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Mike Adams - First Response Radio

By Kirk Harnack [TWiRT] on Apr 14, 2014 11:22:00 AM

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TWiRT 207First Response Radio - on site within 72 hours of a natural disaster where other mass communications are crippled - provides needed humanitarian information at the right time.

Mike Adams, an accomplished broadcast engineer, leads the mission to design and deploy suitcase-sized broadcast studios and radio transmitters. We’re talking with Mike and learning about First Response Radio’s mission, operations, and logistics. This is radio broadcasting at the most local level - and designed to help people when and where they need help and information the most.


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Kirk Harnack: Hey, welcome into This Week in Radio Tech. I'm Kirk Harnack your host, glad you're along. This is the show where we talk about everything from the microphone to light bulb at the top of the tower and all the stuff in between, and now all the IT, and IP, and streaming, and interaction with listeners, and all that stuff that goes on, at least as much as we can. Today we've got a really interesting topic; it has to do with radio serving the masses in truly dreadful emergency disaster situations. That's one the things that radio are really good at. As I mentioned, I'm Kirk Harnack your host and I'm employed by the folks who are one of our sponsors, the folks at the Telos Alliance and I appreciate very much them sponsoring This Week in Radio Tech. Our show is brought to you by the Telos Alliance and the brand new mobile app. If you would like to, go ahead while the show's going on, go download the mobile app it's right now available for your iOS device and Android coming up in the next week or so.

Before our next show we should have the Android one ready. Go to on your iOS device, and you can find the link and download it from the AppStore. All right, moving right along, let's jump in and introduce our co-host, Tom Ray, who's not been with us for a while. Tom, I'm glad you're back and in good health. How are you doing?

Tom Ray: Actually I'm doing fine; I've just been real busy. I've been out in the field and such and I'm glad we have this topic today because it also kind of segues into Ham radio, which is what Ham radio does well is working in disasters. I guess what Mike's talking about is to serve the general public, not necessarily to help out only the first responders. This is great.

Kirk Harnack: Yeah. So in fact we'll get into your experience with field day and with first responder activities with regard to Ham radio and I'm going to be interested to find out how you compare and contrast a Ham radio with broadcast radio being a first responder. Let's just jump right in now and bring in our guest for this week. It's Mike Adams, who's talking to us from a location just outside of London, England. Hey, Mike, welcome in.

Mike Adams: Hi, Kirk. Hi, Tom.

Kirk Harnack: We're glad to have you here and you've got something very interesting behind you, we're going to go into that. Just tell us a little bit about what you do with First Responder Radio, and then we're going to look at a short minute and a half video, kind of the elevator speech. So what's your position there?

Mike Adams: Sure, I've been working in radio for over 25 years and mostly in Asia. I was part of a group in Asia before the 2004 tsunami, and we'd been kicking this idea around, "Wouldn't it be a great idea to use radio in disaster?" Now we have to see which tsunami we're talking about, even, so the Boxing Day 2004 tsunami was really kind of our launch point. We'd been talking about it. We'd been thinking about how important radio could be in disaster and when that struck some of my colleagues said, "Man, this is the time. We have to get involved even if we're not ready, we don't really know what we're doing. We should give it a try and even make it a learning experience." We saw how powerful radio was to help people rebuild their lives. They were just desperate for information. As soon as we got on the ground and put a radio station on the air in the most affected community there in Indonesia, but it took us a month. It took 30 days roughly to get an emergency station on the air.

What I learned in that very first experience is, "Yes, people need radio, they need information as fast as possible, and a month is way too slow. We have to figure out how to do this in 72 hours." That's our goal now, to get an emergency radio station on the air anywhere in the world within 72 hours of a disaster. First Response Radio is a network of radio, government, and humanitarian organizations that have pooled together to figure out how to do this. So that's the key introduction to the video How do We Get on the Air in 72 Hours, explained in 72 seconds. You've got to watch fast, it goes by quick.

Kirk Harnack: Let's role that video, all right. It's on YouTube if you want to go check it out later.

[Video plays]

Announcer: When a disaster strikes the role of First Response Radio is to start broadcasting information to the affected community within 72 hours. Information saves lives, whether it be about food, water, medical help, or locating family. Because there's usually no electricity television and the Internet is out of the question, but windup radios can be distributed anywhere. Broadcast also works two ways giving a voice to the community. Getting the radio station on air in a disaster requires both kit and training. The first piece of kit is a studio and a suitcase, equipped with everything needed to run a radio station. Then add to that a transmitter in box and an antenna and a piano keyboard bag, portable and can be carried on any airline in the world. The training teaches a small team of radio professionals and NGOs how to use the kit in the classroom and then in a field trial. The teams are then ready to deploy and respond to the next disaster. They have responded to flooding in India, earthquakes in Pakistan, and volcanoes in Indonesia. First Response Radio, ready when disaster strikes.

Kirk Harnack: Wow. That's kind of moving, especially with the scenes of disaster. Tell us about what we just saw. Can you expand on some parts of that you'd like to talk about?

Mike Adams: Thanks to my daughter, Colleen, who's just finishing her degree in documentary film for producing that for me so really it runs in the family. There're only three things that we do and it's so simple and it's so profound. We just figured out that there's no way to be ready for disaster unless you're ready for disaster, just buying equipment for example. I went to place an emergency order, "Yeah, we've got that stuff for four to six weeks delivery. That was something that I commonly heard. Well, we need to be out the door tomorrow, we have to have the stuff yesterday, so we just decided, "First thing, we have to have the equipment that we need before we need it, buy the equipment." So there's a range of stuff we've got in our kit here and we're going to go through that a bit later, what's really in the kit. So that was the first thing. I'm the engineer. I've been doing radio engineering for over 25 years in Asia. I'm with Far East Broadcasting Company.

