Is there an affordable, Solid Automation System?

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amradioperson
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Is there an affordable, Solid Automation System?

Post by amradioperson » Wed Jan 20, 2016 7:28 am

We are a standalone AM station. I'm looking for a reasonably priced, easy to learn, bug free automation system. Does one exist? We currently use DJB II, but their tech support leaves a lot to be desired. Don't want to pay $100 forever with Arakkis. We do a few live shows, the rest of the day is satellite delivered programs. Simian looked good until I saw the annual support fee. We're in the middle of the country, so emergency part delivery would not be a problem. Any suggestions?

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Dale H. Cook
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Re: Is there an affordable, Solid Automation System?

Post by Dale H. Cook » Wed Jan 20, 2016 7:51 am

amradioperson wrote:I'm looking for a reasonably priced, easy to learn, bug free automation system.
There is no such thing as a bug-free automation system. As a rule expect to pay top dollar for minimal bugs. The cost of experienced debuggers is high - they have to know what to test and how to test it in order to try to break a program. Really thorough debugging seems to be getting harder to find.
amradioperson wrote:We're in the middle of the country, so emergency part delivery would not be a problem.
Parts will not be your problem - program support will be your problem unless you pay for it.

The only alternative that I see to paying for a quality automation problem is to forget automation and staff the control room 24/7.

Simian has been very reliable for some of my small customers, but for that to be the case you need to use the hardware that is supported by the program. For any automation system to have long-term reliability you need someone in-house or with remote management capability and who also has extensive experience with that program. My small customers have my ~20 years of experience with Simian and its predecessor, Wavestation.

Automation systems are just like broadcast hardware - if you try to cheap out you will have problems. Major players don't buy Nautel transmitters because they have deep pockets - they buy them for reliability, performance, and short-term and long-term support. For the same reasons they buy top-end automation systems. If I owned a radio station I would probably go with AudioVault because I have more experience with that system (at four stations and for many years going back to the original version that ran on Windows for Workgroups 3.11) than with all other automation systems combined.
Dale H. Cook, Contract Engineer, Roanoke/Lynchburg, VA
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TPT
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Re: Is there an affordable, Solid Automation System?

Post by TPT » Wed Jan 20, 2016 8:00 am

Every automation system has a steep learning curve. Helps to have played with one before, though. We've used Simian for years (2004)--and Wave Station before that. Presently using it on three stations, two satellite programmed (soon to go over to STORQ), and one live half the day, music on hard drive the rest of the day. I've also installed Simian at a high school FM station (900 watts), a community college low power FM and a B-1 classical/jazz station at a local college.

The base Simian you need is the Simian Pro, for $1,499. You do not need to buy a fully assembled system--you can install everything yourself. You do not need the ongoing service contract; they give you a free year of service. All of the "parts" come from outside distributors (such as Broadcast Supply West) which can get you replacements in a couple of days, if needed. Hence around $3,000 will buy a reliable and very versatile system.

OK--If you go with Simian you will need a good consumer computer with lots of RAM and good sized hard drive. It will run on Windows 10, but we are using Windows 7/32 bit. We've used refurbished computers from MicroCenter with good results---usually runs around $350 for the computer. When you install Simian you install a "dongle" (USB key) to activate the program. If the computer crashes, (I had one crash on Saturday morning)--you just move the dongle over to another computer & re-install.

Sound Card: Audio Science 15211 (which is a PCI express card)--you will need this to take advantage of the seque functions--about $700.
Control: For receiving net-cues from your satellites--use this device: http://www.mccdaq.com/usb-data-acquisit ... 24-37.aspx ($99); a CIO-Mini37 board ($99)--which gives you a nice terminal board to make your connections, and a 37 pin D-connector cable.
If you need switching of audio sources another option is the Broadcast Tools switchers recommended by BSI, they are around $300 & handle both the incoming net cues and program line switching.

Logging/Traffic, etc. Final point to remember is that you will need to integrate your automation system with your traffic/billing computer (and maybe music logging, if you have long music segments). We use Natural Log and Natural Music, but have used Selector with Simian for music. Both work well interface easily.

dbuckley
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Re: Is there an affordable, Solid Automation System?

