Engineer's Corner

Credit Ryan T Conaty

The Engineer's Corner is an occasional series penned by RIPR's IT & Engineering Director, Aaron Read.  

Any time he thinks there's something useful, important, amusing, or otherwise interesting enough to write about?  This is where you'll find it.  The highest compliment he gets, and frequently, is from readers who assure him that even though they have no idea what he's writing about, they love that he's writing it.

New Production Studio at RIPR
Aaron Read RIPR

Late last week I was very happy to execute the final changeover to RIPR's new PRODUCTION STUDIO.  This is a big deal for us; our studios were originally designed and constructed by WBUR, way back in the late 1990's when they owned RIPR (then just "WRNI") outright, and most of the "back office" personnel were still located in Boston.

Accordingly, we only have one "studio".  It's two connected rooms: a "control room" with the usual mix board, producer's station, director's station, etc...and a "mic booth" with just a trio of mics.   The idea was that a lot of the day-to-day, off-air, production work was happening up in Boston, where WBUR had four main studios and seven edit booths.  So the workload on RIPR's end would be pretty light.

Fast-forward to 2007 and now we're an independent news radio station with nine news staff and a ton of daily production needs.  Yet only one studio to do it in!  AAAAAHHHH!!!  Scheduling conflicts were rampant.

TheEC: New STL at 88.1FM

Jul 18, 2014
RIPR Chief "Engneah" poses with the STL antenna
David Schiano

UPDATE 7/22: After a weekend of solid operation, we've moved out of "beta" and into "gold", meaning when you listen to 88.1, you're hearing audio that's coming across the new microwave STL.


Good news everyone!

Longtime Engineer's Corner readers know that we've had, well, "issues" with the STL or "Studio/Transmitter Link" for our 88.1FM signal in Providence.   The STL is what carries the audio from our studios in downtown Providence to the transmitter/tower at the Wheeler Farm in Seekonk.

Now a couple weeks ago we revealed that half of a new wireless microwave STL was installed, and that the other half would be installed soon.  Today, we fired it up for the first time and the results were gratifyingly positive!

Not nearly as romantic as "Lost in Austen", but the hefty thunderstorms that roared through Wednesday morning dumped a lot of rain and dropped a lot of lightning, both of which conspired to take RIPR's 102.7FM (and MVYradio's HD2) off the air for an hour or two.

New STL Dish Being Installed
Aaron Read RIPR

UPDATE @ 1pm : 88.1FM is back at normal power!  Pics are available on our Twitter feed here, here, here and here.   By the way, many of these pics were taken with a stock iPhone 5S using this telephoto lens attachment.  Pretty good for $45!


On Wednesday June 18th, beginning around 9:30 or 10am, 88.1FM will be running on the backup transmitter & antenna for a few hours to install new equipment on the top of the tower.   We must run on the lower-power backup for the health & safety of our tower climber.

The backup operates using a one-bay vertically-polarized omnidirectional antenna and about one-tenth our normal power.   


Keep watching our Twitter feed for updates.

Logitek MOSIAC mix console demo unit
Susan Greenhalgh RIPR

This week Frank from Logitek Audio was in town to provide RIPR with a demo of their MOSAIC mix board.  To turn a phrase, this is not your father's mix board!

New Air Conditioner
Aaron Read RIPR

Regular readers of the ENGINEER'S CORNER might recall my story about air conditioning at our 102.7FM transmitter in Narragansett Pier.   Well now I'm pleased to report that we have air conditioning at 88.1FM WELH in Seekonk as well!

In many ways, this is an even bigger deal; 102.7 had a hefty vent fan system that could move a lot of air.  Sure, if the air outside was hot, it means the air inside was hot, too.  Usually you can't cool a room using outside air below about +10F degrees above outside air temps.   So if it's 90F outside, it's 100 to 105F inside...ugh!  

And at 88.1, we didn't really have even that.  The transmitter site is an 8x10ft shed with a single 12 inch desk fan blowing air out one of the wall vents, and no insulation whatsoever on the walls or ceiling.  Temps routinely broke 120F inside, even when it was only 70 to 80F outside.

TheEC: NAB2014 in Vegas

May 2, 2014
Andrea Toven

As promised, here are some pics of my six days and seven nights in Las Vegas for the 2014 National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) show, one of the biggest conferences in the USA, with over 98,000 engineers, managers, vendors and content creators all crammed into the truly massive Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC).

UPDATED 5/8/2014.

The morning of April 30th saw several odd "dropouts" in the audio on 88.1FM, usually lasting 5 to 8 seconds each, happening as often as 2 or 3 times a minute, but more commonly once every 10 to 15 minutes.

There was also an odd "repeating audio" effect some people noticed, when the audio came back.

Read on for the explanation of both!

WCVY 91.5 update Apr.22

Apr 21, 2014
BW Broadcast FM Transmitter
BW Broadcast

UPDATE 3:30PM​  Taking advantage of the downtime, we swapped in the new BW Broadcast TX300v2 transmitter to replace the aging BE FX50 & QEI/LPB FM150SS combo.   The 91.5FM signal should be a little better than usual now.

The big news in computing this week is Heartbleed, a serious security problem with secure websites.   Specifically, it's a two-year-old bug in the near-ubitiquous OpenSSL (Secure Socket Layer) protocol...most commonly recognized when there's a "https" (instead of "http") at the beginning of a website address.

It's a big problem, and I'll explain why in a second, but first I wanted to let everyone know that the RIPR donations website is secure and never was vulnerable to Heartbleed.   They use a hardware-based implementation of SSL, not OpenSSL.

So if you have donated or plan to donate to RIPR, you have nothing to worry about in regards to Heartbleed and that donation.  Whew!

West River runs high through 1290AM
Aaron Read

As many of you know, RIPR owns and maintains the 1290AM site on the Providence/North Providence town line.  Our NPR satellite downlink is there, and we lease the frequency to our friends at Latino Public Radio.

In the past, the site was largely a pond (Whipple Pond) with Douglas Ave forming part of a dam in the eastern corner.   After the torrential rains of 2010, the dam broke and the pond drained.  Now the West River flows freely through the site.

  This time on The Engineer's Corner, I want to look back three weeks ago, and look back over fifty years ago.  And how little typos can have a big impact when it comes to engineering.

FullChannel Jamie Griffin

Our good friends at FullChannel cable, available to residents of Barrington, Warren and Bristol, are not only nice enough to put RIPR's audio on channel 799.   But also their engineer, Jamie Griffin, has started his own "Engineer's Corner" email newsletter for cable TV folks.

TheEC: Prison Radio

Feb 3, 2014
Sony SRF-39FP prison radio
Museum of Everyday Objects

A recent article in the New Yorker about radio in prison piqued my interest.  Besides providing a window into a world that many of us know little or nothing about, it caught my eye that these Sony SRF-39FP ("FP" for "Federal Prison") radios are actually remarkably good receivers.  

Aaron Read

In light of ongoing issues with the Studio/Transmitter Link (STL) for WELH 88.1, we have implemented a new STL  schema.   If you heard a lot of odd audio dropouts on 88.1 today, that was the reason.

The good news is that we should have a pretty good temporary solution in place, and a solid path for a permanent solution is on the horizon (tentatively scheduled for mid-March).   Best of all, I was able to put in a new(er) Orban Optimod 8100A audio processor to replace the less-capable Inovonics DAVID-III.  There's a little sibilance still, so I need to tweak the settings.  But overall the sound should be much louder, fuller, and more consistent.

Read on for more details...