This is what made it all possible
- One day I woke up and decided I could build a two-way
interactive streaming media television station. I've been
working in streaming for almost ten years, and prior to that I
worked in broadcast and cable television. There was a time back
in the 80's that if you were watching TV late at night in Denver
there was a 50% chance you were watching one of my commercials.
I did lawyers, car lots, truck stores, furniture palaces,
restaurants, furriers and, oh yeah - car lots. I never really
knew what "rich Corinthian leather" was - but apparently a lot
of the cars I sold had seats covered with it.
Here it is - the
nerve center of KickStartTV.com - It's a radio
station, a TV studio and an internet
communications hub all in one!
So I decided first we would take the cheap route and see if we
could make things work on the low down. I mean - anybody can
achieve a goal by throwing lots of cash at it, but can you make
it happen without the big bankroll? There's the skill. It takes
no brains to sign a check. It takes brains to make things LOOK
like you signed a check when you didn't even cover a lunch at
Burger King. So I decided I was going to try to use the Windows
Media Encoder as a digital switcher. (For those of you not
interested in inspired stories of geekdom, save yourself now. Go
to YouTube and type in "hooters" - see you in a week or so). We
had a few cameras knocking around that we used for various
shoots and they all had firewire inputs, so I was off to the
races! Firewire a whole buncha cameras into a fast box and I'd
be in seemless switching in no time at all. Oh - how wrong I
The first challenge was getting all these cameras to be
recognized by the firewire controller - normally, you just plug
'em in, turn e'm on, and the computer makes a happy "bboing"
tone and something comes up like "You've hooked up a firewire
camera - would you like to capture some video?" No, I want to
shred cheese - that's why I plugged this thing in. Of course I
wanted to capture video - but the little "bboing" came and went
in the night without a single cry. Just a mournful "bonk" -
that's kind of like Microsoft for "you screwed up, man." ...and
then the worst news of all, in the lower right corner: "A device
has failed to install correctly,
centers rolled up into one - streaming,
switching and communications with the outside
world. We were not operating in a vacuum!
your device may not function
properly." There is no cure for this. If you ever see this on a
computer you own - thrown out the computer, sell the camera on
eBay and resign the next 20 years of your life to the
preservation of the Knights Templar. You'll make more headway
with the Knights than you will after you've heard the "sad
So, it was back to MicroCenter for more cords, more junction
boxes and then on to Radio Shack for adapters galore and some of
those real cheap little RCA switchers for audio. Ever try to
figure out how to delete a firewire device that has not
installed correctly? Easier to shit a basketball (or have baby -
but what would I know about that) then spend days digging around
in old boxes trying to find the "install software" for a camera
you bought six months ago. Thats' the new scam - the cameras
won't install via firewire or USB unless you have the disk that
came wiht the device. Did you lose that disk? Too bad - they'll
see you another. For my "semi-pro" JVC it was amere $200 - so I
made a deal with a guy on eBay: he would dupe off the disk and
send it to me, and I would send him $20. Sweetheart, huh? He got
the $20 - I got a blank disk. To this day he hasn't sent the
"replacement" and I never could figure out how to get that one
camera hooked up correctly.
Getting it all
together was only half the battle - it took
three weeks of pissing around and testing and
re-plugging and all sorts of hair-pulling
nightmares to get everything to talk to
everything else correctly.
So, we're going to use the Windows
Media encoder as a software based switcher - we tried a bunch of
switches without broadcasting and they went smooth as could be -
totally clean, Jean. So comes the night of the big show (well,
the beta, anyway) and we can see the encoder screen inside the
booth. Every time there's a switch between the camera I or Trash
freeze up like we're made of solid ice, daddy-o. Not to cool on
the switcheroo scene. I'm freezing and gagging in mid sentence
(and it's not just my stage fright, either) but we decide to
continue on because the show MUST go on and all that crap. You
can watch it in the archives, it's pretty funny - in a sad,
technically screwed up way. I decide the only way this is going
to work is if we get s set of nice-ass mikes and a real-life
video switcher (and not one of those "home pro VHS" idiot units
that leave jaggy marks at the top and the bottom of the screen)
so I begin to do my homework on that.
