Back again

Aug. 7th, 2017 02:05 pm
necturus: 2016-12-30 (Default)
See this list? Those are all the radio stations I am dealing with in one form or another. Some of them are listed multiple times, because each listing represents a particular machine and some stations have more than one.

I bring this up as a way to explain why I haven't been around much lately. Some of my recent challenges include:

1) A set of boxes that my predecessor installed to feed an FM radio station through the Internet have stopped working reliably. The FM station is so stuttery and broken up that it's not listenable, and my only recourse is to replace these boxes with a pair of Comrex BRIClinks, which are better able to handle Internet congestion.

2) The satellite that most national radio networks, including the ones we use at our New Hampshire and Vermont stations, died at the end of June. The networks moved to a new satellite in a different position in the sky. We had to install a new dish at our central Vermont station because the old one couldn't get a signal from the new satellite. We pointed our New Hampshire dish at the new satellite, but it only receives Rush Limbaugh reliably. We keep getting dropouts during Boston Red Sox broadcasts, among others.

3) The microwave system that delivers programming to one of our transmitter sites from the local studio is working, but just barely; trees have grown up to the point where they're starting to block the signal.

4) An asshole performance rights organization wants us to pay a lot of money for the rights to stream music from three of our stations. These stations are not making money; they're being supported by our talk stations, and I'm sorely tempted not to stream them at all.

5) We had to spend the weekend before last disassembling the studio of our classical station and reassembling it in a new space. But it works and is reliable.

6) One of the most powerful AM stations in New Hampshire was running at 20% power when we took it over. We have it up to about 95% power now, but one of the other tenants at the site says it's intermodulating with their transmissions.

7) We have an AM station in Vermont and a construction permit for a translator that will allow it to broadcast also on FM. We have been trying to get our prospective landlord to agree to let us put in a telephone pole with an FM antenna and a small box at the base for the transmitter, but after agreeing in principle to the project and agreeing to the proposed rent amount, the landlord is nitpicking over the language of the proposed lease.

8) We don't have enough sales talent, especially in Vermont. One of the Vermont stations needs a General Manager.

9) McDonald's is changing ad agencies and refocusing on national rather than local advertising. They'll be dropping our stations, and we'll have to replace the lost business somehow.

Checking in

Jun. 2nd, 2017 12:34 am
necturus: 2016-12-30 (Default)
I'm driving myself batty dealing with all these radio stations, ours and other people's.

Springfield, Vermont, is not doing well. Once a prosperous industrial town whose factories produced machine tools, it is now depressed and decaying. The guy who formerly ran our radio station there was selling commercials for 17 cents apiece. Even if we sold out at that rate, we'd still be losing money. The guy running one of our other stations in a somewhat larger but still depressed town in New Hampshire said he can make a modest living at $3 per spot.

The Boston and Maine Railroad used to offer service between Boston and Montreal on three different routes; all three are abandoned today, with portions of each converted to bike paths. The Cheshire Branch, which ran from Fitchburg, a city in northern Worcester County, Massachusetts, to Bellows Falls, Vermont, ran parallel to the roads I often use to drive to Springfield, Vermont or Newport, NH. It last saw a passenger train in 1958, and was abandoned in the late 1980's. I keep thinking how much more pleasant my trips up there would be if the trains still ran. Bellows Falls, Claremont, White River Junction, and Randolph still have passenger service, but only from New York not Boston. The Randolph, Vermont station is about half an hour's walk from our radio station in that town. In the old days, I could have taken a train directly there from Boston's North Station via Manchester NH, Concord, Lebanon, and White River Junction. That train seems to have stopped running in 1965, and the rails were pulled up between Concord and White River Junction shortly after the infamous Guilford Transportation Industries acquired the B&M in 1982. Guilford changed its name to Pan Am Railways several years ago, and now uses the former airline's logo, which you can see on boxcars and locomotives, where it looks singularly out of place.

Meanwhile, every minute I spend behind the wheel of a car is a minute of my life wasted. And The Man in the Tin Foil Hat wants to defund Amtrak. Asshole.

Holy cow!