They're one of the founding members of the First Response Radio Network, and they've released me to be the network coordinator. I've done a lot of radio from microphone to antenna and being an engineer I thought, "This is it. This is the cool stuff. This is the important stuff; we have to get the equipment first." I realized that was just the little 10%. That was the bit of the iceberg that you could see and there was a lot more to it, even once you've got the equipment. So we had to figure out, "What do we train people to do and to say in disaster." So we put together this five day class where they're still sleeping in a nice bed, we're in an air conditioned building; we're having training in a capital city somewhere. After the in-class training is done then the magic starts. We go to the field exercise or field trial. We go out and we do this, it's like Ham radio field day then now, Tom. This is the broadcast radio version of going out and doing it for real. We spend three days in the field with this field exercise making it a realistic as possible.

We want to do an on-air test, but we don't want to get into what I call the Orson Wells War of the Worlds scenario, this is a disaster, but it's not really a disaster. So we have to have a real disaster zone that really did have some impact recently and talk about what had gone on just before. So in the Philippines, it's easy to find disaster zones. Our first training event, we went to a volcano that had erupted recently within the year. There were still people living in the displacement camps, so it was very realistic disaster environment and we got on the air and actually broadcast, "What was it like last year when the volcano blew up and the mudslides happened and so many hundred people were killed?" We talked about peoples' needs for information and the situation just looking back, but it's a live on the air real exercise. I draw on some of my experience from training with the military, make everything as realistic as possible, use the equipment with the people in the environment and that's where the magic starts to happen.

All the people who just met each other that week, radio people working with government people, working with World Vision or Red Cross people who've never met before, they're all learning from each other. You get them in the field and you put them into the field for three days and then learn to work together. They get the skills, they get the confidence. Like it says at the end of the video, they're ready to respond, they're ready to roll out the door when the next disaster strikes.

Kirk Harnack: Well, I think we're going to have a lot of questions that little 72 second video sparked. Of course the engineer in me what's to know all about, "Okay, what are you doing? What's the mixer? How do you have your wires set up? How do you bring external microphones in to it? What about field reporting, because I saw somebody out in the field talking? Tell me about the transmitter. How do you figure out what frequency that you're going to be on?" Let's say we just had a disaster in Chile a day or two ago, that earthquake. I take it you're not sending anybody there, maybe not needed, right?

Mike Adams: That's right, we're not responding to the Chile quake right now. We're really looking at building capacity in Spanish speaking Latin America, so we've got a partner identified. We want to get them onboard and do some training and then can kind of franchise them with all the equipment and the training package and turn them loose on Latin America, so we see the need. I have been traditionally been working in the Far East and South Asia, but there's a need there. Well, there's a joke that they say here in England when you're asking directions, you're down in the pub and say, "How do you get there from here?" The old guy then says, "Well, if I was going there, I wouldn't start from actually."

Kirk Harnack: Okay, I hear you.

Mike Adams: So the Chile quake, what do we do right now? I wouldn't start from there. We've actually identified that there's a need in Latin America, so we could work it backwards. Say we saw that need two years ago; we'd already gone down there and done some training. We would have already left all the equipment behind. There would be a local team, either in country or in region that would be able to respond. So the response mechanism looks like, how do you get on the air in three days? Day One, you make a decision, are we going? Are we not going? Do they need us or do they not need us? So that's Day One, try to make a decision on the first day. Day Two, you travel, you deploy, you get to the capitol city near the affected area, you get out to the regional capital, you get into the disaster zone. That could take another whole day. Then setting up, choosing your place of operation, getting down to city hall or the emergency operations center, wherever the central command post is, wherever the buzz is happening, that's where you need to be. That would take the third day maybe to get, get set up, and get on the air. That's what the scenario would look like.

Tom Ray: Hey, Mike, let's start this from the beginning, a disaster occurs. How do you get permission or how do you start working with people to get from point A to point B?

Mike Adams: Well, I think the Philippines was a pretty good example. So we did just deploy to the Philippines typhoon, we had already done a training event; we already had some equipment in-country, so we were ready to respond. In the field exercise when we did the class back several years ago when we did the training exercise, it includes live on air broadcasts, so we already have negotiated with the government years ago. Whenever we do training we need broadcast licenses and when disaster comes we're going to be needing licenses and we're going to be needing them fast, so several years ago we came to some agreement with the licensing authorities in the NTC Philippines, their version of FCC. They said, "Look, we've got five frequencies set aside. When you need to deploy, you call us and we'll make sure you get a license within 24 hours." That was sort of a gentleman's agreement and it's all relationships. We know the guy who's the chief engineer at NTC. So here's how the coordination went.

Our local partner, Dan, in Manila calls up chief engineer Alvin and he goes, "Hey, Alvin, we're going to deploy. We need a license." "Oh yeah, what frequency do you think you want to use?" "How about that 98.7, the one we used in Manila, can we use that down Tacloban, too?" "Yeah, that's great, that'll be fine, just go." "What about the paperwork?" "Never mind, just go, paperwork will follow." So within 30 seconds, a short call. It took about that long, I watched Dan talk to Alvin, and we had authorization to be on the air on 98.7, and we were out the door. So it doesn't start the moment, it starts the year before when you build these relationships. All these things happen when you do the training event in advance.

