After receiving an invitation to travel to England to broadcast live from the Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia, the volunteer staff at California-based KFJC(FM) started scheming about a long-dreamed trip to Iceland.
In relatively short order, crucial connections were made, a venue secured, and bands were booked for a mini underground music festival in the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik prior to the Liverpool broadcast. The plan was for KFJC to broadcast music performances live (over 89.7 FM in the San Francisco Bay Area and around the world at http://kfjc.org), including streaming HD video, from two nights of shows in Iceland and follow that up a week later with a remote broadcast from multiple stages during two full days in Liverpool.
In September 2017, a crew from the Foothill College radio station journeyed to Liverpool, England, and Reykjavik, Iceland, for the college radio station’s eighth and ninth remote broadcasts from overseas.
KFJC volunteer Aaron Wells in KFJC’s temporary studio at the Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia.
Photo: Patrick Hoge/KFJC
Complex remotes are unusual for any radio station, let alone a college radio station, but the folks at KFJC (where I’m a volunteer staff member and DJ) seek out increasingly complex remote challenges. While the 2017 travels were prompted by a return visit to the Liverpool Psych Fest (see “College Station Heads Overseas for Remote,” RW Jan. 1, 2015), the trip began in the unfamiliar and otherworldly locale of Reykjavik.
Having embarked on its first out-of-state live remote in 1994 (from SXSW in Austin, Texas) and its first overseas live remote in 1996 (from Brixton, England), KFJC staffers have amassed decades of experience in the trials and tribulations of broadcasting from afar.
Since KFJC generally brings its own recording equipment and cameras, one of the first concerns is getting everything organized. Chief Engineer Brian Potter described the process: “We use a spreadsheet to keep track of what we need to bring and which bag/case it’s in. We also have a technical rider that details the equipment which we send to the venue and other appropriate contacts in advance.” Several factors help determine what to bring, including event requirements as well as portability. “What might be available for reasonably-priced rental at the other end” is also considered.
The next step is packing gear, which was loaded into a Pelican case, three new SKB plastic rolling cases, and within “regular suitcases with the crew’s personal belongings,” Potter said. Promotions Director Liz Clark said that the team “has it down to a science.” Careful to stay within weight restrictions for luggage, each case of equipment is meticulously weighed in advance, with items rearranged to steer clear of not only weight and luggage limits, but also extra fees.
Although foreign travel can sometimes mean differences in equipment, Potter hasn’t found too many challenges with that. “Pretty much everything is 110 V/220 V/240 V-compatible. We are usually able to borrow a transformer for the few items that require 110 V. Adapters for the various types of power connectors are either borrowed or purchased locally.”
The team has learned with experience to expect unpredictable internet connections, venues in old buildings with ancient wiring and cramped quarters. Another key part of the planning is to have multiple backup options for the broadcasts. KFJC General Manager Eric Johnson said that with “three redundant systems” (they could use optical cable, Cat-6 cable, XLR cables or a standard mic snake), they could address challenges as they came during the latest trip afar.
For both Reykjavik and Liverpool, the team scoped out the venues prior to the events, scrutinizing wiring, internet, sound board specs, and stage setups in advance. On the first day of each broadcast, they arrived at least four hours before the show and began rolling out gear, setting up cameras, and laying cables.
Although Potter’s main worry before the Iceland broadcast was internet access and speed (it turned out to be just fine), specific troubles included a bad power strip leading to a blown circuit (luckily, quickly resolved) and failures in KFJC’s fiber-optic set-up (Optical Cable Corp./OCC OM3 eight-core 350-foot tactical fiber cable with custom-built breakout terminations). “We use this to send video, audio and camera control all down the one cable instead of having to run six separate cables. It was looking increasingly likely that the multicore fiber optic cable itself may have been damaged in transit. So as the start of Friday’s show drew ever closer, we had to abandon that plan and hastily swap out two of the cameras, then run separate cables for all five cameras, our digital audio splitters and camera control.”
Adding to the Day One difficulties, the camera control still would not function, so the cameras had to be moved around using a small infrared remote control that had luckily been packed along with the cameras. Potter joked, “Camera control was done by shouting across our basement room to someone at the bottom of the stairs, who relayed the messages, ‘up a bit ... left a bit ... zoom in,’ to another person with the remote control, up in the main room.” Thankfully the optical cable system was functional for the Liverpool broadcasts a week later.
Brian Potter, Myron Fung (back to camera), Eric Johnson, Ariya Amin, and Aaron Wells setting up for the broadcast stream from Iceland.
