Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Managing your Music Library - Part Two

In part one I outlined how you basically have four options when it comes to managing music coming in to your college radio station:

  1. Do nothing and just keep finding new ways to store the music.
  2. Change your programming format so you only need to store less music.
  3. Figure out a system for regularly purging music...whether new or old...to keep the total number of CD's to a stable level.
  4. Figure out a way to store music in a different format (i.e. computer-based) that requires less physical space.
So here in part two, we'll discuss the pluses and minuses of each approach.

1. Do nothing and just keep finding new ways to store the music. This is one of the more common approaches, as it the "easiest" and it avoids offending music aficionados on your staff. It's also got the most drawbacks, in that it doesn't really address the problem of more physical objects filling a finite physical space. The most common method is to purchase additional music shelving, usually nice but relatively inexpensive wooden shelves (a few hundred to a few thousand bucks) that extend at least six feet tall (if not to the ceiling) and eventually fill every square inch of available wall space in your station. When that's not enough, a large CD drawer/bureau system is more expensive (usually $5k to $10k) but can store even more CD's. And finally, the ultimate step is a "rolling shelves / accordian shelves" system that typically runs for $30k and up. That last one is more a cry for help than it is a solution, because it means you're spending a lot of money to avoid dealing with a problem.

As you've probably guessed, I don't care for this method. Mostly because it's highly illogical; no matter what you do to cram more CD's in there...sooner or later you will run out of room. Plus trying to fit more objects into a space than "you should" tends to encourage clutter. And there is a universal truth that clutter attracts more clutter. More clutter eventually leads to flat-out "mess", and a "mess" means a workplace your staff doesn't give a damn about. That can contribute significantly to decreased staff morale, poor on-air performance, caring less about equipment (and therefore more broken equipment), and...worst of all...having a station that your college's administrators come to visit and walk away holding their noses. That's the fast track to getting your budget slashed, or worse. Sounds extreme, but it's true...little things build on each other to become big things. Successful operations know that if you have a professional work environment, and thus treat your staff like professionals, you get - amazingly enough - professional results from your staff! But I'm digressing.

I suppose if this isn't a problem yet for your station, you can put it on the back burner. But this is a problem best dealt with looong before it becomes an issue. By the time it's an issue, inevitably several members of your staff will have emotional investment in your overflowing music library...and that means someone will go away unhappy.

2. Change your programming format so you only need to store less music. This is something of an adjunct of the first approach. Instead of only finding new ways to cram more music into a limited space, you also attempt to cut off the problem at the source: the incoming CD's. If you limit yourself to one or two formats, you can simply throw away (or donate, trade, sell, etc) incoming CD's from any other genre. Just remember that legally CD's sent to you by a label are the label's property; you're supposed to return unwanted CD's to them. Most don't care, though...ask your labels to be sure.

There's various advantages to narrowing your format scope. It tends to reduce your volunteer headcount but it usually means those who stay are more dedicated and professional. If done right (no easy task for your PD) it can mean more listeners. Of course, at the same time you might alienate some of your more loyal listeners. You might also alienate some of your DJ's...some of whom might be really good DJ's. In the end, I wouldn't make format decisions based on how much music storage you've got. But, it can be a handy side benefit.

3. Figure out a system for regularly purging music...whether new or old...to keep the total number of CD's to a stable level. This is my suggested method for most stations. The key here is to find a very objective method of determining which CD's get the heave-ho and which don't. Don't throw out something because "everyone thinks it sucks". That's subjective and it's based on emotion. Inevitably, you will think something sucks that someone else really loves. You throwing it away becomes a personal attack on that someone else, and it's all downhill from there.

Instead, determine a set of criteria. The obvious one is age...everything over 10 years old is tossed. This can run into problems with certain genres, like classic rock. But as long as you're reasonably good about assigning CD's to realistic genre categories, you can adjust the age limit as needed.

It's worth including a clause in your policy that states that damaged media is discarded as well. This seems obvious, but it encourages the concept that you're basing this process on an objective system; helps reduce emotion.