May. 5th, 2017 11:23 pm
necturus: 2016-12-30 (Default)
We just got a $10,000 bill from the Boston Red Sox Radio Network.

I wonder if we get anything like that in ad revenue from the broadcasts, especially after commission.

Rush Limbaugh only charges $900 a quarter.
necturus: 2016-12-30 (Default)
It was chilly and drizzling in Dover, NH, where I spent most of the day, but 66 (F) and sunny back home in Greater Boston.

I am angry at myself because once again I made a mistake running the payroll for our radio stations after I got home. The damn payroll service won't let me fix it, so I'll have to add $115 to the guy's paycheck next time.

Since I started doing these things in February, I have not been able to do a single payroll run without making at least one mistake. I hate looking like an idiot in the eyes of our employees.

There are so many loose ends when it comes to buying radio stations. Idiot utilities we don't know we're supposed to be paying will send invoices into a black hole every month and then cut us off for non-payment.

Today I was confronted with a long list of mostly useless domain names I have to transfer from the seller, and some blogs which appear to have expired because we haven't been paying the invoices they didn't send us.

In the immortal words of the great Joss Whedon: grrr, arrgh.


Apr. 26th, 2017 10:08 pm
necturus: 2016-12-30 (Default)
I think this is the first evening in a very long time that I haven't had some sort of commitment. I'm still working full time at my consulting business while the radio stations we bought start to generate income.

We didn't buy the seller's accounts receivable, and radio clients often take 2 - 3 months to pay, so after almost three months of ownership, we're just starting to see money coming in. That means both of us have to hold on to our day jobs for now, making for some pretty long hours. Getting up at 3 AM yesterday to rescue a station 80 miles away didn't help.

There's very little room for anything else in my life right now. That's not good.
necturus: 2016-12-30 (Default)
I've been spending way too much time behind the wheel of my car during the last couple weeks. There have been a number of scary situations: giant piles of snow making it impossible to see oncoming traffic; driving straight into the sun during afternoon rush hour; idiots appearing suddenly in my blind spot; and on one occasion, the car in front of me *stopping* at the end of a highway onramp, afraid to merge into traffic.

It occurs to me that autonomous vehicles, when they start to appear on the roads, are not likely to play well with Massachusetts drivers. The robot cars are surely going to get stuck in situations where they have to play chicken with human-driven cars in order to make certain turns or merge into crowded highways. When they fail, they'll back up everyone behind them, and the result will be a huge clusterfsck.

They're going to have to legislate manually driven cars off the road.
necturus: 2016-12-30 (Default)
The manager running our two Vermont stations sent us an email an hour after we closed on Friday, saying he doesn't want to work in broadcast media any more and, therefore, he was resigning immediately. We knew his stations had been underperforming for a couple years, and had intended to have a talk with him once the dust had settled. But I guess he had plans of his own. Good luck to him.
necturus: 2016-12-30 (Default)
Tomorrow (Friday) my brother and I close on the purchase of all but one of the radio stations we're buying. The last was approved by the FCC later than the rest, and its forty day period of fasting and penitence doesn't end until later in February. We have to wait for the Final Order, which automatically happens forty days after the initial approval. In the interim, the FCC can change its mind (rare), or a third party can file an objection (more common). The other stations became Final this week, but the last one still has some time to go yet.

This is going to be a busy month.
necturus: 2016-12-30 (Default)
I wish I could get across to some people on one of my broadcast mailing lists that there is essentially no difference between someone who works for a company the size of Verizon and someone who works for, say, the Department of State. Neither has any incentive to give us ordinary mortals the time of day, and both can make our lives miserable with the stroke of a pen or the click of a mouse.

I have spent days trying to get Verizon Wireless to transfer seven telephone numbers from the seller's account to ours, so we can keep using them when we take over the radio stations next month. Verizon is contorting itself in spectacularly perverted ways in order not to cooperate. I have spent hours on the phone with them to no avail. Their latest suggestion is that I go personally to one of their stores. I will try that later today, after stopping by the post office to submit another passport application after the State Department summarily denied my last one on Saturday.

