Simian vs StationPlaylist

I don’t often get time to sit down and really take an in depth analysis of software to determine suitability as a replacement of an existing system. Over December and January, I did just that though using the trial period and a number of emails with the developer.

The reason I undertook this study was because windows 7 support was coming to an end and I would need to upgrade to a later operating system forcing me to either upgrade the version of playout software being Simian or determine whether it was time for a replacement software.

I’ve been a user of Wavestation/Simian since the mid 90s, it was one of the first broadcast applications to be able to be downloaded from the internet and had a pretty good trial option. For a long time it has been based on a Microsoft Access 98 Database background. That being said, it’s 2020 now and that’s quite a historic backend to be using today.

When I way up the cost of the professional Audioscience sound cards for time stretching capabilities and the amount of changes to lock down options in the windows operating system for Simian it just seemed at first glance too much work and more expensive. Not to mention if you don’t buy a support contract you are stuck with an online user forum for support.

So I first came across Stationplaylist (SPL) while working at Sunshine FM, one of my first duties in that role was to get the traffic software Natural Log to reconcile what had played to air from SPL. Since that time I’ve found that there are quite a lot of community radio stations using the product. It is incredibly stable even though some people compare it to Winamp which I think is unfair. I believe it was originally a German Product that was bought by a NZ Uni Professor (Ross Levis) who continues to supply and develop the product based on user feedback.

Email support for a minimal yearly fee has a 48hr turnaround, there is an online helpfile but no on call support although I’m aware of one business in Australia at the moment looking to provide such support. If there is one thing I wish it did have that would be a downloadable user manual.

From user interface perspective it is much clearer what is going on compared to Simian, toggling automate on/off button shows just how simple it can be for your playlisted presenters.

One of the features that drew me to SPL was that it has the ability to top up songs, this is handy when a playlist can’t be found or there is not enough music to fill to the next hour and uses a top up folder specified at anytime. Also it comes with 2 copies of each software module which makes training and a backup playout system readily available including monitoring software to ensure something is playing out.

Now I’ve been using Natural Log for Traffic log building and Natural Music for music log creation. I prefer these to the internal scheduler that comes with SPL, it allows much more control over the song selection rules and takes into account top up songs on reconciling music played. At first I thought I may need to just stick with the internal scheduler for music as I thought it would be too complex to introduce Natural Music during the trial period but was pleasantly surprised.

Importing the existing library was quite easy too, it brought metadata across fine even though I used a cut number and wav extension for filenames. Doing a file scan in the metadata editor then sets cue points and segue points based on audio level thresholds. (Simian doesn’t due an initial cue point, you need to remove the head silence from the audio file). I had already set intro points and hook points from Simian so Ross said he can write an import script for this for a small fee which I intend to take up on purchase. My only disappointment is that I feel that compared to Simians BSI Info Editor (Metadata), it is not as easy to set manual audio response points. The metadata editor that comes with SPL allows a list export that can then be imported into Natural Music after some manual data manipulation.

There was minimal effort required to import Traffic from Natural Log, the bulk of the issues I had come from integrating Natural Music as this is where most of the background commands other than actual music will actually be transferred from. 

The voice tracking module is an absolute dream to use, no longer do I need to run a separate program scan to provide voicetrackers with intro and outro music to assist with laying their voicetracks. Easy to see information for a time call and also ensuring the hour is filled enough to meet the next top of hour while also benefiting from software based time stretching in playout. 

From an administrator point of view, being able to control what users can access when using the voicetracking module even gave me more peace of mind.

I ended up creating a few example training videos of how the software would function for the station I’m trialling for and I’m open to sharing these with anyone interested in viewing them. Just get in touch! I might take a look at mAirList too before I make the final decision. Look forward to your comments on this post too…

Consumer Habits – Our fur babies!

