Archive | January, 2005

Podcast Modifications

Based on a number of comments from folks who download the radioshow as a podcast, I’ve made a few changes:

  • Only one file is specified in the feed. This week I’m trying out a 32kbps mp3 as a compromise bitrate between 64k and 16k, so it’s not too big, but not too compromised in quality.
  • The other files available for download–currently 64k & 16k mp3 and ogg–no longer show up in the feed, but are still on the radioshow page.
  • I’m now adding ID3 tags to the mp3s so that the show titles will show up in playlists and on players.

I normally don’t get much feedback on the radioshow, so I’m glad to get constructive comments to my net listeners. Of course, if you have any comments, please send them away — click on “comments” at the end of the post.

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Dramatizing and Publicizing Pirate Radio — Risky?

I was reading the newsgroup when I came across a post from DJ Johnny Silver, who is aparently the man behind Iron Action Radio in Nyack, NY. The post is promoting the “second film
about the Infamous DJ Johnny Silver,” which “is based on when the FCC came knocking at the door to shut the station down” around six years ago.

So, I went to the website, Primitive Man Hand, and watched the 12 minute video entitled, “The Chase.”

It’s a pretty well done amateur video, with good quality shooting and sound. But if it’s based on when the FCC busted Johnny Silver’s station, it must be loosely based. The bulk of the film is an extended chase sequence, wherein an FCC agent busts into Silver’s apartment, chases him out of the window, through a farmer’s market, onto skateboards, and eventually onto a dock where they have a martial arts battle.

Generally, FCC agents aren’t so well trained in combat techniques, nor are they permitted to bust into private residences without a warrant and actual cops doing the dirty work.

But what’s even more interesting is that DJ Johnny Silver apparently has started broadcasting again, though no longer from his kitchen as when he was busted. He has the story of the first station and its bust posted on the station’s blog.

According to the most recent blog post, Johnny Silver did an interview with the local Nyack newspaper for an article that he expected to be published on Sunday.

My only advice to DJ Johnny Silver is that he’d better be careful, since if indeed he is the same guy who pirated in Nyack back in 1996 and he is now broadcasting again, he’s giving the FCC a big head’s up as to who to look for and where to find him.

Also, I’d be concerned about the short films — I hope the person portraying DJ Johnny Silver is not the actual DJ Johnny Silver. If you’re trying to stay clandestine, it’s best not to give the feds a picture to go by, either.

Of course the question of publicity is always one that nags at any unlicensed radio broadcaster. If you want to avoid detection and a bust, you’d wisely limit your publicity, but then you also make it more difficult for listeners to find you. On the other hand, more publicity means increasing the risk of a bust.

For a lot of unlicensed broadcasters, they choose their level of risk based up their goals. Are they hoping to create a community radio station as an act of community empowerment or civil disobedience. Then perhaps being out in the open and risking FCC attention is worth it for the sake of providing an accessible community resource. That’s the calculus used by stations like Radio Free Brattleboro.

But a broadcaster may be more interested in putting some challenging information and culture out on the air, maybe not even 24/7, than creating a community station. In this case, being more clandestine, and limiting publicity, may be a good approach. This can be an especially useful method for providing event-based broadcasts, like during major protest actions. But it’s also fine to do a good, tight, well-produced weekly broadcast.

Personally, I think both approaches are valid, yet I think it’s important to make the choice thoughfully.

And if you want to be a little more well known, but also avoid getting busted, then I recommend looking to Boulder Free Radio for inspiration. They’ve used wi-fi technology to help separte their studio from the transmitter, and station founder Monk blogs about many of his techniques and thoughts.

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Video Compression Comparison has recently completed another in its ongoing series of video compression codec comparisons. Doom9’s primary focus is on backing up video DVDs, whether that means copying them to DVD-R, or further compressing them so that a full movie will fit on one or more CD-Rs.

Because of this focus, the primary concern is with overall video quality at a particular data rate or file size. Thus, the winners are implementations of MPEG4, which is an open standard. Since some standalone DVD players are now also supporting MPEG4, this makes sense.

However, this sort of evaluation should not necessarily be generalized to how particular codecs perform in streaming implementations. The conditions that face streaming–packet loss, network congestion, etc–aren’t present with a video file burned to a disc. Therefore, data that in a streamed video would have to be dedicated to transport information can be put to use to carry more video information with a non-streamed file.

I think that’s one reason why Real Video codecs tend to come out lower in the pack in these comparisons–it’s primarily a streaming codec, and in my experience performs very well in that regard. However, while I do recommend Real for streaming applications where simplicity is valued over other priorities like open standards, I would not recommend it as a good codec for archiving video or backing up DVDs.

The advantage to MPEG4 implementations is that videos encoded in this format can be transcoded fairly easily to be used in other applications. Real Video cannot.

This isn’t such a problem for Real when you are focused on streaming, since your streaming file should not be the one you archive — you should always archive the highest quality file you have so that you can transcode or re-encode to new, more advanced codecs as they become available.

As a real-world example, I’ve been working on making videos from this past August’s Community Wireless Summit available both for streaming and download. For the streamed videos, I’m using Real Video 9 streamed off a Real Helix server. The quality is decent on broadband, scales to lower bandwidths, and adapts smoothly to network conditions.

For the downloadable videos, I’ve used the Quicktime implementation of MPEG4, since this will give a nice quality file for those who want to keep a copy of the video. That file can easily be played on MPEG4 capable DVD players, or transcoded to VCD or even DVD.

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