Broadcasting Mobility
Posted: 04.01.05 - By Michelle Maisto

On the Phil Hendrie Show this Valentine’s Day, The Darren Flew Pet Show fielded call-ins from unhappy dogs; author Vernon Dozier discussed being healed, through religion and therapy, of road rage; and Jim Rome interviewed Jose Canseco, until Canseco injected steroids, turned into an ape, strangled Jim and took over the show, answering calls and jabbering into the microphone. Hendrie’s program (the partial beauty of which is that Hendrie is the host as well as the voices of all his guests—a fact known to his fans but apparently lost on casual listeners prone to both calling up radio shows and turning quickly irate) is syndicated by Premiere Radio Networks, a subsidiary of Clear Channel, and reaches over 180 million listeners each week.

Premiere has a long roster of enormous-fan-base programs—including American Top 20 with Casey Kasem, American Top 40 with Ryan Seacrest, The Dr. Laura Schlessinger Program, Carson Daly: Most Requested and The Rush Limbaugh Show—which it syndicates to stations throughout the country. The majority of the shows are recorded in Premiere’s Los Angeles studios, which occupy several floors of a gleaming 22-story office tower near where the 101 freeway meets the 405.

“The way our building is set up,” says Roger Seflinger, VP of IT, “is on the first floor there’s a little courtyard area, and within that courtyard there used to be a Denny’s, which we converted into our studios, and that’s where we broadcast Fox Sports Radio and various other shows. A lot of people walk through that patio and sometimes relax outside there, so we wanted to set up wireless so people could take a break, or be outside and still work.”

Premiere has a relationship with Cisco, which was partnering with a new company called Strix Systems, and Premiere agreed to beta-test Strix’s equipment. “We tested it out, we liked it and we bought it,” says Seflinger. It’s been onward, upward (and outward) from there.

The Mesh Effect

“Strix was founded on the premise that there was too much cable in the enterprise environment, and we needed to figure out a way to get rid of it,” says Doug Huemme, AVP of marketing at Strix. “If you look at the conventional access point architectures today—the first-generation stuff, which is fat access points with a lot of intelligence built into them—Ethernet runs to those access points [and] they support users wirelessly from there.” Then there are the new emerging models, thin access points, which have most of the intelligence residing in the switch, Huemme explains. “But again, there’s still that length of cable between the switch and the access point—you’re only wireless from the switch out to your users.” Strix ran into the same limitations as “the switch players” in terms of manageability and security, so it decided to “build a system completely without wires,” says Huemme. Rethink the format.

“Our architecture is mesh, so what that does is allow us to be wireless, not only from the access point out to the users but amongst the access points that are deployed in an environment,” he explains. “So you might have an environment with a large number of nodes, as we call them, deployed, and maybe only one or two for redundancy have wired con-
nections backing to your core network. There’s really a lot of flexibility in our system as to how you can choose to deploy it.”

Premiere was already operating a patchwork of wired and wireless connections, but the system was inefficient to oversee and “becoming a nightmare” to properly run, says IT manager Jim Zangara. Strix’s mesh structure made it possible for Premiere to operate a single solution and simply create wireless hotspots where it wanted them.

“With Strix, I can launch a Web page, log in and at a glance see if I have any issues,” says Zangara. “It has centralized management, so from my desk I can authorize nodes, de-authorize nodes, create accounts—pretty much anything I want to do. I can test the network at any time and make sure all units are up and functioning without having to go around and do a visual inspection. If we want to change the default keys, or the security settings or upgrade the wireless, it’s a 10-minute operation instead of an all-day.”

Previous to Strix, security was also a major concern; beyond traditional issues of security, Premiere occupies several floors of a high-rise, though not all consecutive floors. “Because they share work between some of the floors, they were concerned that other people would have visibility to these nodes and be able to get into their networks,” explains Huemme. “What was really important to them was how do they manage the system, how do they secure the system and do they feel confident that no one’s getting access to their resources that they don’t want to have access.”

According to Seflinger: “One of the main reasons we went with the Strix system is issues like that have become non-issues, due to the way the security is set up. We have a server that authenticates the user, and the user has to have an account within that server or they can’t get on.”

Seamless Transition

An unusual element of the implementation, and a testament to the flexibility of the Strix system, was, again, the outdoor patio. In addition to being a place for employees to work or relax, it served as a meeting area when it was necessary for employees to evacuate the building. When Premiere first began looking into Strix, the station had a few scares.

“They have a huge ‘knot’ there in an operations center, where they run a lot of their radio programming from, and they wanted to be able to have remote access into that knot, so that if they did have to evacuate the building and go into this patio area, they could still maintain some control over that,” says Huemme. “What we were able to do was extend their network a little bit by adding a node [that] covers those users and then wirelessly up-links that traffic back to another node someplace else.”

Why all the evacuating? Seflinger laughs. “Let’s just say that some of our hosts are somewhat controversial, and we have been forced to leave the building. So when those [rare] situations occur, it’s nice to still be able to stay connected.”

Along with the pop-candy teen idols, barking conservatives and talking dogs, it’s just another day on the radio.


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