I generally take my cat to see the Vet once or twice a year although recently I had to take him due to an abscess that they believe happened when a cat bit him. The poor little guy had to wear a cone for a few weeks but is much happier now. I generally get his worming treatments from eBay and his Ziwi food plus other accessories from Pet Stock. There has been a lot of talk amongst people about pet insurance. I can say for certain I can’t do without it, my pet is 4 years old and there have been 3 emergency events that I’ve needed to take care of him. I am interested in finding out what you do about cleaning your pets teeth though? getting the vet to do it is incredibly expensive outright.

Bargains this week to watch out for…Nothing really worth mentioning!

Buy Swap Sell

I’ve just finished reading “Your Money or Your Life” book and highlights again to get rid of the clutter in my life. I’m doing this in my own personal life and professional life too. So here is my gumtree listings link

It amazes me about the headspace we go through to save a dollar here or there, it’s quite the challenge!

In a radio space, there is no real avenue to advertise surplus equipment that can be picked up by others in the sector. There have been some efforts in Technorama to do this but nothing concrete. So it’s left in the eBay & Gumtree domains at the moment, although I will be in touch with John Maizels soon as I do have quite a bit of surplus equipment to disperse.

It has me wondering though, does anyone swap anymore?

Consumer Habits – All that other vehicle stuff

So I’m not savvy in paid parking tips, anyone care to share theirs? I try to avoid road tolls where possible. As far as car maintenance goes I don’t know who to really trust with a vehicle, do you do the fixed price servicing with those mentions of things that still need attention at the end or do you just pay up, really interested to know your experiences here. As for other travel, in each state I visit I try to gain an electronic travel card such as Go card in QLD, Opal in NSW and Metrocard in SA which brings down the cost of paper tickets.

Bargains this week to watch out for…

Coles: Freedom Foods XO Crunch $2 half price, Australia’s Own Organic Unsweetened Almond Milk $1.40 half price. Blackmores Fish Oil 1000mg Capsules 400 Pack $15 half price.

Woolworths: Red Island Extra Virgin Olive Oil 1 Litre $8 half price.

IGA: Moccona Freeze Dried Coffee 400g $13 (17th-19th)

Broadcast Premises

I sat down recently and compiled a list of the broadcast premises I have toured. I thought the number would be around the 30 mark, but I ended up with a list of 52 which is quite staggering to me since I started in radio in 1993.

I was asked on an online forum what are my top 5 observations, well I actually came up with 6.

  1. Your station can look like a shack but still sound like a winner on air
  2. Live is not necessarily the best on-air method
  3. Playing WAV makes a difference
  4. Community Radio is the biggest sector of stations they come in all different flavours 
  5. Playlisting a format is not a bad thing but keep surveying clients/advertisers, not for profits, members and listeners for feedback.
  6. Share your experiences and tips

If you are in broadcast, how many other facilities have you visited?

Consumer Habits – Battery Power

I’ve been reading up a lot about solar and also realising how many devices I use need charging. I’ve had my eye on an electric scooter for some time and I finally decided to purchase an Xiaomi M365 Scooter with a 30km range and an average travel speed of 15km/hour on economy mode. I’m not able to ride a bike due to back issues but I also didn’t want to drive to local places. So far I’ve ventured as far as the local pool and even updated the scooter firmware via the mobile app. When I was in Brisbane on Monday I was taken by how many people are using the rental scooters in the CBD. QLD is leading with the law regulation on these devices in my opinion, I hope the other states follow their lead as we need more people with cars off the road.

Bargains this week (start Wed) to watch for:

Coles: Lindt Chocolate Block $3 Save $1.25, Bega Tasty 1Kg Block Cheese $10 Save $3.40

Woolworths: Austraiia’s Own Organic Almond Milk $1.40 half price, Freedom Foods XO Crunch $2 half price.

IGA: Mocconna Freeze Dried Coffee 400gm $15 Save $9.10

Chemist Warehouse: David Beckham Deodorant Body Sprays $4 half price. On Sale now till 16th.

Heart of a radio station, equipment wise!

