Back in the �good old days,� we would rely on jocks or board ops to let us know the radio station that was our common employer was off the air or otherwise had some sort of problem.
That was then�this is 2015. Today, it�s likely there are many hours of the day, and days of the week, that there is �no one home� at the studio locale of the station you for which you work. Even if a listener were to call, there�s no one there to answer the phone, right?
Clearly, you need your own way of knowing that your stations are on the air, or not. Having a device that calls you on the phone is nothing new; it�s just that today, there are more and better ways of being made aware that something is wrong.
ROUND 1: TRANSMITTER SITE CALL-OUT
Having the remote control call-out from the transmitter site was a great feature because, inevitably, it was nearly always faster than a jock or board op. Of course, if you wanted to have alarm calls for something other than transmitter or power readings, you had to add your own outboard devices, like silence sensors.
There are two problems with relying on this methodology by itself.
First, by trusting a single telephone line that doesn�t get used often, you risk this happening: The station went off the air, and you never received a call because, for some reason, the phone line was dead.
A second common problem is this: You lost power at the transmitter site, and for whatever reason, the generator didn�t start. You had the remote control on a UPS, but the UPS died. The equipment racks were then dark. No calls out�you didn�t know what happened until much later. That makes for a bad day.
ROUND 2: BACKUP REMOTE CONTROL AT THE STUDIO SITE
One fairly easy way to get around the problems associated with a single phone line remote control was to simply install an additional remote control as the studio location, with its own phone line. On this remote control, you would �meter� items like program silence, off-air silence, loss-of-carrier and probably other studio parameters, such as rack room temperature, door alarms and whatnot. If one or the other remote control was dead for some reason, you still received notifications from the other.
This is a pretty reliable method, considering you can add multiple phone lines to a remote control�s call-out list. But, there can be problems associated with this method too.
For example, what if your transmitter remote control indicates that your carrier power is normal, but your studio remote calls you, wakes you up, and tells you there�s no carrier? That�s an annoyance, of course, that just adds stress to your life.
There are ways to mitigate such problems.
ROUND 3: ADDITION OF EMAILS
When you begin using more sophisticated remote controls, and add network access to a transmitter site, as well as a studio site, you can implement methods for filtering messages, and making sure that only the most important get your attention �at all costs��(which for me means a telephone call at any hour of the day).
You will need a remote control that can be configured in such a way that some alarm conditions will prompt an email only, while others will prompt an email and a telephone call.
Let me give you some examples:
� Silence on the backup air-chain. I do want to know about this, but not by way of a wake-up call. This should send an email only.
� Program silence at studio, but not at transmitter site. This would seem to indicate a sensor problem. I do want to know about it, but not with a phone call in the middle of the night. Use PPM monitor to corroborate data to make sure what is going over the air is correct; if PPM alarm indicates the incorrect program, then call-out immediately.
� Power reads zero on transmitter site remote control, and studio remote indicates no carrier. Clearly the corroboration of data between two isolated systems means that it�s very likely not a false alarm. This should prompt an immediate call-out. A remote control that can be scripted, using �AND� logic, would be needed.
One can go on and on with examples because every radio station situation is different and likely unique. By applying technology that is readily available today, you can make your job a little less stressful, hopefully lowering the chances that your work life will interfere with your regular life.
Irwin is RF engineer/project manager for iHeartMedia Los Angeles. Contact him at [email protected].