If you're good about tracking how often something is played, you may want to add a clause that states that if something isn't played for X weeks/months/years then it's tossed. Actually, it's probably better to turn that around...anything that's been played within X weeks/months/years is not allowed to be thrown away. This helps avoid the argument that good stuff can potentially sit unplayed for months or years even though most people would still say it's pretty good. The counter-argument is that, of course, good stuff will get thrown out. That's what's going to happen! The bright side is that new good stuff will always be coming in the door, too.

Speaking of tracking what you play...if possible, have your DJ's log whether they're playing stuff from their own collections they bring into the station or whether it's from the station library. This can also help you determine what's "safer" to dump. Some stations don't allow DJ's to bring in music...I don't think I really agree with that philosophy, but I suppose it does mean DJ's will use your library more. That helps indicate which CD's are safe to dump since ignored CD's are even less likely to be "hidden treasures".

Again, no matter what system you agree to follow, make sure it's as objective as possible. It will make an already-emotional situation that much easier to get through.

4. Figure out a way to store music in a different format (i.e. computer-based) that requires less physical space. This doesn't quite mean you can completely avoid having to purge your CD's...but it does make it a lot easier to deal with since you're never really getting rid of the music, just the old CD it used to be on.

The upshot here is that you rip your CD's onto a hard disk in some audio file format. I used to recommend a high-quality MP3 (256kbps stereo / 44.1kHz) but these days hard drives are so cheap I'd just go with uncompressed WAV's at 16 bits and 44.1kHz. The one thing to watch out for is that you have to build in a lot of redundancy to the system. RAID (redundant array of independent disks) hard drive systems are a must, plus having a few spare drives on-hand. Also a must are regular backups (weekly or monthly) to another medium such as tape drives or DVD-ROM's. This means the costs are about 2.5 to 3 times what you might expect. But it's still pretty cheap overall with quality 1 Terabyte RAID arrays costing only $1300. The real expense tends to be in the HVAC (heating, ventilation & air conditioning). You simply cannot leave your computer gear in non-climate-controlled space and expect it to last more than a few months before you risk total failure. If you already have HVAC designed for a "computer server room", you're all set. If not, you'll have to drop the several thousand (or tens of thousands) dollars to get it installed. Window units don't cut it, either...they're not designed to run constantly and will "ice up" after a few dozen hours.

Of course, there's lots of benefits to having all your music on computer. With a little more investment in computer hardware & automation software you can set up automation that sounds nearly as good as your live DJ's. You can also set up "live-assist" software that lets your DJ's quickly search your entire library on computer and manually play tracks from it.

With a system like this, there's an argument to be made for outsourcing your music ripping to a third party service. Many are very cost-effective (70 cents per disc, including all shipping) and will use quality algorithms (not all MP3 algorithms are the same!) and provide you an inherent backup by shipping you the ripped tracks back to you on DVD-ROM. Also helps a lot in keeping your system consistent; trust me, it can get completely out of control very quickly if you depend on a lot of internal volunteers to do your ripping. If you insist on keeping it in-house, find one or two people and get them to do all the ripping. Pay 'em if you have to...it's WORTH it.

Okay, back to the CD's themselves...what do you do with ripped CD's? Well, there's an argument for saving them in an archived manner. Something like floor-to-ceiling stacks in an off-site facility. That's very efficient storage (albeit you can't easily get to any one of them) but it ultimately will fill up. I figure, if it's unaccessible at an off-site facility, and you've got your tape or DVD backups, there's really no need to save the CD. Maybe hang onto them for one month and no longer, just to give DJ's time to play it a few times and make sure you've got a good rip. Even this is risky; you have to be disciplined to toss those CD's after the month is up.

Some DJ's will no doubt complain that you lose the liner notes and pictures when you do this method. You can forestall that argument by installing a "general use" computer with an internet connection in your air studio. Pretty much anything on audio CD probably has a website associated with it somehow these days. One catch - make sure this is a dedicated computer for this purpose. Do not set up your automation/live-assist computer for general web surfing, too. Mission-critical hardware is too risky to have viruses, trojans and adware/spyware installed on it...and any general-use computer with web access will get those things eventually.

