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Mmmmm, just had dinner at
Rocky Mountain Pizza
over by Georgia Tech. I’ve never had pizza
there, only their Smokehouse Burger. We’ve taken to always getting the
sweet potato fries. Tasty! Part of the deal was that we also got to
play the South Park pinball machine, one of my favorites.

Haven’t yet mentioned it here, but I’m on a mad dash to finish the
next Reality Break book. It will have interviews with Michael Moorcock, Kage Baker, Storm Constantine and
probably a fourth writer as well. I have targets on the length, so if
it runs short I’ll add another person in. I’m leaning towards James
Patrick Kelly, but Elizabeth Hand is also on the list. I’m trying to
group them such that it makes sense having them all in the same
volume. I just don’t know. This part is hard. To think that at one
point I thought I could put out three volumes a year. Ha! I’ve been nine
months on this and I’m not done! I so want to be done with the text by
next weekend, but that’s looking unlikely.

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Music Topic For as many days as I can maintain it, I’m going to try to make an
entry every day about a musician I love. To keep it all webloggy, I’m going to
limit it to musicians that offer their MP3s. Other than WREK, this is
how I find out about new bands nowadays. I was going to start with the
one I like most, but since this is a new weblog, I’ll hold off and
present one I just found a few days ago.

The Kropotkins
caught my eye while looking up Mulatta Records for WREK. They have
Dave Soldier (of the Soldier String Quartet), and !!Mo Tucker!! of the
!!Velvet Underground!! in the band. Wow! Mo used to live in Georgia,
maybe she still does. I downloaded the MP3 of their song Sissy Wa Wa and I’ve
listened to it 30 times in the last few days. It has a skip-rope
cadence, funky guitar and bass, and just plain rocks. I must find out more
about this band.

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TV TopicOver the coming weeks I will write here about WREK 91.1 FM in Atlanta a fair
bit. It is, in my opinion, a brilliant idiot savant of a radio
enterprise. I worked there for several years in the 80’s, then did
Reality Break there in the 90’s, and upon returning to Atlanta in 2000
got back involved. The idiot savant bit is because the station is
soooo good at presenting interesting, challenging programming –
traditionally the hard part of a station. Where they fall down is on
the simplest things, like returning phone calls, showing up for shifts,
faxing in things that need to go somewhere. Dealing with them is
simultaneously uplifting and frustrating.

While I was laid off last year, I rebuilt some of the systems of the
station. In my day, we had an automation system that was like a
steampunk affair. There were multiple reel-to-reels that contained
“oldies” on them, a set of “current” rotation songs on carts that were
in a big chain driven player. The carts contained a song from our
rotation plus an announcement of what it was, group, album, etc. The
voices were grouped and colorcoded and (ideally) all the same voice
throughout. So, you’d load up 50 carts of one voice, matching genres
to the current format. When automation was running, it would play a
cart, then cut to a reel, then back to a cart, then to a different
reel. Because the voices were the same, it approximated a DJ doing a

This was typically done overnight, during breaks or finals week, or
other times when manpower was scarce. Because Georgia Tech has no
communication/radio and TV type major, WREK has almost no one who is
looking to radio as a career path. This is in stark contrast to our
Album 88
, the
Georgia State
station. Because they are manned by radio/TV
students who are burning to go into the music business, they have a
much easier time manning the place. There is a waiting list to get to
do the 2-6 AM Sunday AM shift, something that WREK can’t fill to save
their lives, especially not with a live person spinning records. So,
with automation you could set it up by loading carts, sleep while it
ran and if there were problems an alarm would wake you up. This helped
alleviate the manpower situation.

Somewhere around 1997 or 1998, the chain-driven cart changer
broke and was deemed unfixable. This immediately meant the death of
automation as they knew it, which then caused a domino effect of
failures throughout the organization. To do an overnight required one
to not sleep so as to spin CDs and records, so people stopped doing
them. When unmanned, the station would hit the power button and go
Off! The! Air! This seemed not to bother folks, who just shrugged, but
it made my head explode. I couldn’t seem to explain to folks how
incredibly loserish this was, and why any reasonable listener –
after turning to 91.1 and getting static enough times – would stop
turning there.

