Q It Up: Is your station(s) still using carts?

Q-It-Up-Logo-sep95by Jerry Vigil

Last month’s Q It Up asked the RAP Network about which digital mastering and storage media were in use at their station(s). Digital is wonderful, but for many, analog carts are still the name of the game. This month’s question checks in with a few people who are still dealing with carts. The question: Is your station(s) still using carts? If so, what problems associated with carts (and the cart machines) do you constantly deal with? How do these problems affect your productivity, and how do you overcome these problems? What brand of cart machines do you use? If radio’s “merger madness” has made matters worse for you, explain the new problems. Does your station plan to go to a digital delivery system soon? If so, which systems are being considered?

We didn’t get a lot of responses to this question, probably because most people on the RAP Network have said goodbye to carts. Still, there were several interesting responses.

Paul Kinsman, CHOZ-FM, St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada: The only use for carts around here these days is for dubbing spots for the AE’s to play for their clients. One of the sales offices has a cart machine patched into the phone. Our morning news guy also uses them for his actualities. We bought a box of 40’s and 70’s about 5 years ago, and as they break, they don’t get replaced. We’re getting down in numbers now, so it’ll be the end of an era for us when the last one finally self-destructs. Hopefully by then our morning news reader will have figured out a “Plan B.”

Greg Williams, WMC-AM/FM, Memphis, Tennessee: It’s a funny thing about having a digital workstation, the Orban DSE 7000, and using carts for the finished product. It’s like sweeping off the sidewalk BEFORE you mow the lawn. WMC FM-100 is still a la cart, but a new on-air studio is in the budget, with its digital delivery system still being negotiated. Instant Replay and VoxPro are now in use in the control room, but the Morning Show still counts on carts for ear-candy execution. Right now, NewsTalk 790 WMC uses the DAD (Digital Audio Delivery) System. Its pluses are of course the tapeless quality of sound and the ease of going from workstation to broadcast. The drawback of course comes from the threat of system crash. That occurred once, and nearly the entire station’s creative had to be reproduced, as well as reloaded.

Pete Jensen, KZZU/KXLY, Spokane, Washington: You may not be surprised to hear I’d be happy if I never even SAW another cart. Even though we use the DCS system from Computer Concepts, and are very happy with it, we still have carts floating around. Our radio news people use them for actualities. The jocks use them for a few things, and the TV station downstairs uses them. So we still have lots of Audiopaks and Otari CTM-10 machines here. We have plans to make the whole building (1 TV and 5 radio stations) digitally networked fairly soon, but we’ll probably save some carts even then. DCS was down for a few days last fall, and we had to put everything on cart, which may not sound so bad, but when you come to depend on something else, it was a real pain. The thing I hate most about carts is making the labels.

Jim “Jimbo” Kipping, KLBJ, Austin, Texas: We haven’t used carts in 3 years! However, with the new sister stations moving in, we’ll have to convert them to 1998 standards! For the love of God, please don’t let me have to work at another station that uses carts!!! We use DCS from Computer Concepts. Although it’s not the prettiest gal on the block, it sounds great and we have never had a problem with it yet (knock, knock). We also have a universal cart system, so when we get 47 Comp USA Spots, we get to dub them…you got it, 47 times, instead of 235 times! (Don’t you just love 1’s and 0’s?)

“Tuna” Jon Rose, Radio Tuna Productions/WBYR, Fort Wayne, Indiana: Just one week ago (1/31/98) our station moved into new studios that use Broadcast Electronics’ Audio Vault computer system. Until then, we used Scotch carts for all spots, and ITC cart decks. In fact, we used carts for music, too, when we first signed this bad boy on the air in January 1989. I think we went to compact disc exclusively in ’93 or ’94. My biggest complaints were more with the production people rather than the carts. Of course, there’s the question of keeping the heads clean, which was surprisingly foreign to jocks who knew better. Then, some jocks didn’t know how to use the cart deck’s ELSA button (Erase, Locate Splice, Align). They would stick in the cart, press the buttons and put the deck through its cycle, then remove the cart and run it over the manual bulk-eraser. Even after I’d explain how that would screw up the alignment, one guy STILL manually bulk-erased his cart. He said something about getting a cleaner erase that way, but you could hear the “bumps” on the playback. Why HE couldn’t hear those bumps, I don’t know.

The other major problem I had with carts was running out of them. All the jocks want to have their own individual talk-over music beds and drops, even the weekenders! Between music beds, movie and TV drops, sound effects and so on, we probably had at least 400 carts tied up, maybe more. Once in a while, I could get the jocks to consolidate the audio from their shorter carts onto longer carts, thus freeing up the short ones for spots. It usually yielded only a handful of carts per jock, but that would get us through the sold-out times, when carts seemed to be in greater demand.

