There’s no I in TEAM! Respect for a 24×7 service

Something I have often been disturbed by, particularly in the community radio sector is the occurrence of self importance over the objective of the organisation. If you are a part of a station or you yourself are still referring to your shift as “Your Programme” then this post is aimed directly at you. I see regular posts on Facebook groups of people promoting “their” individual programme and I ask myself why? is the FB group a suitable audience, do they really care about your shift? Sure if it was a networked programme there might be cause for such a post but I fear a lot of the time it is just another post to say hey look at me.

While I have respect for someone that commits to a weekly shift on-air I don’t when it is purely self indulgence without thought of the community movement or objective the station is trying to achieve.

To run a 24 x 7 service is no easy task, particularly when you are trying to improve the art of radio constantly.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

  • The station on-air format
  • Volunteers
  • Equipment
  • Sales Team
  • Promotions Co-ordinator
  • Content/Music directors
  • Traffic Manager
  • On-Call Incident Managers / Techs
  • Station Operations Management
  • Board of Management
  • Listeners

Getting out and into the community

So on the weekend I managed to assist Sunshine FM104.9 carry out the stations ‘first outside broadcast (to current management knowledge). I’m generally not good with early morning starts but I managed to wake up at 4.30am for a 7am start! Two things were on my mind, transmission reception and mobile internet reception both of which turned out to be acceptable. 10 Mins before broadcast we lost power due to one of the electricity circuits being overloaded but moved to a more isolated circuit. A remote VNC session to our playout system on our iPad proved to be a little cumbersome in control, the previous app we trialled may in fact be better but we reverted to a laptop which worked quite well.

We were monitoring the off-air feed in between breaks as I’m still to get the return path to the OB site implemented. All in all a really good start to outside broadcasts and a few lessons learned. Those being ensure an adequate power supply, set up an exclusion tape zone to prevent equipment being bumped, have someone at home monitor the station and using a laptop for remote control of playout. Later this week I will listen back to the log recordings to hear what it sounded like.

I think I’ve increased my passion for outside broadcasts and look forward to the next one with the team!

Keeping the nasty stuff away

We all dread infections, but take a moment to ponder over what you would do if you lost all your data? I recently came across a backup CD I had with material I had not seen in years with some fond memories within. I can’t elaborate how much I wish I’d kept audio recordings from years gone by as some of them would be considered platinum in sharing circles.

So take the time to ensure you do backups, consider how much rework you need to do if you lost the work between backup periods to determine the period is right for you or your station. The best backup is one that is created and kept offline as well as offsite.

It’s typical to disable real-time virus/malware scanning and internet access on your playout system but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be using windows update and doing a scan on it occasionally. Make sure you scan those potentially nasty USB Flash Drives before accessing them.

I’m told that best practice is not to let any internet access hit your playout system if at all possible but really I think that you need to use it at times for outside broadcasts even if it is for limited access periods.

Consider also whether your equipment hardware needs firmware updating as they may have security, bug fixes or new features you are missing.

Technology – Are we actually communicating for the better?

I’ve worked for some pretty big name companies who you think would be experts in communication, well at least it seems like it on the outside. The truth is though, their internal communication procedures are somewhat shocking. I recall a trainer who I needed to ask a question of, I was told to email him even though he was in the next work cubicle.

Interestingly my first University core unit at Sunshine Coast University was called Communication and Thought. From the onset it was made clear that in person communication is the best as it satisfies all the sensory measures. By the time I left Queensland University of Technology, I was shocked that group communication was down to Facebook groups. Not only is this a really bad way to communicate but all the working documents are held on free cloud utilities, removing the ownership of material from university systems. I really do fear for emerging new starters, accountability and communication techniques are really lacking.

So why am I bringing up this subject personally? I regard myself as generation Y even though I don’t fit the specific birth years. I was one of the first to connect to the internet at school, one of only two students at school to have a mobile phone, email and chat room access. Working in a few phone helpdesk environments I’ve been pushed to solve the customers issue and get them off the phone as soon as possible to ensure department KPI statistics look good.

But, this has led to some very bad habits in terms of reflecting a personal or professional connection between myself and others. I tend to be very brief and to the point within electronic communication, forgetting the personal and nice gestures that can be evidently felt when in person. How have your communication preferences changed? Email, SMS, Instant Messaging, Social Media, Phone Calls, Mail, In Person. Technology may make the communication divide in easier reach but does it help you maintain better personalised and professional relationships.

My first step was to recognise this is an issue and the second is finding a way to gain help with finding ways to address it. Remember how you learnt to write a letter, the format has changed over the years. But who helps you write an email, CV or your social media strategy?

Technorama Weekend 16-18th June 2017

Technorama is always a full on weekend, heaps of like minded radio technologists sharing their passion for professionalism and enhancing their knowledge of best practice. I flew in to Sydney early Friday afternoon and took the opportunity to take up Stephen Wilkinson’s offer of a tour of Hope Media (Old 2WS Site). It was a really good opportunity to see how one of the biggest community broadcasters is assembled and the smart practices they have adopted that can filter down to smaller stations. Stephen and Anthony Eden who I’ve known from early days of stumbling over his blog at mediarealm.com.au were more than gracious with their time. Here are a few snaps that I managed to take.

