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BBC local radio to go virtual on IP

The BBC is to move its local radio station operations to an IP network infrastructure from next year. The project is based on a new technology initiative, ViLOR (Virtualised Local Radio), which won the Technical Innovation Award at last week's Radio Academy Festival.

The BBC is to move its local radio station operations to an IP network infrastructure from next year. The project is based on a new technology initiative, ViLOR (Virtualised Local Radio), which won the Technical Innovation Award at last week’s Radio Academy Festival.
ViLOR was developed to solve the problem of replacing or updating studio facilities at the 40 BBC local radio stations, many of which are still using equipment that is over 30 years old, while keeping within tight budgets. The project was conceived by Geoff Woolf (pictured accepting the Technical Innovation Award), technology development manager for BBC English regions, who outlined the programme in a presentation entitled Virtually ‘On Air’ during the Radio Academy TechCon event held in Salford on 12 November. Woolf said although the unit cost per studio for each station would be below that of those at New Broadcasting House in London and MediaCityUK at Salford Quays, the volume of facilities involved made it potentially expensive. The challenge , he added, was to keep each station local, with its own news room and production operation, while reducing the cost of refurbishment. “The key was to have localised stations, rather than a studio farm like the commercial groups.” ViLOR is intended to centralise the networking and distribution elements of the production chain, while still having the presenter and journalists in a local studio. Woolf’s concept, which was put into practice by his colleague John Davies, “gets rid of” baseband audio and its accompanying patch bays and racks, leaving only the microphones, loudspeakers and the interface to the play-out system in the studio. All audio in ViLOR is carried over IP, with the processing and machine side centralised away from the local stations. The system was tested earlier this year at BBC Radio Northampton, using Axia digital consoles with Glensound Electronics analogue interfaces, Scisys (VCS) automation and Broadcast Bionic’s PhoneBOX call handling system. The distribution infrastructure was provided by Atos, the BBC’s IT network partner, with the processing at the BBC Mailbox facility in Birmingham. The test was deemed a success and the go-ahead has been given to roll ViLOR out at 38 BBC local radio stations (excluding London and Salford, which were upgraded recently). Woolf said that by the end of 2013 four stations – Northampton, Essex, Suffolk and Three Counties – will be on ViLOR. A procurement process will start in 2014, with another three stations coming online by the end of that year. The target is to complete installation at all sites by 2017. vimeo.com/50366986

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