Media and Entertainment
Refining the air waves
All India Radio is all set to compete with private radio
networks with a digital set-up using state-of-the-art technology to improve
transmission quality. by Kusum Makhija
All India Radio
As a public service broadcaster, the All India Radio (AIR)
has to churn out programmes catering to the diverse and vast populace of India.
In its endeavour to reach out to the widest possible audience, AIR has set up
a new broadcasting house with a fully digital studio. The initiative is in league
with the broadcasters efforts to improve transmission quality and to compete
with private radio networks.
AIR so far has largely been using analogue transmissions, leading to poor quality
signals. It was also facing problems of editing and maintaining records of data,
resulting in the processes becoming long and complicated.
To offset these limitations AIR set up a fully digital infrastructure at a
new broadcasting house. It was a 24x7 operations environment to provide uninterrupted
programmes to its listeners. The scale of IT deployment at AIR has been massive,
signifying a change in the way IT is perceived by public service bodies.
With privatisation of radio and increasing competition,
AIR technical facilities should match,if not be superior to, those of
overseas as well Indian private broadcasters
The IT initiative has helped the broadcaster achieve a 360-degree
improvement in its programme quality and has sped up its news gathering and
information processing flows. The endeavour has helped Yogendra Pal, Chief Engineer,
IT, AIR to win the Intelligent Enterprise 2005 Award in the media category.
Air Goes Digital
Its radio programmes are available to over 99 percent of the population in India
and in over 100 other countries. This requirement is met by a network of 337
transmitters at 215 stations spread across the country.
The main hub of activity is the Delhi station. Seven radio channels originate
from here for the listeners in and around Delhi. Parts of these programmes are
relayed by other stations of AIR as well.
Programmes of 27 foreign languages are produced in Delhi though these are relayed
from a number of transmitters spread across the country. News is one of the
important components of AIR programmes. 112 national news bulletins in 17 Indian
and 65 foreign languages are produced from Delhi.
A New Broadcasting House (NBH), with 26 transmission studios,
one emergency recording studio, master control room, and newsrooms, has been
set up to cater to the transmission requirements of all the Delhi channels,
external services, and news broadcasts of AIR.
Project: Setting up
a new fully-digital broadcasting house for 24x7 transmissions
Date started: March
Date completed: November
Project cost: Rs 56
To provide online programming, uninterrupted programmes, and paperless
The systems provide superior audio quality to radio listeners in stereo-mode.
Excellent quality radio programmes are also available directly to listeners
through transmission satellite
Heart Of The System
The heart of the system is the networked computer system for scheduling and
playback of audio programmes, online capture of newswires, production of text
and audio news files, and playback of news. About 150 computer workstations
have already been connected in the network, which has provision for network
management, virus protection and update and leased Internet connectivity. The
entire set-up is protected by UPSs.
Two sets of servers, one each for audio programmes and associated metadata,
have been installed. Servers are in a clustered configuration with external
storage in RAID. One computer workstation, with two professional audio processing
sound cards and professional scheduling or playback software, has been provided
in each of the studios. A standby workstation, with provision to keep audio
programmes of 24-hrs duration as per schedule, has also been provided in eight
important studios to take care of exigencies of network or server failures.
The newsroom has a provision for online capture and distribution of news wires
from six agencies, onto 35 computers. Correspondents can feed audio news clips,
from any part of the world, at any time, in manual as well as auto-modes. Elaborate
facility for recording and editing of sound bytes, preparation of news rundowns
consisting of text and audio files, transmission and archiving have also been
Provisions exist for working in different Indian and foreign languages and translation.
Last minute changes can also be made in the news rundowns and these are automatically
reflected onto the prompters installed in the news reader booths. Provision
has also been made for online receipt and distribution of fax, with OCR facility.
Technology At Work
AIR used server clustering to ensure a smooth flow of data. Audio as well as
the data servers are in one-plus-one clustered configurations. The standby server
automatically takes over in case an in-circuit server fails, thereby ensuring
uninterrupted broadcast. Both the server sets have their own attached storage
boxes. The storage is configured in RAID 5 to take care of disk failure.
DAT drives have been provided for data backup. However, a backup server, with
provision of bare metal recovery disk, is being installed so that the system
can be brought back into service quickly even by semi-trained personnel.
Internet access has been provided to a number of workstations. Virus detection
software has been installed on a separate server and every computer is automatically
checked for viruses. Virus updates are automatically downloaded.
An Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system is being installed so that journalists
can feed audio onto the computer server, from any part of the world, using passwords.
They will also be able to monitor the recorded feed, delete, and re-record functions.
Once recorded, the feed will be available on all the workstations installed
in the newsroom.
A conferencing facility that supports up to 12 callers at a time has been installed
in 10 studios to provide interactivity in the AIR programmes. Optical fibre
cables have been laid for interconnecting workgroup switches with the main switch
and also for signal flow between base devices of the digital routing switcher.
Innovation Is The Key
We are honoured to be recognised for our efforts to technically
excel in our field. Being a public service broadcaster, it is AIRs
responsibility to give the best quality content to our listeners. We are
using IT to leverage productivity and enhance quality to match up to the
standards laid down by our commercial competitors
Chief Engineer, IT
All India Radio
The NBH project of AIR is considered innovative as it matches
the requirements of new digital delivery modes. These systems provide high quality
stereo reception. Excellent quality radio programmes are also available through
satellite. The technical quality of transmission network of AIR should match
the requirements of these new delivery modes.
The broadcast set-ups are required to work round the clock these days.
It was kept in mind that the technical facilities for transmission should therefore
ensure availability of uninterrupted programmes all the times, says Pal.
With privatisation of radio in India and increasing competition, AIR technical
facilities should therefore match, if not be superior to those of overseas as
well Indian private broadcasters, in order to be competitive.
The initiative will benefit over 1,200 employees and millions of AIR listeners
all over the country and abroad with improved quality transmission.
The Benefits In The Air
- Mudra Communications for a Web-based Integrated
Transaction Business System for automation and integration of operations
The online easy availability of programmes will provide flexibility
in programming and speed of operation. There will be no gaps or breaks in transmission
as the programmes are available at one place. The system will also ease the
copy and the transfer of programmes for exchange. AIR is trying to create a
paperless newsroom operation with the speed of processing.
The availability of important statistics on what was played, when, how many
times, and on which station to access the popularity of programmes will be made
We expect operations to be simple as it would allow changes in the schedules
on the click of the mouse. The automation would enable starting of schedules
automatically at the pre-defined time for unattended operation, explains
Inter Linked With VPN
The facility of unattended operation is expected to be used to broadcast the
programmes, particularly at odd hours, without any human intervention so that
scarce man power resources can be utilised more effectively in other important
areas. It is proposed to provide similar transmission facilities at all the
state capitals and other big studio installations of AIR. Similar news set-ups
are planned to be provided at all the 44 regional news units of AIR.
All the major studio centres of AIR are being inter-linked using VPNs for ease
in programme exchange including news. AIR is planning to start Webcasting of
AIR programmes so that computer users world over can access these programmes,
as and when required. Provision to download the programmes may also be given.
Webcasting will be very easy as the programmes are available on computer servers.