The PREC (Public Radio Engineering Conference) took place from April 4th through 6th. This was my first time attending, and I was awarded a scholarship to do so by the APRE (Association of Public Radio Engineers), who holds the event.
The scholarship is awarded to people who are new to the public radio engineering industry.
To give you some perspective, there were just under 100 radio engineers, representatives from NPR and PRSS, and a few equipment designers/engineers. The wealth of industry experience in this room could easily total multiple centuries. Stations from all over the US were represented, including Alaska and Hawaii.
A very apt phrase I heard several times was “Once you’ve seen one public radio station, you’ve seen one public radio station”. That is to say, no two stations are alike in really any way. Some stations have vastly different coverage areas, from some having a primary station and maybe a translator as well to full statewide networks like Vermont Public Radio and Wyoming Public Radio. The equipment and demands of each station vary immensely. There are quite a few common brands that pop up, from transmitter manufacturers to remote monitoring equipment to studio equipment, but even then their implementation can vary.
The networking is one part of what makes this conference so beneficial to attend. The other part is the presentations. I will keep this brief for this post. Day 1 we covered several topics, including:
- IT security in the air chain. There have been several embarrassing incidents where stations have had unprotected internet connected devices breached. One resulted in the broadcast of a false EAS broadcast, another hijacked their on air content and replaced it with… less than publicly acceptable audio… One simple step to greatly decrease the chance of this happening: CHANGE THE DEFAULT PASSWORDS
- Time management. This was a more audience involved talk. There were several good book and methods suggested that various people use. Another point that was discussed was at what point do you stop attempting to repair a piece of equipment, and send it to the manufacturer or third party repair shop? Similarly, when do you take care of something yourself vs hire a contractor.
- A rather in depth review of the approach VPR took to investigate why their signal was not performing as expected in downtown Burlington. At just 20 miles away, their 48 KW(KiloWatt, 1000 watts) was seeing degraded performance in particular built up areas. Their approach to identifying the problem involved a vehicle with an array of receivers that logged signal strength, real time audio recording of the received signal, and precision GPS data. After driving around the effected area and known good reception areas they loaded the data into Google Earth and were able to compare real world data to what different RF coverage formulas estimated it should be at the same point. The results aided them in deciding what (if any) steps could be made to improve coverage in those areas.
I think that’s enough for day 1, but stay tuned for more!