This concludes this post on the pluses and minuses of music/media management at your college radio station. There's a lot more that I suspect could be said on the topic (and I'd encourage any comments to that effect) but this should be enough to help you get started. Good luck!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Coming at you with 10 watts of SEARING mono!!!

Ahh, the cycle of life in college radio. :-) It appears my alma mater's all-student radio station has busted some late-night DJ's for drinking in the studio and propping the security doors open.

As a die-hard WTBU alum (Tech Director 1995-98) I have many fond memories of WTBU. I also, admittedly, have some fond missing memories from WTBU...no doubt alcohol was involved, but damned if I can remember it. :-) So while I don't condone drinking in the station, especially if you're under 21 (as nearly all TBU'ers are) and especially not while in the damn studio (no food or drink, dammit!), and, and....and....well....erhm...

Well hell, it's college. College kids drinking? To quote another Boston Radio Blog I am shocked, SHOCKED, indeed!

But I would like to point out something about the security door being propped open. I agree that's bad news, but I don't blame the students about it either because it is (was?) a poor system. I should know, I helped install it. Y'see, I was the student Tech Director when WTBU moved into that building in 1996. The layout in that building is kinda quirky, and at the time it was a major battle just to get ID card / swipe access points on the outer doors to the building; it wasn't common back then and it was unheard of that they let the students of WTBU manage the access list directly (the computer controlling it sat in WTBU's offices, no less).

Granted the alternative was managing keys for 150+ student volunteers with a 40-50% turnover rate every semester. BU didn't like to spend money on COM (back then, ID card / swipe systems were mighty pricey) but the administration wasn't insane enough to issue THAT many keys, either. :-)

Problem is, the budget just wasn't there for a security camera, intercom and door buzzer system...so the DJ could see someone at the outer door and buzz them in. Again, in 1996, that was a fairly expensive proposition. But the lack of that meant guests & friends had to call the DJ and wait while the DJ cued up a long CD track, sprinted down the stairs, hustled back to the studio, and barely get the next song cued up in time. It was about a 5-10 minute walk through the building to that outer door!

When you've got a bad-yet-best-under-the-circumstances system like that; inevitably people will circumvent it to make their own lives easier. Case in point: DJ's were just propping the door open and hoping nobody "bad" took advantage of it.

Hopefully COM will spring for a security cam & door buzzer now. With the rise of network cams like Axis's, such systems have gotten much cheaper and easier to implement.

In retrospect, though...I don't think limiting DJ hours is entirely a bad thing. Certainly silver linings can be found in this cloud if people are so inclined. For example: in theory, it should promote competition for the remaining DJ slots...which in turn should result in better DJ's.

WTBU could also make this a "teachable moment" by implementing automation with voicetracking on the overnights. Make it so only the best, most trusted & trained DJ's are allowed to program/voicetrack the overnights. Hell, make it part of an actual COM class curriculum. I don't prefer automation to a live DJ, mind you, but many of the kids at WTBU will end up pursuing professional careers in broadcasting...where voicetracking is a valuable skill to have on your resume.

And this post's title? It's from an actual promo my old TBU friend Keith did while we were there...it was a funny promo, except WTBU didn't even have ten watts. It was more like one-quarter of a watt. We would have KILLED to have 10 watts. sigh

Monday, January 15, 2007

Staying On-Air When No One's There - part 2

There's been some discussion lately on the listservs about automation systems, so I'm going to do something of a series paraphrasing those discussions. The first entry talked about Winamp Radio Scheduler, one of the better freeware solutions.

Next up on the list is 11software's JockeyPro solution. JockeyPro is not quite freeware, but it's very low cost: the software is $600, and a turnkey (complete hardware solution) runs from $1000 to $1300. You can also purchase a "light" version of JockeyPro called (appropriately enough) JockeyPro LT for $99. Separately, you can buy the VoiceTracker LT plugin for $50.

That's unique in my experience...I don't know any other automation system that has voicetracking capability for about $150. The price alone makes this an attractive option for many smaller operations.

