Radio Automation Systems
Radio Automation Systems

Radio automation is a way for radio stations to handle music scheduling, traffic, and to do hands-free operation. Radio Automation will now allow KWSC-FM to go 24-hours a day, but solidify the music rotation and teach students about how most stations are now run. This includes music formatting, voice tracking, traffic, live assist and hot keys within a shift.

When looking for a new radio automation system for Wayne State Radio, There were many factors to consider. Price, service packages, completeness and most importantly---could the software do what we needed it to do without a lot of fuss.

The two types of radio automation systems are turnkey hardware-based systems and software-based systems. While the hardware solution is solid as a rock because the computers are built for the system resulting in few errant driver problems, hardware solutions are expensive. Generally hardware systems start at $10,000 and averages about $ 20,000. The hardware solution were genrally used in older stations and most new stations looking for automation are turning to software because home computing power is robust enough to handle the new software.

For radio automation software, your PC should be at least a Pentium 3 and 600 Megahertz with 512 megs of RAM. The high RAM number is to ensure smooth playback of audio files and to avoid disk swapping for the RAM hungry audio programs. For music on hard drive (MOHD), the computer should also have a large hard drive, 100 gigs or better at 7600 RPM. Also, after importing all of the music, don't forget to defrag the drive to avoid stuttering. The PC also needs a multi-channel sound card like the SoundBlaster series.

I looked at about 20 radio software automation programs. And eliminated many right off the bat for a few reasons---price, no voice tracking, too many module upgrades, hidden, continual service fees, foreign-made or out of date, not networkable or other missing elements. I was looking for a complete package out of the box that allows for expansion if necessary. The expansion elements include internet rebroadcasting with logs, satellite intergration and a more robust traffic capablity. Here's a sampling of a few of the systems I previewed.

The first program is the most inexpensive, costing only $150. Tunetracker would be a good solution for the home radio or internet station DJ with an extra PC. The biggest flaw with the program is that it runs on the BeOS platform. Although BeOS was developed to handle media files, this free operating system died a few years ago. So, Tunetracker would not be networkable to the production room. On the upside, the interface is very clean and you can order a whole system with computer for $ 1,000. The software does not include a CD ripper, any production elements, or internet or satellite expansion.

I did see the next program, Simian used at a few college stations. Simian is relatively inexpensive, at about $500, but requires a $99 a month service fee. Simian does include voice tracking and internet use, has a nice interface, is networkable, and overall a simple piece of software. The downside is the ongoing payments, lack of a production element, no music or traffic modules and other missing elements.

Of the other radio automation software, MusicMaster was too expensive and underpowered. Maestro involved buying a lot of add-ons to have any functionality with still some elements missing. Digital Juke Box was just plain too expensive, although it was an all-in-one solution. The DRS2006 has a nice interface but is essentially lots of little programs. Nautilus is a bare-bones Hungarian program. Myriad is an English program that is overpriced and is a more hardware-oriented solution. The Selector system is probably the oldest automations system. It's DOS-based and I've worked with it, the Selector system is very clumsy and hard to use.

So, what software did I decide on?

The Generation 4 Automation System. And after talking with the sales rep on the phone, I found there's a 10 % discount for colleges, making the price around $1200 for the system. There are some cavets, I do need to purchase a music scheduling and trafficing programs. This company does make them. Each module is $200. The sales rep even suggested that I talk to Music One for music scheduling. While program is fantastic, it's $1500 or a $60 a month lease. I can go with a simpler music scheduler and traffic module. One of the big draws of this system is that it comes with production tools. So what is made with the editor can be outputted directly to the automation system. To have two production rooms covered, the price is an extra $100 to liscense. The program also has a CD ripper, internet support, satellite support, and a feature I like that the other automation systems did not have, a live hotkey set-up. This means that DJ's can assign sounds to a hotkey and have a set-up just for their show. News can use this for soundbites and even theater could use this for stage productions. The program is networkable and has voice tracking. It has a segue editor and has live break-in and fade-out. This means bed music stops on a dime before the next event. It also automates the BMI/ASCAP process by generating logs and creating any internet index for proof of play. The music scheduler includes a customizable hotclock and up to 36 catagories for music and spots. The traffic program integrates the music logs and breaks and even has a rate card. While a non-profit organization doesn't need a rate card per se, we can use this to track all underwriting and show to clients.

So, the program, in it's entirety costs $1700 with no monthly service charges. This does not include soundcards or extra RAM for the computer.

My goal is a fully automated station by next semester. This means live assist throughout the day and automation overnight. This also means we can lock away the CD's because all of the music will be on the hard drive. If we can afford large drives for the production studios, this would be nice because the program can mirror the music so we never lose it. And all of the program logs and music ripping can be accomplished in a prod room. The capabilities of KWSC-FM are now greater than many of the local radio stations. This is a new chapter in K-92 history.