By Wilson da Silva
SYDNEY – At the gleaming new high-tech radio studios of the Australian Broadcasting Corp in Sydney the era of reel-to-reel tapes and messy editing rooms is gone.
In its place are radio journalists using computer screens and toggle pads.
This is the world of D-Cart, a computerised radio broadcasting system pioneered in Australia and now being sold overseas. Studios in the United States and Canada have bought the system and Australia’s AWA Ltd is set to manufacture it.
“Every time you put sound on to a tape and transfer it in editing, you lose quality, and a lot of tape is thrown away,” said Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC) radio sales manager Marghanita da Cruz.
“With D-cart, there is no maintenance of tape machines, you don’t have cartridge machines, there’s no splicing tape and people in the network have instant access to anything recorded. It pays for itself in three years,” she said.
Under the system, audio material such as interviews and ambient sounds are gathered by radio reporters with tape recorders and sent back to the studio, where they are transferred to powerful computer hard disks.
The item is given a name and logged into the system, immediately popping up on computer screens across the ABC. News programmes, overseas services, current affairs and talkback shows have instant access to the same item for editing.
On screen it appears as a computer text document, with a title, reporter’s name and its duration listed. Press a button and the audio content plays over a speaker.
To edit, journalists call up the item and manipulate the sound on-screen, using a pad that guides a cursor across a long thin band representing an imaginary tape.
Audio segments can be turned on and off by clicking the pad along the part of the “tape” where the desired sound bite exists. The tape can be cut by merging the sound bites into a story, over which a voice report can be added.
Newsreaders have it even easier, using a touch-screen system to call up the reports and put them to air.
D-Cart, developed over the past two years by the national broadcaster, operates at four sites – the Radio Australia foreign service, Radio National, local ABC stations in major cities and the JJJ youth network. Others will soon join.
D-Cart, or Digital Cartridge editing system, is the brainchild of Spencer Lieng, a Cambodian migrant who grew up in Australia and first developed a computer solution to ABC’s nightmare of broadcasting to the country’s five time zones.
ABC Radio, with annual expenditures of Australian $274 million (US$193 million), says it has 14 simultaneous broadcasts through 500 transmitters across five time zones in the world’s sixth largest country.
Its runs 400 separate local and national news bulletins a day, and Radio Australia broadcasts in eight languages.
Lieng, now ABC’s manager of research and development, first cracked the time zone problem in 1982. Programmes airing in the eastern states had to be recorded on tape, then re-broadcast later in the nation’s centre, west and outlying islands.
He developed a system that recorded programmes as digital data on hard disk, and the computer then re-broadcast them automatically according to schedule.
“We’ve definitely moved into digital technology (in the radio industry) and it is the way of the future,” said Lieng.
Other broadcasters see Lieng’s point. The Canadian Broadcasting Corp has bought D-Cart for its Toronto and Ottawa newsrooms, while France’s Europe One and the British Broadcasting Corp’s Westminster bureau are using the system on a trial basis.
The American Broadcasting Co has installed D-Cart at its 14-studio New York and Washington operations, and ABC is now talking to broadcasters in Asia about possible sales.
ABC is now working on “suitcase studios” that will allow sound recording, editing and transmission from the field.