I’ve been a volunteer and DJ at Foothill College radio station KFJC(FM) in Los Altos Hills, Calif., since 1998, and during that time I’ve been impressed by the technical and engineering expertise of the station’s volunteer staff.
|Jacob Choplin is back at the station in California after the festival, showing off part of the wireless network bridge that saved the day.
Credit: Photos courtesy KFJC
Every year KFJC seems to take on more ambitious projects, masterminding international live remote music broadcasts from England in 1996, New Zealand in 2000 and Tokyo in 2008, for which KFJC added live streaming video.
This September, a handful of KFJC volunteers traveled to England to oversee a live remote from the Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia.
Using a mix of equipment owned by KFJC and borrowed or rented in the U.K., the station was able to broadcast from multiple stages at the two-day festival. Listeners around the world could listen and watch live video streaming (in HD) on KFJC.org and San Francisco Bay-area residents could tune in to listen over 89.7 MHz.
Across the pond, my KFJC colleagues were working around the clock to ensure that the broadcast went smoothly.
It was a bit of a nail-biter on the first day of the festival. Back in the U.S., I didn’t know the details, except hearing that it was “Internet problems.” When I first saw images from Liverpool appear on KFJC’s livestream page, I was elated and imagined the crew was breathing a collective sigh of relief.
KFJC Promotions Director Liz Clark told me that she first learned about the festival when the 2013 lineup caught her eye.
After some discussions during KFJC management meetings, there was general interest in broadcasting the 2014 event. Things really came together after KFJC volunteer and remote broadcast engineer Brian Potter enlisted his U.K.-based nephew to help make a connection with the festival organizer. According to Potter, his nephew explained enough about KFJC to “pique his interest.” Potter then phoned him, telling him, “we’ve been doing stuff like this for years,” and the possibility of the live remote became more likely.
GRAPPLING WITH THE INTERNET
|KFJC gear, shown inside the venue before it was set up.
Potter is himself from the U.K. and serendipitously was heading over for a short trip. This gave him the chance to meet with the festival organizer and see the venue (an old industrial space called Camp and Furnace) in preparation for the remote.
After testing the Internet connection, Potter said that he realized they had a problem.
“The venue DSL was in the region of 500Kbps upload, nowhere near enough for reliable audio and HD video. Elevator Studios had 1Gbps ... The wireless link was a pair of Ubiquity Nanobeam devices.”
Undeterred, he took pictures and notes and brought home plenty of information and diagrams. He’s a veteran of KFJC live remotes; Potter went to KFJC’s first out-of-state live remote during the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, in 1994 and also traveled to remotes in London, Tokyo, Milwaukee and Providence. So he was prepared to tackle the Internet challenges.
Volunteer and student Jacob Choplin explained, “The upload speeds were far from what was required for our broadcast.” The KFJC team arranged for the venue to install a new Internet connection. Choplin said that when they found out that it hadn’t been installed two weeks before the festival, they “started working on a backup plan.”
Luckily, there was a really fast connection across the street from the venue at the Elevator Studios complex. So, KFJC purchased a wireless bridge setup, in case the backup Internet was needed.
When the crew arrived in Liverpool for the festival, the venue’s satellite Internet connection still hadn’t been set up. Desperate, they tried to align the satellite dish themselves, but couldn’t get it to work. As sound check began, it became clear that Plan B would need to be enacted.
Potter and Choplin then set up a wireless link dish in each building and scrambled to find a way to access the connection at Elevator Studios. After searching throughout the building, they finally found a router, got permission to use it, connected a cable to it, and were astonished by the speeds. Although this was great news, they still had to get the Internet from the dish (which was 20 feet above the audience at the venue) to the KFJC broadcast booth.
After securing a long Ethernet cable and tying “a special knot,” Choplin tossed the cable over a brick wall and over the crowd in order to make a connection to the booth and start the live streaming (several hours later than planned). Things went smoothly after that, with the connection in place for the remainder of the festival without a dropout.
Although the live broadcast was delayed, audio engineers from KFJC recorded performances throughout the day and broadcast them later.
