by Sterling Tarrant
There are two digital delivery systems that seem to be getting most of the business from the advertising agencies for delivering commercials to radio stations via telephone lines (POTS and ISDN). They are DGS (Digital Generation Systems) and DCI (Digital Courier International). This month, Q It Up asks: If you use either or both of these systems, how have they helped your department? Also, what negatives or complaints do you have about these systems?
Dennis Coleman, Production Director/ARS, Austin, TX: We have both systems here. The great thing about DCI is their new collect billing software. Coupled with their speedy delivery (one hour), they are our new favorite way to send stuff. Only problem I’ve encountered is lack of locations, but they seem to still be growing, though not as rapidly as when they first appeared. DGS is a lot more common, but they do tend to take longer to get stuff to us. Sometimes I get orders and confirmations for the next morning’s drive time spots, but the spots don’t arrive until close to noon the next day. That can cause a few headaches if you’re on a computerized cart system and have a station or two on satellite that depend on those spots being there. Sound quality for both systems is about equal in my opinion.
Craig Jackman, Production Director, CHEZ-FM, Ottawa, Ontario: We use DCI, and we’ve had it for over 2 years. It has been a great help to us, but not in the ways we thought. It makes it easier for national spots to get delivered on time--no waiting late for the courier to show up. The spots come in whenever they get sent. We’ve also found it very useful to send both spots and voice tracks to our sister station located about an hour away. It also helps that the uncompressed digital sound files sound way better than those cheap tape national dubs. We originally thought that all stations in town would be using the system to send spots back and forth, saving courier fees and reps time in picking up dubs. That hasn’t been the case. Most producers in town are under direct orders not to send ANYTHING locally via DCI. What don’t I like about DCI??? Even though they recently dropped the prices quite a bit, it’s still rather expensive to use on a regular basis. We have had big problems with the supplied hardware. The hard drive would fail every 5 or 6 months, and with no built in backup system, would wipe out months of commercials that had been delivered. Sure, we could make dubs to DAT, but that rapidly becomes unwieldy, difficult to keep organized, and a waste of time. On a positive note, the Support Desk guys (Hi Fred!) are great, and the service techs usually show up the next day. DCI recently replaced and upgraded my entire DCI system at no charge.
Paul Bahr, Production Director, LAZER 103, Milwaukee, WI: We use both DGS and DCI. The main way these units help is by saving space. Room is always at a premium, and anything that saves us from having another “reel box” laying around is good. Both systems also save our traffic department from having to hunt down reels from salespeople. Finally, we don’t worry too much about getting a bad tape with drop-outs and hiss!! In regards to what we dislike about DGS and DCI, it’s a love-hate relationship. I like DCI because you can send stuff, FAST!! The drawback is it’s a little tricker to use for a novice, not as much stuff comes over it, and not all stations are on it. DGS is much easier to use, BUT...it’s slower. You can’t send from it, and you can only have one per station group. UGHH!! We have 5 stations--3 in one building, 2 in another. DGS only allows us 1 machine per group. It really bottle necks things up!!
Bill Downs, Production Director, KMJX/KQAR, Little Rock, AR: The DGS box is more valuable to me at the moment, both because it gets a lot more traffic than DCI, and frankly, it’s easier to use. Scroll to spot. Select. Play. Duh. One of the problems I have with DCI is that they put slates on everything, absolutely pointless when all the pertinent info is in text right on the screen. And while DCI’s new software tries to address that by letting you skip over the slate (it listens for certain audio levels or blank spaces), it’s not terribly reliable. Ditching the slates altogether would be much more useful. DCI does, however, allow random access within a spot (though it’s hard to hit an exact point). I’ve found that handy from time to time, say to check an outcue before I dub with an added tag, that sort of thing. You can do the same thing in DGS, but it’s a little more work. DCI’s also not consistent with how they fill in the information that gets sent with the spot. Here, I’m basically talking about times when, for example, DCI lists the AGENCY as the client! Talk about making it difficult to find a spot. (In their defense, that particular problem doesn’t happen THAT often, but it definitely gets your attention when it does.) Of course, one of the main potential strengths of DCI vs. DGS is the ability to receive AND SEND spots on the DCI, and that’s a HUGE potential. But I gotta tell ya honestly, IMHO, as far as sending spots goes, it’ll never happen here until DCI comes up with a flat rate my station can budget for. Even with the recent price reduction, it’s still $7 to send a spot across town to one of our other stations. Salespeople are free (well, relatively speaking). I’d love to be able to use DCI to send spots around, email with other Prod Directors, but not on a per-case charge. Reasonable flat fee, or more than likely, it ain’t happening.
