Spreading the Word with CBN, Part 1

Phil Peters, director of audio services for CBN, outlines the installation of a Calrec Artemis audio console. 6/16/2011 8:46 AM Eastern

Spreading the Word with CBN, Part 1

Jun 16, 2011 12:46 PM, with Bennett Liles

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Lots of live programming, music, shows, and news feeds from the field pour into CBN, the Christian Broadcasting Network, and their Virginia Beach production center. Into all this, a new Calrec Artemis audio console was introduced and CBN director of audio services Phil Peters has stopped by to give us a progress report. That's coming up next on the SVC podcast.
Phil, welcome to the SVC podcast. It's great to have you here from CBN—the Christian Broadcasting Network with the 700 Club, the CBN News and lots of other productions on CBN.

Glad to be here today Bennett. Thanks for having me. [Timestamp: 0:58]

And you made a big technical upgrade recently, but before we get into the details on that tell me a little about CBN and what all you do there.
Sure. Well, CBN, the Christian Broadcasting Network, we are celebrating our 50th year of being on the air coming this September, and we are based domestically in Virginia Beach, Virginia. We have a news bureau in Washington, D.C. and another facility in Nashville and we also have, internationally, approximately 15 satellite locations. Most of those have production facilities of some type or another and we do a mix of magazine style shows, some news, and some music. [Timestamp: 1:39]

Well it sounds like you stay busy. Now you recently just brought in a new digital audio console—the Calrec Artemis. What led up to that and what was the situation before you did the mixer upgrade?
We had another manufacturers' console in for about ten years which was a digital console. It really didn't perform to the level that we desired both in terms of functionality and reliability and were looking for a change and we demoed the Artemis…it's been about a year ago—back when they first introduced it and looked at that—looked at two other manufacturers very closely and in the end the Artemis came out on top. We actually…we installed it into our main production studio here in Virginia Beach. [Timestamp: 2:26]

All right, well I know that was a big occasion for the audio people, and that board has a number of features on it that I can imagine would be great for a broadcast audio mixer. You've got touch panels on it and some people have been a little wary of those, but in the past ten years or so they've evolved so that you don't have to navigate a bunch of menus to get anywhere, and they've gotten much closer to analog ease and functionality.
It's an extremely flexible layout. You've got a combination of the touch panels like you mentioned. There is computer interface that you use for certain routing functions and just memory backup—that sort of thing and the way it's laid…there's really several different user configurations that you can place the console into, some of which for guys that are on the other Calrec line mimics their hardware panels very closely and for some of my guys that had never been on a Calrec before, they were able to go in and custom build their own touch panel layouts that just work the way they want to work. [Timestamp: 3:35]

And of course one of the things that Calrec likes to talk about is the versatility of Bluefin2 signal processing in a very easily upgradeable form. What sort of edge does that give you in your broadcast application?
For us, I like to describe it as it's an audio router with a console attached…it's an 8000, over 8000-point router that gives you just a tremendous amount of flexibility. With broadcast, not only do you have feeds coming in, but I don't think a lot of people really realize in most situations how many outgoing feeds you have in terms of feeds to air, feeds to multi-track, feeds to intercom, feeds to IFB, and so for us, we actually purchased—it's the smallest of the Artemis line but it was almost double our previous count just in terms of track busing and input port pads and it's in a frame that's a third of the size of what we had previously. [Timestamp: 4:22]

Lots of features that you can set up and recall with a busy production schedule and lots going on, but let's go a little retro on this for a minute. You've got plenty of experience on this, what sort of basic features do you think are the most important to have on a broadcast mixer?
Well first of all it has to sound good. I think that really should go without saying, and then once you get into the digital aspect, being able to recall both a full show and also selective recall where if you just want to bring back…say you're doing several different bands on a particular show and all you want to do is recall the preamp control and maybe some EQ, so you can do that but leave the rest of your show intact and flexible output routing, as I mentioned before, just the number of feeds that any given show has requires a tremendous amount of flexibility in terms of how many groups you have, how many mains, how you source your IFBs—whether they can be pre/post or some combination. One of the really outstanding features on the Artemis is the track routing feature where typically you would have the ability to select a track…would be either a pre or post and they've come up with a really great way to take the same output track and essentially split it four different ways and each one of those four can be either pre or post and you have independent level control over each one, so it's a very easy way for us to source both IFB's and take the same output and also send it pre-fade to a multi-track. [Timestamp: 5:53]