Unfortunately, JockeyPro has some definite limitations. It can't handle very many file formats - WAV, MP3 and MP2 are pretty much it. Worse, there's a lot of reports that MP3's ripped with certain algorithms...notably the free (and common) LAME algorithm...will crash JockeyPro. Supposedly the Fraunhofer MP3 algorithm is safe, though...but of course you'll have to pay for that encoding algorithm and you'll have to screen your incoming MP3's very carefully.

The VoiceTracker LT plugin is also very limited; doesn't allow preview of the stuff in the playlist (which can make recording your voicetracking a little tricky) and apparently you can only record the actual voicetracks as 56k mono MP3 files...which is marginally sufficient but I'd prefer better audio quality (to survive cascading algorithms later in the airchain, like HD Radio). But it does have the advantages of a simple user interface, and it works.

One "bug" that's also a "feature" is how much work it takes to load each track into the JockeyPro libraries. You have to assign a genre and set incue/outcue points for each track. That can take a looooong time to set up if you've got a big music library. But at the same time, you really should be doing that work anyways. It's essential to making your automation sound good enough to mimic a live operator (a reasonable standard to set).

Now I mentioned this can be a $150 solution (not including hardware costs). So when it comes to support, you're getting what you pay for. That is, you don't get support. 11software is essentially a one-man operation (that happens to have two or three guys working there) and they don't have the greatest track record for support. I've heard several disappointing stories, and a few months ago I tried to download a trial version only to find their website was down. Understandable, except the site was down for several weeks. That's not so understandable. But again, and I want to stress this, you're getting what you pay for, and you're not paying much.

If your station has the consistent IT support to the point where you don't need to worry about support from 11software, then you're all set. If your station doesn't have any stable internal tech support (and you can't consider any student help as "stable"; they'll always graduate eventually) then I'd recommend investigating a solution that provides more tech support, such as BSI's Simian or Broadcast Electronics' AudioVault or Vault2...just to name two.

Back on the positive side of things, JockeyPro also comes with an inherent live-assist method of operation (DJ's manually playing music from your hard drive). It's pretty good overall, and includes a one-click-to-play "JockBox" that's ideal for often-used, short clips (less than 10-20 seconds). The only significant limitation on the live assist side is that it can only make use of one sound card...so you have to manually mix things using the volume sliders within JockeyPro. That's mildly annoying, but I give JockeyPro a lot of credit for making it relatively easy to do; adding support for multiple sound cards would undoubtedly make it a lot more expensive.

Turnkey systems? Generally I recommend getting a turnkey system whenever possible. While technically you might be able to assemble your own hardware more cheaply, you probably aren't getting good hardware and it's a distinct possibility you'll get hardware that isn't as compatible as you need it to be with the software. After all, this is a mission critical system - not a place to skimp! Plus usually when you buy a company's hardware, you'll get better tech support.

BUT...of course there's a but...

But, I'm not sure I recommend 11software's turnkey systems; the specs aren't impressive and given 11software's reported issues with tech support, I'm not sure they're doing much more than buying the hardware and installing JockeyPro on it for you. You can do the same thing with Dell and get a much better 3-year warranty from Dell.

One thing I would recommend: is buying a high-capacity UPS/Battery Backup and also some external storage that's highly redudant. I'm a fan of LaCie products, so while I haven't used their "Two Big" standalone 500GB RAID array, I'd wager it's a pretty good product. GET TWO OF THEM...the 2nd RAID disk is an emergency backup, not your standby "protection". There are lots of handy little backup programs out there - I've heard SecondCopy is quite copy and a trial I demoed once worked excellently for me. Although at home I use SyncToy, a handy free mirroring utility from Microsoft...I think SecondCopy's probably more appropriate for a mission-critical operation, though.

Conclusion: JockeyPro is basically the next logical step up from Winamp Radio Scheduler, but mostly the same restrictions apply...so if you felt WRS wasn't for your station, JockeyPro probably isn't going to be for you either. If, however, you think WRS is for your station, but you really want either A: live-assist capabilities and/or B: some basic voicetracking, then Jockey Pro is an excellent option.

