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RadioRob - OpenBroadcaster checking in from Northern Canada


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How did I get here in radio land?



Back in 1989 – 1993 I was able to save up and take off with my bicycle and spend a few years travelling around the world, through China, India, South East Asia and Europe. I was able to subsidize my travelling and live the “Yukon dream” by spending 6 months on the road buying up trinkets and handicrafts and then spending 6 months gypsying around the north at music festivals selling my stuff at flea markets. I started to dabble in taking stuff back overseas for trade and tried salmon, maple syrup and cosmetics with mixed results. Eventually, I got a bit more organized to assist locals overseas to market their goods here and export back as a China Trader.




My home was and still is Tagish Yukon located 120 kms south of Whitehorse Yukon. Back in 1984 there was no phone service here except Manual Mobile radio (Handy Talkie) and HF, not exactly modern and none of it supported full duplex faxing. Internet was not available to consumers, restricted and known as ARPANET.




My business continued to grow and I would have to drive to Whitehorse to send a PO and instructions to my colleagues at the other side of the world. Inevitably the fax wouldn't be on at the other end and I'd have to drive in the next day back to Whitehorse to send the fax. There had to be a better way rather than burning fossil fuels and wrecking my car. The idea of TagishTel was born.



In 1992 I switched career paths. With little technical background or training quote I got myself hired by a SMR Radio\ Pager shop in town and joined the HAM club. I scrimped and saved, begged permission (for years) to locate equipment in a Yukon Government communications building, bought some decommissioned full duplex radios used from lighthouses on the west coast and bought some new expensive interconnect equipment. I went through the dumps, scrounged whatever I could, remanufactured connectors and bought transmission line from the scrap yard. Oct 11, 1996 I placed my first call to Whitehorse from my home in Tagish, with just a regular phone and sent a fax overseas, via a house in Whitehorse where I interconnected to the Telco.



That was a very expensive fax!



I made a presentation to the CRTC the following spring and was interviewed by the media about my telephone solution. Bell Canada wasn't impressed because they had been saying publicly for years that “it couldn't be done” without millions of dollars of subsidies. Here I was, grade eight education and got a bunch of their stuff from the dump that they trashed and wasted to connect our community to Whitehorse.



That summer I went back on the road to the music festivals and flea markets peddling my “shrunken heads and silk scarves”. People recognized me from the media and said they wanted a fax\telephone system like I had made in Tagish. I offered to give them a deal on silk clothes and shiny dragon stickers, but again they asked for communications systems. Eventually I got the hint there was more money to be had in supplying telephones\fax and supporting the recent service called internet. I learned and crafted various business models about the importance of communications in emergencies to warn of fires, flooding in the southern lakes, chemical spills and lost children in the bush. Later I built a large area wireless broadband link connecting Tagish and Marsh Lake with multiple hops and mountain top sites.



Being an inquisitive mind and inventor\entrepreneur I thought what else can I do? When I was flying over northern China I could see little villages connected by a road and these would connect to a city and carry on to more villages. What could I sell to this people? The old saying is you only have to sell a single toothbrush to everyone in China once to be set for life.



I had always been fascinated with radio and loved listening to Old Time Radio and Electric Light Orchestra. I had the radio trade figured out and bought a LPFM 5 watt “talking sign” transmitter that was then manufactured in Whitehorse by Total North. I launched this radio service on Labour Day weekend in 1997 as CFET 106.7FM and have been on the air ever since. I started off with playing some LP records, got a tape deck and rebroadcast the signal of CFMI Rock 101.1 from Vancouver BC. A couple of years later I moved my stuff to a mountain top, upgraded to better equipment and built up a following.



Eventually I got around to applying to the CRTC for a licence, instead of remaining as an “underregulated” station. Big long drawn out saga ensued. They won one year. I won another. We eventually decided to work together and I'm now in their good books on; Monday, Tuesday and Weds. If its a long weekend, then Tuesday is OK. If its a call on a Thursday that usually isn't a good day for anyone. Its complicated. We still talk and love each other.... I'm not so sure about Thursdays :-\



CRTC had all kinds of questions. How would I make my studio available to the public for community programming? How would I assist in an emergency? How would I make it sustainable and be an equal opportunity employer? How would I pay royalties on revenue in excess of 1.25 million dollars? I had trouble with these questions. Tagish was only 150 people (or less in the winter), my studio was a small cabin, I didn't have stairs, my driveway wasn't shovelled in the winter. I wasn't even here most of the winter as there are zero job opportunities in Tagish and I had to go elsewhere to work.



