review with Jim Wood chief engineer of Inovonics a quite, simple & modest company
which is older on radio arena as other well known big guns brands on radio processing,
take a look.
RWonline - RW
Published on: 1/1/2003
Jim Wood is the
company's co-founder, CEO and chief engineer.An alumnus of the University of California at Berkeley and San Jose State University, he holds a bachelor's degree in theater arts.
In the 1960s Wood worked for Pacific Telephone
& Telegraph, now called PacBell, as a "toll transmissionman,"
maintaining carrier and microwave long-distance facilities, and in administrative work.He moved on to Vidar Corp., a manufacturer of
instrumentation/data acquisition equipment, as a production engineer, developing test
fixtures and procedures.
He then became senior development engineer for GRT
Corp., which made prerecorded tapes.There, he designed
high-speed tape duplication systems before co-founding Inovonics in 1972.
Wood spoke with Radio World Technical Adviser Tom McGinley about
the history and the products of his durable company in Santa Cruz, Calif.
Wood: A friend and I found ourselves out of a job when the audio
tape duplicating facility we worked for closed its doors in the early 1970s.
This was during an economic slump, and we found it easier to start our own business than
to find gainful employment.
Wood: No, Mark left the company in about 1978.
Wood: I'd always been drawn to the technology of the entertainment
industry, but as a student I lacked the self-discipline and the patience to pursue a
math-intensive technical education.My degree is in theater arts, though the emphasis was
radio and TV producing and directing.
RW: Your first products, I recall, were aimed at the recording industry.What attracted you
later to the broadcast market?
Wood: Inovonics first
product was a solid-state replacement electronics package for the still-popular Ampex
350-series tape recorders.
As we still had contacts in the music business, the studio market was our first target,
but we soon discovered a much larger user base among broadcasters.And just as important to
our continued success, broadcasting was a more stable industry; recording studios were in
and out of business almost overnight.
RW: Up until about 1990, most recording studios and radio stations used reel-to-reel tape
recorders heavily. The Inovonics model 375 and
370 replacement electronics for Ampex reel equipment had become a staple. How many of
those units were sold?
Wood: Over the nearly 20 years we manufactured tape-recorder
electronics, and among the several models and versions, we shipped between 4,000 and 5,000
channels. About 60 percent were monaural, 30 percent stereo and the rest were for custom
multi-track machines or for magnetic film recorders used in motion-picture production.
We still respond to the occasional request for help in keeping these running.
RW: You entered the processing marketplace with the 201 and 210 audio limiters and the 220
Audio Level Optimizer in the mid-1970s.What was driving your design philosophy?
Wood: Those three initial processors utilized a unique VCA circuit
that had been patented by our defunct previous employer. Initially it had been used to
control high-frequency program content when mastering for audiocassettes. Ownership of the
patent reverted back to us, and it proved ideal for FM pre-emphasis protection
limiting.Back in those days, about the only other processor that dealt with this properly
was the CBS Volumax.
RW: Inovonics jumped into the early multi-band
processing arena with the model 230, or as some
called it, the MAP I, and then later the MAP II for AM radio.
Wood: The MAP-I was developed almost overnight as a
"do-all" processor for both AM and FM, and proved a compromise that, at best,
was marginal for either service.
It was replaced in short order by our MAP-II, intended exclusively for AM. This was in the
late 1970s, early days for multiband processing. The only other product on the market at
the time that I was familiar with was Mike Dorrough's very successful DAP 310.
Compared with Mike's smooth-sounding DAP, our "MAP-II" imparted an unusually
dense and "busy" sound, which was rejected by a significant segment of the
broadcasting industry at that time as being entirely too aggressive. This was an
escalating period in the "loudness wars," and FM broadcasters, in particular,
wanted something similar but less brutal.
Wood: By the early 1980s, FM stations also were caught up in the
loudness game. "Burn a hole in the dial" was a common phrase.
The 250 did not match Bob Orban's Optimod 8100 in that respect, but was an unqualified
success in Europe, which
at that time remained several years behind the U.S. in the
technical side of radio programming practices.
The 250 used feed forward pulse-width modulation in the gain control stages, a technique
that is predictable, adjustment- and drift-free, and virtually colorless. The resultant
"sound" (or lack thereof) appealed to European broadcasters, who at the time
still maintained a spirit of responsibility to the music arrangers, artists and producers.
Wood: Bob Orban's Optimods certainly defined the
"single-box" approach to processing and stereo coding, and a splendid job they
did, too.Integrating these functions makes a lot of sense, both in terms of installation
logistics and for technical reasons as well.
Our standalone stereo-gens, the 705, 706 and 708, were companions to our various
standalone audio processors. Our David line was named after the biblical battle of David
vs. Goliath, in which the smaller guy trounces the much larger opponent.
Wood: The keynote of the design philosophy of any Inovonics product has to be simplicity. We use
this term in our advertising as well, but always with an attached qualifier claiming,
"Consistent with maintaining quality and performance" or words to that effect.
Our designs are straightforward and, to the greatest extent possible, utilize component
parts that are, and will continue to be easily and readily available.
Like our David processors, the FM and AM mod-monitors are devoid of a lot of bells and
whistles. They may have limited application in a plant that's strung together entirely
with CAT-5 cables, but rack them up in a typical studio or transmitter environment and
they will give honest modulation readings for years.
It's so easy. (Subsequent to this interview, Wood noted that
stations have begun sending not only song title and artist information but weather and
stock market figures.)
RW: You offered an analog processor for Webcasting two years ago called the WebCaster.
What is the future of that business?
Wood: The greatest potential for Webcasting seems to be in
non-traditional programming by providers other than radio broadcasters, or perhaps for
wider distribution of innovative material created by college and other non-profit
"Simulcasting" worldwide over the Internet does not particularly serve a
broadcaster's local advertiser base, and simply multiplying the sources for identical play
lists couldn't be much of a service to listeners, either.
RW: With the advent of digital broadcasting, Inovonics
has developed the Omega FM.What kind of challenge does this technology using DSP present
to a company like yours that has been known almost exclusively as an analog-based
enterprise?What does the Omega offer in the way of advantages against other digital
processing products and do you think processing attitudes will change as DAB is
Wood: In its present form, our Omega FM processor is intended
almost exclusively for FM, replacing our Model 250 analog box. As the Omega FM doesn't use
DSP chips, relying instead on the bare-bones number-crunching power of a Pentium-class
CPU, software revisions can reconfigure the product for whatever digital transmission
system ultimately perseveres.
DAB-done-right eliminates the fundamental need for audio processing; that is, to maximize
coverage and overcome a poor S/N ratio. Perhaps processing is best relegated to the
listening environment. A noisy car might well use some squashing, whereas a home theatre
setup would sound most impressive with wide dynamics. DAB ought to level the broadcast
playing field from a technical standpoint.
Wood: When someone cites "CD-quality," I like to counter
with, "CD? Why, that's a consumer format, isn't it? Certainly no match for a good
16-inch professional transcription."
Just joking, of course. But we do live in an analog world. If it weren't for the
cumulative effects of noise and distortion, it would make sense to keep program material
in the analog domain.
Wood: Inovonics has always based product selling price on what it
costs to manufacture and market the product, not on what the market will bear, or what
seems to be the going rate for a competitor's equivalent. And we attempt to use common
component parts rather than esoteric ones that quickly become obsolete.
RW: Where do you see your company headed - competing with the likes of Orban/CRL, Aphex
and Omnia? Will Jim Wood ever get tired of building broadcast
equipment under the Inovonics banner?
Wood: Rather than "competitors," I prefer to think of
the firms you mentioned as companions in the industry.