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NPR Moves Its NOC

Network now broadcasting from its new location

NPR President/CEO Gary Knell was on hand to help inaugurate the new PRSS NOC. Credit: photo by Bruce Wahl, NPR

NPR has been moving its employees to its new location in stages.

Its Distribution Division which manages the Public Radio Satellite System (PRSS) moved Monday.

More than three and-a-half years of planning went into the effort. NPR Distribution Director of Operations & Engineering Dick Kohles said the transition of the PRSS’ Network Operations Center (NOC) from 635 Massachusetts Ave. NW in Washington to the new location at 1111 North Capitol St. went smoothly. “In general, it was a very good transition. We planned carefully and had a great many people involved,” said Kohles, noting that roughly 50 technical people at NPR worked 12 hours a day, including weekends for many of those folks, for six straight weeks to ensure all stations served by the PRSS continued to receive their satellite- and Internet distributed programming.

NPR Distribution personnel built the first iteration of the new NOC in the annex of the Massachusetts Ave. building. They made sure it was functional and tested, disassembled it and shipped it to the new location in October. The Distribution team then rebuilt and reassembled the system, including integrating other services, finally locating the system in its new location.

They activated the North Capitol St. satellite uplink on Monday, beginning with the ContentDepot program file carrier, at 12:40 p.m. Eastern, followed by the ContentDepot live program streams carrier, at 12:59 p.m. Eastern. NPR President/CEO Gary Knell threw the symbolic switch to transmit live broadcast programming from the new location, beginning with the top-of-the-hour NPR newscast.

If there were problems, the fallback plan was to continue to originate programming from Massachusetts Ave. and a third option was to go to the PRSS backup NOC at Minnesota Public Radio in St. Paul. But doing either turned out to be unnecessary, according to Kohles.

The PRSS has one satellite uplink in Washington, and a backup in St. Paul. In its new location, NPR “married” a former C&P Telephone warehouse that has a historic designation to a new, attached seven-floor building. The PRSS satellite dishes are on the roof of the old four-floor warehouse, Kohles said, to shield them from interference, among other reasons.

The rest of the PRSS equipment is on the second floor of the former C&P warehouse portion as part of a “tech core” that houses that gear as well as NPR’s audio engineering equipment, corporate IT gear and telecommunications equipment as well. Having much of the equipment in what NPR thinks of as a huge data center allows the AC environment to be controlled more economically, he noted.

To coincide with the move, PRSS customers, including NPR member stations, migrated from the legacy IDC SR2000pro (for streams) and SFX2100 (for files) satellite receivers to the new IDC SFX 4104 Pro Audio receivers last fall. The new receivers combine a four-port stream decoder with a file receiver in one unit. 

One good thing about the new location, Kohles said is now all NPR Distribution employees can be in the same location; previously they were in two separate buildings.

Kohles described the NOC/PRSS move to attendees of the Public Radio Engineering Conference as it got underway in Las Vegas on Thursday.