Tom Ray: Have you had a situation yet, Mike, where you haven't had anything in place or any relationship and you wanted to go in there? Is it possible for you to get in and start helping or is this something that always has to be kind of fore planned?

Mike Adams: In the very beginning when we started doing this, I thought it would be the international rescue-type model where people fly in from out of the country, come in and set up, and then fly out when it's all done. When we did that first training event in the Philippines right away I saw it was all wrong, so we have always responded with teams that we trained in advance. We wanted to respond in the Myanmar, Cyclone Nargis, 2008 and there were so many barriers. There was whole a whole different government that was a whole different regime. We talked to some local partners. We thought about it and we were, "Man, there's no way we're getting in there." Really we aimed to work ahead. It's not hard to identify disaster prone countries. We really do like build capacity in advance. Having said all of that, in the stairs underneath my house here, I've got a complete radio station kit. From London I could deploy anywhere in the world and train people on the fly.

We did do that in the second phase of the Philippines disaster response. When our first team was all worn out and had to pack up and go home, I flew in with a second set of equipment and trained some radio broadcasters and trained them from scratch in the second phase. I saw how challenging it was. We really like to build teams in advance.

Tom Ray: When you start talking to the emergency disaster people in the countries, are you generally accepted pretty well or is this a case of where they kind of look at you and go, "Yeah, maybe." Or do you generally have a good dialogue or does it just depend on the country and depend on the culture there?

Mike Adams: We've really had good experiences. In some countries it's taken us longer to build the relationship, but they all get there in the end. One great thing is that we're part of a larger network of organizations that do communications in disaster, so there's a larger globally accepted, U.N. supported network called the CDAC, Communicating with Disaster Affected Communities. So in the Philippines I showed up and I said, "I'm Mike." "Never heard of you." "Well, we're First Response Radio." "Never heard of that." "We're part of the CDAC network," "Ah, we've heard of that. Okay, your guys are welcome. We heard about that when we were in Geneva or something like that. We've heard this talked about before.” So communications in disaster is just like turning the corner in this last disaster to where it's really becoming a core deliverable in disasters and they're actually waiting for us and looking for us now.

Kirk Harnack: You said something really important in that the work actually starts beforehand in getting that relationship set up with countries, areas that you might go to. Then you make that quick phone call since you've already got that contact. Okay, I'm good with that. What happens next? I mean, how do you make this decision about to go or not to go?

Mike Adams: Okay, so let's carry on with the Philippines scenario. I just happened to be in Manila two days before Typhoon Haiyan blew through. Now some people say, "Mike arrives and disaster follows." I don't really think that's true. So there we are in Manila, so we need assessment data first. Do they need an emergency radio station? Are there radio stations still on the air, TVs still working, power, Internet? It took us like 72 hours to get really true assessment data back from what was it like on the ground in the typhoon area in the Philippines because the phones weren't working. If people don't answer your phone call this alone will tell you something, there's a situation going on here. It took us 72 hours to hear government officials to say, "All modern communications are lost. There is no way to communicate with the public in a mass sort of way." Secretary of Interior, Mar Roxas said that about72 hours into the storm. When I got that news I was, "Okay, that's our need assessment.

They need a way to communicate with public in a mass sort of a way, that's what we do. So there's a need, do we have the capacity? We have all the equipment?" We had our local partner Far East Broadcasting Philippines, FEBC Philippines had just received the day before a small FM transmitter for a local community radio station they were getting ready to put up and a suitable antenna. Those were the bits that we were missing, so there we are. We've got one of the suitcase studios that had all our transmission kit. We had a need, "Do you have a team big enough to go?" Well, if we've done some training there will be a number of people. We'll train 12 to 15 people at a time and you only need to deploy maybe 4 or 5, so we had a small handful of five people, me included, that were ready to go. "Okay, let's go." We decide that on Monday. Tuesday is shopping day, go down to Ace Hardware, buy two tents, buy a camp stove, get fuel, get pots and pans, get a ten kilo bag of rice.

So we did a little bit of shopping, bought an extra tool kit, bought some stuff. We were still kind of building up the Filipino team, they weren't fully ready to launch and there were some things that were missing. Normally we try to have all of that stuff in the go room, in the go bags. So day two we ended up doing a little bit of shopping. Then the third day we just bought commercial airline tickets, we got tickets with Philippine Air. We flew from Manila down to Cebu City, which is near the most affected area. Tacloban City was really the area where the storm blew in and hit the coast at Tacloban City. The storm surge made the water come up to the second story on most buildings. Most of 6,000 to 8,000 deaths were from flooding, from drowning. It was a challenge to get into Tacloban City, but there were commercial airline flights going in, so we fly in to Cebu City. We're changing planes there in Cebu City and our team is hearing people who are refugees who are fleeing out telling some pretty tough stories about how bad it is, how many people have died, that there's rioting or looting going on and I think, maybe a little bit exaggerated beyond the actual situation.

But our Filipino team were hearing a lot of real tough stories and locals who just fled saying, "Don't go in, it's really bad there." And we've got tickets to get on the plane. We had tickets, we had a boarding pass, but you know what they say in the Pirates of the Caribbean? It's kind of like the pirates' code, a boarding pass is more like guidelines, it doesn't really mean that you're going to get on the airplane. So we went to get on the airplane, "Hey, somebody's sitting in my seat." I realized that it's more like musical chairs. When everyone sits down if you don't have a seat you lose. One of our guys nearly got kicked off the plane, "We're out of seats, Buddy, you've got to take the next flight." Our team leader said, "We're a team, five people, we've got to stay together, so if he gets off we all get off. If we get off you download our 16 bags." They decided to ask for a volunteer from someone, asked for another volunteer to get off. I'm thinking, "Are we crazy?

