Nautel AUI Eases Remote Control
Radio World, John Huntley, CE, Townsquare Media, 10.27.2016
ROCKFORD, ILL. — When Townsquare Media purchased a Nautel NX5 for WROK(AM) at the end of last year, it joined another Nautel transmitter at our cluster. Both the NX5 and the J1000 have been highly reliable. I am pleased with the many levels of control and settings that are available through the AUI for the NX5 and a VS-1 recently added as an IPA to sister station WZOK’s existing FM transmitter.
The NX5 can be controlled several ways. The front panel is a simple but limited interface. It has hard-wired but programmable command inputs and status indications as well as hard-wired analog metering for a traditional remote control. I prefer to use Nautel’s Advanced User Interface, which in the NX5 is done exclusively via computer. I am told that the larger models have a front-panel touchscreen. There are many features available through the AUI that are not accessible through the front panel. Setup of the hard-wired command and status is best done using the AUI.
I keep an instance of the AUI open in a tab in Firefox on my work desktop. The AUI is browser-agnostic but requires Adobe Flash player to be viewed. This link allows me to see everything that is happening with the transmitter.
I particularly appreciate two real-time features. The first is the Smith Chart feature. It was extra valuable when we added a T-Mobile site onto one of the WROK(AM) towers a few months ago. It was an additional check on the work done by the consultant. I use the Smith Chart to verify the real-time match between the NX5 and the phaser.
The second feature is a real-time spectrum analyzer. I can see the effects of the changes to audio processing by viewing the real-time transmitted signal sampled at the output of the transmitter.
I also control the NX5 via a Burk ARC-16 and their Autopilot 2010 program. The NX5 was installed adjacent to the rack that has the computer for the Autopilot program. I have remote access to that computer and a browser with an instance of the AUI is nearly always kept active on it.
WROK alternates between the NX5 for the daytime directional pattern and the J1000 for a lower-power nighttime nondirectional signal. We let the Burk Autopilot change the pattern on a timed basis. Both the NX5 and the J1000 have capability of timed changes. Both are programmed for power changes on a timed basis. I use NTP (for accurate time) in the NX5. The J1000 lacks NTP capability and I reset its internal clock quarterly. I have an inexpensive GPS-based NTP server on the local network. Setting the timed changes in power was much easier with the AUI than with the front panel of the J1000. I will admit that it only needed done once. I appreciate the feature.
I do have several ways to get to the NX5 remotely, but not via a smartphone. Nautel says they are working on that issue as part of their philosophy of “continuous improvement.”
Nor do I access the NX5 directly via the internet. I have a son who works for Symantec, and he would abuse me verbally if I did that! Townsquare corporate IT will be deeply involved in any decision for direct access via the internet. Nautel has stressed the need for internet security for transmitters, noting that many people operate their systems without firewalls and/or they fail to change the passwords from defaults. This is simply a way of inviting hackers to take over their stations.
I use the silence alarm in the AUI to provide notification for the NX5 and also on a VS1 on WZOK(FM). The VS1 is installed as an exciter/PA in a BE FM20B. I have configured notifications in the AUIs to email and SMS text multiple staff members of silence notifications. What is missing is a notification of the return of audio as well. Both the brand managers (formerly known as “program directors”) and I are notified of silences in excess of 35 seconds. Even though the silence notifications are somewhat cryptic, both the operations manager and the VP of revenue (manager) requested to know when silences happen. To know when programming returns would be very helpful for them (and me!). I have asked Nautel that this be considered as a feature in the next major firmware release.
The AUI home page is what I have open in a browser on my desktop computer. I should mention that I have two monitors on my desktop. Several items in the home page can be configured in real time. I have the Smith Chart zoomed in at 200 percent. I have changed the span of the real time spectrum analyzer to a narrower range that I prefer. I have the transmitter meters that I find valuable to me displayed on the home screen.
Nautel support recently worked with me to resolve an inability of the NX5 to add users to the notification. As these transmitters are controlled by embedded firmware, I have always known that it is only a matter of time until “bugs” arise. The problem has been resolved.
I appreciate Nautel’s responsiveness to our requests; it’s nice to have a manufacturer who listens and works with us on issues.
The only negative I have to mention is inherent in the embedded firmware nature of the transmitter. When I put a firmware update into the NX5, I plan on a minimum of 30 minutes of operation on another transmitter. The upgrade takes the necessary time to do it correctly. I have the capability at WROK of operating ND daytime at 1 kW during the firmware update. I am very thankful for the foresight of Norman Phillips, the VP of engineering to whom I reported. He is retiring shortly; his experience and encouragement have helped us all.