I had done some work with emergency broadcasting when I worked for Haines Junction Forestry service running comms, and coordinating 200+ ground personal and 5 big helicopters. It was here in this large camp that I was assigned the handle “RadioRob” I saw a big push for innovation funding to diversify the resource extraction economy and took a stab at getting some $$$ to develop a web based radio system to run emergency messages and public service announcements for export to Africa.



This was a bit of a hard sell, why wouldn't the people in Africa just hop on the internet and learn how to avoid AIDS and how to plant crops? It took some explaining that the entire village, even if they had a radio, their combined wealth could not afford a single battery. My thoughts were use the the Bayliss Wind up radio as the last mile end user device. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trevor_Baylis



Being persistently patient, I got a bit of seed money to develop a prototype of a web based open source “Radio Station in a Box” from the Yukon Research Centre and hired and mentored Yukon Youth to help design and build this. I was very lucky to come across some real talent and I scrimped and saved with all the development money going into the project called OpenBroadcaster. I supplied the gear, filled out the forms and setup CJUC 92.5 FM in Whitehorse and hooked up the system with some volunteers to help monitor. It hiccuped, it broke, it crashed, it crashed, it flopped but something started to come out of the radio's speaker, at first it was very faint and garbled. I kept at it, learning as much as I could about things that were way way over my head. I got some paying work and saved up a bank roll so that I could go on a holiday. In 2004 at Christmas I was able to go back to Toronto to visit with family. The night before the plane left I did a backup of the music library and thought it was so cool that I had finally figured out how to do this in linux and that all this would be happening while I was inflight. I got to Toronto, it hiccuped, it crashed, it broke.



The Tsunami happened on December 26 and cheap tickets were to be had and I had a bunch of cash to go back to my former vacation spot in Nan Thailand with a passport and entry visa. With friends waiting for me at the other end to come visit Thailand, I got on a plane and arrived back in the Yukon to -40 C weather. I bought a bunch of Kraft Dinner and sat at home to figure out how to get the radio project working. I knew if I had left for Thailand the momentum would have been lost, OpenBroadcaster would have died and its so hard to get the ball rolling again. Good thing I came back. That file backup I did really screwed things up and there was a repeat of Tagish Trumpeter swans honking and playing non stop in a loop on CJUC for the 2 weeks I was gone and no one had the keys to the radio room. I figured out what was happening with the messed up code and got OB Ver1.0 to something that resembled stable operation. Things picked up. Bill Polonsky the station manager at http://www.cjucfm.com "The Juice” had volunteers signing up and running lots of cool radio shows all done through our web system. Ver 2.0 got off the ground to support multiple remote stations and to include playing out images to a community TV transmitter.



2008 Ver 3.0 saw a very talented programmer fall from the sky and with them some development money, more stations got involved, AJAX, JSON and jQuery entered the vocabulary, a solid framework was born and with it came real stability on a solid foundation. 2011 Ver 4.0 got built while I spent 5 months in China that has a full blown API, Module support, Themes and a kick ass remote playout application that supports unattended emergency messaging across all media.



2014 Ver 4.2 included touchscreen LIVE Assist mode on a mobile HTML5 framework,. More modules being creating, more supported installs, more uses including supplying commercial MPEG-TS to Cisco digital TV cable head ends.



I don't even know what OB 5 is going to look like or what its going to do. I do know that I'll be having fun chasing that dragon, meeting some great people along the way and pushing the envelop.



And that is how I got involved with; Radio, Television, Cable, Satellite, Digital Display Signage, Telephones, Smart Phones, Wireless broadband, SCADA, Internet and Emergency broadcasting.



Rob Hopkins - OpenBroadcaster











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