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October 23, 2017
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SkimmerPlus

User Review

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RALEIGH, NC Back in March, when MIX 101.5 WRAL-FM decided to start assembling podcasts of the morning show, the webmaster would begin his morning with the arduous task of dubbing all the morning show breaks into his computer from a minidisc in real-time. While this got the job done, the process of extracting the breaks consumed way too much time. In addition, the already stretched-thin morning show producer now had to remember to start and stop the minidisc recording, which had unreliable results.

I decided there had to be a better way. I knew a number of the major radio automation suppliers had software available to skim directly to a computer, but the nature of this project, which wasnít generating revenue (yet) for the station, needed a low-cost, easy to set up solution.

Following a brief search, I came across SkimmerPlus from Broadcast Software International (BSI). I decided to give it a try on a spare P4 1.6GHz machine in the shop using a CardDeluxe soundcard from Digital Audio Labs. I had SkimmerPlus up and running the same day. It is now over six months later and it has yet to miss a break. Also, the webmaster can now publish the morning show podcast before most of the morning show crew has even made it home.

SkimmerPlus offers a number of features that make it an attractive choice. First and foremost is the price, starting at just $399 for a single record deck it fit well within the budget for our podcasting project. For an additional cost, SkimmerPlus can be expanded to accommodate logging of additional sources, up to 24 total, depending of course on the power of the computer it is installed on. In fact, I plan to take advantage of this scalability by slowly migrating logging duties from our hardware based DAT logger for which replacement drives are becoming hard to find.

Another great feature is the numerous choices for compression, including support for virtually any other format using third-party codecs available for Windows 2000 or XP. For example, when the Windows available Fraunhofer IIS MP3 codec didnít offer exactly the bitrate I was looking for, I simply installed another codec for Windows and it was instantly available as a compression choice in SkimmerPlus. BSI also offers low cost MP3 and MPEG Layer 2 codecs as well. Also available is the unique ability to save a linear, un-compressed copy of the captured audio along with the compressed file.

It is important to note that the flexibility of SkimmerPlus to work with third-party codecs and just about any soundcard can be a double-edge sword. Research your codecs carefully before choosing one and donít skimp on a soundcard. I certainly wouldnít recommend trying to use an on-board soundcard, stick with a proven name like Digigram, CardDeluxe, or AudioScience, just to name a few.

Also impressive is the amount of flexibility available when it comes to controlling the record decks. Decks within SkimmerPlus are controlled by events which are displayed and defined apart from the record decks. Therefore, any deck can be controlled by a multitude of events. Events can be triggered by time of day, day of week, by external contact closure, or any combination thereof. BSI even offers a USB triggering device at a reasonable price, $99, adding 24 triggering inputs which can be assigned to any combination of events simultaneously. Simply put, the options for controlling the record decks are extensive. The only triggering feature I can imagine being added would be VOX capability (which I understand is in the works).

An important feature worth mentioning is the HTTP and FTP servers built-in to SkimmerPlus, allowing you precise control over who sees what content and how they get it. For our podcasting project, I simply mapped the webmaster to the directory on the machine where SkimmerPlus is running. However, for our account execs looking to see if their spot or remote break aired, they each can login with their own unique ID to a website being served by SkimmerPlus. Files can be directly downloaded from the website or emailed to a recipient as an attachment. If the file size is too large to be sent as an attachment (a threshold that you can define in the setup), you can have SkimmerPlus email a link to an FTP site also served by SkimmerPlus. Itís also worth mentioning that you donít have to configure third party servers to handle any of SkimmerPlusís features

A neat application of this feature is being utilized at WKNC-FM, the student-run station at NC State University, where I recently starting using SkimmerPlus as a replacement for the cassette skimmer which never seemed to work half the time. (Iím not sure if it was really broken or just an excuse for forgetting to load a tape.) Now the program director can simply login via the built-in website to review a studentís airshift, and then email a copy to the student with notes for improvement.

In summary, due to its attractive price, stability, and numerous features, SkimmerPlus has been a good fit for a number of my projects. I wonít hesitate considering SkimmerPlus again in the future.

Will Patnaud, CBRE
Asst. Chief Engineer, WRAL-FM
Consulting Engineer, WKNC-FM

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