On The Air – Part 1

Two weeks late, I wish all of my readers a happy new year! At this stage, most bloggers will be stating what they want to see, do, experience, write or some other mostly irrelevant thing that no one really wants to read, but if you must know, I think this is the year information becomes standardized and universal APIs developed that allow inter-web/app communication, but that is for another time and post. There are very good reasons why I have not blogged lately, mainly due to slightly unsuspecting things, like my running around like a headless chicken all weekend trying to find volunteering work for my Duke of Edinburgh award, or sorting out my printed circuit board design for a school project that turned out to have a fundamental problem from the start, or just sorting out preparations for the smooth transition to WordPress, which will happen once I manage to secure the £30 per year hosting cost [that is a larger problem than you might think!].
For now, however, lets move on to the bulk of todays post: the days when I was on the air. Now, this may seem a bit ambiguous to you; what the hell am I on about? Was I on TV? Radio? A big-name live podcast? To all those, I say no. I did something much more exciting than that, arguably.
What? Name one thing that can be more exciting than being on live TV, as I am sure many of you are thinking. To be honest, very few things are, but what I learned from my “on the air” experience is far more important to me than what live TV taught me (or could have taught me, If you want to be pedantic about it!).

A few years ago, myself, Jack Usher and one other unnamed friend had a fun idea, as one occasionally does. One evening, when we were all staying the night together, we thought, “why not start an online radio station?” Jack had been resourceful enough to find a program called Nicecast, allowing streaming of audio from a private IP, beforehand and had had a go broadcasting a few music streams. We all loved this idea! We got a rig set up and started broadcasting that very evening.
For this post, I would like to go into the method and equipment we used (and how these progressed over time) to broadcast and arrange our shows. At first, we initially had a MacBook Pro as the broadcaster, as Nicecast is a mac-only program. A Sony Vaio, hooked up to a small TV, contained all the music, streamed from We7 (with all adverts!) and all the title tunes that we had made in GarageBand, which we liked to call ringdings! We used 2 SingStar microphones with USB adaptor, at first, to broadcast our voice, until we acquired the kit to have them hooked up via a 3.5mm jack.
The old broadcast setup
Initially, we had a crappy 3.5mm jack cable from the Vaio to the MacBook. This would be unplugged and re-plugged depending on how we wanted to use the microphones, as at the time we had no splitter or better equipment! I still remember shouting at the top of my voice “Transition in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1”, and then something would inevitably go wrong! Either the program crashed, the microphone volume was too low or some other inexplicable error.
At the time, we had no clue about dynamic IP addresses; so all the paper cards we handed out were incorrect after the first week (We attempted to broadcast once a week)! The idea to create a website arose very quickly. We would update the linked IP address on it weekly and put information on it like studio pictures and the broadcast timetable. Later on, we started archiving the broadcasts and posting them on there. I myself created an FAQ section, as people at school were beginning to bug me with all their tech-inferiority, which ended up having plenty spelling, grammar and factual mistakes in it and subsequently needed touching up by Jack. Out of interest, Webs ran the site, as we could not be bothered to get proper hosting and a domain. We also ran a uStream feed on the site, which I worked out how to embed!) every time we broadcasted. We had the free .co.cc domain, but that expired and the provider could not type real English: “Please domain setup now!”.
Time progressed and we eventually decided to splurge for a splitter and a better 3.5mm cable! It is unbelievable how much one cable can change sound quality! Our transitions between the microphones and computer became simpler as time went on. By this stage, the broadcasts had become slightly more regular and we always went to Jack’s for the broadcast, where we became accustomed to slitting the broadcast into 2: pre-dinner and post-dinner, or as I like to say, pre-chocolate fudge cake and post-chocolate fudge cake. Allow me to elaborate; after dinner, we would invariably be served a slice of this cake. We would eat the entire thing. The consequence of this was that when we started part 2 of the broadcast, one could notice the quality of it gradually slipping, and that’s an understatement! We would usually be somewhat hyper during this, pumped up on cake in each of us, and worse yet, this happened during one of the hardest segments to coordinate!
I was tasked (as naturally happens!) to be, basically, the operations manager, even though my title was “Technical and Site Manager”. We had 2 shows, Northumberland Folk and Avec Joe. BBC4’s Archers inspired the first, and the second was a talk show. Broadcasting Northumberland Folk was always an ‘interesting’ experience to say the least, especially post-cake time. While we were still playing music (our favorite songs being ‘Use somebody’ and ‘Notion’ by Kings of Leon), I would run through with them what the general gist of the show should be, referring back to the previous episode notes that I had written for the site to come up with a plot. Both would all say they understood, and then I was criticized (again) for turning this into one of my ‘projects’, which, according to them, inevitably either fail impressively or do not achieve what I wanted them to achieve. This passed quickly, and then the show began….
Come back next week, or sooner, I have no idea, for part 2…
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