Post by dbuckley » Wed Jan 20, 2016 2:22 pm

At our little community station we recently switched to the StaionPlaylist suite and its working for us. Its running on Windows/10 on a new machine, with an AudioScience output card. It has not yet failed, though it went silent once due to a playlist programming error. So, so far it is "solid", and it is affordable.

For me, radio is a hobby, people pay me do do IT. Here's the thing; in the realms of affordability and commonality, there is no such thing as a computer system that wont stop. Simian may have been running their demo for two years,but that's two years of an unpatched machine, which represents a risk in its own right. Running apparently forever non-stop may be a good advertisement for reliability, but that doesn't make it a sensible thing to do.

Our station is currently the usual community thing of (almost) one of everything, and thus is a chain of single points of failure. But there are two playout machines, the backup unit has Zara free edition on it, so we can take down the main machine for maintenance, and most folks won't notice.

Most annoying and common problem with Windows machines is where microsoft networking is involved, and windows loses a connection to something and stalls. Make the machine as stand alone as possible, especially not having shares imported.

Finally, as all systems stop sometime, on my shopping list i have a Deva DB8000, intended to cover if we have an unattended playout PC failure, mixer failure etc.

TPT
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Re: Is there an affordable, Solid Automation System?

Post by TPT » Wed Jan 20, 2016 5:08 pm

Because of the high volume of files shuttling in and out, you will need to defrag a Simian computer periodically. Other than that, we've not had any serious problems with continuous operation. Every so often, a computer will die. They are fragile beasts--we just toss the carcass outside in the snow and put another one in.

You will need to have the system on your house network--unless you enjoy walking over new spots, daily logs, etc. & loading them off a thumb drive.
Also, many programs are going to ftp delivery, so the computer will need to talk to the internet. We use Radio Spider to load our ABC newscasts from an FTP server, for example.

However, Simian is not dependent upon the network...It will run quite happily by itself.

ChuckG
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Re: Is there an affordable, Solid Automation System?

Post by ChuckG » Wed Jan 20, 2016 6:29 pm

Rivendell is a mature, stable system and it's free. Developed for the Salem Radio Network. It runs on LInux, not windows.
http://www.rivendellaudio.org/
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Bill DeFelice
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Re: Is there an affordable, Solid Automation System?

Post by Bill DeFelice » Thu Jan 21, 2016 5:49 am

I too have been using StationPlaylist since I discovered it over a decade ago and, funny enough, was used to get out from under using the Barcus-era Digital Jukebox. I had it in a closet operating a station of three months without attention and it even kept playing in spite of a programming error on my part. Considering it's running on Windows I was pleasantly surprised I never had to reboot the box it was on during the three months of unattended operation. I have a colleague that also purchased it for their LPFM and they've been totally pleased.

I knew there were many systems out there that might be more polished and with more features but it's worked a treat for me. I also used it with a high school station and the students picked it up quite easily.

While 9 years old now, I authored the original review of StationPlaylist for Radio World, StationPlaylist Marries Studio, Creator.
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Shane
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Re: Is there an affordable, Solid Automation System?

Post by Shane » Thu Jan 21, 2016 11:20 pm

At $1,499 I think Simian is the same price as it was 10 years ago. Who does that?

I was a (very satisfied) Wavestation user from about 2000, when we put together a simple two computer set up but which was also tied into other existing computers storing audio, auto recording and editing and such.

The total cost for the system, including the PCs from an independent supplier, the GPI/GPO gizmo, some auxiliary expenses I can't recall at the moment, and one copy of Wavestation running in control plus a free production only version in production was around $6,000. Which is about exactly what TPT said you'd spend at $3,000 per machine.

Interesting trivia: in 2004 Storq sold new mgmt. on one of their systems with similar hardware. When they had a miserable time with it one of the owners said, take it off the air and put the old system back! Then he hired me back to see if I could get it working because I had had some experience with Storq.

I never thought to ask how much they were going to be paying (I thought it was already bought). I stumbled across the invoice one day and it said $43,000. Had a serious chat with the owners that they would be crazy to spend this kind of money and in fact what I really found out was that there was nothing really wrong with the Wavestation requiring replacement. In fact, the way Wavestation (and I believe Simian is the same) handles audio ingest, ANY other system would have been a step backwards for us at the time so we'd also be increasing workload.

