Audio Engineering Society

Chicago Section

Meeting Review, December 1997

other meeting reports 12/17/97 Meeting Highlights
by Brad Olson

On December 17th, 1998 Gordon Kapes from Studio Technologies in Skokie, IL spoke to the Chicago Section of the Audio Engineering Society as well as members of the local chapter of the Society of Broadcast Engineers. Kapes is President of this small audio company, but the fact that his company is small doesn't mean that he doesn't have big ideas! Kapes told attendees that the company was bequeathed to him by AES Fellow Jim Cunningham in 1984 when he sold his interest to pursue other opportunities. Throughout his presentation Kapes described his personal mission as simple: to focus on practical applications, not on esoteric theories, and to provide niche products featuring specialized features for low volume markets not being pursued by larger audio equipment manufacturers.
At the outset, Kapes described his early work with Studio Technologies in the area of audio mixers. Six years ago he took a special interest in the broadcast market and, since then, has created an IFB unit for mobile broadcast applications. He has also been active in developing a multi-channel monitoring system, as he anticipates the challenges of multi-channel broadcasts and studio work. Gordon explained that, while the concept of IFB is little known amongst laymen, it is a critical element in the live broadcast arena. IFB (Interrupted Foldback) is the communication channel through which a newscaster can get comments from a producer or director in real time, telling him to alter content, loudness, or other aspects of the presentation. In its simplest form, it can be a discrete molded ear piece fed from the director's microphone. However, the director is often at a different location. IFB systems typically incorporate features like signal limiting/compressing for directors who like to yell at their talent and level controls for additional input signals such as a sportscaster down on the field at an event talking to the one in the booth. Use of phone lines and cell phones instead of line level inputs can be possible as well with the more sophisticated units. He explained that the differing ring signals with modern cell phones can make signal handling tricky, but the use of cell phones obviously allows for great convenience.
Gordon's talk was filled with anecdotes like the story of a speech once made by President Clinton in Chicago, for which it was determined that no radio-frequency IFB units would be allowed for security reasons. Instead, balanced lines had to be used to take IFB signals back and forth from this remote broadcast. He also told the story of what he nicknamed the "God" IFB, which allowed a single overall program director at the Atlanta Olympics to interrupt any local program director or on-air talent at any time during the games. He described this as the ultimate challenge for IFB system coordination and design. He joked that, since his product is so important for mobile news gathering, the OJ Simpson case was one of the best things that ever happened to his business.
Next Gordon talked about a multi-channel monitoring system he has designed. As more people use digital audio workstations and fewer traditional consoles, they still want an add-on unit that allows simple adjustments to control monitor levels, select inputs, etc. After making a two channel unit, Gordon realized that a multi-channel system with calibrated levels would be a useful tool for studios that need to mix in multiple surround formats. As he says, "It may just be a glorified volume control, but it has all the little extra features that people in the film industry want to have." His system allows for up to eight channels (built from two-channel modules). All monitoring functions are controlled by a handheld unit. Gordon believes that eight channels will be the practical limit of surround systems in the foreseeable future. However, he mentioned that situations may arise where multiple sets of his monitoring units could be productively used for tasks such as separating the music, effects, and dialogue in a movie soundtrack. Unfortunately, an obscure failure in one of his units stopped him from giving a full demonstration of this product, but several of his customers were on hand to give raving testimonials about his products in the absence of a live demo.