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THIRD Portishead album

It’s been a long time coming too… not quite so long a wait for me but even so it’s still been a long enough wait.

I first heard Portishead sometime around 2001 or 2002, through a car ad that featured one of their tracks (Numb from Dummy as it turned out).  Since then I’ve immersed myself in the genre of Trip-Hop and now own more than 35 hours worth of music that fits my loose definition of the genre…

But I always wondered whether there would be a third Portishead album, especially after I started a Trip-Hop radio show on in 2005. In the three years I ran the show (under various names) there’s been at least one major release from the major exponents of the genre and I’ve managed to see most of the bands that define the genre of Trip-Hop: specifically Massive Attack, Zero 7 and Kosheen.

Back in 2005, Portishead announced that they were writing a third album, after countless forum postings suggesting it would happen. I tried (and failed) to get tickets for the Tsunami benefit concert in Bristol… but now I’ve got tickets to see them on April 13th in Wolverhampton.

As for the album… it’s released on April 28th, eleven years since their second album, the self-titled Portishead (I’m not counting the live CD from 1998) I’ve heard a few tracks, certainly a different sound but clearly based on the old foundations… can’t wait for next Sunday!

SRA conference 2007 in York

It’s taken 48 hours to recover but it’s time to talk about the Student Radio Association conference in York hosted by University Radio York.

It had a lot to live up to as I went to the 2006 conference in Southampton hosted by Surge Radio. The ridiculous amount of alcohol that was consumed there meant that York had a tough act to follow.

All in all it was a really fun 3 days, though perhaps not as fun as Southampton. This is partly because the drinking didn’t start until 7pm (compared to midday at Southampton) but there are other reasons:

1) the accommodation wasn’t exactly inspiring. Having been to York university before (nearly 5 years ago with school) I had a good idea of what to expect. The rooms were huge in some instances but the severe lack of showers was ridiculous (we had one to share between 10 on the section of the corridor we were on). The kettle was also a bit random, having a cable far shorter than the length of my arm and my room not having any normal wall sockets to plug it into. Admittedly the Southampton hall wasn’t much better, but at least there were enough showers.
2) the closing time of the bar on Monday was earlier than I would have liked (being midnight).
3) the club we went to was a bit too cheesy for my liking (though this is coming from someone who insists on Indie or hard dance clubs).
4) The AGM running for four hours rather than the scheduled two. I don’t think this was due to a lack of planning (though having the AGM on Tuesday would have meant that the conference would have finished on time) but probably because of one issue that was raised in one of the SRA exec reports that very few people seemed to have read before the AGM.

however it’s not all negative:
1) the lake… and the geese! They made for some fantastic photos!
2) The sessions had content that was more relevant than in Southampton and only two had obvious moments of “we’ll plug our company to the maximum while we are here.” There were also no irrelevant sessions: the one about community radio in Southampton was completely useless for us and we were told as much less than five minutes into a one hour session.
3) I spoke to far more people than last year (admittedly I spent loads of time as last year talking to the Junction 11 contingent).
4) Last years conference with a quick exchange of a few phone numbers and one email address… so far I’ve gained no fewer than 9 friends on Facebook (I’m certain I didn’t meet them all) but it’s by far the easiest way to stay in touch with people.
5) We’ve finally got someone interested in building the website! And the person in question has absolutely nothing to do with Birmingham!
6) We’ve now got a significant number of ideas for station imaging which I’m hoping to roll out by our next broadcast in October.

Southampton still has the edge in terms of the fun we had (the Aaron/Terry incident is still legendary). However it’s fair to say that the sessions were far more relevant this year: one spending twenty minutes on how to use Facebook and what to look out for!  Which is exactly what student radio is about: taking radio to the level that allows students to interact with us at our level and give us the biggest audience possible.


I’ve been elected as the new SRA representative for the West Midlands!  I’m very pleased as I hope to make the region a powerhouse of student radio broadcasting and I believe that I’m one of the most committed members of the association.  Hopefully I’ll be able to fulfill my promise of visiting every station in the region so I can provide better support than before.

I hate it when things don't work…

I spent today preparing for possibly the most interesting broadcast that had attempted to date – a live commentary on a sports match, in this case the BUSA Mens Hockey final between Birmingham and Loughborough. They even plugged the station on their website at the previous link.

It didn’t work. I’m still at a loss as to why but something wasn’t right with the clubhouse network. The mixer and microphones worked perfectly and the laptop took the stream as expected.

Which is where the problems began.

For some reason the laptop did not stream the signal across the clubhouse network. Not even directly accessing the ip address of the laptop (a unique number assigned to a computer when it connects to a network or the Internet) using another computer on the network worked – simply put it did not stream from the laptop, or the network wasn’t configured to allow it to be broadcast.

As with all Internet-based computer activity a port needs to be activated to be used for a specific purpose – an available port is needed for web-browsing via IE or Firefox. A port is also required for a webstream – these were supposedly opened to allow us to stream.

It seems that it was setup to work – using a program called TCPview (thanks to Tim for directing me to it) it seemed that everything was setup to work. But it didn’t

Which meant that we couldn’t broadcast live and the live commentary for the entire game was out. We ended up having to do live commentary using Josh’s mobile phone which was far from ideal but at least meant the day wasn’t a total waste. But it’s still annoying that it did not work and makes me question why it didn’t.