Everyone that's smart seems to be going the other way and we're fighting like mad to stay on this plane, to get all our kit on the plane with us, and fly into Tacloban City.” When we land there, we don't have any transport. We know that there're no taxis, there's no private cars to hire. We don't even know how we're going to get from the airport to city hall where we want to go and operate. So it's really sort of flying blind there and trusting that the global humanitarian community, the mechanisms that work in every disaster will kick into place. We land, it's nearly dark in Tacloban City and I'd heard the U.N. has a check in place, look for the U.N. reception center. I signed in with the guys, it’s two guys with blue vests and clipboards, maybe a laptop, that's the reception center. We sign in with the guys; we get the brief, "Don't drink the water. Don't go out after curfew, and a few other things." He says, "Do you see that truck over there? That truck's going to city hall with all that relief stuff on the back of it. You get your team on the back of that truck and all your stuff on there, and he'll take you to city hall, but he's leaving in five minutes because it's dark and he can't hang around any longer.

If you're not on that truck, he's leaving without you." So we get all our team members, we get all our stuff. It's a good thing it's in flight cases and everything, and kind of hardened. We throw it all on the back of the truck, pile on, and take this wild ride from the airport to city hall. We get to city hall. By the time we arrive there we realize we're in a safe place. There's security around city hall, once we arrive we know everything is okay there. Our team slept. They just put down a tarp on the front steps of city hall, laid down the tarp, got out the stove, cooked a pot of Ramen noodles for everybody, and went to sleep. I checked in with the U.N. coordinators and they said, "Ah, you're with the CDAC Network in communications with the community, great, looking forward to that." We're always looking for a high place. You want to get that antenna up as high as you can, so I'm looking up at the top of city hall going, "Where are we going to hang this puppy?" I see that a section of the roof's blown off the top of city hall, kind of this open area.

I say to one of my friends, "Buddy, we're going to take our tent and we're going to camp on the top of city hall." Because it's like a gold rush, you stake your claim and once you slept there that's your place, that's where your humanitarian response team hangs out. All the rooms inside city hall were full of responders already, so I said, "Buddy, the tent's going on the roof." We camped out on the roof, we woke up the next day, the sun came up and it all looked good. I said, "We can do this. Come on guys let's set this radio station up."

Kirk Harnack: Wow, gee. Hey, a question came in the chat room and it's probably a good time to ask it, what about the existing commercial stations in the area, what are they doing at this point? Are they continuing to play their usual Top 40 music? Are they out responding? Are they off the air because of no power and no way to get it?

Mike Adams: Yeah, that was part of our assessment. If the assessment said, "There're plenty of local radio stations, and they're meeting the communications needs of the community." We would have said, "Oh, there's no need for us." Sometimes there are no stations and there's a great big gap. That was the situation when we arrived. I did an FM scan up and down the dial, no radio stations on the air when we arrived. Sometimes there might be one or two still on or they come back on, but in the Philippines they are probably a lot like the U.S. market, they were national network feeds, so they were feeding news from the capital of Manila, but not actually saying anything that the people that lived in the affected city needed to know. Eventually a couple of stations got on the air, but they weren't delivering the goods, they weren't telling the community what they needed to know. So yeah, we will always look for local partners first.

It's far easier to come alongside another station who's on the air and maybe they just don't know how to connect with the U.N. or the humanitarian community, so we walk alongside them and we help them get radio programming, radio content on the air. It's far easier to do that than set up your own station. But in the Tsunami 2004 scenario when all radio stations are off the air sometimes you've got to show up with everything.

Kirk Harnack: So here you are on the ground and it's time to what? You've staked you claim for where to put the tent, so what about the antenna, and transmitter, and the studio? How do you start figuring out where that's going to go?

Mike Adams: We started setting from the antenna and we worked back to the microphone. We have a fixed number of pieces in this kit; it's sort of like a puzzle. We have so much audio cable to stretch between the studio and the transmitter, two sections of coax to go between the antenna and the transmitter, so it's just like a puzzle. Where do you put all the pieces? How high can you get the antenna? So we start with the antenna and we say, "How high can this go?" We put it up as high as we can. We found an old metal steel pole that used to be holding something else that had blown over on top of city hall. We grabbed that pole, we put this broadband antenna, no tuning required, we clamped that on the end of the pole, and we just stood it up on the highest point on city hall, tied it off with some rope that we'd brought with us, ran the coax back to the transmitter, get it back under cover somewhere so if it rains it doesn't get wet, ran the audio cables from there to the studio. Once you've done that, and that could just take a half an hour, 45 minutes, that's all together and you're ready to go.

Kirk Harnack: All right. I'm sorry, go ahead.

Tom Ray: I was going to ask Kirk, now once you're ready to go do you need to get--I'll call it "shore power"--power from the local people? Do you bring your own power sources, how does this work?

Mike Adams: If you choose a good operating location, there may be power at the building already; this is a tip I got from Chuck Kelley. Chuck said to me once, what he'd hear from the U.N. guy is they will show up and set up at a five-star hotel and take the suite on the very top. If you get a nice place they'll have a generator. If you end up with the police, I've discovered they will have a generator. If you're at city hall 50/50, maybe they do maybe they don't, so we will always bring a little generator with us. Have you seen these small Honda 2K generators, little camping generators?