Hal Knapp/Z100/HSK Productions, New York, New York: Z-100 continues to use carts for everything except music. (Music was switched to CD about a year and a half ago). We have six ITC series 99 cart machines in the air studio and record on the same model in each production studio. Every commercial element uses the control tones for a ten second warning light and firing of the next spot (which the jocks find indispensible). Phase correlation and level balance seem to be a constant issue with carts. The actual sound of the carts isn’t so bad since we use DBX noise reduction on all carted material, which yields over 90 dB of S/N. However, a slight balance problem is exaggerated due to the encoding method used in DBX. I constantly calibrate the recorder and make sure the heads are cleaned as often as possible. I also try to keep a close eye on the condition of the carts and remove any that seem past their life. We haven’t purchased any new carts for several years, but we do still have them re-packed. It’s hard to find a more durable medium, that can be clearly labeled, and thrown into the machine for instant play other than carts.

Z-100’s jocks have many years in the business, and they are accustomed to using carts, which adds a comfort to their on-air performance. When we switch to a digital system, a cart-like tactile feel is what we’re looking for. We have auditioned 360 System’s DigiCart and like the results. It’s uncertain if all elements will be played off the DigiCart. Maybe a hybrid hard disc/DigiCart system will be installed.

Carts seem to be a universal standard in radio. As more and varied systems become available, a producer or jock will have to be proficient on each system from station to station. I think this will provide for an interesting future for anyone in radio.

Kurt Schenk, WMAX, Rochester, New York: Carts? What the hell are Carts? (lol...just kidding.) As you know, WMAX is currently all digital, using AudioVault, with DGS and DCI on hand. The new facility we are moving to with WHAM and WVOR currently uses carts. But that is to change when we’re all in the same building. As far as I know, the 7 stations together will use the RCS system.

Dennis Coleman, American Radio Systems, Austin, Texas: We’re not on carts anymore down here at ARS (CBS), but I can SURE expound on the merger madness! We’re about to sign on our fourth station, and right now,we’re using DCS. We’re about to go to the Scott system, though, so I’m sure the changeover will be a nightmare. (Anyone out there have any experience with Scott?) I can sympathize with those still on cart, especially those in multi-station situations. I think Clear Channel is the last to be using carts here in town, with a total of 5 stations. I think we’ll have a DCS for sale soon, so if they’re interested maybe they should call our Ops Manager.

Donnie Marion, KRBE, Houston, Texas: We still use carts @ 104 KRBE, but only for spots and promos and sweepers, except when we have to play a song that isn’t available on CD. In the control room, we have ITC Delta series cart machines. The production rooms (3) have ITC 99 series machines. The problems are many. The tape wears out and rubs off on to the tape heads. Then, when a jock goes in to do an air shift or some dubs, cleaning tape heads is the last thing on their mind. If it’s recorded on a tape over a dirty head, and gets played back on the radio with a cart machine that has a dirty head, it’s bad news.

Another thing I’ve found over the last few years is, the dubbing machines are wearing out. Just “replacing” them isn’t an option. The company has decided not to spend money on NEW machines or carts. So we have carts re-wrapped, and the engineers scramble to get parts for the different things that break on a cart machine. So if I hear something that isn’t right, it usually needs to be taken care of immediately, and cannot wait until the person who dubbed it gets back to work. If the spot doesn’t run for a while and can wait, I have the dubber redo it. When you get down to it, if the person is listening to the spot after dubbing it, most problems can be stopped before they hit the air.

The reason for not buying NEW carts or machines is the impending arrival of the digital storage system, now in its 3rd year of slowly creeping toward the radio station. I don’t know the brand (which should let you know how close it is), but it is the chosen one of Susquehanna Radio, and it will match up perfectly with a DAW system we don’t use around here. By perfectly, I mean digital transfer of spots/promos to the storage system.

Thadd McNamara, KUIC/KDIA/KXBT, Vacaville, California: Funny you should ask. We are using the RCS for storage and delivery, and just got the new RCS-SPECTRAL multitrack unit in house—not working yet, but its here finally. We were also beginning to have a number of problems with our 4-track board, so I was forced to go back to using carts to do my complex production. Our old Dynamax CTR10’s still work, but I had to scrounge up some carts. (Pass the dust mask please) During this same time, the PD asked me to cover his 2-hour shift while he was on vacation, and I noticed the morning team is still relying on a lot of carts. So I guess, we are a good example of a station in transition, and although I think in digital terms, this just proves the importance of knowing the basic analog “cut and paste” skills...now where did I put those edit tabs?

Mark Fraser, C100 FM, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada: At CJCH/C100, our stations are totally digital on-air with the RCS system. We do still have the cart machines in place in case of emergency, and we use them every now and then when we want a looped ambiance to go along with the show, (i.e. telethon-like phone banks, the eternal fires of hell, etc.) We also have carts still available for use in production, but we hardly ever need them. Just still a few beds and sfx that haven’t been dumped into the digital domain just yet. Most of the machines at CJ/C100 were made by ITC and they’re reasonably reliable. The biggest problem is with the carts themselves, getting the tension right when winding your own, trying to get the 3:36 song to fit on the 3.5 minute cart, human error when firing off the next cart, and AUDIO QUALITY! That’s the most noticeable difference since going digital. The on-air transition from announcer to spots to music is virtually seamless. I love it!

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