THE SEVEN YEAR “ITCH”

Flame CCR started full-time broadcasting in December 2009 so, according to “old wives tales” of “the seven year itch”, we should not be surprised to encounter a spate of equipment failures and problems in 2016/2017.

One problem we were well-warned about was the discontinuance of support of Windows XP. That hit us hard having built automated operation of radio broadcasting, and programme editing, upon eleven Windows XP computers (two per studio, a link to our transmitter, a link to our ISP, plus audio processing and e-mails/admin).

It has taken us 18 months to get through to the better world of faster PCs, with terabytes of storage, via computer upgrades, two new computers for essential service functions, and three good “second hand computers” for support roles. To maintain quality audio we have found good external soundcards. And we now have a solid computer network with remote access to it via TeamViewer. On that network are back-up drives storing 50,000 music tracks and programmes. Chris Perkins and I have spent many hours talking, scheming, and praying for guidance and are now thinking we are curing the “itch”.

We have found good deals on the Windows 10 operating system, but an annoyance, not only to ourselves, has been the large number of Windows updates. Not a problem for our own personal laptops, but a nightmare for continuous operation – Windows 10 does not allow us to limit channel updates and computer restarts to the restricted times when we are in the studio. Yet we need to be in the studio for telling our listeners that we are putting alternative audio to air for a long period of time (sometimes as long as 30 minutes) and manually restarting our PCs, playout software (and reloading our broadcasting schedule). We wish the Microsoft Windows team understood the use of computers for continuous unattended operation.

As an alternative to Windows, we have now set up four computers with Linux operating system which has been more stable. Fortunately the link software (FreeOB) operates on Linux and so does TeamViewer. Ten of our live broadcasting hours per week are now from a remote studio using this link software.

As an alternative to Microsoft Office, too expensive to deploy on a number of PCs, we are happily using LibreOffice. In the past few weeks we have proved that SourceConnect software enables remote interviews with high quality audio

But it is not just computers, one worry has been our internet link to our transmitter site and our ISP. After six years of good service from Virgin Media, they decided to update their network in 2016 discontinuing support of the internet modem we had come to rely on. Our need of a fixed IP address meant that we had to take a new, obviously untried, Virgin Media modem. We thought that step would be easy but after 6 months of great patience we gave up and started to try to extricate ourselves from a contract with Virgin Media (and now 14 months later we still have not completely succeeded). But the good news is that we have now found a good alternative internet supplier, and somewhere in the Virgin Media world we are marked as a “dissatisfied customer”.

Another current worry is our main broadcasting desk. It is the heart of our broadcasting operation, but like most of our equipment was “bought for little money, second-hand ages ago” and actually was the height of fashion in a small commercial radio studio in the late 1980s / early 1990s. That desk remains a worry for the rest of 2017. The “seven year itch” continues.

 

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