Photo: Patrick Hoge/KFJC
It was also serendipitous that KFJC rented extra HD-SDI cables while in Liverpool. While it would have been challenging to bring additional bulky, heavy cable on the plane; the borrowed cable came in handy for the multistage event.
For both broadcasts, the setup brought by KFJC included a Soundcraft Performer 2 digital mixing console that was equipped with a Dante IP audio networking card. Although the Dante card wasn’t used for the Iceland broadcast, it allowed the team to split audio over Ethernet at the Liverpool live remote. To capture audio, KFJC grabs sound from the stage microphones using a splitter and creates its own mix that is then sent out for the KFJC online and FM broadcasts. Audio is recorded to a Tascam DA-6400 multitrack solid-state recorder. After doing many of these broadcasts, KFJC engineers prefer to bring their own console and do their own sound mixing largely because they find that it provides a better sound. As a bonus, “the bands love it,” Johnson said happily. The KFJC crew likes the Soundcraft Performer 2 for several reasons. “It will accept analog input along with digital inputs (Dante, MADI, etc.) … up to 80 channels. It’s also relatively small and light for travel [and is] easy to use for new folks training to be sound engineers.”
Camera setup comprised four PTZ (pan-tilt-zoom) cameras (two Sony EVI-H100S and two Sony SRG300SE) with joystick controllers (two per stage in Liverpool). Four additional Go-Pro cameras were positioned on stages (two per stage in Liverpool) to capture performances and since they are HDMI output devices, Blackmagic converters were used to convert to HD-SDI. A Livestream Studio HD500 live production switcher allowed the team to move between cameras, as well as record in HD and MP4.
The main KFJC crew included seven core volunteers in addition to around six others who helped as needed. One big task was putting together makeshift studios at each venue so that KFJC could control the entire broadcast, including doing station IDs, playing recorded music between bands, and airing prerecorded interviews with artists and festival organizers.
Potter said, “In Reykjavik, due to space limitations in the venue, we set up in the basement. In Liverpool we set up by the main door, between the two main stages.” Various volunteers ran the board and the cameras throughout each event. Since KFJC doesn’t utilize any form of automation at home or abroad, a live staffer is always in control, speaking on the microphone and switching between recorded material and live performances.
Station volunteers also set up cables and cameras, controlled video by switching between cameras and using effects, engineered sound coming from the stages to the KFJC console, and conducted and edited artist interviews. Volunteers also took photos and created dedicated web pages for the broadcasts, updating the sites with images and audio links following each set.
Meanwhile, back in Los Altos Hills, Calif., DJs in KFJC’s Foothill College home studio were on call for potential breaks in the transmission (thankfully not a problem) and for the transitions at the beginning and the end of the remote broadcasts.
The remote crew sent the signal back to the United States over the internet. “We use a pair of Telos Z/IP One remote broadcast codecs, one at each end. Audio is converted to 192 kbps AAC which is better than FM stereo quality. The audio output at the station is routed to the main studio board just like any other audio input, to facilitate handover to and from the remote broadcast from the studio,” Potter elucidated.
Throughout both events, Clark was scheduling and interviewing artists and festival organizers. To keep things organized, she created a Google sheet to manage details for each interview and to indicate when audio was ready for airplay. Clark and a few other volunteers used an H4Npro Zoom recorder with a Shure SM wired microphone to record the interviews, which Clark downloaded onto her laptop and edited using Adobe Audition. When the digital files were finalized, she either shared with the rest of the team over Google Drive or played the files directly from her Macbook Pro to the Soundcraft mixing console.
Patience and flexibility were key to the success of both broadcasts.
First-time KFJC overseas traveler Ariya Amin had been a volunteer at KFJC for about a year and a half and had worked on one remote broadcast (from nearby Oakland) before heading to Iceland, where she had a hand in everything from cabling, testing equipment, board operation, mixing, and on-air programming.
“The whole experience was new to me, so I learned a lot. Learned about our equipment, about broadcasting, and about putting on an event. I’d definitely encourage other stations to pursue remote broadcasting, and connecting [with] folks abroad. It’s a great way to promote one another, and to explore other music scenes,” she said.
Jennifer Waits is a co-founder of Radio Survivor and a research associate on the Library of Congress’ Radio Preservation Task Force. She obsessively tours radio stations, which she chronicles on her blog Spinning Indie. A college radio DJ since the 1980s, she’s been at four stations and has hosted a music show at KFJC(FM) since 1999.