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Clear Channel opts for off-the-shelf systems
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Clear Channel may disapprove of Howard Stern's unconventional approach on the air, but it's all for pushing the envelope when it comes to technology. Clear Channel Senior Vice President and Director of Engineering says the broadcaster will focus on IP-connectable gear at this year's NAB.

"We're going to be looking less at tape decks and more at servers, IP, and Ethernet routers. Less at traditional XY routers and more at very intelligent rack gear," explains DeClue. "[We want] rack gear that has an IP address and can communicate with, be serviced and monitored via an IP network."

One IP-centric project is in master control. Clear Channel is replacing aging video servers with a homegrown solution that combines off-the-shelf computer hardware with control software from Prophet Systems, an automation vendor owned by the company. The system uses an Intel server chassis and compression cards from such vendors as Pinnacle to ingest and playout content in either MPEG or DV format. The first Prophet-based system will be installed in Clear Channel's Little Rock, Ark., facility later this month. The entertainment giant plans to eventually sell the solution to the general marketplace.

In news operations, DeClue says, Clear Channel has had its "first really strong experience with low-cost editing systems," such as Apple FinalCut and Adobe Premiere. While he thinks these systems provide great functionality for the price—less than half the cost of some professional nonlinear systems—their vendors need to improve sales and servicing. He would like vendors to consolidate customer records so they're not dealing with large customers on a workstation-by-workstation basis. "When Clear Channel says hello, they ought to know we're talking for 50 systems," says DeClue.

About 15% of Clear Channel's 40 stations use nonlinear editing for news, and a few use servers for news playout (a mix of Leitch, Grass Valley, and homegrown). One recent convert to nonlinear editing is ABC affiliate KTVX Salt Lake City, where Director of Engineering David Bird has foregone a large central storage server in favor of peer-to-peer networking.

"We had evaluated editing, storage, and servers," says Bird. "FinalCut made a nice inexpensive edit bay, but the shared storage was too expensive. So we've been waiting it out. The users have done peer-to-peer sharing, and we don't think we need it."

Instead, KTVX bought smaller hard drives and editors assign storage to each other via a phone call. Gigabit Ethernet networking technology allows both newsroom desktop users and field editors returning with their laptops to quickly plug into the storage for editing. Finished packages are still dubbed back to tape for playout, though that may change soon.

KTVX now uses Sony DVCAM units for acquisition and has tested Sony's new optical-based camera in the field. Bird says that Sony needs to refine the way the system stores video clips to make it more user-friendly for editors. But Clear Channel is not planning to purchase the new acquisition system this year, says Bird.

Clear Channel stations are currently equipped for HDTV pass-through, and DeClue doesn't expect to make any more major DTV investments.

"We're looking at various hi-def possibilities, but right now, that's not on fire for us," says DeClue. "It's not an enormous issue."