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Automated Voice and Programming

Q1. What will produce automated voicing and programming?

A1. NOAA Weather Radio automation is produced by an upgraded program Console Replacement System (CRS). The CRS is a new, personal computer-based broadcasting console, installed at each NWS office, that automatically translates and schedules written National Weather Service forecasts and warnings into synthesized- voice broadcasts over NOAA Weather Radio. The automated broadcast programs for NOAA Weather Radio will free NWS staff to spend more time on critical warning and forecasting duties. In addition, the automatic weather broadcast consoles will provide a more efficient means of disseminating severe weather watches, warnings and emergency information over NOAA weather radio. The system is part of a multi-year improvement of the National Weather Service NOAA Weather Radio network. NOAA Weather Radio and the CRS are critical to the NWS mission of disseminating watches and warnings of hazardous weather for the protection of life and property.

Q2. What are the benefits of automated broadcasts?

A2. This new automated system provides faster broadcasts of severe weather watches, warnings and emergency information over NOAA Weather Radio because multiple warnings can be both recorded and transmitted at once. This capability dramatically speeds up the broadcast of warnings during multiple severe weather events. The automated technology will also significantly reduce the time it takes National Weather Service staff to record NOAA Weather Radio broadcasts allowing them to devote more time to critical warning services and forecast duties. Automating the process will make it easier for listeners to tune to NOAA Weather Radio at particular times for the information they need. Forecast offices will be able to broadcast particular forecasts and information such as marine and river forecasts or climate summaries in time slots on a more regular schedule (for example, at :06, :16, :26, :36, :46, and :56 after each hour).

Q3. Will all the information I currently hear on NOAA Weather Radio be broadcasts in a synthesized voice?

A3. The synthesized voice will be phased in over time. Eventually, all forecasts, warnings and weather information will be broadcast with the synthesized voice. An NWR program can be interrupted with live broadcasts as needed.

Q4. What can you tell me about the synthesized voices used for the broadcasts? The Console Replacement System uses text-to-speech voice synthesis provided by the contractor DEC (Digital Equipment Corporation) through what is known as DECtalk voice boards and software. The NWS is committed to making improvements to the systems voice quality as improvements become available.

Q5. When will the Console Replacement System by installed?

A5. The National Weather Service began a one-year process of installing CRS at offices across the country in January 1998.

Q6. How were broadcasts recorded prior to the automated system?

A6. Since each transmitter operated by the NWS office also has a uniQue geographical coverage area, in the past, NWS staff members manually recorded the forecasts and current weather information for each listening area. This was done using technology that limited programming variability and locked the messages into a repetitive sequential order. Producing and updating information in this manner was time consuming since many Weather Service forecast offices operate up to 13 different NOAA Weather Radio transmitters.

Q7. Do I need to purchase a new receiver to receive the new automated broadcasts?

A7. No, you will not need to make any changes to the receiver you have in your home or business to receive the automated broadcasts.

Q8. How does the Console Replacement System work with the new Specific Area Message Encoding service?

A8. CRS and the Specific Area Message Encoding (SAME) are two separate NOAA Weather Radio technological advances as part of the National Weather Service modernization effort. Specific Area Message Encoding (SAME) is a feature on the newest generation of NOAA Weather Radios which lets listeners pre-select the National Weather Service alerts they want to receive based on the county where they live. CRS automates the process of assigning SAME codes to watches and warnings.

Q9. Why won't NWS continue to use real human voices for NOAA Weather Radio broadcasts?

A9. Automation dramatically speeds up the broadcast of warnings during multiple severe weather events -- and faster communication can potentially save lives. Modern Weather Service forecast offices operate up to 13 NOAA Weather Radio transmitters tocover segments of a large geographic area, and the NOAA Weather Radio system continues to grow while staffing levels stay the same. Each forecast, warning and information product must be written, printed, re-worded, then taped for broadcast. Providing the programming for multiple transmitters is a significant workload during relatively calm weather, and can become overwhelming during rapidly changing or threatening weather conditions. The Console Replacement System automates the function of getting severe weather watches, warnings and emergency information from our computers onto the air -- multiple warnings can be both recorded and transmitted at once. (Experiences at some prototype sites has shown an 8 to 1 time savings, with production time cut from 15 minutes per hour to 15 minutes per 8-hour shift).

Q10. Can't you use other technology that would use pre-recorded human voices, like the telephone companies use?

A10. The process of recording common words concatenation was not chosen for use with NOAA Weather Radio programming, because each forecast, watch and warning requires unique wording to relay the most accurate and relevant information. Concatenation is sometimes used by telephone companies, banks and other service businesses. In most cases, this form of automation is used with a limited vocabulary of recorded words and takes the place of limited, repetitive phrases and sentences. Concatenation was weighed as an option at one time, but NOAA Weather Radio broadcasts contain a wide variety of information which changes with the weather. Forecasters need to have many words to choose from when writing their forecasts and warnings for the public. Using a pre-recorded human voice requires taping thousands of words with different inflections and pronunciations to cover all of the possible forecast and warning situations, not to mention all forecast areas for the nation (county names, city and town names with correct local pronunciations). More than one person would have to record the same items in order to offer more variety on broadcasts and problem arise when a specific geographic name has not been recorded, like the name of a school, business or small stream which might add significant information to a warning.

Q11. Is this the very best quality of automated voicing that's available?

A11. This is the best quality of synthesized voice available. The automated voicing technology used is DECtalk, which is a product of the Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC). DECtalk text-to- speech synthesis technology provides an unlimited vocabulary and the highest speech quality and accuracy available in the industry. It is the acknowledged leader in the assistive market that is, it is widely used the the physical is widely used the the physically challanged to aid communication with people and machines. Stephen Hawking, the acclaimed British physicist and cosmologist uses DECtalk in daily life, and chose it (in an earlier version) for use as his own speaking voice when he hosted a recent nationally telecast science program.

Q12. What is being done to improve the quality of the automated voices?

A12. The National Weather Service continues to work with the contractor, DEC, to improve the broadcast quality of the automated voicing system. We are working to provide multiple male- and female-sounding voices with different tones and pitches so that more variety can be offered with the NOAA Weather Radio broadcasts. With the rapid development of software and computing capabilities taking place in this information age, we expect to offer continued improvements to the audio quality of NOAA Weather Radio broadcasts.

Q13. Where can I get more information on CRS?

A13. Check the Console Replacement web site at http://weather.gov/ops2/crs/crs.htm



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