Tom Ray: Yeah, those little quiet ones.

Mike Adams: That's all we need. The little 2K generator, plenty of power to run the transmitter, the studio, a little bit of lights, some laptops, maybe not a rice cooker on top of that. So we brought a small generator and here's the tip, if you've never used the generator you can take it on the airplane with you. You can check it as luggage. Everything that we take we check as luggage. You'll see in the pictures when we run through later the studio is in a Samsonite suitcase. If you've never used it before, it's straight from the store, some airlines still don't want to take them, but according to the international regs they can refuse you if you've had gas in it before, but if it's never had gas in it before there's not international law or regulation that says you can't fly with it on the airplane. You do then have to get fuel when you arrive, so that was a squeezey thing. Gas stations were closed, gas stations were destroyed, there was no power to pump gas out of the stations.

We were going around with our little jug in hand saying, "Does, anybody have some gas?" I had this little two gallon gas can and someone said, "Yeah, city hall, we've got like five gallons of gas. I'll give you one gallon." "Okay, that's enough to get me started or I'm borrowing power off of someone else's generator." So for a while there in the first day, two days, three days, it was like hour by hour, "Do we have enough gas to keep the generator going and keep this radio station on the air."

Kirk Harnack: I've actually been in that situation after the ice storm back in '93 or '94 in Mississippi where we were actually getting on the air ask people, "Bring us some gasoline, please, so we can stay on the air and keep bringing you information about where to get food, where to get water, where to get some supplies, and all that kind of thing." Oh, my prop is arriving right now. We're going to do our ad here pretty soon. I wanted to mention those Honda generators that you talked about, Mike, those things are so quiet you can sleep almost right next to it and it won't wake you up, and they're so clean you can breathe the fumes.

Tom Ray: And the electricity is extremely clean that comes out of them, too.

Kirk Harnack: Yeah, sure, it's perfect electricity.

Mike Adams: Yeah, there certainly are some bad generators out there that can blow up your stuff. I've never had a problem with those, so that's part of the core kit.

Kirk Harnack: Hey, it's time to remind folks that you're watching This Week in Radio Tech; it's our 207th episode, with Mike Adams, who's with First Response Radio. That's at on the Internet. We're talking about their role in helping out during disasters and really getting meaningful information out to people when there's a disaster and a need for information. I had the experience myself, as I mentioned, in Mississippi during the big ice storm we had there in the '90s. Tom Ray is with us. It's been a while since Tom's been on the show, so I'm glad to have Tom back. We're going to be comparing notes about First Response Radio and how there are similarities with Ham radio here in the second half of our show. Plus, Mike is going to give us a detailed tour of the studio kit inside a suitcase. Right now, though, I want to tell you that our show is brought to you by my friends the folks at the Telos Alliance. It's N.A.B. week, we're at the National Association of Broadcasters Convention.

It starts when the show floor opens on Monday, but there are seminars going on starting today. Actually the Public Radio Engineering Conference starts today and I'll be speaking at the PREC tomorrow during a session on IP technology and convergence. Well, the folks at the Telos Alliance have come up with something that's pretty cool here. Let me show you. This is on my friend's iPhone; this is the new Now Catalog from the Telos Alliance. It's an app, it's in the App Store and it's chock full of all of the information about all of the products including links to all the manuals is in there. There are also stories and app notes, just all the things that you'd find online on the website are in very easy to manipulate and access app for your iOS device. It could be an iPad. I've got it on my iPad, but I went and left the house and forgot the iPad back at the office in Nashville. It'll also work, of course, on your iPhone as we have right here. If you want to get this it's easy to do, just go to

You can put your name in the hat there if you like to sign up for our direct current newsletter. You don't have to fill that out though, you can scroll down if you want straight to the link to the App Store and that'll link you in if you want to go right to the Apple App Store and the iOS App Store and look for it. If you search just for the work Telos I think you're not going to find it yet, they haven't got that indexed. If you search for "The Telos" or "Telos Alliance" I think you'll be able to find the app that way. It's a big download, but hey, it's something that you're going to reference over and over again, so I encourage you to get it. Again, the easiest to remember way to do it is go to, on your web browser, Fill out the form if you like, but you don't have to you can scroll on down to the link, click on that and install the Now app. It will be updated from time to time as warranted. The Android version is coming out sometime in the next day, or two, or three, maybe during N.A.B., but we'll have that during our next show live from the N.A.B. show floor next week.

So thanks a lot for the Telos Alliance for bringing you all this kind of information easily on your laptop or on your iOS device, on your Android device, coming, and also for sponsoring this show This Week in Radio Tech that makes all this possible. All right, back to our interview. We're talking to Mike Adams. He is the international coordinator for First Response Radio. Tom Ray is with us as well. We're just about to get to the part where we get to see the goodies. This is my favorite part. I want to see what's in that box behind Mike. Mike, is this a good time to start the tour?

Mike Adams: Sure, I think we've got some photos that I've queued up as well.

Kirk Harnack: Oh, yeah.

Mike Adams: This is just one of the goodies. When we show up we have three different cases. We have the antenna case, the transmitter case, and the studio case, and then maybe a case of radios to distribute, and the generator in another box. If we're really flying in with everything we'll have five boxes with us when we arrive. The studio one I can easily show here, but we'll start with these photos that we've got queued up so you can see the rest of the stuff that I can lay up on the table here. So there's the piano keyboard bag. Someone watched the video and said, "Well, what happens to all the piano keyboards then?" You can just buy the bags. This is the key, when you buy an Italian Label antenna that breaks down into this nice little cardboard box, a 65-key keyboard bag, perfect size. There's a little space down the side and you can put your tool bag in there. So let's flip to the next photo, there we'll open up the keyboard bag. We can put two sections of coax in there.