While the Internet problems were being sorted out, the rest of the KFJC crew was busy not only recording live bands, but also conducting interviews with the artists.
INTERVIEWING ON THE FLY
|Last-minute prep before the festival.
Clark told me about her evolving role during the festival.
“I went over there thinking that I would see a lot of bands and perhaps interview a few, but it turned out quite differently,” said Clark. “Fortunately for KFJC, the Liverpudlians provided us with a great ‘artist liaison’ who was able to corral most of the bands for interviews … Because everyone was so busy trying to get the broadcast going, I ended up coordinating all the interviews and conducting most of them on Friday. Saturday… I still coordinated the interviews, but others had a bit more time to talk to the bands.”
KFJC volunteer and student Zer Barokas talked to some bands (using a Zoom recorder) and did all of the audio editing for the interviews. Throughout the festival, artist interviews were played between acts. Additionally, KFJC brought along a microphone so that the volunteers on the scene could announce the bands and introduce recorded segments or music (which they brought on an iPod).
MULTIPLE CAMERAS ON MULTIPLE STAGES
In addition to the audio work, KFJC installed eight HD cameras to film the performances. For the video setup, they mounted two pan-tilt-zoom cameras high above each stage and positioned two wide-angle cameras on each stage. They rented fiber optic cable in order to cut down on the amount of cable required. KFJC brought its own cameras from California and borrowed four others from station volunteers.
Over the course of the festival, KFJC filmed from three stages, so at one point the video setup on one of the stages was moved to the third stage.
“We built camera stands for the GoPros out of mic stands so we could move them easily,” said KFJC volunteer David Reid. “Moving those around while the bands were on stage was pretty cool.”
After the cameras were positioned, the filming was controlled by KFJC volunteers, who could move and switch between cameras remotely.
KFJC audio engineers worked off of Mackie boards in order to do live mixes of the performances. KFJC rented three boards in the U.K., including a 1402 to use for master control and two 1604s to use for the live mixes from two stages.
KFJC volunteer audio engineer Ryan Peterson and KFJC’s General Manager Eric Johnson did the audio mixing in Liverpool.
Peterson said that they were in a pretty visible location, but far from the noisy bar. He explained that since they weren’t hidden away, their presence “generated some interesting questions and interactions with audience members.” He told me that, “more than one person [mistook] us for a giant cell phone charging station.”
At the end of the festival, KFJC recorded two bands at once, White Hills and Goat, on separate stages. Peterson said that Johnson “was mixing White Hills, which went out live while I mixed Goat, which we replayed afterwards.” He added that this, “rather interestingly resulted in us doing two separate audio mixes and two separate video mixes at the same time, with only one video computer and some cable swapping.”
|Ryan Peterson and Eric Johnson worked out of the makeshift KFJC headquarters.
In contrasting the Liverpool live broadcast setup with the last KFJC international live remote from Japan in 2008, Potter explained how things have changed in seven years.
“In Tokyo, we used our old remote gear: the audio feed was sent using a Telos AudioActive box in conjunction with a Linux laptop; video used standard-definition cameras in conjunction with a Windows laptop,” said Potter. “We used the club’s DSL line to send it all back to the station across the Internet.
“In Liverpool, we used a nice new Telos ProStream for audio, no extra computer needed, and video used high-definition cameras in conjunction with our Livestream HD500 video switcher. We used an adjacent building’s gigabit fiber Internet connection.”
Potter explained that everyone worked well together, with people pitching in to help with a variety of tasks. The team at the festival was also supportive. Barokas remarked that “the local sound guys who were working on Psych Fest were … just incredibly patient and helpful.”
Clark also mentioned that it was great to get “turned on to some fantastic bands” like Lay Llamas, While Hills, Zombie Zombie and Goat.
KFJC undertakes these live remotes to expose listeners to music that they might not hear otherwise; Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia certainly fit the bill.
Jennifer Waits is a writer, college radio DJ and independent radio scholar. She contributes to the blogs SpinningIndie and Radio Survivor.
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