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A Techs Blog

Whilst we are broadcasting 7 days a week the small technical team are working behind the scenes. For those that might be interested I thought I start a blog of the sorts of technical problems and projects we have at Vintage Radio. I only enter stuff in this section at random, as and when the moment occurs. 

A frustrating day in the studio 26/7/13

I ahd a list of things to do so arranged to spend most of the in the studio.  Got the new 4TB RAID system working but a) it wouldn't interface with the supposedly compatible APC UPS system we recently purchased and b) it wouldn't shut down or reboot via its management software. I also put some new firmware in but that made no discernible difference. So am sending it back to ebuyer and getting a refund and will get another make. The other RAID worked OK with the UPS. I have now given up on Seagate NAS's and will probably get a Buffalo or Zyxel once I get our money back.

I also looked at the three record decks in the studio as had been gettingrequest from presenters to be abale to play vinyl discs - remember those.  My old deck gives  a good sound but the cartridge keeps dropping out - due to some plastic mouldings that are broken, so that's a non-starter. The second desk is incompatible with my cartridge so can't use that as its cartridge is broken. There is a third one and that's sort of works but the sound quality is appalling. It now has an audio health warning attached to it. Have suggested to our vice-presidenthe might look for some of his £10 specials unless someone has one to donate. 

So I didn't get round to looking at sync software. All in all 1 step forward and 5 back! Very frustrating..

Windows 7, Radio DJ and resilience

Added a new server to our back office systems last week. Split two sets of software on two Atom based PC's over three systems. Also had to put all software onto one of the PC's to act as a multi-purpose backup to any of the others. The new server is Windows 7  with Net4 installed. Then found that our streaming software works under net4 but is really less fragile and a lot happier with Net3.5. Installing Net3.5 and its service pack should have been straightforward but wasn't but it got there in the end. I really love Microsoft at times!

Unfortunately our recovery solution is not that  elegant but we have one and recovery will take several hours to a day but at least we have a backup strategy that gives us a degree of resilience against single faults. Our streamer was an Atom based Asus nettop (running Windows XP) that has been running for the past 2.5 years or so. We have to reboot to do OS updates. Similarly we have a smart ethernet switch which gives us multiple VLANs for the studio LAN and a enterprise scale router and firewall appliance.  If these break we have to use some spare 2nd hand consumer style kit. We lose the VLAN capability, not ideal but its a a solution. When you have little cash to build a solution you have to be a little creative at times.

Have finally managed to get in place a programme archive strategy that gives us physical and geographical resilience for our programme files. File structure still needs some work.

Found a really good and very flexible data file (and is free) backup software package called Cobian. (http://www.cobiansoft.com/cobianbackup.htm

Recording our Live Day programmes

All our Live Day programmes are recorded automatically. We do this so we can re-use some of the live material again. For some time we have been recording the complete Live Days output as a single mp3 file. Mainly because we haven't been able to find the right software that didn't cost us anything that would produce recordings in 1 hour chunks! Our typical Live Day files produced mp3 files of about 1GB. Not exactly easy to move around let alone edit. We changed our software to one that could be fully automated earlier in the year. It had been working quite hqppily until November when we discovered that our recordings were being corrupted - actually the recordings were too distorted to re-use. We haven't been able to check all files yet as we have quite a back log of materail to check. It looks as if just recordings in the first 2 weeks of November were affected. We have no idea what has caused this as nothing had been changed. The only possible answer is that a Windows update had somehow affected the sound card drivers and hence the  sound levels. Unlikely but possible. However, since the middle of November we changed to a briliiant new piece of software by http://www.playitsoftware.com/. it uses a GUI based scheduling system and for the past month approx. has been totally bomb proof and has also produced excellent recordings. It allows us to produce our Live Day recording in  hourly files which makes moving them around and editing the files very straightforward. Most Live Day programmes are in 1 hr or 2 hr chunks.The software is also free. The developers are also very helpful and responsive.

We do have a studio based recorder but this is used for in-studio recording of prgrammes and those presenters that wish to make a individual record of their live programmes.

Finger problems

Crashing the web site and not having a viable backup are two very embarrasing things to do by station support.

I was creating a local copy of the web site database using an old local backup and failed to notice that the database the upgrade software was referencing wasn't my local database but the one on our web hosting server. When I noticed it was too late. We lost a lot of presenter page data and news items plus some recent user loin data.. Fortunately this databse update glitch also could be turned round to edit the database to the latest copy of a web site backup we had. 

The moral of this story is check , then check again before pressing the update commit button. Also keep more up to date backups is the second.

Tech Coordinator -  absolutely mortified with embarrassment.

Idle hands

In our Green Room we requred a PC for simple web browsing by office staff. As we had no spare Windows XP licences I installed Ubuntu Linux partly on the basis that we had no Linux users and hence would discourage tinkering whilst still offering a Windows like experience. It was only really there to offer a browser to access the Vintage web site and our webmail account. Despite that idle hand went to work and made a mess of the desktop and rendered the PC virtually unusable. It wasn't actually clear what they were doing. We have a technical team available to answer questions (me!) - like how do I do this????? and it doesn't work! So I normally would have had a 16 mile round trip to fix the problem. Fortuntely I was coming to listen to a lecture on FM vs DAB courtesy of the IET at the YMCA and someone drove me there so it wasn't too much of a problem.