Categories: Case Studies

Sharjah Radio deploys digital audio archive

On-air broadcasting area.

Sharjah Radio recently took delivery of a dira! digital audio archive solution that was designed, developed, installed and integrated by German manufacturer and systems integrator SCISYS. BroadcastPro ME brings you an exclusive case study

In June 2012, Sharjah Radio undertook the installation of a dira! digital audio archive solution along with SCISYS at its facility. The audio archive solution complements a dira production and playout system that was deployed by SCISYS at Sharjah Radio a year ago.

The two solutions have been seamlessly integrated and will enable Sharjah Radio to retain an audio repository for frequently used items in radio production and playout; preserve audio content produced daily by Sharjah FM and in the long run, replace Sharjah FM’s present CD-based audio library.

“Sharjah Media Corporation’s (SMC) present audio library is purely CD based,” explains Dr. Khalid Omar Al Midfa, director of Sharjah Radio and TV.

“The CD library will be ingested step-by-step to the dira digital audio archive. In the meantime, content that is created with the dira production and playout system is already being transferred in a fully automated process to the audio archive. Once all of that audio is ingested, the new digital audio archive solution will enable SMC to protect and conserve 40 years of audio heritage created by Sharjah Radio since its launch in 1972.”

The new project includes redundant storage units with sufficient capacity for 40,000 hours of linear audio connected to the previous system for audio management, asset metadata and central scheduling services; two ingest workstations to ingest and edit audio and metadata entries including software packages for the import of audio directly from CDs and for writing audio on CDs; and dira Multi-site and Connect functionality for seamless integration and data exchange between the production, playout and audio archive systems.

The audio archive solution integrates seamlessly with the existing broadcast environment with a RAID-protected central database for metadata and schedules; and another for central audio production storage along with redundancy for both.

Nine production and programme planning workstations are part of this project. Four are being utilised for production and audio editing, import of audio and editorial functions and metadata handling; while two workstations are allocated for the creation of on-air schedules and three additional workstations enable the supervision of programme content.

A new studio area includes workstations in a fail-safe setup for automatic, semi-automatic and manual on-air playout including on-air cross-fade preparation software as well as for off-air pre-production; two playout workstations for on-air live broadcasting including connectivity to Studer on-air mixing consoles and one dira Autorecorder workstation for recording up to two stereo channels simultaneously.

SCISYS was also responsible for procuring all of the relevant hardware components required for factory assembly and integration.

“Initially, we anticipated a delay owing to supply shortages caused by the floods in Thailand, which led to unpredictable delivery times for storage media,” explains Wael Yasin, sales and key account manager, Media Broadcasting Solutions, SCISYS.

“But we had a flexible project management style that helped address those issues and deliver the project a week ahead of schedule.”

The system was pre-configured at SCISYS’ factory site in Bochum, Germany. Most of the required modifications to the radio production and automation system were prepared in advance using a remote connection.

After shipment, the SCISYS project team came down to Sharjah for on-site installation and final configuration of the equipment.

All of the servers, storage technology and workstations utilised for this project are based on HP components while the dira software has been developed by the Media Broadcasting Solutions division of SCISYS Deutschland GmbH.

Two HP Proliant DL 380 G7 servers host the dira Archserv database for metadata, its Schedserv database for schedules and an internal Mediaserv storage for audio in redundant configuration for the dira production and playout system. This solution is run on a Windows platform.

With regards to the audio archive system, the server hosts a second instance of dira Archserv in redundant configuration. On a standard basis, both servers split up the functionality between themselves (server 1 serves Archserv and Mediaserv requests while server 2 serves Schedserv and Mediaserv requests). In case of an outage, however, one server will automatically take over all functionality from the other.

Two HP D2600 storage arrays are used for storage for the dira digital audio archive. The initial configuration sees 36 TB per enclosure offered in RAID 5 configuration with 24 TB net capacity in redundant configuration.

A key element of this project was integrating dira’s production and playout system with the new archive solution.

“This integration enables our staff to search, browse and access content from both databases, and easily transfer it to their own work space,” explains Mohamed Khalaf, head of Sharjah Radio.

“dira Multisite provides seamless access to both the audio archive and the production and playout system. Multisite transparently groups one or more secondary dira instances onto the local workspace of our staff. In this case, the production and playout system plays the role of a home site and the audio archive becomes a remote site.”

It allows working on the other site as if it was the home system. Based on the set of user rights enabled, it allows searching, browsing and creating content on the selected site without limitations.

The secondary site at Sharjah FM is the archive system which can be accessed from the production system, according to the defined rights structure. The search criteria covers the entire range of relational search that is supported in dira Highlander.

dira Connect enables the automatic exchange of content between both databases by making use of transfer folders. When users drop content into a transfer folder for export, content will be automatically transferred into the other database as well according to pre-defined rules.