If you don’t know by now at the very heart of a radio station premises is a playout system containing pre-recorded announcements and music in general. I’ve just spent most of my weekend looking at various systems, primarily Station Playlist Studio & Creator combinations.

I looked at Zara as a free software program, but I think I’d only use it for a narrowcast loop program, it seems as though you have to manually create a playlist. For something with a daily log, I don’t think you can beat the playout system Station Playlist Studio for price and packed with feature rich functionality, I just wish it had instant phone support and a pdf manual. While I don’t mind Creator too much for creating logs, to gain greater control on the traffic and music you really need to consider 3rd party applications then import them in. But that is what it really boils down to, how specific do you want your traffic and music rules to be. Do you want to sound repetitive, static or dynamic with what you put to air.

You also need to know if you’re going to run a station with voice breaks and will they be recorded or live or perhaps a combination of both.

Because it is at the very heart you need to ensure your existing system changeover is relatively smooth, make sure you don’t destroy your audio library in the process and try to cut down on any re-work on those thousands of audio files.

Consumer Habits – Petrol

What timing for this topic, the Sunshine Coast registered the highest amount for petrol in Queenslands’ history this week. Having insurance with Youi, I have the benefit of their rewards program which can see discounts like 5-15% off Caltex gift cards or a certain amount of cents of a litre, something like 10c. Also keep an eye out for deals with Cashrewards discounts linked to your credit card for Caltex discounts. And there is the bonus of Woolworths Rewards discounts too as I’m a member.

I tend to use the above method in conjunction with the petrol spy website to find the cheapest local fuel price, using U98 fuel most of the time. But more often than not independent Aussie World Garage on the Bruce Highway beats all operators in the area, so they become my default.

Don’t forget that A/C in the car can be costing you up to 10% in fuel and of course be light on that accelerator, try to use cruise control where it is feasible.

Bargains to watch this week (from Wed) –

Coles: Moccona Classic Freeze Dried Coffee $14 Save $10, Boost $150 Recharge 80GB Unlimited Calls 12 Month Expiry $135 Save $15

Getting out there and networking with people

Whenever I travel away from home, I try to checkout a radio station or catch up with people in the industry. I’ve actually lost count of the amount of stations I’ve visited now and each one I’m sure I’ve learnt something and perhaps given them some nugget of information that could help their operation.

I was in Melbourne so I made my way out to Bayswater to visit the team at Agile Broadcast to come up with a plan for updating a stations setup. I learned that one of their products takes direct USB connections like soundcards rather than having to use an IP driver which is likely to save some money. Sometimes email and phone doesn’t give you the full picture and it was really good to meet Ian who knows the products in depth and Deb even provided some advice on some of the voluntary grant work she has conducted.

It was time to head over to Mill Park to checkout Plenty Valley FM, thanks to Brian & Nick who showed me through the facility and transmission site. I find it fascinating how other stations put their show together and the logic involved. It was good to advise them of the Station Playlist Mobile App interface which might help them.

Don’t settle for just trying to operate your own station, get out and visit vendors and other stations you will learn from their experiences too. The Technorama conference for me is about learning through shared experiences, the greatest value.

Consumer Habits – Grooming

Ok so I can really give advice as a man here, I’m still not sure what is the best way to shave but at the moment I use an ALDI razor with replacement blade packs. I’m pretty sure Germany would provide the best solution hence the choice. I use the Australian product Trishave for the lather and it does a really good job lasting a long time. But if I’m wrong feel free to pop a comment here on the blog on what you’ve found works well for you.

When it comes to haircuts, I used to pay ridiculous amounts of money to get my hair coloured then I went el cheapo and went for one of those $10 places that suck your hair up with a vacuum cleaner when the cut is finished. I now go to a local for about $25 as I’m growing my hair out, it seems male haircuts are at a premium price here on the coast. In Brisbane it was considerably less.