Not sure? Well, here's one basic criteria I'd base my judgment on: if you have a professional GM and perhaps a pro tech guy/engineer; someone who can help make sure all the students & volunteers stick to the overall music ingestion & management system you'll have to create...and also to deal with the inevitable tech support issues and to handle the additional tech knowledge you'll likely want to network the system and manage the storage systems...if you've got that, then JockeyPro is a great "real world teaching tool" because it's pretty easy for the basic DJ to use, and it does allow you to teach the concept of voicetracking. If you don't have those pros at the top to provide consistency and guidance (and a place to call when Murphy's Law hits) then I'd spend more money up front to get better tech support from the vendor.

The confusion of victory, the stunned disbelief of defeat

Wow. That was a heck of a game against the Chargers last night. I mean, I'm happy the Patriots won. But man did they pull that win outta their collective arsehole.

Next stop, Indianapolis! The Boston Globe's Eric Wilbur is getting a little ahead of himself, but he's also got a point. The Colts have a proven record of choking in the playoffs...especially against the Patriots. And while upsets happen, I've yet to hear anyone thing the NFC stands a chance against the AFC. Especially since the Patriots beat the Bears even with a bunch of turnovers the last time they met, and the Bears are supposedly the best the NFC has to offer.

Before I was saying that you didn't need Adam Vinateri when you've got WMWM in the clutch...but more realistically it appears you don't need "Mr. Clutch" when you've got Stephen Gostkowski, either. Kid's got a serious leg. He's even cute - according to my wife, anyways. :-)

Update: Yeah, the Patriots lost. Man did they piss that game away against the Colts. This is gonna be a rough Superbowl. I hate the Bears because they wiped the floor with the old "Groanin' Grogan" Patsies back in Superbowl XX. I hate the Colts because they're our modern-day archrivals. Whom do I hate more...whom, indeed...?

Okay, I've decided I'd rather see the Colts lose. First, the 1985 Bears are long gone...this is an entirely different team, that's had to endure some seriously lousy seasons in recent years. When you haven't won a Superbowl in two decades, I suppose it's fair to say you've paid your dues.

Second, it'd be more fun to know that despite beating the Patriots, Manning still chokes in the playoffs. And by God, he didn't show grit in that win over my boys...no, the Patriots just gave the game away with some terrible defense. The Raiders could've beaten the Patriots in the second half of that game.

Plus it serves Vinatieri right for bolting on us. Come to think of it, if Vinatieri hadn't left for the Colts, he might not've kicked five field goals for the truly hideous Colts win over the Ravens a few weeks ago, and the Patriots could've stomped on the Ravens to be in the Superbowl now. Grrrr...

Managing your Music Library - Part One

I was at a small, 100% student-run radio station this weekend, and chatting with the general manager (GM) about their music library. Specifically, what to do about it since it's rapidly growing.

This is a problem I see at a lot of college radio stations around here. There's no easy way of dealing with it, either. But I think a greater problem is that many stations seem to be in outright denial that it's a problem in the first place.

I can understand that. Having a lot of music for your DJ's to choose from certainly isn't a bad thing. And if there's one thing that describes a good college radio DJ, it's passion. Passion also isn't a bad thing, either. But passion prevents objectivity, and objectivity is a requirement for any system, and a system is what you need to deal with incoming music.

And yes, you do need a system. Why? Simple physics, my friends. You've got space for your radio station, and it's a given amount. If you've got CD's (and LP's) coming in the door, and not going out, sooner or later you're going to fill that given amount.

It's gotten worse in recent years as it's become much easier & cheaper for bands (and small labels) to produce their own CD's and target who they mail them to. The upshot is that where college radio stations used to have perhaps a dozen or two CD's coming in each week, now they have hundreds.

And, of course, many college radio outlets have drifted more and more to the "freeform" style of programming. Not necessarily true "freeform"...where you've got DJ's bouncing from genre to genre with every track. But definitely where you've got wildly differing genres between each DJ, and each DJ might have a single 2-4 hour show each week. That ends up covering a lot of genres!

