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Information for members: tech issues

This page has been put together to give some insight into the technical difficulties which affect your LSRadio shows.   It’s not a defence, but rather it’s an explanation for those who are interested in understanding why they haven’t been able to do their show on a particular occasion.   I’ll try to update it semi-regularly with explanations of issues as they happen and the actions we’ve taken.

From personal experience I know how annoying it is to come down to the studio and then not be able to do your show. Actually technical issues have become a lot less frequent in recent months and this is largely thanks to your cooperation as users of the studio.

Types of tech issue

Most of the time, we describe problems that affect your use of the studio simply as ‘tech issues’, which may be irritating for those of you who are more technically minded! There are actually three main types of ‘tech issue’ which are summarised as follows.

Training-related issues – these are things which affect your ability to use the studio due to errors by other members. They may be minor or prevent you from hosting your show altogether. For example: (a) a member might try to move a mic stand and unintentionally damages the base fixture, preventing it from standing up; (b) a member who has experience of using audio equipment in other environments might try adjusting the dials on the mixer, meaning the output sounds louder/quieter/less clear on other members’ shows; (c) a member might disconnect the headphones to use their own set and fail to plug things in correctly afterwards; and so on. These sorts of issues are now very rare (see below) but if they do happen, please let us know so we can fix them asap (email ku.oc1498707504.oida1498707504rsl@p1498707504leh1498707504).

Non-fatal tech issues – these are things which affect particular aspects of the station’s equipment or output, but rarely due to user error, and which DON’T result in the station being taken off air. Examples include: (a) the webcam failing; (b) the studio messages page requesting a password; (c) the fuse blowing in the monitor speakers, meaning you can’t hear the current track without headphones; and so on. These sorts of issues are unavoidable as no complex studio system is infallible, but fortunately they are relatively uncommon and if you let us know (ku.oc1498707504.oida1498707504rsl@p1498707504leh1498707504) we can put them on the list to fix.

Fatal tech issues – these are things which take the station off air altogether without prior warning. These are usually random and not due to user error; for example, (a) a failure related to the web server which prevents access to the website; (b) a failure related to the audio stream which doesn’t prevent access to the website but does prevent people from listening to your show; (c) a power failure causing any combination of the above; and so on. Fatal tech issues are occasionally caused by people using the studio – for example, (a) a member logs off from one of the PCs in the studio, switching various things off in the process; or (b) a member accidentally moves or disconnects the PCs or cables connected to them.

A history lesson

Radio stations like ours use a variety of different systems and components to get on air. Most members of LSRadio are only part of the station for 2-3 years at most, and so the people involved in maintaining and developing these systems come and go in a pretty short time – meaning that most of the kit will outlast us all. The current studio in the refurbished Guild might be comparatively new but we have PCs from 5-10 years ago and a network infrastructure set up by members between 15 and 20 years ago(!) and yet sadly, very little of the ‘hidden side’ of our technical set-up was ever documented by previous committees (or if it was, it no longer exists). This means that when an obscure tech fault brings the station to its knees, it can take quite a while to find the source of the fault and fix it.

We also face a challenge in terms of expenditure, in that when you’re using IT equipment to run a radio station 24/7, every day of the year, it inevitably has a shorter lifespan than we might hope, and we have to be careful to spend the tech budget on the right kit at the right time, so that we have sufficient funds in the event of a really major catastrophe.

Why do tech issues happen so often?

The number of issues that affect you as members has actually dramatically fallen in the last year or so, and much of that is thanks to your help!! The ‘training-related’ studio tech issues are now very rare thanks to all members following the guidelines set out in the sessions at the start of the year – it makes a massive difference to your fellow members if they can come into the studio knowing that everything is going to work as it should and no-one has unplugged things/rearranged kit to suit them, so thanks so much for your cooperation on this.

Much of my work between 2013 and 2015 was focussed on the station website, which has gone from a static one-page affair to the site you see today, and there is much to do behind the scenes to maintain the site and develop new features going forward. But this work is regularly put on hold to prevent issues arising with an ageing system of servers and other components – the things which actually get us on air. Away from the main studio, we have an array of kit which runs two web servers, encodes and broadcasts the audio from the studio, and archives the entire output of the station for legal purposes. Getting all these things to work nicely with each other, and with the PCs in the studio, is a surprisingly fine balancing act (think trying to make a house of cards stand up, then hoping and praying no-one slams a door!) and this is the most common source of issues that prevent you from doing your show. Fortunately, once they’re set up, with a bit of regular TLC we can keep the station on air permanently, but when this system decides to throw a tantrum we can go through a period (like this last week) where we have constant problems till we stick the dummy back in.

Is there a better way of doing things?

We’re restricted by the legacy left by our LSRadio predecessors, and while one or two Heads of Tech and Guild society coordinators of times past have attempted to rip everything up and start over (there’s an LSRadio iPhone app from years ago floating around somewhere, seriously!), it’s actually a pretty futile thing to do since no technical system of the complexity needed to run a radio station will ever work perfectly forever more. That’s why I’ve aimed to maintain the system we’ve got, constantly find ways to stop things breaking as often as they have done in the past, and fix things as quickly as possible to ensure you can do your show – radio isn’t really about the website, or the webcam, it’s about making really good shows and that’s what we want you to be able to do.

What should I do if I notice the website isn’t working or something is broken in the studio?

Email us!! The ku.oc1498707504.oida1498707504rsl@p1498707504leh1498707504 address is a hotline to tell us about any such issue there and then. Please tell us as soon as you realise there’s a problem (you’ll get a reply as soon as is technically feasible, hopefully within minutes) and constantly refresh your email till we reply. If you’re in the studio, please don’t go home(!) as we may be able to ask you to do something to fix it and if you’ve left, the next person will have to sort it instead. This is also the reason we ask you to email us rather than post on Facebook, as we may need to send you long or sensitive information that we can’t post so easily from a phone app.

We’ll hopefully continue the help@… service next academic year when the tech baton is passed to the next committee.

I want to get involved in tech – how can I help?

Email me personally – ku.oc1498707504.oida1498707504rsl@g1498707504nik.w1498707504 – and we’ll discuss this further as we are definitely on the lookout for new tech monkeys who want to be on-call 24/7 and spend half their waking life fixing web servers… no seriously, we need you.

Cheers for reading and hope it’s given some sort of insight into these problems.

Will King
Head of Technical Services

Last updated February 2016

 

Will King
Will is in his final year of a maths degree and is currently LSRadio's resident tech monkey, maintaining the studio equipment and training new members.

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