One element that has been key to this installation has been ensuring a common user interface for all different applications.

“Instead of separate user interfaces and applications for various content types such as spoken word and script items, the dira system here presents a single, unified front end to all media stocks without sacrificing any metadata quality.

“Highlander allows for an arbitrary number of metadata sets through the definitions of views on the audio material and secondary items that include presenter texts and notes,” explains SCISYS’s Yasin.

With all items sharing the superset of all metadata internally, Highlander only provides the user with information actually valid for the item – in a user-configurable view that can present the most valid information first. So, a religious song, can for example, show the artist and author first while a commercial spot can show the advertiser and the times to run it as some of the most prominent data fields.

The actual metadata set available to an item is determined when creating it, by selecting an appropriate, pre-defined template for the piece. The actual amount of data on any template is determined by the customer.

Having the audio and its annotation stored is, however, only the first step, says Yasin.

Finding and using it is the process that really counts.

“To enable global, easy retrieval, the standard, flat audio store architecture has been replaced with a nested, Explorer-like store configuration that can be browsed. Also, the filters and searches can exceed the boundaries of a store, thus making it possible to find material wherever it may exist in the system with just one query,” Yasin adds.

After finding the material, a helpful step is to organise it into a project store. Journalists can collect as many different materials as they require in one place.

A sophisticated rights management feature allows users to see only the stores relevant for their work. Audio elements are only transferrable to the next working step depending on their process status.

Once an item is cleared for transmission, it is also automatically transferred to the archive import store if it has not been archived before. Here, it will await the completion of any missing metadata information before it is finally moved to its final archive destination.

In the meantime, archived content that needs to be rebroadcast can be transferred to playout and production using dira Multisite’s drag and drop functionality in dira! Highlander.

Sharjah Media Corporation’s project manager Wigdan Nassr-Abd Alrahman, adds that Arabic-language support was a vital part of this solution.

“Multi-language support of the software including Arabic language and related right-to-left workflows was mandatory. This solution supports English and Arabic end to end. In addition, because of the seamless nature of this environment, it appears as if our users are working on one database only, although they are actually working on two separate platforms.”

The solution is entirely disc-based, Yasin of SCISYS adds, explaining that it relies entirely on online media.

“Unnecessary delay times in data retrieval as known from tape based solutions have been avoided as a result. Further, this solution is scalable in terms of storage and eases potential migrations to next generation storages without the need to access external offline media.”

With this system, the default audio format within Sharjah Radio’s archive system is set to a linear audio format with a sample rate of 48 kHz and a word width of 16 Bit.

“The audio created in the dira radio production and playout system is produced in linear audio quality. Therefore, we need not undertake any further conversion before the audio is transferred to the archive storage. Ingested audio CDs and other audio content are automatically transcoded from their source format to a linear audio format with a sample rate of 48 kHz and a word width of 16 Bit during import,” adds Khalaf.

Prior to procuring the new solution, an interim archive storage was created in the dira production and playout system at Sharjah Radio. The aim was to complement the radio production workflow with an adequate repository for content that was already broadcast, enabling easy migration to a long-term archiving solution and implementing workflows that can be applied in a single production environment as well as when an archive solution is deployed.

In addition to this, metadata was a key element of this installation, explains SCISYS.

“At the design stage itself, it was mandated that specific metadata fields must be completed during archiving. The overall workflow ensures that all content will contain the mandatory metadata information before they are reused for say, further playout,” explains Yasin.

It took SCISYS 14 days to implement the solution on site. During this period, training was conducted in both Arabic and English for the end user.

The system went live on June 26 after the user was trained and the audio was migrated from the interim archives to its final archive destination.

“The project was successfully delivered to budget and to schedule,” says project manager Alrahman.

“We were happy with the on-site installation and configuration, the training that was delivered in both Arabic and English and the final hand-over, which was accomplished within two weeks of on-site work,” she adds.

Sharjah Radio’s playout system can now be scaled up not just at one site between one and several thousand users but also across various multiple sites connected across the country and even the globe. Each broadcast site also doubles up as a disaster recovery site.

“Everything we have undertaken here with the new system is designed to be scalable and has been future proofed,” says Dr. Midfa.

“We have plans to expand our radio operation. As we increase our efficiencies with the new system, we will be able to reallocate our human resources to establish new services without additional operational staff.”

Vijaya Cherian: Vijaya Cherian is Group Editor of the Broadcast Division at CPI Media Group, Dubai. She has spent the last ten years writing about the Middle East broadcast market from a technical and trade point of view. Vijaya is presently one of the judges for the IBC Innovation Awards.