I do find it interesting that for some time now - well before I started dealing with them - they have been owned by Cumulus. For anyone who hasn't kept a score card, Storq was invented by Waitt Radio Networks which was here in Omaha at the time. (Having support people a couple miles down the road was probably a selling point). WRN was bought by Dial Global (who closed the Omaha facility and proceeded to run things into the ground -but I digress). Dial Global, I think after merging with Westwood One was then bought out by Cumulus!

So Cumulus wound up with both BSI and Storq, which I never cease to be amazed at, and that in the process Cumulus never managed to screw up BSI as far as I can tell!

I've heard people complain about BSIs support but I never really understood why. Maybe it was because I never really had to talk with them! Email support was all I really needed and the one time we had the main computer crash and burn, they had us a new key (not dongles then) within an hour to install on another unit.

This Wavestation business was all in the days of Windows 98SE and then 2000 Pro and Turtle Beach sound cards (had to change to something else for W2000 though). The Turtle Beach cards were amazing. They could do anything: segue, play 10 files at once out of one output if you wanted, mix sample rates (never understood how or why THAT worked), and even mix .wav and .mp3 although we tried not to do that very often. Too bad they stopped making drivers after W98.

After another ownership change a corporate decision was made to switch to ENCO. ENCO is not like they used to be - they're better. Once I got the hang of it, I have come to like it quite well although it sometimes does mysterious things. The best thing now is how scalable they are. You can have a two PC setup or many workstations and servers, and the prices are very competitive.

Still, I keep a copy of Wavestation loaded on a machine in the back just in case! (Not Simian only because we never sprang for the upgrade.)
Mike Shane, CBRE
---Omaha---

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Re: Is there an affordable, Solid Automation System?

Post by TPT » Fri Jan 22, 2016 3:34 pm

Yes, we just got a couple of STORQ computers for our WW1 services--shipped from BSI. Which is now owned (once again) by Cumulus.

We will be running the STORQ boxes as sources to the Simian automation, since we air other syndicated programs part of the day on both stations.
Already have Simian talking back and forth to the STORQ machine on one station--the other will need some serious re-wiring since the big rack mount STORQ box will have to go in a rack & be controlled remotely over the house network.

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Shane
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Re: Is there an affordable, Solid Automation System?

Post by Shane » Sat Jan 23, 2016 3:33 pm

That sounds like a good setup!
Mike Shane, CBRE
---Omaha---

Ray
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Re: Is there an affordable, Solid Automation System?

Post by Ray » Sun Jan 24, 2016 4:29 pm

I recently started a new LPFM. I must have spent more time looking at automation software than any other aspect of the station. This is not something I wanted to get wrong since the learning curve is steep and the time investment is large. I spent lots of time at NAB, Radio Show, and any other event I could find with the vendors looking at most the popular software for an intuitive product that was less than a few thousand dollars. It finally came down to Station Playlist and DJB. We wound up getting the $999 DJB special they have for a separate on-air and production license. We also bought Radio Spider for program injest. So far, both have been bullet-proof. I usually get email responses to questions within 24 hours from DJB. They have also been very good to spend significant time with us at the shows to answer questions and provide informal training. Ray

aleksklikfm
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Re: Is there an affordable, Solid Automation System?

Post by aleksklikfm » Mon Feb 08, 2016 5:21 am

We have been using StationPlaylist and I would recommend it to anyone. The learning curve may be long a bit, but there's nothing we wanted to do with our programming that SPL had not been able to schedule and play. That's why I think it wins the features/price ratio race. In my opinion, the weakest part is commercials scheduling, which is indeed possible, but with almost zero options.

But the lack of traffic scheduling can be easily fixed. We've discovered that AdMaster traffic scheduler fits exactly where StationPlaylist is weak. It's a stand alone software (also works with other automation suites), we could easily afford the price even though we work in very small market, and we've installed it at our Sales guys office. As of then, the sales people manage and schedule the entire traffic behind their closed door, and the StationPlaylist inserts the ad breaks in fully unattended mode.

My vote goes to StationPlaylist combined with AdMaster.

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