Technorama was yet again an improvement on the year before, on the Friday evening I managed to get introduced to Jose Auditore who I’ve chat with across through the Radio Green Room Facebook page on many occasions. It was really great to be representing the radio station, nice to hear from others that have heard Sunshine FM and liked what they hear.

While the schedule of the conference is pretty packed, there was a big attendance this year and I find the most value is in networking between people during the breaks. Interesting to hear Chris Ryan from Dubbo explain gray import cd players needing a firmware update by CD that was very difficult to obtain. It was great to chat to the equipment vendors who assist with some financial backing. Good to see Paul Dengate and the On-Air solutions team on board this year. I used to listen to Paul when he attempted to bring a taste of the big capital commercial stations to a few hours on 2MCE while he was studying at university with a programme called “The Rockwatch”, we shared a few memorable moments in his career while he was with 2BS, One FM 96.1 and behind the scenes of Nova, Merrick and Rosso doing a Breakfast OB from the Greenwood Hotel in North Sydney.

A few key points I made of interest during the lineup:

  • CBF Grants – Be thorough and prepared, evidence based and understand there are around six experienced assessors looking at your application.
  • Community Radio Engineering – Studio to Transmitter link frequencies, partial band reallocation (above 849Mhz). Those impacted will be contacted by the CBF/ACMA to find alternative solutions which may involve being restacked. Emphasise to make sure your links are frequency agile.
  • NBN – From all reports not a stable technology in terms of uptime. Interesting side note, Hope Media has two NBN connections with two different providers and Fibre because NBN was so unreliable. Analogue PABXs should probably be retained where possible to ease the transition. Reminder of the use of ATAs and a short conversation explaining the complexity of Fax/EFTPOS/Codecs equipment over VOIP codecs.
  • Technorama ToolsetZenbership for membership signup for stations, tested in a real environment with the Technorama organisation signup. Also the HESK issue tracking system that Damien Spanjer and I used for FM107.5 in Orange was interest to quite a few people.
  • Broadcast IT Planning – “Use RAID 1”, consider VLANs in medium to large operations. Safest backup is offsite and offline. Cloud services are still prone to ransomware.
  • Documenting your Station & Physical Station Relocation – Chris Deacon gave a great presentation and will be making his slides available on the Technorama website soon.
  • Playout Systems – A brief mention of the names of playout systems, more detailed presentation required in my view. Perhaps what to consider when choosing a playout system?
  • CD Players – Once again Chris Deacon came to the rescue of those with Denon 635 CD Players and the 3-4 issues that can be rectified with them. It seems still the most sought after professional player no longer in production.

The awards ceremony included awards to Anthony Eden and Tim Borgas, congratulations gents. My heartfelt thanks and applause to the organisers of this great event, look forward to the next one. Thank you to Damien Spanjer, my childhood friend who helped me get from A to B across the weekend.

Key Segments and Attractions

Do you remember the days of the old radio schedule in the local newspaper? they’d indicate almost all of the segments through the day. I always knew that if “How Green was my Cactus” was playing, I’d be early or late catching the school bus in the morning.

Radio stations are renowned for the whole News, Sport and Weather together at the top of the hour with the outcue always being “the current temperature at XYZ is X degrees”. Once upon a time this was a great way to determine whether your clocks were on time because you’d hear the pips would play just before the news commenced. These days, the segments are pre-recorded more often than not including such things as local news, traffic/road, fishing and surf reports. They may not even be close to the action but simply someone at home in front of a computer with a nice bed of sound effects or music in the background in the pre-record. Some radio networks have added traffic reports to regional stations which are recorded outside the geographic area and are absolutely bungling the street/road names or providing useless information because there are no delays or hazards. On the other hand when stations are on automation or networked particularly on weekends vital information such as power outages rarely get communication to regional communities.

Some stations have started to relay evening TV national news bulletins and/or they do live crosses to the TV Newsreader before the nightly bulletin while others FTP the TV news promo with upcoming headlines as a contradeal.

This leaves me to ponder, does anyone care about background noise in what they hear on the air, does echo or hiss or poor sound quality reads annoy you anymore?

So for stations trying to obtain segments what are your options you may well ask?

News/Sport

  1. Macquarie via FTP which is a short bulletin including sport, read live and captured off satellite, problematic timeouts by reader and inability to sponsor both segments), Macquarie via Satellite (Recorded Live for State bulletins before top of hour) or live for national bulletin.
  2. Australian Independent Radio News, National bulletin delivered by FTP split news and sport allowing sponsor both segments. One morning state bulletin each weekday.
  3. National Radio News available through the Community Radio Network and FTP. One afternoon state bulletin each weekday.

