April 2010 National Technical Director Report

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National Technical Director Report – Jon Almeleh –April 2010

Since the availability of funds continues to be the big issue at Pacifica, Pacifica National Technology continues to concentrate on web development to update and improve our infrastructure at nominal costs to the foundation. Otis Maclay and I continue to work together designing and upgrading net-applications, providing support for the sister station and affiliate station technology requests, and providing service for Pacifica staff and governance needs.

Projects Current and Ongoing:

  • WPFW Transmitter - WPFW’s aging tube transmitter (which has been unreliable over the past two years) shut itself down on Saturday April 10th. A new tube was ordered which was installed on April 13th but which failed to operate properly. Since WPFW’s backup transmitter is only operating at 800-watts, a solid-state 2000-watt transmitter has been borrowed from WMNF, a Pacifica affiliate station in Tampa, Florida. Many thanks are due to our Executive Director, Arlene Engelhardt, WMNF GM Jim Bennett, Chief Engineer Bill Brown, as well as WPFW staff and management for their quick response during this technical emergency.


  • WBAI Phone System - A new phone system is being installed at WBAI. The installation is 90% finished and should be operating in two weeks time. This system will lower WBAI’s monthly phone expenses, provide improved reliability and new functionality.


  • Moving KPFT, WBAI and WPFW’s Websites - We have completed the move of the KPFT website and web-services to its new server at The Planet, and continue to work with WBAI to finish up its web-server move. We will then begin work on moving WPFW’s website as well.


  • CPB/SX Musical Copyright Reporting Project - The main project that has taken up the bulk of our time in the last three months is the system for SoundeExchange/CPB musical copyright reporting. All CPB funded stations that stream their broadcasts must sign on to the terms of the agreement between SoundExchange and CPB. The CPB pays the streaming license fees for the stations, but the station is required to report all copyrighted musical content for a two-week period each quarter year until 2015. By 2015, a new agreement will most probably require stations to report the musical copyrighted material 24/7/365 to stay legally compliant. We have created a web-application ironically named (“The Copyright Confessor”) for stations to fairly easily report all musical material they play. The required information needed for reporting is: Song Title, Artist Name, Album Title, Record Label, the time and date the song started playing, duration of the play, as well as how many listeners are on the stream at the time the song is played. Current development on this project include real-time reporting of current show title, descriptions and play-list information on the station’s website. An upcoming feature will send the show title/host and song information to the listener’s stream client software. Also scheduled is support for export and import of play-list information for programs that have national delivery. The copyright reporting software has been installed for each station and the schedules have been put into the system for each station. We continue to work with the staff from each station to get their system up and working. KPFT is currently entering reporting data into this system 24/7. Doug George was contracted to help us write a manual, a fact sheet and a FAQ document for this system.


Regarding the Copyright Reporting System

    • We are constantly updating the software for this system for increased functionality in keeping with programmers needs.


    • We have implemented a way for management to monitor the progress of the ongoing reporting process as well as a watchdog system for operations staff and national tech that monitors the responsiveness of the on-air play-list system and sends out notifications if the local station’s computer stops sending out timing information.


    • The system sends active program information to a frame on the station’s website which highlights the current show and shows play list information in real-time. At KPFT this website module is integrated with their pledge system to gently remind listeners to donate to the station.


    • In this last reporting period during the first quarter year of 2010, three out of the five sister stations used this system. We are currently working with WPFW to install the needed hardware and training to allow them to start using the system and with KPFA to integrate the system with their website and particular needs


    • We received an A+ grade for the formatting of our SX reports for KPFT, KPFK and WPFW. The SoundExchange Project Manager proclaimed the KPFT data we sent to be a “spotless play-list file.” Four out of the five stations reported and had their data accepted. We continue to work to bring WPFW up to speed for the 2nd quarter’s reporting period.