Fast forward to May 2001. I get laid off from my software
engineering job on a Thursday. The next day, I begin work on the new
automation system. Luckily, a team of us who were tasked with rebuilding
it had spent that spring discussing the requirements
and design. The day I became available to work on it, I started turning the
requirements into a design that met them and doing all the things I
normally do as a software engineer. I did all this for a complicated
group of reasons, with a mix of altruism and selfishness.

  • I wanted WREK on the air, all the time
  • I wanted it sounding good with the wonky format all its fans love
  • I did not want to sit around the house moping about being
    unemployed, and this kept me working (albeit without pay)

  • It allowed me to write things on my resume that I wanted there,
    like Oracle and PHP experience

  • It made me feel cool.

A very brief overview of the system:
The heart of it is
, an electronic digital audio management tool for radio
stations. The raw songs, promos, PSAs, etc are recorded in this. I
redid their database to better scale and allow for definition of
songs, automation, etc. I built a management system in PHP that lets
them handle records, program them, add songs, etc. Through a cool COM
object, Javascript on a web page allows one to press a button and load
up Audiovault with the correct information. Finally, I built a Java
process that takes the “business logic” information from the Oracle
database, the “physical inventory” information from Audiovault and
correlates it into a coherent library. At that point, it knows what
songs it has, what formats they are, when they’ve been played, etc. A
scheduler then fills out a 24 hour chunk of the schedule, playing
ambient cuts at the right time, mixing it up for the diverse formats,
playing IDs at the top of the hour.

Because my work philosophy involves having something that does
anything as soon as possible (rather than having a system that doesn’t
do anything until it can do everything, which is freakishly common)
automation was on the air doing test shifts in less than 5 weeks from
project start. It had engineering problems, but it could do the basics
of scheduling songs and playing them in June of 2001. Through a summer
of hard work developing, digitizing and doing basically every aspect
of this project, I left them with a system that is robust and good. It
sounds great, and unlike the old chain driven affair, almost never has
problems. It is so stable that by adding some stuff at the transmitter
shack, automation can run the station without a DJ. In fact, other
than an hour after a lightning strike last week, the station hasn’t
signed off since April. This is so essential to rebuilding lost
listenership, and now they have 24 X 7 operation, nearly for free. As
a listener I love it. I can get in my car at 7 AM and there they are,
providing me pygmy drums and free jazz. I love it! Not only does the
station sound great and operate fulltime but I think I did the best
engineering work of my career on it. I’m still doing it, in fact.

Here are some cool links associated with the station.

Listen live via MP3

See the most recent songs automation has played (that’s right, the
automation playlists are on the web while live DJs are not.) This is a
good place to see the demented brilliance that is WREK. This morning
around 8 AM, a Chicano version of “Sugar Sugar” segued into a folky
guitar thing into the Residents. That’s pretty typical of what you get
in the night and weekend formats.

See the
most recent albums programmed

That’s enough for now. Check them out. Later, I’ll even tell you the
story of the race to become the first radio bitcasters.

One Reply to “No Title”

  1. Hi Evil, I’m writing from the middle of nowhere – the edge of nowhere to be more precise. (kununurra west australia) The boys at the local volunteer radio station have asked me to help them try and get their new AudioVault automation system working. They have no idea and neither do I, although I have plenty of recording studio / systems experience. Is there somewhere I can get a decent manual? All I want to do is point the AV system at the d:\Avvol instead of the c:\avvol and I reckon it would all work.

    PLease help if you have an ounce of decency in your otherwise evil genius body. PUHLEASE????

    I really don’t know that much about Audoivault. We had another alumnus who runs a broadcast electronics consulting firm, and he did all this work of installing, configuring AV and such. I only know the smallest bit of how to interface with it. My work basically began where AV ended. I’ve never had a manual. I’m very sorry, but I don’t have any answers for you.

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