We run a 600-watt transmitter so we need something small, a small and light coax, but with the power handling capacity that'll go higher than the regular braided coax, so this is special coax, it'll go up to 800 watts. We have a 15-meter section and 20-meter section, a shorter piece and a slightly long piece and adaptors to put them all together. We cut a 15 meters, 20 meters, and 35 meters of cable and a little bit of redundancy built in. If one cable fails I've still got a second cable. We'll throw the cable into that same case. Let's flip on to the next photo them. You open up the box and you see here's the dipole antenna. It breaks down so it's shorter that a typical vertical polarized dipole antenna. We started with some of those long folded dipoles and I was looking for a really, really long box to carry it in, like I was thinking, "Maybe we need a golf bag or something." Too long, too big, so this one's sweet, it breaks down small, throw in the cables, throw in a bad of tools, and that all zips up into the piano keyboard bag.

If we flip to the next one you'll see here they are setting up this antenna in the field, just lay it out on the ground, plug in the two ends of the dipole into the center section, pop in a couple of screws. The clamp is built in, the clamp's integral to the antenna. There's nothing to go wrong, really. When we train people, we're not training, "This group of people is technicians, and those people are announcers, and those people are humanitarian relief workers." Everybody learns to do everything, so will get non techies involved, we'll get the lady from the front office to assemble the antenna. I've had scriptwriters doing techie work. You'll like, "It's not hard to put together." The next photo is one of the other training events. This is in the northern state of Bihar, India. We also teach them to scrounge. They've found this broken bamboo ladder. I would never use that as a ladder. It was a bit rickety and unsafe, but we teach the guys and gals to have their eyes open to find something that you clamp this antenna to and sling it up in the air, that's all you need.

Kirk Harnack: I never thought of a ladder, that's a great idea.

Tom Ray: Yeah, it is. Hey, Mike, who makes that antenna? What brand is that?

Mike Adams: That's a Label from Italy. I forgot the specific model, but all the transmission stuff I buy here in the U.K. all through Broadcast Warehouse. See if we look at the next one that's more toys from the U.K. Well, this is just a plain old Gator case. Four rack units, but you'll see it has a handle and this baby's got wheels. I carried everything the first time we deployed and right away I decided that small is beautiful, and small with wheels is even better.

Kirk Harnack: Yes.

Mike Adams: So in this Gator flight case we put the transmitter in there, two rack transmitter, 600 watts, so that's a Broadcast Warehouse transmitter. The one there shown in the photo is a Version One; they've got a Version Two out now with a bit more smarts and some audio processing built in to it. We've been using their products since we started doing this. But you see there's a bit of space in the case there, so again, you could put some tools in there. The coax cable can even coil up and pop into that case, so we've got a little extra space to but in any other needed equipment in there. There's a little bit of shock mounting in the back. It's a pretty rugged transmitter. I've never had a transmitter damaged in shipping, just put it into this flight case and we're away and it's usually good when we get to the other side. All right, what have we got next there? How about that oyster blue Samsonite suitcase? It's a Samsonite suitcase. We have the next photo; it flips down, flips open and everything you need for a radio station.

Behind me I've got one of the older models, the one in the picture here. Our current models the ones that are going out the door have even more added features to them. So it's microphones, CD player, or MP3 player, digital audio recorder, laptop for play out, laptop for recording, and that's the core stuff, and speakers are built in.

Kirk Harnack: What are those that look like fan covers? Is that where the speaker are in the top of the case?

Mike Adams: Yeah, they look fans on a computer and those are the speaker grills, so we've got two speakers here. The new version has got a little On-Air light. Imagine you take a little 12-volt SUV or car brake light, so we have this little red On-Air light, you open up a microphone, speakers mute, red light goes on, hey, just like a professional broadcast station. We'll put in each kit three of these broadcaster's headsets, standard sportscasters headsets. They work really well in a noisy environment. We are going outside; we're no longer in air conditioned buildings and sound proof booths, and everything. You hear me keep talking about air conditioning, because of the work I've done in Asia is really hot out there in the Philippines. So even in a noisy environment, open air area, you're just in a tent, you're in a command post, you can do some close mic'ing, it's very directional, rejects that sound around you. I've found you put headsets on everybody and you're good to go.

We've got one guest mic, a traditional mic on a tiny little mic stand in case the mayor or the VIP guest doesn't want to have a headset on. So four mic channels, we'll do three of those headsets and one guest mic. If we look down into the case it's a Behringer mixer. Now we've got a mixer with a built in USB interface so it interfaced easily with a laptop. We started with CD players in them and now we've got to the age where nobody's got CD anymore, so we're converting those to any kind of digital player, MP3 player. You can put all your music in the laptop, so someone said, "Well, if you're putting all you music and your play out in the laptop why do you even have any kind of other player?” Well, most have experienced the laptop crash and reboot scenario, so when that's happening what are you doing? Well you spin a disk, you put a CD in there and you open up a mic, play a song, and get back on the air and wait for Bill Gates and Microsoft, or whatever to reboot.