Bargains this week (from Wed):

Woolworths: Bega Cheese Block 1Kg $10 Save $2

IGA: Mainland Buttersoft Butter 375g $5 Save $1.70, Moccona Freeze Dried Coffee 400g $15 Save $9.10

A change of pace, a twist of anxiety!

I suffer from an anxiety disorder and I’m finding more of the people I know are impacted by their own anxiety issues. I’ve just finished listening to the audiobook by Sarah Wilson called “First, we make the beast beautiful”. This is the first audiobook I’ve listened to and it spoke volumes to me, it is the first time I’ve heard near the full spectrum of another persons’ journey with anxiety. I thoroughly recommend it to any person who has anxiety in their life, the similarities in my life with Sarah’s are extraordinary. If you do listen, you will hear much of what I also go through on a regular basis.

Australians are searching “Anxiety” in Google more than any other country. In 2007 the interest was 30 and in March 2019 hit 100. I can’t help but think Technology has a major part to play in this.

Consumer Habits – Banking

I still recall Richard Branson taking out a full page newspaper ad when he tried to get Virgin into their current domestic airport terminal in Sydney for a decent price. He called the Macquarie Bank, “a bunch of bankers”. Which is much of how I regard banks now, the interest rate through banks is appalling. I tend to go for no fee accounts and credit cards using tools such as finder.com.au to find a good deal. I did have an AMEX no annual fee frequent flyer points card but after a second bad ordeal with ANZ who manage the service here I left. That and the fact that AMEX is not accepted anywhere near as much as VISA or Mastercard and I’m told they make merchants wait 90 days for payment. I may try to get a St George No Annual Fee card later which will have my regular bill transactions only.

If you are a wealthy person you can take part in frequent flyer incentive signups and swap cards regularly to earn maximum points.

For the moment I’ve settled on MeBank which is derived from Australian Super Funds, any ATM fee reimbursement, use paypass 4 times in a month and you get bonus interest on your online savings account. Their Frank credit card also has no annual fee. The only downside I find with MeBank is their transactions take a day or three to show on internet banking. I also have an RACQ bank account which gives me access as a member to their rewards discounts scheme. The same with Suncorp, but with an added bonus that you can have free sub accounts to help you manage your money better.

A tip for you, when regular large deposits go into your account, setup automatic transfers to separate accounts. If you don’t see as much money in your account you are less likely to spend. A reminder that most banks transfer out in the morning and deposit in the evening, so you might like to setup your transfers for the day after any deposits come in.

The game changer is RAIZ, this allows you to invest your money through a third party app. With incentives such as account top ups where it invests roundups of transactions on your bank/credit cards and also rewards if you purchase online transactions through their partners. Yes there is more risk than a bank but the returns are substantially more than a bank.

If you want a tool to manage your money by viewing across accounts and credit cards which I’ve previously mentioned then getpocketbook.

Bargains this week (from Wed):

Coles: Blackmores Fish Oil 100mg 400 pack $15 – ½ Price

Watch this website for a new addition to the left pane, I’ll be adding referral incentives for common products and services I use. You save and I save together!!!

Are we saying goodbye to AM radio?

The latest vehicles have no AM radio or the menu option is buried far down the command tree. Australia adopted the DAB+ radio standard but this is not ideal for current far reaching AM transmitters in rural areas of the country. I believe that DRM and HD Radio are being looked at again, both are In-Band-On-Channel technologies.

There are also areas where AM commercial licences are being replaced by FM. There is nothing being said about AM NAS licences which are held above the normal AM frequency range and can be received in most modern cars.

I’m not sure that digital radio is the right move for the industry, I think there needs to be more effort in online streaming platforms to deliver services for the future. Bear in mind there is no digital terrestrial solution for sub metro stations or low power open narrowcasters at this point in time.