The Trump-loving curmudgeons on the mailing list were ranting the other day against DAB, the digital radio system that Norway has deployed to replace FM radio in that country, calling it "socialist" because it forces all radio stations in a local area to use the same transmitter, insuring they all have precisely the same coverage. This is, of course, "un-American", unlike, say, cable television, where all the TV stations have the same coverage because they all go where Comcast's cable goes, and not an inch farther. But while Comcast may be the most hated company in America, the Norwegian government is the GOVERNMENT. That's socialism!

Ironically, transferring the seller's Comcast accounts to our company has been quite painless so far.
necturus: 2016-12-30 (Default)
D-O-N, A-L-D, T-R-U-M-P.

[Yes, his name actually fits the song, and even rhymes! Who knew?]

Come along and sing the song and join the G.O.P.

D-O-N, A-L-D, T-R-U-M-P.

Donald Trump (Mickey Mouse!)
Donald Trump (Mickey Mouse!)
Forever let us hold our banners high (high, high, high);

Now it's time to say good-bye to our democracy,

N-you real soon!

D? Because Americans are so gullible!

necturus: 2016-12-30 (Default)
The FCC has granted its permission for my brother and me to assume control of the radio stations we're buying. February 3 is the date we've set to consummate the deal.

There is a lot to be done between now and then.

[The title, which translates as "customs has given the green light", is a line from the movie, "White Sun of the Desert", a "red western" traditionally shown to cosmonauts the night before launch.]
necturus: 2016-12-30 (Default)
I saw an article the other day that asked how we know we live in the real universe and not in an elaborate simulation, a Matrix-like virtual reality. To me, the answer is that every attempt at imagining a world, from the earliest novels to the newest movies and video games, has inconsistencies, discontinuities, or anachronisms. Every piece of software ever written has at least one bug. If we lived in a simulation, we'd see such things in every day life. Miracles, we'd call them. But there aren't any miracles, edges, seams, or limits in the real world. It goes on forever, seamlessly, and every attempt we make to get to the bottom of it reveals still more. Columbus's ships didn't go over the edge. The world is not hollow, and no one has touched the sky.

And the world works smoothly. It doesn't crash or run out of memory. It never needs rebooting; its batteries never need charging, and it doesn't have one of those switching power supplies whose capacitors eventually dry out. It won't catch an update from Microsoft that suddenly breaks some critical function, and its software never outgrows its hardware.

From an early age, I've been interested in technology. I watched on my parents' TV as John Glenn was launched into orbit. I followed the Gemini and Apollo programs with great interest, and Wernher von Braun was one of my heroes, even if he later turned out to be an SS-Sturmbannführer. I built my own Estes rockets and even competed in the National Association of Rocketry's NARAM-13. I became a ham radio operator. I discovered computers, in the form of an IBM 2741 Communications Terminal connected to an IBM 370 mainframe, at the age of 15.

I was a teenage computer hacker, back in the days when computers cost millions of dollars, required legions of white-coated attendants, and lived in giant air-conditioned rooms. I mastered FORTRAN, COBOL, PL/I, APL, and the IBM 029 card punch. In college, I stood amazed as I watched someone on a computer in Cambridge, Massachusetts, connect to another computer in Berkeley, California, via something called ARPANET. I never imagined that some four decades later, the same network, now called the Internet, would be so important in our lives.

After college I began a career in radio. It was all analog in those days: vinyl records, reel-to-reel tape, and NAB tape cartridges that resembled 8-track tapes but had only two audio tracks and a cue track. Transmitters and even some audio equipment had vacuum tubes. One station where I work still has a transmitter with tubes, a venerable Gates BC-1J, built in 1955. But it's only a backup.

Analog technology had its frustrations, for there are myriad subtle ways in which analog technology can fail. "The sound has no balls"; "there's no low end"; "the horns sound like kazoos." But those frustrations were almost entirely for us technical types to cope with; the average user found analog technologies very easy to use.

Today I often find myself dealing with digital technologies and user interfaces that are anything but intuitive. How should I know I'm supposed to press F12 to bring up the screen that lets me record a new cut for airplay? It takes me ten minutes to figure out how to reset the clock in my car radio every spring and fall. I am repeatedly bombarded with questions by ordinary users who can't get through a simple Web site registration.