Hal Knapp, HSK Productions/Z100, New York, NY: At Z-100 we use both systems for commercial audio. DGS has created a means of receiving better quality audio with an easier method of playback than agency reels. On only a few occasions have I had the need to phase correct or equalize a spot off of DGS. There are less tapes cluttering up our offices and a more sonic uniform product on the air. The downside is the last minute arrival of audio materials. In the past, either the overnight service delivered the tape or they didn’t. Now there are too many people in the mix, and sometimes a spot doesn’t arrive until close of business. Another downside is the limited hard drive space which requires re-feeds or copying spots to tape from clients that leave the air and return within a month (usually DGS has deleted said spot automatically after a month). With DCI, the ability to send audio has helped to deliver materials to stations that do not have a “real-time” audio CODEC. I have received far fewer spots via DCI than DGS. However, we receive a majority of our creative/comedy services by DCI. The primary concern with DCI is that the senders all have different standards in categorizing the audio files as well as a wide variety of what is considered acceptable sound quality. DCI is a little more difficult to navigate. I’d like the ability to transfer computer audio files directly to my hard-disc system from one of the different audio receive terminals. Z-100 also has Musicams’ DAX system. I’m finding that there is little room left for anyone in the studio since I have so many different monitors and computers. I’d love to see a consolidation of the different systems, or a single remote control to operate all delivery systems.
Ron Harper, Magic 96.1, Charlotte, NC: I have both systems. In the past, I have had many problems with DGS in the area of customer service. Their phone people have been both rude and without a clue as far as the DGS service is concerned. It takes a couple of days for someone in management or tech support to call me back. They send spots with the wrong information, or agency info in the client name field. Last year, I went round and round with them about their leaving the slates on the CompUSA spots. It is very difficult to cue a spot with a slate on DGS. More recently, I have suggested to clients and agencies that they use DCI instead. Eckerd has already made the switch. On the other hand, the folks at DCI are more in tune with a station’s needs. I can change the information in the data fields if need be, and there’s the advantage of one touch cueing past slates. DCI has been more than helpful when I have a question or a problem, and they don’t rely on entry-level help desk operators to answer the phones. DGS may have been great when it was the only game in town, but the proprietary hardware is a thing of the past as far as I’m concerned.
Donnie Marion, Commercial Production Director, 104 KRBE, Houston, TX: We have both DGS and DCI, and then some. These systems are helping several ways: 1) They save time. Many people, even radio people, are becoming computer literate. The basic commands are simple on both systems. It’s amazing how fast you can do a stack of dubs when you don’t have to thread a reel-to-reel. 2) They save space. Instead of 465 5-inch reels in a bookshelf-wall-sized-rack in the continuity office, they fit in 4 or 5 rack spaces or on a computer hard drive. 3) They help cut down on mistakes. Since you don’t get a reel with multiple spots, you match the ISCI codes/spot numbers. You have to really NOT pay attention to screw up. We keep the three delivery systems we have in a separate studio. I’ve asked DGS for a remote screen and command pad so I could work from one studio, but the last time I asked, that wasn’t in their plans. It seems as there are more vendors in this field, the radio station problem will be, “Where do you put all the different computers and terminals?” Perhaps they can design them to look like a bookshelf-wall-sized-rack.
Ross McIntyre, GRM Alternative Creative, 100.3 The Q, Victoria, B.C., Canada: I find myself sheepishly looking for our friendly neighborhood FedEx guy who still drops by at the end of every day, expecting to pick up a reel or two to toss in the van. Great guy. Great service. Too bad the courier company can’t compete with the simple physics of DCI. Yes, I’m a user. A heavy user. For starters, it saves typing labels and waybills, ordering pancake and boxes. and rushing to get single real-time dubs done before the man in blue shows up at our daily courier pickup time. I do a fair amount of tour creative, and DCI lets me mix a campaign on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday and still be able to ship it at a rate, cheaper than courier, overnite to start anywhere on a DCI network station the following Monday. My experiences with their customer service and technical support staff has been quite positive. For large projects--a station imaging package, for example--I still ship DAT. It is simply a question of economics vs. deadline. Another welcomed advantage to DCI came when they finally made good on their promise of offering a reverse billing option, tantamount to the consignee billing option offered by regular couriers. Other options I would like to see down the road: third party billing and a DCI version of a calling card where multiple users or one sending station would receive separate invoices. My only real negative is that it does tend to nurture a certain amount of procrastination in some of my clients who enjoy the option of REALLY leaving orders to the last minute.