So want to have all kinds of redundancy built in here, not a single point of failure for music, for play out, for microphones. With the laptops the trick is to get one that small enough to fit into a suitcase, so they're all kind of 14 inch size laptops. We've got some play out software on there that is a real plain and simple, rugged, reliable play out software. We put Zara Radio, it's freeware program. I've just found it to be rugged, I've found it to be simple, I can teach anybody to use it in 15 minutes and it's reliable enough that you can run automated all night and then the crew wakes up the next day and takes over live or live assist programming. We do want our people to sleep, so it's essential that we have some kind of automation software in there. The last thing in the kit here, everything's on Velcro. We've got here a digital voice recorder. This version had the Zoom H2 in it, any range of digital voice recorder where you can unplug it; you can take it out to the field. You can go out there and do that field interview, bring it back, plug it back in, and begin play out. So that's the last piece in the case there. Did I miss anything?

Kirk Harnack: No, I guess not. That looks pretty complete. Okay, you know I work for the folks at Telos, Omnia and Axia, I didn't see an audio processor somewhere. Is it built into the transmitter or is there just not one?

Mike Adams: Yes, an audio processor built into the transmitter, that's why I love that product.

Kirk Harnack: Good deal.

Mike Adams: The newer version the V2 has their standard processor built in already. It just had a compressor before, which I found you could run any kind of audio at it, even, with a standard compressor would maintain adequate modulation, but now they've got a nice proper DSPX built into the transmitter. So yeah, don't worry about that.

Tom Ray: Now wait a minute, Mike, before you said you had an on the air light and you said that's a Behringer mixer. How do you get the Behringer mixer to turn on the on the air light?

Mike Adams: Oh, there are some tricks that we have not revealed. You are right. Now I don't build this myself. There are two suppliers that provide me everything. I specify the package. I say what needs to go in the package and these two dealers that have worked with me to develop as disaster response/first response kind of deployable package. This whole studio in a suitcase was developed in-house to begin with, with broadcast engineers with our local partners. But it's gone private now, so Randall Concepts sells us the suitcase, but he puts into it what we want in it. He's got some little secret micro switches in there; when the fader goes down he's got some switches that close. You've got some add on stuff behind the Behringer mixer which makes the lights come on and off. It's off the shelf stuff, specifically and specially packaged to be in a fly away disaster response kit.

Kirk Harnack: I was going to say before Tom asked about the On-Air light, if it's got the BW Broadcast if it's got their DSPX processor in there. That's fine, that's a great little processor, especially for a situation like this, so your announcers don't have to be totally cognizant of their levels, it's going to adjust them just fine. That's good to know. You've explained this so well, Mike, I'm about out of questions here. Tom, have you got anything else that you want to ask Mike?

Tom Ray: No, he's explained it well. It's a great concept; it's a great thing to do. I guess about the only thing I'd like to ask at this point, we were talking about the Philippines before, how much of the country was actually affected by that tsunami, Mike, because listening to the newscasts you would think that the whole island was under water? Was that in fact the case or was it just a certain portion?

Mike Adams: There is a zone that was affected and there was a lot of the country that was not affected. I was in Manila when the storm blew through and it wasn't that bad. It was just sort of like a Seattle rainy day in Manila. But in a lot of disasters there's ground zero area a kind of round circular area that's the most devastated. This was like a ground zero corridor that spanned from east to west across number of different islands. The most affected part on the east side where the storm first hit and it continued on to Cebu Island and into the next island, some small tiny islands where there very little infrastructure or transport, so there were millions of people affected by the disaster. I think 12 to 15 million people affected by the disaster. The number of home destroyed, 1.1 million homes totally destroyed or partially destroyed, half a million homes totally destroyed. My driver was taking me back to the airport and he showed me where his family used to live.

He said, "I came back, the only thing that I found was the toilet bowl was still on the floor and the rest of my house, completely gone." So the people that it impacted it impacted greatly. It wasn't the high number of deaths, it was significant. It was in the thousands, but it wasn't like the 2004 tsunami in the hundreds of thousands. But it's going to be a long-term rebuild. It's going to take five years. It will disappear off the media; it will go out of the press. It's disappeared already, really, off the face of the press. There's some big, big work going on still right now, today in the Philippines. It's going to take them a long time to recover. We didn't do the last bit of the kit, though, radios.

Kirk Harnack: Yeah, the other end.

Mike Adams: The other thing that we take in with us, we always have a stockpile of radios. If you give away a battery powered radio then people are going to run out of batteries, so this guy that we give away it's got the old wind up on it, so then wind up, turn it on, get some radio coming out of there, or as the British say, "It's got a torch built in." A flashlight, an AM/FM/shortwave radio. So we had a thousand of those on stockpile in our Hong Kong warehouse. We got those shipped in right away. We had a couple hundred solar powered radios that were on stock that we took in with us. If you don't give away radio, a radio station is of limited value. People did tell us some of them had their cell phones, and they were tuning in on their cell phones or car radios, but really on the whole people have lost everything, if you don't give them a radio they're not going to have one, so we began to do radio distribution. Then it's a complete communications system.

If everything else is down, if power is off, there's no Internet, the cell phone network's down we come in with this whole kit. We bring our own power with us, we transmit, we give away these radios, people tune in, they get the news. If everything else has failed, we've still got a complete communications system there.

Kirk Harnack: In the remaining couple of minutes that we have, can you tell about during operations when you're running the transmitter and you're helping people out what has surprised you or what have you learned about that part of the operation? Then what about breaking down, tell us about how that goes and when you decide, "Okay, our work here is done."?

