What: Radio Free Asia
When: June 15, 1999 7:00 PM

We met at and toured the facilities of Radio Free Asia. Radio Free Asia was built in several stages over a period of time, and it was clear as we toured from one area of the facility to the next, that they took advantage of the changing face of technology, as well as learning from earlier experiences.

Their first studios were little more than standard rooms with some acoustic treatment on the walls, while some of the later studios were built by Acoustic Systems. The facilities were entirely digital, with only a few exceptions, such as phone hybrids, which are just now coming available. The consoles were typically early digital Yamahas. Some of the solutions they came up with caused several engineers in our group to take notes.

At the heart of the system is the BE AudioVAULT, with a custom configuration called "Lighthouse". Lighthouse handles both analog and digital video and/or audio signals, in mixed or separate configurations that can be ordered with full redundant capabilities. It is completely scalable up to 1024x1024, and will handle 100 switches per second. They have what must be the largest installation of AudioVAULT with well over 100 audio workstations.

They originate programming for several Asian countries including China, Vietnam, Tibet, and North Korea. The programs are fed via satellite and ISDN to the transmitter locations. Programming is also available through the internet, and they are continuing to build an impressive group of Unix and NT servers to feed text and audio to the rest of the World. They have developed an impressive array of processing to optimize the audio for lower data rate connections. Audioactive by Telos is the audio software codec of choice. Check out http://www.rfa.org if you are interested.

The programming is specifically designed to provide news and supplementary information to the countries of Asia which do not have the freedom of speech that we take for granted in the USA. They use call-in programs on occasion, using an AT&T 800 number which is then redirected to ring at their facility. This allows callers to make calls that will not be blocked, and provides a certain amount of anonymity for the caller. A recent programming coup included a call from a security guard who admitted to certain violations of human rights agreements at the now famous Tienenman Square event several years ago.