Hearing Aid Birmingham (and the Exec Results Show)

So having (to some extent) recovered from the loss of some of my computer data I’m now in a position to write about Hearing Aid

It all started with an email sent to me by Dave Bradshaw, who was interested in taking a charity event (called Hearing Aid) to a national level within the student radio community.

As I received the email just days before the SRA Awards I suggested that we talk about it at during the event in London… which led to a conversation lasting nearly one hour.

As by that point I had stood down from the Station Manager position (something I wouldn’t have done if I could have found a replacement Head of Engineering) the majority of the organisational work was done by Jo Day. This was especially true as my new show time for the Spring Semester broadcast now clashed with the weekly meetings we have to discuss general events and work. However there was still the engineering side to plan and organise. I thought I had the perfect solution…

Using the mixer normally reserved for our production studio, the easiest way to do an outside broadcast was to connect a laptop to the university’s network and stream the output back to the studio computer. Which was fine in theory.

However a second computer was required to play music. Initially I had hoped that I would have a new laptop to use, but as it’s been delayed I had to borrow one.

The Exec Results Show comes into this at this point, as the setup for that was nearly identical. While we didn’t use any computers for music playout (feed being instant) we simply needed two microphones and the live from the stage that we could broadcast. As we had two inputs the second was put to good use as a laptop was used to record the feed before either Josh or Ed could talk over it.

The output was send down to the studio via GTV. As we had three channels to play with the extra channel was used to provide Josh and Ed with the broadcast signal (effectively allowing two-way communication between the studio and the mixer, though only on-air).

Generally the night went very well, though wan’t without problems. As the feed was quiet the silence detector assumed that nothing was broadcasting and decided to blast the backup minidisc over the airwaves instead. This was easily fixed – a simple case of removing the input and output cables that were connected to the silence detector and plugging them together – nice and easy!

The rest of the show was uneventful (in terms technical details) but just to be safe I had my minidisc player on hand, complete with the in-line remote with its FM tuner so I could moniter the output.

After eventually getting the equipment back into the studio I joined the afterparty n Joes bar. Having had huge assistance from Michael Salterwaite in setting up the GTV end of things, I then discovered that they had a huge cable that we could use to broadcast Hearing Aid with (by long I’m talking 50 metres)…

… So I was at BUGS just after 8am on Monday 5th March (having not left Joes the same night until 12:45am).

Having positioned the cable I then got round to getting our equipment upstairs and into the bar to broadcast with. Needless to say it wasn’t all plain sailing, as the power supply of Rob Davies’ Laptop was causing extra sounds to be broadcast from the soundcard.

So to plan C (plan A involving the use of my own laptop and desktop, neither of with were available – more on the desktop below). Another desktop. And as the production mixer was being used for the broadcast… why not the production studio computer?

After the first event (Family Fortunes, halfway during which Rob’s laptop died) I then setup the production computer in Joes. Again massive help was needed (provided by tech services) in getting it to work properly but that it did with little effort. All it needed was the playout software (a very powerful program called mAirList). It’s free for “non-commercial use” and it’s worth having for DJ sets or house parties, as it’s perfect for either.

So the rest of the day was uneventful, though around 6pm it became obvious that the sound wasn’t being broadcast in stereo. So the huge cable then became redundant and I went with the original plan of getting everything back to the studio, by streaming.

The other laptop performed perfectly. Although a wireless connection was used, there were on;y minor periods where it didn’t work.

Other people can put into words better than I can the sheer scale of the event and how successful we were in raising £1,089.56 for Comic Relief via Hearing Aid. It was a challenge and hadn’t done any form of outside broadcasting before – we then get two broadcasts in as many days. THe best part is that it worked really well and hopefully they won’ be the last.

And if you’re thinking that it’s too late to donate to Hearing Aid – it isn’t!  You can still donate here.

Hearing Aid

So Hearing Aid is finally taking shape.

Hearing Aid is a charity event created by Livewire 1350 at UEA in Norwich.  Last year they raised over £2,500.  However they wanted to make it bigger.  At November’s Student Radio Awards they spoke to several university radio stations (including about having events at different universities at the same time. 

The main issue has always been doing a live broadcast from somewhere that isn’t the broadcast studio.  The obvious method has always been to use the Internet to stream back to our studio.  However the catch has aleays been finding a suitable Internet access point to connect to.

Four  hours of meetings and discussions earlier today have brought us some good news. 

Our current IT department has been really helpful with our problems and Hearing Aid has proved to be no exception.  We’re now at the point where we will be using a wireless router to stream from a laptop in Joes to the bar where our router will sit.  This provides the all-important Internet connection – so expect us to doing a proper outside broadcast!

However if that’s the easy part, getting the stream to sound good is the major difficulty.  Managing two computers at the same time has the potential to cause problems but should work (one being used to play music and jingles, the other for the stream).  The main problem is getting the live bands to sound good and having long enough cables for the microphones so we can do all the charity events we have planned.

This is where our Technical department comes in.  They’ll be providing us with a high quality feed for the live music and making the necessary cables to make it work (unfortunately for a price).  

However having enough energy to last twelve hours could well be the biggest problem!

This is something we have never tried before and is certainly one of the biggest events of it’s kind.  Nine student stations (down from the original fourteen) are invloved and the majority are having live bands as the big event.  In terms of scale the event may well be one of the biggest in terms of the number of mini-events and the amount of air-time being devoted to the event.  I’m unaware of the general plans for the other stations but having the ability to broadcast the bands live is something quite special.

So when does it take place?  The Birmingham event is on Monday 5th March 2007.  Only five days away!