  • AudioPort Upgrade - Upgraded AudioPort (Pacifica’s program-file distribution system) for greater reliability as well as new features such as upload progress indicators and automated audio file delivery for stations that broadcast specific shows on a regular basis. (Podcasts). We are currently testing the upgraded software with several of our “power” users and will tweak the code when necessary and unveil the new version as soon as they report back their findings. Other upcoming features include upload and delivery capabilities for SoundExchange reporting. We are also currently seeking input from our sister and affiliate stations on the features they would most like to see in future upgrades
  • Staff Registry - We have created a staff registry to collect contact information for all the paid and unpaid staff members working at the five stations, the PRA and for the national office. This system will allow us to know who is working within our network, as is required by labor law, to assess whether they qualify as staff members under our Bylaws, to communicate with those individuals, and to respond quickly when needed, as in the case of accidents, etc., as is also required. We will work with HR and station management to start the process of helping staff create their accounts shortly.


  • Subcarrier Projects - Installed the equipment, negotiated the terms, and proofread the contracts for subcarrier broadcast (SCA) leases at WBAI and WPFW, which will bring in additional revenue over the next three years. We have just sent out the contract to lease the second subchannel at WBAI.


  • Web Donation System - Otis Maclay designed a donation system initially coded for KPFT’s website which can be used throughout the network. I can also be modified for use on local computers, providing a way for our fundraiser volunteers to enter data directly into a computer based system. Data thus entered can be checked for accuracy, and then imported directly into MEMSYS, our membership database software. This will improve the accuracy of membership data, response time of the pledge invoicing and reduce the need for staff involvement in this crucial operation.


Ongoing and Future Projects:

  • Station Online Program Archive - Upgrading the functionality of the program storage-archiver coded by Otis (which is used by most of our sister and many of our affiliate stations) to allow the producers to enter descriptions that would automatically generate the Issues/Program/Public Service list required by each station as part of their Public Information File. This feature will also help us create an index for the Pacifica Radio Archives’ “Program Storage Vault.” We have incorporated Pod-Casting functionality into the KU satellite program-storage-archiver to automate program time shifting for affiliate stations broadcast.


  • WBAI and WPFW Technical Infrastructure Upgrades – We continue working with management and staff at both WBAI and WPFW, planning and implementing the upgrade of the outdated technical infrastructures. Some of the projects we are currently working on at those stations include:


    • Finding a solution to keep WPFW broadcasting during the lead abetment project on WAMU’s tower, (where WPFW broadcasts from and which will affect WPFW’s signal during that project’s time period.


    • Resolving the problems associated with WPFW’s transmitter as well as its ageing remote control and routing equipment.


    • Investigating and planning for the possible alternatives to the Empire State Building’s proposed improvements that if implemented will likely increase the rental costs at WBAI’s transmitter/tower site.


    • Working with station management, staff and our RF consultant on grant applications to replace the existing transmitters at both WBAI and WPFW with new solid-state transmitters.


    • Planning for the impending relocation of the studios at both WBAI and WPFW in 2012


  • National Websites - Updating the national websites - We will work with station web staff this year on a strategy for updating the national websites and redesigning the National Pacifica websites when time and finances permit.


  • Affiliates Database – We are starting to code the structure for an online database for the Affiliates Coordinator, which would contain information about our affiliate stations to be accessed online by Pacifica management and staff.


  • PRA Program Storage Vault - Planning The Pacifica Radio Archives “Program Storage Vault” which once fully operational will allow The PRA to record all the programming from our five sister stations as high quality audio files. The high quality MP3 audio-streams from the Pacifica sister stations will be written directly to hard drives on our servers, which would be replicated at The PRA. The program descriptions of the files in the index will be propagated to The PRA system from each local station’s program storage-archives.


  • Automated National Governance Streaming System - Developing an automated system to stream the Pacifica “governance” teleconferences. Otis Maclay and I have as volunteers streamed thousands of tale-meetings as per the bylaws since 2003. Since there has not been any money allocated for a part-time paid position to stream these meetings and the task adds close to 20 hours of extra hours of work a week, we are now addressing the formation of a system which will automatically stream all meetings noticed on the Pacifica calendar


Continuing functions provided by the Pacifica National Technology Department:

  • Provide technical support tor national staff, local and affiliate stations.


  • Facilitate national and local station broadcasts, engineering on site, and re-editing and uploading the audio for AudioPort distribution.


  • Provided technical infrastructure for PNB functions including the streaming of the PNB in-person meetings, teleconferences, and teleconferenced committee meetings.