Mike Adams: We had a real experienced team, folks with a lot of skill that showed up on the ground with us. We did have one guy who was primarily the technician and he was really busy just keeping gas in the generator, making sure the generators turned off, turned on. He doubled as the cook. He would fire up the gas stove and cook up a pot of rice or noodles in the evening. He was pretty busy just keeping the station on the air as a technician. The other folks were getting down to U.N. meetings, meeting with the other coordination centers, getting information, getting news, going to the mayor's office, or just running the desk. Sitting there in front of the desk and whenever guests would come in, anybody walked in the door, "Hey, you want to be on the air? What are you guys with, Red Cross? Come on, sit down here." We'd interview anybody that came through the door. Pretty soon people just got to know, there's that radio station on city hall, even if they didn't know what we were called or who we were they would just show up if they needed to announce something.

Guys from the U.N. group are doing special medical missions for women saying, "Only half the number of people showing to the medical clinics that we're doing. We're really under serving the community; we've got to announce this." They come around to our station and the next day they'd doubled and tripled the number of women showing up for these special medical missions. So they said, "Man, you guys rock, you made what we did so much more successful because you announced it and you told the community about it." Everyone just kind of gets into their role. I'm doing kind of high-level coordination with other agencies making sure we've got money and that the team just keeps going. They're just cracking on with it and getting today's news on the air. What information do people need to know today? We're just keeping that going. So when is it time to pack up and go home? It's time to pack up and go home when your crew's exhausted and they can't go any further or when we'd say the emergency phase of a disaster is ended.

There's this initial stage where people's lives are still at risk, people don't have water yet or food, or shelter yet, and things are really unstable. We will always stay through the end of the emergency phase. As they transition into ongoing recovery and things stabilize, we'll look for things like, is there another radio station coming back on the air that can fill the role? How smoothly are thing going with communications in the community generally? We tried to pull out at six weeks and the U.N. coordinator that we worked with and they said, "Mike, you guys can't possibly leave. This has been so successful and it's filling a gap that's still really big. We really need you to hang around a little bit longer." So, the first team shut down and went home and I got a second kit and trained up another team, which came in. A worse disaster means you've got to be there longer. We just wait until the indicators are right that someone else is filling that communications gap or the need is less. Some disasters that are the worst you've just got to stick around longer and this is one of those.

Kirk Harnack: You mentioned money a few minutes ago, how is this financed?

Mike Adams: The First Response is a network of broadcasters and humanitarian and government partners, so our radio station partners will usually seek their own funding. The partner in Manila was FEBC Philippines. They appealed to their donors. Their donors were very generous, they supported them. I've got a get out the door fund. I've got $10,000 in a little pocket or in a sock here somewhere, and if we need to, we spend that money first and then our local partner does a fundraising, the money comes in afterwards, we fill the sock back up, and we're ready to go. Up to know it's just been our broadcast partners who have worked with us and their traditional income or fund raising stream has funded it. In this disaster it's the first time we've ever had U.N. agencies or humanitarian relief groups funding us. When we wanted to shut down after six weeks then one of the U.N. groups said, "We'd really like to help fund this to keep it going." Another humanitarian group as well said, "This is worth doing, we'll get behind you, we'll help fund that." That's never happened to us before.

It really feels like radio is starting to take its rightful role in disaster response. People are getting it; they see that we need it. Funding streams are starting to work. This distribution of radios, we weren't the only ones to show up with radios. Other agencies before they even knew that we were there were showing up, "Of course, everyone's got radios; don't they in disaster?" It's really becoming part of the mainstream. I'm seeing a lot of hope from this last major disaster response that radio is finding its niche in disaster response.

Kirk Harnack: That's gratifying that other people show up to hand out radios not even knowing that you're going to be there, but knowing that radio is important in disaster relief, so that's a great story and good for radio.

Mike Adams: It is and this is kind of the indicator of when it's time for me to retire. About five or seven years ago I said, "When we show up to disasters and regular relied agencies are always showing up with radios and distributing them along with the regular, here's food, here's cooking pots, here's a radio. When relief agencies routinely do that then I'll know that my job as an advocate for the role of in disaster response is done and can then retire a happy man." We're turning the corner, but not quite there yet.

Kirk Harnack: An hour has flown by, ladies and gentlemen. Mike Adams the international coordinator for First Response Radio has been our guest. Mike, thank you so much for being our guest and walking us through that whole process.

Mike Adams: Thanks Kirk. Thanks, Tom.

Kirk Harnack: And Tom Ray, thank you for being with us. I haven't seen you in a while and it's great to see you, glad you're back in the office for at least an hour now.

Tom Ray: Yeah, it's good to be sitting for a while instead of always on my feet and doing stuff. But you know, it could be worse, I could be bored to tears.

Kirk Harnack: Yes, you could. All right, our show This Week in Radio Tech, Episode 207 has been brought to you by the Telos Alliance and the new mobile app, right now for iOS devices and within a few days for Android as well. Go to You can fill out a form there if you like or just slip right on down to the link to the App Store and download the Telos Now application for iOS device, your iPhone or your iPad, or your iPad mini. That's our show for This Week in Radio Tech. Our next show next week is going to be live from the N.A.B. show floor. No telling who's going to show up, but it's going to be a blast I can assure you. Join us next week, 2 p.m. Eastern Time on Thursday or 1800 UTC. We'll see you then. Thanks again to Mike and Tom Ray for being on the show and we'll see you next week on This Week in Radio Tech. Bye, bye, everybody.

Topics: Broadcast Technology


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