And of course one of the big design challenges with all the digital features is to make it easy to learn and intuitive to operate like the analog boards and aim to combine the best of both worlds on it. So what was the learning curve on the Artemis when you got it installed and checked out and began to break people in on the Hydra 2 routing system?
The basic introduction for the guys…a few hours of sitting behind it. The input port patching, they have it laid out as a virtual patch cable so you actually have a icon of a patch from an input source and you virtually patch it to a channel and you do the same thing with the output side if you want to take a group and send it out somewhere—you virtually patch it on the screen so that part of it's pretty simple. Calrec's done a great job over the years of maintaining similar color coding, similar physical layout—even though it's a virtual console, it mimics their older analog desks so for guys that always know the reds are mains and blues are tracks, that same color scheme follows all the way through, and then obviously to dive into the deeper functions, we're still learning things even though we've had it up and running for a couple of weeks now. And the basic introduction is a few hours and you can be up and running, making some sound and we just continue to learn. [Timestamp: 7:14]

Spreading the Word with CBN, Part 1

Jun 16, 2011 12:46 PM, with Bennett Liles

And your operating crew, like anywhere else, has people of different experience levels. So what was their first reaction to it overall when they came in and saw this thing? Was there fear or excitement?
One of my guys has pretty much been an analog guy throughout his career, so for him, he looked at it and was, at first glance, taken aback and it's turned out that he's actually the strongest operator on it. It's been a great thing to see someone that has a very traditional background and yet has been able to adapt the work surface and adapt to this…little bit different way of thinking and he's just become a whiz on the console. So in terms of actual installation, we set up the desk for about a month in another area of the building and through the same fiber optics that we would use on the permanent install, we hooked it up and actually started building our show with the actual mics, with the tapes sources, so when the changeover day came it was almost as simple as physically unplugging the old desk and moving the Artemis down the hall into its permanent home. [Timestamp: 8:22]

Well I know you don't have much down time there as busy a production schedule as you have going—obviously communication is a big part of that. So how does the production crew communicate when you have everything going on?
We use the Adam matrix intercom for our main production intercom and then in terms of communication with the talent we've got some Lectrosonics IFB and also some of the BTR800 wireless intercom as well. [Timestamp: 8:47] Always a big plus when you need people to be able to roam freely from one set to another.

And of course, IFB with all the news format production that you do with anchor desk arrangements.

I would expect that with CBN and all the production with that type of format you have a lot of things happening on very short notice.
The news in particular, it's really become more and more Skype lately where we'll take in Skype feeds as well as satellite and then we have our news bureau, in D.C. as I mentioned earlier, we bring them in via Vivix. So we've constant communication back and forth over the Adam back and forth to the news bureau and through Skype. Just the short turn around…we do have for instance, the incident in Joplin with the tornados, we've had a crew from our humanitarian outreach out there and so we're doing daily interview segments with them both offline where we will record it and do a quick turn edit and then bring that back out to air. [Timestamp: 9:47]

So do you have any live music or any of that type of production going on at CBN?
We do. We typically host a band or two a month and then individual singers will come in periodically as well but it's not anything, I would say, on a permanently scheduled basis. [Timestamp: 10:03]

And I guess with as sophisticated a mixing situation with the Artemis console you have some sort of multi-track recording situation with the music shows? We do. We use Nuendo, Steinberg's Nuendo, throughout our facility for all of our audio multi-track needs so each of the control rooms has a full rig as well as our post rooms and we'll multi-track whichever music guest comes in and then re-mix…if it's same day—we'll remix it same day and hopefully get a little better product than what we had going out live to air. [Timestamp: 10:34]

And your audio people have this new console. They've gone through the training and everything but I'm always curious to know exactly how you handle audio and video monitoring for the sound operators. Some places you would think that they've got top-of-the-line stuff and it's almost like tin cans and a string and other places you might expect just the basics and they have a very well thought out monitoring system. I figure your sound people can switch video monitoring to be able to see anybody on the set or doing field stand ups?
Yes, we use large plasmas in each of the control rooms. We use the Evertz multiviewer to switch incoming feeds and then some individual smaller monitors with just a little punch and crunch video switcher that we can call up an individual camera or another control room if we wanted to do that. [Timestamp: 11:21]

I always found that a handy thing to have is a TV audio guide because just being able to checkout something as simple as somebody out there having their mic on and their IFB earpiece in…you can do it in seconds.
Well and for us lip sync is another issue with the conversion to digital D…video and audio sometimes don't travel together as much as people hope they do, and so having some type of preview allows us to check lip sync before we put a individual guest on air. [Timestamp: 11:5]

All right, well this is great taking a look inside and behind the scenes at CBN and how you do things with the new Calrec Artemis console. And Phil Peters from CBN. Thanks very much for stopping by and doing Part 1 with us and in Part 2 we'll get more into the production details at CBN but thanks for taking time to be with us.

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