4:30am on a Thursday.
At some point, the three or four of you will come to this blog and it won't be about my struggle with Comcast to connect two studios that are seven blocks apart. I realize now that I should probably have given up months ago or more on trying to use Comcast to connect the studios.
But it has never made any sense to me that all over the country radio stations use Comcast to connect their studios and transmitters - most for much larger distances than the seven blocks we need - and the connections are strong and can go years without dropping to dead air. It has become a mission to understand, to ameliorate, to conquer. I just want to know what went wrong and I want to join in the fixing of it and then move on to do what we do best - doing radio.
Finally, after 18 months of trying to figure this thing out, we're getting somewhere. Comcast has sent a pretty competent team into Hammond to test my connection and fix any problems with it. Yesterday, I had a 19 minute and 23 second phone call with Eric of Comcast, and here's a few things we have learned.
1. The tech teams definitely found some interference on the line between the two studios. It's not as simple as someone connected their Uverse to Comcast, but Eric says that from time to time Interference slips into the lines and they gotta locate it and fix it. I countered that it sounds like "Old Infrastructure" is the problem around my old radio station, and he didn't really have an answer for that. I still, right now sitting on my bed in the morning darkness, believe my problems with Comcast - and AT&T, NIPSCO, City of Hammond water, and the Hammond Sanitary District too - have all been related to the fact that the station building and tower are in a really old part of Hammond. The NIPSCO overhead lines are old. The phone lines are old, so are the water lines and sewer pipes. As far as the cable lines, the guy who owned WJOB back in the day, Julian Colby, initially brought cable to Hammond. The lines to the radio station may be the first cable lines in the city. That makes them really old.
2. "Yes, that may very well have happened." That's what Eric said in regards to the interference causing the public internet AND Comcast's Metro E service drop sometimes and send WJOB to dead air. This is huge because we have had trouble connecting to our transmitter site since the day we moved a studio to the Purdue Commercialization and Manufacturing Excellence Center. To review.
First, we just hooked up to the transmitter site using phone lines. That worked because we were using AT&T phone lines on both ends. The problem was, as it always is with phone lines, that you sound like you're calling your mom from camp in northern Minnesota.
Then we connected the two studios using the Mixlr app on both ends, through Comcast internet. This should have worked, if we had solid internet, but it did not. We often dropped during shows and went to dead air. We researched it (Angel and I) and it didn't make any sense that the connection would drop so much. No one else we could find reported such latency and droppage.
So we ponied up and bought some Barix codecs. This is a system in which you put an encoder on one end (the Instreamer) and a decoder on the other end (the Exstreamer) and you send your audio that way. This, like the Mixlr app. should have worked. Remember, at this point with Mixlr and the Barix system, we were simply going over the public internet. It was connected with a static IP, which makes it more reliable, but still, it was the public internet.
With the Barix system, we had drops from the start. I can't tell you how many hours and dollars I spent to try to fix the Barix system. It didn't make any sense that radio stations all over the world could connect their studio and transmitter using Barix but I couldn't make it work seven blocks down Indianapolis Blvd.
So I scrapped the Barix system and bought the Tieline codec system. This is one of the high-level standards in the codec industry. For a little while, the Tieline seemed to not have the drops that we had with the Mixlr app and the Barix codec system. That didn't last long. The drops came again. And again. And again. I keep talking about how much time and money we spent trying to fix all of these systems, but perhaps the real travesty comes when you talk about our standing in the community.
Time and time again, on the air and off, I had to apologize about going to dead air. It usually wasn't that long of a time, a couple of minutes or so, but often listeners would call in live on the show - "you know you were just on dead air, right?" Or, more often, they would text me to my personal phone or to the text line or email me or just tell me in the cereal isle at Jewels. Hundreds of contacts from listeners, sponsors, guest interviews about what was going on at the station.
"I turned it on and all I heard was static."
"With all that technology at that new Purdue center, can't you guys get that right?"
It has been a huge embarrassment for me for more than a year. Sometimes I can see a person walking towards me and I know what they're gonna say - "what the hell's going on over that at WJOB? You can't even stay on the air?" Last night, I spoke on the phone with our late-night host, Rick Kubic, and we spent a good portion of that conversation and many before it on if we had dead air or not. He's got a guy who listens to the station 24-7 and the guy lets him know - "Hey, you went to dead air three times during the show." Or, "WJOB had a dead spot during that high school basketball game earlier." It's good that people take that kind of concern for the station. It's bad that it has to happen.
So after a year of that, I signed up for the Comcast Metro E service, otherwise known as Ethernet over HFC. It was supposed to provide what amounts to an interior network between the two radio sites using Comcast lines that DON'T GO OVER THE PUBLIC INTERNET. This, as you know, has not worked either. Our drops actually became worse. In the past couple of months since the service was installed - we had to wait months for that to happen - we have lost connection even more frequently than with the public internet.
Go figure. So back to what the elite Comcast team has been doing for the past couple of days. They found this mysterious "interference" and both the tech I spoke with yesterday morning and Eric, the team leader, confirm that yes, the interference could have caused your problem both on the public internet and with the private network provided by Comcast E.
At least we're getting somewhere. At least Comcast admits that there was a problem and that they have to address it. That brings us one step closer to performing on our mission -
We just want to do radio.
It's time to do radio. I don't think there's any guests until 6:30, so I gotta get ready to blab for an hour. Then Bob Heisse, the editor for the Times newspaper, is scheduled to come in or call. Then it's a guy from the Amish traveling craft show - Shipshewann on the Road - at 7:10. Then it's a guy from Walgreen's to talk about National Influenza Week. Then it's Lake County Sheriff John Buncich. And then at 8:30 it's Whiting mayor Joe Stahura. No more time to blog about Comcast for the three or four of you. You have to be at least a little relieved about that. It sounds like we're getting closer to resolving this bad internet case and we can get back to doing and blogging about radio. Finally.
11:30am on Thursday.
Bad news. Debbie Wargo informed Ryan and me that we went to dead air at 8:57 this morning for about 50 seconds. Christina Cortez said that we went dead air last night around 8:30 for about the same amount of time.
That may mean that whatever interference Comcast found on the line... it's probably not fixing the problem with the connection between the two studios over the public internet. Yikes. I really hoped that whatever interference they found and addressed would have propelled us on a course in which we no longer had dead air using the Comcast system and that we could really dig in to our mission, which, as the three or four of you know, is...
"We just want to do radio."
And radio we did this morning. Times editor gave a thorough rundown of all of the changes of that media behemoth on 45th in Munster. They have new typeface for the whole paper. I really does pop. The Times now delivers all of the papers around here, including WSJ, USA Today, Chicago Tribune, even the Post-Tribune. And tomorrow they're starting a history project in which they look back at the stuff that's happened in their 109 years of doing newspaper. They started as the Lake County Times. Now they're the Times of Northwest Indiana and part of the Lee newspaper chain.
But it's still The Times and they're still by far the dominant media around here, both in print and online.
Andrea Nygaard of Walgreen's came on next, and boy is she solid on the radio. As a matter of fact, in the last two days I've had some women on who could really communicate. Yesterday, ----- ----- came on to do the St. Catherine Hospital segment. She's a Hispanic gal from the Indiana Harbor section of East Chicago and it's her first go at radio. She takes the place of Angela Moore, who no longer does the show.
Maybe it's just the nature of the Harbor, but .... really brought some game. I'm guessing that soon the Community Hospital will be calling on her to do some public relations work. They should.
Same thing with Andrea of Walgreen's. She joked with me and could go back and forth without getting all self-conscious as many people do their first time on the radio. That's innate talent.
And, to top of the quadrifecta, two more women came in later in today's show with some game. That's Kathleen Ulm of the Tee-Shirt shop in Whiting and ..... of Evolution. Listen to the segment with those two. Naturals. That makes four women in 24 hours who could do radio. I'm not sure I've ever had that before.
What we have had before is a solid show with Lake County Sheriff John Buncich. We talked about the same thing everyone else is talking about - the LaQuan McDonald shooting and the federal investigation of the Chicago police department. Fast forwarding to one of the phone calls... Shirley complained to the Sheriff that as she was walking in to the Dunkin Donuts she said "hi" to a sheriff's deputy and he didn't say "hi" back. She wanted the number to complain.
I let Shirley go on for a while... and then I butted my big fat ass in the conversation, noting that these are policemen who run to gunshots while we flee and if he or she has a listing on his or her mind, then let it be. My cousin Phyllis called in to defend Shirley, saying that police serve us and should act accordingly. How ironic that is. Not about the police but about my cousin Phyllis. I may be the most abrasive person in Lake County. But cousin Phyllis is as hardened as they come and is right behind me. And here she is talking about civility.
I didn't call this out on the air, because as I told Alexis, Phyll would hold against me for the rest of my life. But I don't mind blogging it to the three or four of you in that I'm still a little pissed that not only do cops have to protect us now... they have to wish a tip of the hat every time they see us. Gimme a break.
That's all for now. My daughter Jackie's in town and I get to drive her around to tanning and for a Starbuck's and that is infinitely more important than anything I might have to tell you about Comcast or radio. See ya.