New “Systems Alert Monitor” Keeps Station Personnel Informed

The For many years, one component of a typical radio station studio was some kind of “alert box”: a device that could let the DJ or board operator know that “something important” was happening. Important things like the station was off the air, or the audio failed, or an EAS message was received, or the request line was ringing, or there was someone at the door after-hours. In the days of “one station, one air studio”, the DJ might be alerted with something as simple as a light bulb or a buzzer in the studio.

Then consolidation took over, and suddenly we had large studio complexes housing multiple radio stations with dozens of studios. Instead of having to watch over one air signal, there were several, with lots of parameters and conditions for personnel to monitor: multiple transmitters, program streams, phone lines, STLs, and so on. Many stations used fixed-message visual alert devices, but even the multiple-message units were less than ideal where equipment and systems were often changed or updated. Either you didn’t have enough messages, or it was difficult to change the message when the equipment or systems being monitored was changed. In today’s world, nothing stays the same for very long!

It was time to retire the old “light bulb alert box”. What is needed for today’s studio complex is a device that (a) can monitor lots of gear simultaneously, (b) provides easy-to-see visual alerts when there’s something that needs attention, (c) can be easily updated as monitoring needs change, and (d) can provide multiple ways of alerting personnel.

With these goals in mind, we created a new way to keep a watchful eye on your station and its hardware. It’s the new Systems Alert Monitor, a video-based device that monitors up to 15 status inputs, and provides an instant visual, audible, and/or email indication if anything goes wrong or needs attention by station personnel. The Systems Alert Monitor (SAM) consists of a Status Interface Unit which generates “alert” text messages that are displayed on a video monitor. Because the system is software-based, the text of the alert messages can be easily changed or reconfigured as necessary.

SAMs Status Interface Unit has 15 “Alert” inputs for monitoring your facilities equipment and systems. The Alert inputs can be wired to virtually anything that provides some kind of status or fault signal. For example, the station air monitor would provide a fault signal if the carrier goes off the air. A silence-sensor would provide a fault signal if the station lost audio or lost a channel. EAS receivers provide an output when an EAS message is received. Or your transmitter remote control system would generate an alarm output if the transmission line has an excessive SWR condition.

There could be other situations that a DJ should know about: the Request Line is ringing, or there’s someone at the back door. All of these situations can be monitored by SAM, which will display text messages on a video monitor that’s easily seen by the DJ or board operator on duty.

All of SAMs Alert inputs should be isolated “dry” GPI contact closures; this is fairly common with professional broadcast gear. But there could be instances where some equipment provides a DC voltage instead of a contact closure. For this reason, SAM includes two Input Isolator circuits that can accept a DC voltage or any connection that isn’t truly isolated. In addition, SAM also includes two Ring Detectors that will sense ringing on a standard POTS phone line. These would be used to trigger a SAM alert when the line rings, e.g., for Listener Lines or for that call from the PD on his hotline.

The beauty of SAM is its ease of setup. It can be customized for each installation by the user, in a matter of a few minutes. By using a standard PC keyboard and mouse (SAM has 4 USB ports), SAMs Alert messages can be programmed for each of the 15 Alert inputs. Here is the Edit Screen where each Alert message is set up:

For each Alert message, the user can enter the desired text and the textbox color. Each message also has an associated Display Time: it determines how long each message is displayed before it is automatically cancelled. (It’s also possible to set a message to stay on-screen permanently, until it’s manually cleared.)

For each Alert, there are two checkboxes to enable optional functions: Audio and Email. By checking the Audio box, an audio message will play when the visual alert appears on-screen. SAM is supplied with a few dozen ‘stock’ audio messages, although you can use any mp3 audio file and link it to any Alert.

If you check the Email checkbox, SAM will send you an email when that Alert is triggered. Just connect SAM to your LAN and email will be sent using SMTP protocol.

Once the Setup is complete, SAM is started and it begins to scan all 15 Alert inputs. When an Alert is triggered, the text message flashes several times on the video screen, then it stays “solid-on” until the specified Display Time has lapsed. An audio message will play and/or Email message will be sent if these options were selected for that specific Alert input. Each Alert input can have these options selected if it’s appropriate for that message.

If no Alerts inputs are active the screen will be blank. SAM can optionally display your station logo if you load a jpeg logo file via a USB thumb drive. This is also how you’d install mp3 files for customized audio alerts. If anything needs to be changed or updated, it’s a simple as running the Setup screen again and changing the message text, colors, and Alert options as needed.

In most installations, SAMs Status Interface Unit will be located wherever there is access to your monitored gears’ status/fault wiring: in the rack room or engineering shop. SAMs video output is then fed to a monitor(s) in your studio(s). SAMs video output is HDMI (720p), so any inexpensive monitor or TV with an HDMI input can be used. If your facility already has in-house video distribution it can be used to distribute SAMs video.

If you don’t have any video distribution infrastructure, HDMI cabling can be used. In most cases the maximum suggested HDMI cable length is up to (about) 100 feet, depending upon the quality of the cable. For installations where the SAM interface unit must be more than 100 feet from the video monitor, we suggest using an inexpensive HDMI-to-cat5 converter, and running cat5 or cat6 cabling between the two. This arrangement often allows cable runs in excess of 300 feet of cat5/cat6 cable. For installations where a SAM unit needs to feed multiple video monitors (e.g., to several studios), use an HDMI-to-cat5 converter that has multiple cat5 outputs. These video interface units are commonly available from commercial video suppliers and broadcast video vendors.

The Systems Alert Monitor is ideal for use in studios, transmitter plants, or any control facility. It’s an effective way to monitor multiple systems simultaneously and notify personnel of important system status or priority situations. It is available from any Henry Engineering dealer; the list price is $695 (video monitor not included).

For more information, contact Hank Landsberg at Henry Engineering or visit www.henryeng.com.

Click to download SAM audio files.

 

 

 

 
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