More often than you'd think, I've seen stations go to great lengths to keep accommodating incoming music. Up to including spending almost forty thousand to install rolling shelves or high-density CD dressers in their music library. While those suckers are cool, they don't solve the problem; eventually you're going to fill them. And they're expensive.

Worse still, if you just keep sacrificing physical space to store your music, eventually you're going to start affecting other parts of your overall operation. Some of the ways this can adversely affect your station are very concrete...such as reduction of storage for promotions swag, remote gear, and spare engineering equipment. Others are more intangible but equally important, like a reduction in workspace for your staff...which can affect staff productivity & morale.

So your options basically boil down to these:
  1. Do nothing and just keep finding new ways to store the music.
  2. Change your programming format so you only need to store less music.
  3. Figure out a system for regularly purging music...whether new or old...to keep the total number of CD's to a stable level.
  4. Figure out a way to store music in a different format (i.e. computer-based) that requires less physical space.
Each of these four options (or a combination of them) has distinct pluses and minuses, and rarely will any option make everyone happy. We'll discuss those pluses and minuses in Part Two of "Managing your Music Library".

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Darfur: Who Will Survive Today? A Second Life event

My day job is putting on a special event about the crisis in Darfur. It's held entirely within the virtual online community Second Life and produced in conjunction with the US Holocaust Museum. Last time we tried this was the day our office building had that nasty fire, so this time let's all cross our fingers, eh?

From the website:

Actress and activist Mia Farrow will discuss and answer questions about the worsening situation in Darfur and neighboring Chad at a live, virtual 3-D event in the on-line community Second Life. The landmark program will be open to the press and the public without charge, on Tuesday, January 9, 2007, from 2 PM to 3 PM (Eastern Time)/ 11 AM to 12 Noon (Second Life Time).

Also speaking about the Darfur crisis at the event in Second Life will be:

John Heffernan, who has traveled extensively throughout Sudan and the region, co-authored the 2006 report “Darfur: Assault on Survival” for Physicians for Human Rights, and serves as Director of the Genocide Prevention Initiative for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Committee on Conscience, the sponsor of the program;

Ron Haviv, the award-winning photojournalist, whose images of Darfur are part of the virtual event;

Ronan Farrow, who has served as a UNICEF Spokesperson for Youth in Sudan, as a representative of the Genocide Intervention Network, and has written extensively about the situation in Darfur; and

Bill Lichtenstein, president of Lichtenstein Creative Media, and Senior Executive Producer of the national, weekly public radio series The Infinite Mind, who will moderate.

Staying On-Air When No One's There - the prequel

One quick note that should ALWAYS preceed any thoughts about running automation on your station. The FCC has something to say about you "running unattended" (as in, automation) and it's never wise to ignore the FCC. Sort of like it's never wise to jump out of an airplane with no parachute!

Anyways, the FCC's Dale Bickel has put together a handy primer on unattended operation that I suggest everyone read first.

In short, you must use proper equipment to monitor & control your transmitter gear, and this equipment must be capable of correctly any out-of-tolerance issues or...failing that...calling a live person for help (and/or shutting down things until an engineer can come out and fix them). Without evagenlizing them too much, I will say that Broadcast Tools makes two excellent devices towards this end: the WVRC-8 remote control (or its equally-good little brother, the WRC-4) and the SM-III Plus silence sensor. There's lots of other good remote controls from Burk or Sine Systems, among many others, too. A search through BSW will get you some ideas.

You'll also need to establish several procedures for having a proper control point(s) for your transmitter system, among other things. And don't forget the FCC's Main Studio rules that require, among other things, a "meaningful staff presence" (essentially two full time staff members, one of which has to be a manager-type). Don't forget you must still meet the requirements for EAS, your Public File, and the Station Log, too.

In other words, it's not so simple as just leaving the transmitter on and a Winamp playlist running. If you do that, the FCC can (and will) fine you several thousand dollars.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Staying On-Air When No One's There - part 1

There's been some discussion lately on the listservs about automation systems, so I'm going to do something of a series paraphrasing those discussions. First in the series is Winamp Radio Scheduler, (mirror site) a freeware plugin for the popular Winamp MP3 player software for Windows.