Why does Windows often require a reboot after the most trivial update? It's because of Windows file locking, designed to prevent one process from modifying or deleting a file in use by another process. Windows file locking is primitive, reflecting the fact that Windows evolved from DOS, which only allowed one user to do one thing at a time. Linux and MacOS, by contrast, evolved from UNIX, which was designed from the beginning to be multi-user, multi-tasking. In Linux, you can do anything to any file (if you have the right permissions), and the operating system will sort everything out.

Windows file locking used to take one of my clients' stations off the air. It happened during Boston Celtics basketball broadcasts: the network would signal for a commercial break, and the station's computer would play the commercials, after which the station went silent instead of going back to the game. It didn't do that all the time, only once a month or so, and I tore my hair out trying to figure out why this Thursday's game had a problem and last Thursday's didn't. It turned out that the station was trying to record ABC News headlines during the game, and if the news was already cued up and waiting to run when the record command came down, Windows wouldn't let the file be opened, and the software would crash. The software developers whom I contacted couldn't figure it out, and it took me a couple months to do so.

Right now I'm trying to figure out why a backup process that has been running every night for eight months is only backing up a few of the files. This isn't running under Windows, but under Linux. And while I'm watching it, it seems to be performing flawlessly. But when I check the backup repository, nothing is being written there.

In the immortal words of Joss Whedon: grrr, aaargh.
necturus: 2016-12-30 (Default)
A depressed friend whom I have been offering support and encouragement these past few months well nigh bit my head off on the phone just now.
necturus: 2016-12-30 (Default)
The FCC has granted permission for us to acquire five of the six radio stations; permission for the sixth will likely come by the end of the week. However, these decisions aren't final and are subject to "petitions to deny" from anyone who might feel we shouldn't be allowed to buy one or more of the stations, for whatever reason. We are therefore not going to close until the FCC has made its decisions final, which will be a few weeks from now if all goes well.

We have a lot of homework to do in the meantime, and this is my least favorite time of year, when even getting out of bed in the morning is a challenge. Ugh.

I spoke with the seller last night; he is spending the winter in Florida, where it was 75 degrees outside.

Meanwhile, I am still trying to make my clients happy. One of the stations I support has a problem with its audio processor that is intermittently producing digital distortion on the air. Of course, I don't have a spare. That's the problem with running radio stations on a low budget; when something goes wrong it can take a while to fix, and meanwhile listeners are tuning out. There's a crappy old Optimod at another station I can install this evening; they're not going to like how it sounds, but it will be better than doing nothing.

I just read two more articles predicting that Donald Trump's policies will trigger a new economic boom. I suspect these people are indulging in wishful thinking; regulation and high taxes on the rich have certainly not been holding us back, so getting rid of them is hardly going to unleash a flood of new economic activity.

Meanwhile, assholes on the radio keep telling lies and distorting facts. Howie Carr was ranting yesterday on one of my clients' stations about the Obama administration disciplining scientists at the Department of Energy for not supporting his "climate change cult". Howie, where you deserve to go it's going to get lot hotter than 2 degrees Celsius.

Oh, and I should mention that this guy is also on one of the stations we're buying, and we're going have to keep him there. Grumble grumble grumble, mutiny mutiny mutiny.
necturus: 2016-12-30 (Default)
An unusual string trio from a Siberian orchestra recorded this rock version of a 1970's-era Komsomol song. The tune is by the celebrated Russian composer Alexandra Pakhmutova.

Although this is an instrumental performance, the words of the original song offer some hope in this time of darkness:

"In summer heat and winter snow, the world is poor but also rich;
The youth of the planet, our brigade of builders, is with us;
And the battle goes on, and our hearts are troubled;
And [somewhere] a young Lenin awaits his new October."

(words by N. Dobronravov; translation mine)
necturus: 2016-12-30 (Default)
It's not really that cold. but it will probably get down into the teens (F) before morning.

December is my least favorite month of the year, and this year it comes with the realization that some truly evil people are going to be taking over the government in a few weeks.