Consumer Habits – Dining/Takeaway

This is an area where I believe people are spending too much and it’s probably most likely to be because someone doesn’t feel like cooking at the end of a day. I keep an eye out on Ozbargain for deals with Menulog, Deliveroo and Uber Eats and read reviews on Zomato. Signing up to a loyalty club of a local restaurant can also be beneficial. I recently went to a locals’ night at a highly regarded restaurant and had a beautiful Chicken Supreme dish for only $20, the gnocchi were beautiful golden pillows of fluffiness. Normally a dish like this is around $33.

I’m yet to try this but first table sounds like a great option for an early cheap meal.

Bargains to watch out for this week (start Wed) – 

Coles: Red Island Extra Virgin Olive Oil 1 Litre $8 (half price)

Woolworths: Australia’s Own Organic Almond Unsweetened Milk 1 Litre $1.40 (half price), Moccona Classic Freeze Dried Coffee 400g $16 Save $8, Sunrice Jasmine Rice 5kg $8.50 (half price)

Shared Core Values and Mission

Too often I’ve come across community stations that have a team that aren’t all working towards the same common mission. Where does the problem lie you may well ask? Well I believe it stems from either a failure of setting a mission statement from the very start of the public meeting to get a station off the ground and perhaps more importantly checking each year if that is still relevant in the current or prospective future environment.

Radio Futurologist James Cridland this week released in his newsletter this week startling results from a BBC UK Radio RAJAR Listenership data analysis. It shows that primarily pop music is the primary source listened to across all age groups ranging from 33.2-45.1% and interestingly 22.6% for talk in the 55+ age group where others groups were less than 8%. Specialty/Ethic/Nostalgia/Classical were less than 8% on all age groups. I think internet streaming services has catered for these other categories today.

In order for a radio station to make its mark and cater to its community the team needs to adopt shared core values and work towards the underlying mission statement. There are too many rogue individuals in stations that aren’t achieving this and begs the question are they there for the community as a service person or are they there to service for themselves?

Consumer Habits – Prescriptions / Medical

I’m one that uses the warehouse pharmacists, simply because they have the best price although some of the family independently owned pharmacies tend to pass on the full concession discount. If the pharmacy is not passing on the full discount, ask for it when placing your script in.

Medical fees are huge these days, most places I go to I’m bulk billed but if you are looking for a decent GP that will provide you with good personal service try the GP Super Clinics who can also offer you a Walk-In clinic on the days that you need to see someone but can’t get an appointment. Ask family and friends who they recommend as a GP as it is a real minefield. Something worth noting though is that GPs don’t get any diet or nutrition education so it would be wise to see at least a nutritionist. I’m told the difference between a nutritionist and a dietitian is that the later also has practiced in a hospital as part of their education.

If your mental health needs a boost, I recommend getting a GP Mental Health plan which allows for up to 10 sessions with a therapist and HCFs Gold Private Health Hospital coverage is the best by far which includes nil excess for same day admissions. If you have a chronic illness then an allied health plan allows you 4-5 sessions with a specialist. 

As someone who spends a fortune on health I’m always looking at ways to reduce this area of my budget. If you are looking to change your health insurance coverage or wanting to check if you are getting the best deal then I can’t recommend more than to talk to a broker service such as John Small Health & Travel Insurance Advisory. I’m with health.com.au for extras and you can see through their online tool how much you’ve used of your eligible claim categories.

Bargains to watch this week:

Nothing from the supermarkets this week but the online Click Frenzy event starts 6pm AEDT today.

Saving money on broadcast equipment

First up, you need to know what equipment to look out for, is it a need or a desire? Gumtree, eBay, Facebook groups, GraysOnline, AllBids and Cash Converters are all different places you will find broadcast equipment. But you really need to do your research in what will work out ok in your facility. Just networking with techs in the industry is a good way also to gain from surplus equipment.

I’ve probably managed to buy 3-5 items over the last couple of years through these methods which improves the radio stations I assist and a bonus is that the CBF grant process now allows community stations to put forward used equipment for purchase requests.

