John Schmidt
Audio/​Video Systems
Design and Consultation

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.