On Tuesday I had someone approach me, through a third party, asking for a job. I sent back the message that there might be something available, and to give me a call. But we won't make any changes right away; my brother and I need to get up to speed ourselves and identify what is and is not working at the stations we're buying.

The FCC will probably give us the green light in about a month. There's little to do but wait until then.

It was a very dear friend of mine's birthday yesterday. Unfortunately, she's not here to celebrate it; she died on Thanksgiving Day in 2013. We all miss her sorely.


Nov. 20th, 2016 12:27 am
necturus: 2016-12-30 (Default)
Donald Trump is being called a fascist. As far as I am concerned, the jury is still out, but it is clear that if he delivers on his promise to boost the standard of living of his working-class supporters, it can only be by following in the Fuehrer's footsteps: massive infrastructure spending; re-equipping and vastly expanding the military; and, ultimately, war.

Will he go there? We'll see.

Part of me wants to move to New Zealand or somewhere equally far away.
necturus: 2016-12-30 (Default)
The FCC is still considering applications to transfer the licenses of six radio stations in Vermont and New Hampshire to my brother and me. We expect a green light in January, after which we'll consummate the deal and become radio station owners.

There are two country music stations, two news-talk stations, one with a "variety" music format, and one that plays classical music. The news-talk stations account for most of the advertising revenue, and that's a problem for me because "news-talk" in the radio industry is a euphemism for right-wing propaganda. Rush Limbaugh, Howie Carr, and Michael Savage feature prominently on both stations and we have to tread carefully lest we wreck the business. If we dump any of these shows, Great Eastern or Binnie Media, our two principal competitors, will pick them up along with the local advertisers who support them. Right now I am leaning toward adding more local content with the goal of broadening the range of views included in our programming, but whatever we do has to be compelling and interesting. We can't just slip "Democracy Now" into the schedule; it tends to focus on events and issues that aren't very relevant to residents of the upper valley, and the style of presentation leaves much to be desired.

But it particularly galls me when Howie Carr asserts that science is an arbitrary belief system comparable to religion, and calls global climate change a "cult". If the scientific method were not valid, technologies built on its findings -- such as radio -- wouldn't exist, and Howie Carr would have no audience.

I am greatly disturbed by the election of Donald Trump, and wonder if his regime will even allow us to broadcast once he consolidates his power.
necturus: 2016-12-30 (Default)
One of my clients' radio stations has been off the air since 6 AM because of a power failure. Supposedly the electric company is working on the problem, but when I found the supervisor earlier this evening it became clear that they hadn't done a damn thing all day.

Boston Edison, as it used to be, responded pretty quickly to these sorts of emergencies. They sold out to a company called NStar a few years ago, and NStar sold out (last year? the year before? time does fly) to something called Eversource, which is a national company, no longer based locally. And Eversource, like the phone company, doesn't have to care.

This has to end tonight; I can't be here to deal with it tomorrow, as another client needs me in New Hampshire to help cut over to a brand new studio.
necturus: 2016-12-30 (Default)
Amtrak's last remaining full-length dome car, Ocean View, is running in one of the Downeaster train sets between now and the middle of September. I rode it last Saturday, and it's on this train right now. It would have been more enjoyable earlier in the summer when the days were longer; as I type this, it's almost too dark to see anything.

The Downeaster is a very comfortable ride and usually runs on time -- this year, anyway; last year it was all bolluxed up due to track work by the successor to the old Boston and Maine Railroad, which, believe it or not, calls itself Pan Am Railways and uses the old airline logo.

I love New England. There is so much to see and experience here. I keep finding new gems, like the magnificent stone train station in Laconia, NH, where I had lunch while visiting a radio station where I did some work. They had passenger rail service from Boston until 1965. I am always surprised to see a stone station on the ex-B&M; the ex-New York Central Boston & Albany line had quite a few of them, but the B&M trended more toward wooden stations, most of which haven't survived.

Are we running late? That's what I get for writing that this train is usually on time. I am meeting J. for dnner, after which I'll get to see J's kitty cats, Victoria and Sadie, also known as the Calico Cabal.
Page generated Oct. 22nd, 2017 01:53 pm
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios