Winter Time on the Ped Mall

Iowa City Pedestrian Mall
Cold, breezy day in winter on the Ped Mall

I used to spend a lot of time around these parts. 8 years in Iowa City, and this is the place that everyone always wanted to hang out. I took this picture yesterday, looking down there at a lot of fond memories.

One 4th of July during Jazz Fest, I was here helping with a full KSUI broadcast from the center of the Ped Mall when the clouds rolled in. I tend to remember saying to someone that “this doesn’t look good,” and suddenly the skies started pouring down. As the winds roared in, someone jumped on the microphone to say a hasty signoff and that we were ending the multi-hour broadcast rather early and quite abruptly.

We moved fast. Everything was piled into a four-door sedan, we crammed in, and were gone within 15 minutes. Not a piece of equipment was left behind or damaged.

Good times.

The trenches of broadcast engineering

There are days that I miss being couped up in my window-less office, being a broadcast engineer, and working all the wires and parts to keep two radio stations in operation, every single day. When I read things like this, I have to say that I miss it even more.

KHKE Tower Collapses

The tower for 89.5, our classical service in Cedar Falls/Waterloo has collapsed – the victim of an inch-thick coating of ice and 30-40 mile per hour winds.

The latest from Wayne Jarvis, Iowa Public Radio’s Network Operations Director:

The tower and antenna are a total loss and the arc-over when the guy wires hit our power-feed connection may have damaged the transmitter and other equipment in the tower building. The building itself wasn’t damaged but there are other structural issues and we will want to replace it when the tower is rebuilt. I’m investigating to see how we might fund the rebuilding. [iowapublicradio]

This is a neighbor station to the north of where I used to be, but apparently this storm hit close to home as well.

AND THERE’S MORE: 91.7 in Iowa City/Cedar Rapids is at 50% power; the power is off at the transmitter site and we’ve been operating off of the generator since Saturday. IPTV over-the-air viewers on channel 12: we share the same tower and we’re working with IPTV’s engineers to get their service up at reduced power, too, as soon as possible.

UPDATE: IPTV-12 is back on the air with very low power, but enough to give many cable viewers access to the signal again.

I thought you’d like to see this note from Engineer Jim Davies in Iowa City, describing what sounds like the near-failure of the IPTV/IPR tower in West Branch:

On Saturday the tower was loaded bad enough with ice that it was bending out of plumb quite a bit. The winds would hit and the top guy wire on the NW side would droop down below the next guy wire. A very good indication that failure would occur soon. We watched the tower dance for over an hour at the end of the lane in my Yukon. When it got dark we decided to get home. Nothing we could do would keep the tower upright if it decided to fail. [iowapublicradio]

It sounds a little strange, but folks who work in the broadcast engineering world, this is what fuels hours and hours of stories over meals or just standing around. It’s like war vets sharing their tales of what it was like. I think I learned more about what stupid things to not do from things like that.

Why do we live for stuff like this? Well, how often do you get to see tons of steel come crashing down? When those guy wires snap or pieces of tower come down vertically, your life can end in an instance. Morbid and fascinating, all at the same time. Oh yeah, and that tower is approximately 1,200 feet tall. Also, people don’t like it when something they expect to be there isn’t, especially when you provide a public service.

I have faith in those guys, especially Jim, to get it all sorted out. I expect pictures, so you can check back in the next few days in case I hear anything.

Update: There are a variety of pictures of the KHKE collapse here. Also heard word from Jim that the KSUI/IPTV tower in West Branch held, but there is another storm approaching today(Wednesday).

Podcast: The Exchange from IPR

Caught this via the official IPR blog.

“The Exchange” is now available as a podcast. You can download any episode of the show and listen whenever you like, or you can subscribe to the show in iTunes, or in feed readers like Google Reader and Bloglines. And, of course, iTunes is one way to transfer the show to your iPod so you can listen while you’re on the go.

Welcome to 2004, IPR. Ok, that is mean, but I tried really hard to get a podcast effort going at WSUI/KSUI during my time there. A lot of it came down to huge concerns over music rights, mainly music used in bumpers and bed music. After that, it was an uphill battle of trying to teach staff, with explicit radio frame of minds, what podcasting is.

There was a short run of a weekend program that I was able to get setup, but I was instructed to shut it down due to said licensing concerns. Yes, there was a legit reason to follow the rules and not distribute material that we lacked the rights to do so for. Being the only person trying to push the new medium on top of the impending IPR consolidation, there was no room for the project on the agenda. It was in the early portion of 2005 that the plug was pulled.

That single weekend program pushed out about five episodes, and the response was immediate. There was hardly any promotion for it, but people were either Googling or pinging their way to the feed. The comments were coming from around the world. This was a whole new audience we were taping into, and they didn’t care if the content pertained to Iowa related topics. It was quality programming, plain and simple.

I think what IPR wants to do is become a stronger force in the world of public radio, much like what Minnesota Public Radio or Chicago Public Radio has become. This new program, The Exchange, is the first big push to get into the ring for IPR. However, quality programming has always been there. That little weekend program was a glimpse of that. If someone would have made a bigger effort to secure podcasting and the licensing worries, they would have seen that.

The slow moving, giant sloth that is Iowa Public Radio

Flickr: Public Radio daysWhen I joined the world of public radio in 2003, the general manager for the group of stations that were controlled and funded by Iowa State University issued a white paper calling for the creation of a statewide network for public radio within the state. What he wanted to do was to bring all stations from the three major university’s into a single network, the other two school’s being the University of Northern Iowa and the University of Iowa.

It was was in the first few days that this news came out of left field and made the whole place freak out. I was fresh to the whole public radio sphere at WSUI/KSUI, and it was within the first month of coming on board that people were telling me that I should consider applying for the full time position as assistant engineer. The thing is, no one knew if their jobs were going to be there if and when this consolidation took effect.

One thing that my time in college radio taught me was that bureaucracies work at an incredibly slow, painful, and sometimes ignorant pace. A motion like this would be a matter decided by a select group of people at the top of the institute of higher education food chain, the board of regents. It was no secret to anyone inside the stations that the guy who put out this white paper was licking his lips to be the one at the top of the organizational chart. Long story short, the process out-processed him. Not only did he not make it through the motions to be considered a finalist for the job, but he eventually left altogether.

Enter the era of the executive director of Iowa Public Radio, Cindy Browne. No matter how much everyone tried to put us at ease with the situation, there was never a worse feeling that treating this woman with ill manner would cost you your career. We were told that this wasn’t an era of consolidation, but an attempt at better cooperation. There would be an examining of how running all the stations under one network could save money, but anyone familiar with the way any media organization goes about such a venture knows what that means. The less people you have, the more money you can save. Continue reading “The slow moving, giant sloth that is Iowa Public Radio”