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Issue of November 2005 
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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

Yogendra Pal
Chief Engineer,IT
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 broadcaster’s 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.

The Intelligent Edge

Project: Setting up a new fully-digital broadcasting house for 24x7 transmissions

Date started: March 2002

Date completed: November 2004

Project cost: Rs 56 crore

Project objectives: To provide online programming, uninterrupted programmes, and paperless newsroom operation

Project innovation: 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 made.

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 AIR’s 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

Yogendra Pal
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 Benefit’s In The Air

Other Nominee In The Media Category
  • Mudra Communications for a Web-based Integrated Transaction Business System for automation and integration of operations processes.

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 possible now.

“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 Pal.

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.

 
     
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