The story of Broadcast Tools begins with the story of its founder, Don Winget. Winget got his start in radio as a teen, hired as the gofer for the CE at his hometown radio station, WBIZ in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. He’d always been interested in electronics and how things worked, even as a kid. As soon as he started at WBIZ, Don became fascinated with radio and knew this would be his career. With no money for either technical school or college, Winget received his education the old-fashioned way, on the job. Later, while serving in the U.S. Army during Vietnam, Don gained formal technical training and was then stationed in Okinawa where he was assigned to Stratcom and the AutoDIN division – a forerunner to today’s Internet. After the service, Don returned to Wisconsin and formed a CE contracting business in the tristate area. Given the frosty working conditions, it was an easy “yes” when Seattle radio and promotions legend Pat O‘Day, owner of KYYX FM/Seattle and KORL AM/Honolulu, asked Don to move to Seattle and come work for him in 1976.
The Seattle broadcast engineering community welcomed Winget and he made many life-long friendships. One of his first friends was Lee Hurley, then CE for KJR-AM Seattle. Hurley and Winget partnered to create Sentry Systems, one of the earliest PC-based automation systems. Sentry Systems was the place where Winget designed equipment to sell, rather than just building a problem solver for himself – a true turning point in his career.
Winget realized he not only liked designing and creating products for manufacture, but he was also good at it. At that time, many CE’s would wire up their own gear, but Winget recognized there was a real market for reliable, affordable, featurepacked problemsolvers that were not yet widely available. With his CE and product design experience, Don decided to make his mark in the industry in a different way – as founder, CEO and CTO of Broadcast Tools, Inc. B r o a d c a s t Tools, Inc. (BTI) was born in 1989 while Don was still CE at KXRX in Seattle. Winget started BTI in his spare time, which was limited as a Chief Engineer in a major market. But Don found he was driven to design and couldn’t stop the process even if he tried.
In the 1980’s Seattle had yet to become the technology powerhouse it is today. But with established companies like Symetrix, Rane, Mackie, and Fluke already in the area, there was a local demand for companies that served the electronic manufacturing industry. As a one man show, Winget had to develop another skill: “Hunting” – Winget spent hours hunting for the right part, the right vendor, the right source.
But by spending those early years hunting, Winget was able to create a network of vendors and suppliers, many of whom
Broadcast Tools continues to partner with today.
But Winget still needed a way to get the products to market. Since Don had been a customer for decades, he had already built relationships with the folks at BSW, or Broadcast Supply West as it was called back then. The team at BSW were the first willing to take a chance on his young company. And within a year, Winget had added partnerships with Allied Broadcasting, Broadcasters General Store, and SCMS as well. With products coming off the assembly line and dealers in place, Winget knew the small startup had real potential.
Through his many friends and contacts in the Seattle CE community, he was often asked to help with special projects – which often inspired new product ideas for BTI.
In 1991 Don was hired to build a mobile radio station in a 40-foot cargo container for delivery and setup in St. Petersburg, Russia. The project’s budget required the use of inexpensive Mackie mixers. Winget created the CC-2 Console Controller to add monitor muting, microphone on/off control and warning light switching. The product worked so well, in 1992 the CC-2 was added to the Broadcast Tools product line.
Around the same time, Don sold his VMC-16 Voice Remote Control product design, to Broadcast Electronics in 1992. Winget used that sale as seed money to fund his operation. Not long after, Don designed the MSRP, the Multi Station Relay Panel, that was private labeled for Harris for use with the SAGE ENDEC EAS system.
After those successes, Winget decided to make Broadcast Tools his full-time focus in 1995 when he moved out of Seattle to the Skagit Valley and worked out of his home in Mount Vernon, WA. And that’s when Broadcast Tools really became a contender.
Early on, Don designed two key products that proved to be anchors in the Broadcast Tools product line: The Audio Switcher and the Silence Monitor. The first switcher introduced was the 8x2A Switcher – 8 stereo inputs, 2 stereo outputs and 2 mono outputs. BTI has made some version of an 8×2 switcher since the early 90’s. And after many upgrades and improvements the current version, the ACS8.2 Plus, is still one of Broadcast Tools’ most successful and popular products. Today’s ACS 8.2 Plus is a hardware concept not too different from the Console Blades/Mix Engines you now see as part of AoIP systems. BTI’s first Silence Monitor offered the ability to not only monitor for silence and automatically switch from a main to a backup source, but also set up a restore function that would allow the unit to check main channel for valid audio before restoring the original programming. This was a unique feature not offered at the time, and is still a key selling point today, along with stereo phase monitoring. Even after 20 years, BTI offers several versions of Silence monitoring including the Audio Sentinel 4 Web, Silence Sentinel RJ, Audio Sentinel Plus Web/RJ, AES Audio Sentinel Plus Web, and the AES Silence Sentinel Standard.
Broadcast Tools’ reputation had grown significantly and in early 2001, CBC radio Canada chose the Broadcast Tools 6×1 passive six input stereo switchers for use throughout their radio network. The CBC required a special modification in the existing 6×1 switcher’s serial protocol to control individual switchers in their network, and Winget customized the software to meet their needs.
The 2000’s also ushered in several new Internet based control products from Broadcast Tools, adding web-browserbased control, email, and SNMP capabilities to their remote controls and silence detectors and meeting unique challenges along the way. Over the past two decades webtechnologies have advanced rapidly and Broadcast Tools has had to adapt its products to meet the changing needs of its customers.
With the introduction of HTML5 in the late 2000’s it became clear that technologies like Java and Flash in the web-browser were no longer necessary and Broadcast Tools began a project to transition their WVRC-8 and WVRC-4 remote controls from Java-applet based web interfaces to HTML5 based web interfaces. This culminated in the WVRC-8 Plus and WVRC-4 Plus remote controls – with a very popular upgrade program that allows users of existing WVRC-8 and WVRC-4 units to purchase an upgrade kit to update their units to the new HTML5 based web interface.
When asked about what makes Broadcast Tools successful, Winget points out three key factors. First, the small but dedicated staff, who have been with Winget for decades. Second, Broadcast Tools’ Dealers, who are instrumental in the longstanding and continued success in marketing and product delivery. But the third and real secret to Winget’s success, he says, is “Our loyal customers,” many of whom keep coming back time and again, eager to see and use the newest problem solver.
Winget has proven to have a unique combination of talents that has helped create and sustain the story of success at Broadcast Tools. Don is a prolific product designer, with thousands of products sold over that last 30 plus years. He also is efficient at the manufacturing process, knowing when to bring work in house and when to outsource. With his experience as a Chief Engineer, he understands what the customers need and how to market his products. He is also an involved manager, keeping an eye on the day-to-day operations of the business and the bottom line. With an experienced staff and an ever-changing market, Don still stands at the helm with no plans to slow down, ensuring the future story of Broadcast Tools has many more chapters to come.