WRS is one of those that I consider "good for the price". By which I mean it's not all that great, but considering that it's completely free...the features list is impressive. Basically it works to manage, create and trigger playlists within Winamp. It's written in Visual Basic, so it's not always 100% stable, but the most recent builds have been fairly crash-resistant. I'd still keep an eye on it about two or three times a month, which is more than good enough for fill-in purposes.

Here's the key features:
  1. Jobs, jobs, jobs. First and foremost, you can have lots and lots of "jobs" that can be set to happen once, daily or weekly for any combination of days in the week. Typically a job is used to trigger a particular playlist you've set up. Handy for "dayparting" your station. It can also change the timing of jingles, heavy rotation, and how they're shuffled. More on this in later points...
  2. Schedule of "jingles". What your station might call promos, legal ID's, sweepers, stingers, or even just jingles...WRS lumps 'em all together as jingles, and lets you schedule to happen every X minutes. This is great for playing a promo every 10 or 15 minutes so you have good "imaging" of your station.
  3. Schedule of heavy rotation. This one's pretty big for a lot of stations, presuming they have a policy of "heavy rotation" for new music or whatever.
  4. Live Feed Mode. Perfect for stations that air satellite-fed content, such as NPR or Pacifica Radio. You can schedule a job that triggers live feed mode at a specific time; piping the line-level input of your sound card directly to the output. You'll probably need to handle the audio switching outside of the computer...that's not so cheap, but quite possible with a wide variety of switchers. If you can afford a satellite dish, you can probably afford the switcher. :-)
Since WRS is, at its heart, a Winamp plugin...it's subject to all the benefits and limitations of Winamp. For example, there are certain file formats that don't play nice with Winamp & WRS...although MP3's, MP2's and WAV's all seem pretty safe. It also requires that you put a fair amount of work into pre-screening your MP3's since Winamp has limited ability to screen out poorly-ripped MP3's (too much silence, poor audio quality, no incue/outcue trigger points)

QUIRK: play nice with sound cards? Some sound cards also have problems playing multiple audio files at the same file, which WRS will inherently do. Usually this is a driver problem on cheaper sound cards and there's nothing WRS can do about it. A typical symptom is that WRS appears to play every other track, but nothing but silence comes out of the line out jack of the sound card. This isn't really WRS's fault, but it's a limitation you have to be aware of.

DOWNSIDE: no voicetracking. One major limitation - no voicetracking capacity. So your automated sound will lack much of anything in the way of a human element. For the price, are you really surprised? Technically you can fudge it by setting up Jobs to call specific M3U playlists, and loading the playlist manually with pre-recorded voicetracks. Obviously this takes a LOT of work and thought about how you're going to do it, and the end result still won't be all that great. Ah well, again...it's free.

DOWNSIDE: no live assist. There's also absolutely no "live assist" part of the software...meaning a program that lets a DJ easily play individual tracks or jingles on the air manually as an adjunct to them playing CD's or whatever. This might or might not be relevant to your needs, of course, and you can always pick up another software program like BSI's WaveCart that'll do a good job with live assist. And did I mention WRS is free???

CAVEAT: older versions of Winamp needed? WRS is designed for Winamp 2.x...no promises on how well it'll work with the current 5.x versions of Winamp. If you find you need 2.x, go to the mirror site where Winamp 2.95 is available for download.

In conclusion, I'd say WRS is a great program if you need to get an automated playback system on the air fast; like a temporary setup if you main system fails...or a "just to get started" system while you're putting the time & money into a more comprehensive system. One area where WRS can do reasonably well are college stations where there is usually live DJ's spinning CD's and records, but you need something to fill the gaps on overnights, during school breaks, and when a DJ gets sick and doesn't show up for their shift. At least you'll have something on the air when that occurs. If you're serious about automation for your station, though...you'll quickly find WRS too limiting for your needs.