Consumer Habits – Laundry & Dry Cleaning

Not too much to say on this subject, when it comes to laundry I use Ecostore liquid to reduce impact on the environment. I wash in cold water and dry using the clothesline or rack only. When it is sunny on the coast 300 days a year on average you make use of the sunshine.

I rarely get any dry cleaning done, the occasional doona and suit for special occasions. Due to my height I almost always needs the hem taken up on new pants. I find people on Gumtree willing to do this much cheaper than retail outlets and also Op Shops could have pants that suit your size without need for alteration.

Bargains to watch out for this week:

Woolworths: Moccona Coffee 400gm $14 save $10, iCare 100% Recycled Toilet Paper Double Length 3Ply 6Pack $5.20 Save $1.30

Coles: XO Crunch Freedom Foods $2 (½ Price), Mainland Buttersoft Butter $5 Save $1.70

Support Organisations for Community Radio in Australia

The recent Community Broadcasting Association of Australia conference and award ceremony has prompted this blog post. I’ve been in contact with them since the early 90s when Christina Alvarez was the friendly voice on the other end of the phone. Back then the organisation produced an A-Z guide on community radio that you could refer to for all different aspects of community broadcasting.

Fast forward to today and I feel as if the organisation is stuck in the dark ages of how community radio first started. They don’t seem to have evolved and in particular have not recognised that 75% of the over 400 community radio stations are in regional areas. When you look at the awards recipients list, the bulk of awards have been granted to metropolitan stations. In my opinion there is nothing more special than a sub-metro or regional generalist broadcaster that has helped discuss community issues and fostered the well-being and growth of the communities they serve.

None of the awards recipients were allowed to provide an acceptance speak and nor was there a background story to help justify why they won the award. I know that would make for a long night but there needs to be a story at least in print form to learn from their achievement and why the judges awarded as they did.

I believe that the CBAA outsources the organisation of the conference, the costs are extremely prohibitive from attending especially for regional attendees.

Resource wise the CBAA needs an electronic searchable knowledgebase to cut down on the amount of repeat information enquiries much like the old A-Z guide. I’m concerned that it seems that the appointment of CBAA employees appears to be university graduates that have come through university affiliated radio stations. I think Commercial Radio Australia is ahead of the game recruiting from people who knocked on the back door of their local regional broadcaster.

I’m a growing fan of the Southern Community Media Association, while I’ve not attended their conference, the feedback I get from attendees is full of positivity. At these types of events it’s the pure personal networking amongst stations that outweighs the conference topic sessions. There is so much to be gained from sharing experiences between other stations. My only disappointment is that as a body that nationally represents sub-metros and regional broadcasters is that the conference is difficult to get to geographically being held in Wagga Wagga.

I believe the community sector can do much better but need to have stronger ties with one another.

Consumer Habits – Clothing/Footwear

Before I get on to this weeks post, grab yourself a free shower timer to cut down on your water usage – https://www.wateraid.org/au/save-water-with-a-free-shower-timer

In the last 6 months I entered an Op Shop for the first time, I walked into a wonderland of possibilities. For a good cause and puts a stop on the consumerism cycle of always buying new. I now don’t mind buying clothes from these places and in someways it can be a saviour because whenever I buy a new pair of pants I have to have the hem taken up which just makes it even more costly.

I still buy my underwear and socks new, a local shoe warehouse has great white bamboo socks which are very difficult to come across. My latest underwear source has been H&M which to me feels like the IKEA of clothing. If I do buy new clothes I try TK-MAXX formerly known as Factory Seconds.

Footwear however is a bit of a stumbling block for me because I use orthotic inserts in my shoes. I’m not sure if the Athlete’s Foot or Foot Locker are worth the bricks and mortar. It is much cheaper to buy shoes online but without being able to test them out is a real pain. How do you approach footwear, post a comment below and let me know….

Bargains to watch this week:

Coles: 20% off Catch of the Day gift Cards

Woolworths: Tuffy Paper Towels ½ Price