
    • Two smaller Soundcraft digital consoles connected directly to the Studer via MADI links: One for music playback and editing, the other as a FOH console for the live audience.
    • Extensive use of MADI and fiber optics, and audio embedded in SDI video, supplementing traditional analog and AES audio interconnectivity.
    • A 288X288 Evertz EQX video router tied via TDM to an Evertz EMR audio router with a common router control system. This allows user transparent deembedding and embedding of SDI audio and reallocation of audio channels on the SDI video paths.
    • Audio from and to the studio floor, including 96 microphone/line inputs and 48 IFB outputs, handled by a Riedel Rocknet TDM distributed router system interfaced directly with the Studer and FOH Soundcraft consoles. Additionally there are MADI, analog and AES digital audio trunks.
    • An RTS Adam intercom tied to the Studer console via MADI.
    • Genelec digital audio monitors.
    • The facility also includes its own ProTools system and a 2 Tbyte ENCO DAD NAS based audio playout system for production music.

    The detail design, construction and commissioning of the entire project (video, audio, control and editing systems) was done by the systems integrator, The Systems Group.  As a member of the Disney/ABC project team, I was tasked by the project manager to be responsible for:

    • Determining the audio system needs and desires of our customer (The Katie Show).
    • Specifying and ordering the audio equipment.
    • Specifying the overall system design.
    • Reviewing and approving each of the detail installation drawings.
    • Onsite oversight of the construction, installation and wiring.
    • Working with the integrator and equipment vendors to commission the facility.
    • Resolving problems and issues with equipment and interfaces.
    • Training operators and maintenance personnel. 

    Much of the review and approval process was conducted using Internet based collaboration software and telephone conferences.  

  • The research, design, installation supervision and cutover of a new Cesium based video and GPS based time code master reference system for the entire ABC TV New York plant. This project also involved retiming significant portions of ABC’s release facilities to resolve long-standing timing issues and the redesign of their slave reference systems to improve system reliability.
  • The specification and installation of audio metering and loudness control equipment throughout ABC to comply with the “Calm Act”.
  • The design and installation of a considerable number of ProTools systems in ABC’s post production facilities, and a number of studios.
  • The design, installation, updating, and training for a number of large audio sweetening facilities from 1978 through the late 1990s. The largest two included 48 channel Neve VRP audio consoles with Massenberg automation, Adams-Smith Synchronizers/locators and 24 track Studer tape machines (later augmented with ProTools).
  • The design of the ABC net release control room TV5 (audio and video) in the 1990s, the last of ABC’s analog net release facilities.
  • The conversion of much of the analog ABC plant, including the network release and transmission facilities from mono to stereo, and then to Dolby Surround in the 1980s and 1990s. The provision of instructions and an adapter for affiliates to receive the stereo signal, even if they were broadcasting mono. Prior to that, the conversion from 5 KHz telco program circuits to diplexed subcarrier audio and eventually to satellite transmission.
  • The conversion of WABC’s master control GVG 1600 AFV switcher from mono to stereo, without ever taking it out of service for more than 20 minutes at a time.
  • The design, installation supervision and training for the new (1984) central facilities of the ABC radio network: This included a purpose built Data General “supermini” computer based playout automation system, and a custom software traffic front end for entering schedules and commercial playback logs.
  • The design, construction supervision and commissioning of a large number of audio control rooms throughout ABC, many rebuilt yet again over the years as technology advanced and equipment became obsolescent or unreliable. Frankly, I’ve lost count of how many facilities - I think seven, one rebuilt three times. They ranged from purely analog to, in the later years, digital; typically with both analog and AES digital inputs and outputs.  In 1995, one project involved the installation of ABC’s first large-format digital audio console, an SSL Axiom.  The Axiom not only used digital audio mixing, but also a version of TDM audio transmission that was a precursor to MADI (called HiWay) connecting to remotely located RIO connection interfaces.  That console remained in service, with some upgrades, until 2012 when the control room was gutted again and rebuilt for the Katie show (see above). After 1995, ABC New York never installed another analog large-format audio console. Every subsequent installation was digital.

At one time or another, I think I was involved with some project that touched every part of ABC’s New York plant.

All Contents Copyright 2015-2024 John Schmidt