Traffic Road Reports

  1. Australian Traffic Network
  2. Go Traffic
  3. Go Traffic Media

Other Segments

Grace Gibson Productions

Keeping up with your files

They say you can tell a lot about a person by how they keep their room, but I prefer to see how they keep their desktop for a start. Where do you keep your files that you’re currently working on or will work on within the month. I’m always amazed at how the built in features of MacOS are suited to keeping you on track. I think there is a real need to have classes on how to manage your data files, what to call them and where to store them. In the radio environment I still come across systems that prefer the old 8.3 format, that is the 8 characters and 3 characters extension (the bit after the full stop). But when you come across software limits imposed such as 20 characters, how do you make the name meaningful whilst also informative?

I’ve been doing a lot of cleaning up of old files of late while also provisioning for future files. I’m amazed by the Sunshine Coast radio stations and how they manage to play music that’s not derived by some mass network music director.

For those of you who work on the music library, what do process do you follow when adding a new audio track? Top & Tail? Normalise and/or compress? Intro & Outro markers? metadata?

Do you store on a NAS then copy to local drives for playback or do you stream the files across the network? What has been your experience?

ABC Brisbane TV have had issues where packages (TV Stories) have been lost because there was not an accurate file naming convention used.

If you click the radio links link on the left of my website, you will notice it has been updated. Most of the information has been from discussion on the Technorama group. I hope you do find this useful for investigating needs of your radio station/s.

Workflow is critical to success

Radio Workflow

Lately I’ve been testing out at online Customer Relation Management software for radio stations called Radio Workflow which is free to use for your first radio station otherwise a paid subscription is required. It’s the first time I’ve seen a case study (in their help documentation) of the process from sales right through to invoicing. Concerns over data ownership and implementing manual procedures when the system perhaps goes offline, are on my radar. Anyone given this software a go?

It makes me wonder how many community stations are out there just running jukebox like radio rather than formatting their hours with IDs, sponsors, community service announcements and very importantly music arranged by format rules rather than all these components very randomised. Is there room for a business to come into the market to provide traffic and music logs prepared for at least community stations via some sort of subscription model. I query this because I know quite a lot of stations struggle to get the human resources to do this properly.

 

SMS

I’ve given RDS a bit of a break for now, replacing with another three letter acronym of SMS (Short Message Service). I’ve always wanted to know how to get text messages into the studio on the cheap. So with the help of an old USB modem/dongle, a $2 Amaysim SIM card, a $10 pay as you go plan (365 day expiry) and software called SMS Enabler it has been tested.

Initially I tried a $5 Pay as You go SIM card (365 day expiry) from ALDImobile but it did not permit use with non phone devices, so I now use that in my emergencies kit with a backup phone.

It would appear that I was quite lucky to get my project phone number to include the station frequency within the number. If you don’t like the number allocated to you or the range to choose from you have to pay a fee to a service provider for a premium number then port it across when possible.

In my test so far, if there is not sufficient signal strength the message can get delayed for over an hour or more, although I haven’t worked out whether the baud rate or RTS/CTS flow is required. Not all USB dongles internet connection software will let you see your preferred service provider signal strength and you can only purely notice by the colour or sequence of a light on the modem. Most people would not realise that most of these devices allow for an external antenna to be added if necessary, I know this especially from trying to do outside broadcasts. A common external (outside the building) antenna is the RFI Wide-band MIMO 4G Panel. The text messages are currently set to send to a studio email address but can go to a number of options including on screen window, database, webserver, auto response or text file.

 

Streaming

How many stations out there are just relaying their FM off-air signal to their internet streaming? what’s stopping you from taking it from the station before the transmission path? I’ve been following the tracking of changes from Oddcast to Edcast to Altacast, it’s rather messy. But I found a link to Winamp 5.61 which allowed let me get a copy of enc_aacplus.dll which lets Edcast or Altacast to stream AAC+ or alternatively just Winamp with the DSP plugin will do the job.

Radio Rules!

So as a traffic manager I’m responsible for the scheduling of all sponsorship announcements and training others in the process while liaising with production, sales as well as the content director. The average listener would have no idea how many rules we put in the software or in general our on-air presentation and I dare say most volunteers in community radio have little knowledge as well. Professional stations, particularly in capital cities have very strict rules about what goes to air and when, we call this format and in general it is based on a lot of expensive research over the years as to what works best for the target demographic. Also some stations have changed their traffic departments name to be called airtime management as they were receiving phone calls about road reports, just a little confusion there!

I’m still trying to capture RDS through my rtl2328u dongle, I’ll keep at it until I find a method that works. Interested if anyone else has had any success here.

Hope you’ve had a DABber day!

This week I’ve been focusing on aspects of getting systems back online when they lock up and the complexity of preventing access to playout systems from remote locations while still needing to send info out to the internet!

I’ve also been researching the capability of the rtl2832u dongle, successfully being able to use welle.io although unable to hear the audio due to running windows 7, I was able to scan the band coming from Brisbane. Qt-DAB eventually was the winner sending through a crisp clean signal. Just waiting on an old PCI audio card capable of 192kHz to arrive so I can pull RDS through RTL-SDR, Virtual Cable and RDS Spy. Oh how I feel like a right radio nerd today!