It's been a couple of years since I worked in TV, and prices
have gone down while features have grown up - so I looked all
over the web (camera places, bulk video warehouses, discount
buying helper engines, cheap video stockpilers and EVERYTHING
in-between) and I come up with this pretty cool unit that
switches four video sources, has a small audio mixer built in
for remote shows and is overall a pretty spiffy device for about
a cool grand. I decide I'm going to be a real smart guy and
break my golden high-tech buying rule: if a real complicated
electronics device is what you seek - buy it from some local
guys with a discount. Don't try to "save big" on super high-tech
items because if the thing is DOA out of the box (and you'd be
surprised how many are) if it's something a local retailer will
carry - get it THERE and pay a few bucks more, it'll be worth it
if the thing is french-fried from the start.
not just getting it to look good - it's got to
sound good too. Yup, that's a dbx vocal
compressor plus 32 tracks of EQ on each
individual audio track. We can hear what we
sound like back through the headphones and see
what's going out over the wire on our
Then you can just march your
rightiously pissed off ass in there and say "I opened the box
and it blew up. Gimme another one" and nine out of ten times the
zit-faced teen manning the exchange counter will go "Ok, dude -
I got a pile of like 20 of these things" and hand you another
one, problem solved.
BUT, noooooo - I had to be super, duper, uber smart and not only
mail order the hip device, but I mail ordered a "blem" to save
$150 bucks. I figured - well, if it was just a missing knob or a
doink on the cardboard - that would be fine, because - after
all, this is a "work" piece of gear, not just personal, lusty
gratification. So the item shows up - the box looks good - no
rips tears or other obvious attempts to finish off the device
with a crow bar. It doesn't have the instruction book, but who
reads that anyway. I pulled the multi-knobbed beauty from it's
cardboard prison and laid it on the table. Fingerprints - and
lots of them. By the looks of it - I got the floor demo that had
been turned on and off thousands of times by ten-year-olds
eating ice cream cones, but I know not to judge a book by it's
cover. You can however, judge a switcher by the fact that it
makes some really hideous noise and then all the buttons light
up and stay lit up - that you can judge and there's not a jury
in the land that will convict you - that thing was as dead as a
Kennedy brother and nothing we (as mere mortals) was going to do
was going to bring that thing back to life. So I did another
stupid thing - I called tech support.
"Hello, tech support (sound of drinks being mixed, long suck on
a joint, razor blades chopping on glass). Can I help you?"
"I don't know" I said "Can you?"
"I can try, maybe, who, what, uh, how, uhhh (sounds of beer
chugging contest, needles piercing skin)...your name"
"Yes, my name - here it it" I spelled out my name slowly.
"Ahhh, I think I got it - can you start again at the point where
you spell your name (sounds of group sex, Amsterdam hash
blemished to me. But the guys at the call center
were definitely having far too good a time to be
working at a call center...
...anyway, after three or four
hours of respelling my name and listening to the great party
going on in this guys pants I decided he probably had enough
information to send me a new unit. Sounded like HE needed a new
unit. Finally, as we got ready to part ways I said "Don't I get
a number or something?" Talk about a loaded question. He laughed
insanely and read off a 47 digit alpa-numeric and then hung up.
I knew this was going to be trouble. Not only does customer
support at this place party like it's 1999, they seemed to have
left out all the stuff you're used to - you know, asking for a
serial number, a credit card number, North Carolina Hunting
License number - anything. I knew I'd never see my box again. I
inked the RMS (I knew they'd gotten that part right) in big red
letter s in the box and sent it back.
Days ticked by like the prison calendar in some old movie, when
suddenly - a reprieve from the governor - a NEW SWITCHER. Not
one that hadn't been mixed on before - But a factory fresh unit
that had never seen the light of non-industrial age America! I
paid $150 less than the new one and GOT the new one. I love it,
Max Stoner, the help desk hippy, had somehow managed to press
the wrong (or right ) combination of buttons and I had a brand
new switcher for the cost of a "blem". And to this day - that's
the happy switcher that powers - to this day - KickStartTV.
Now, in working with a whole bunch of cameras - it became pretty
obvious that this multi-camera business wasn't going to work
unless we worked on getting a bunch of preview monitors so we
could see what we were doing before we switched to that camera.
We had 4 cameras - one pointing towards the digital clock on the
wall with a sticky note attached to the clock that says "Show
Starts at 7pm",
It's got to sound
good - so we're mixing everything with a Yamaha
board because it gives us the control we need to
switch multiple audience members in and out of
the mix on the fly.
one that is a fixed camera
pointing at me, one that's pointing at Trash and one in the
hands of an overqualified intern from the Art Institute of
Colorado who was thrown into the mix for our amusement. On to
eBay I went - I figured I could find a band of old Sony 9 inch
monitors for a couple of hundred bucks and I'd be done. I was
done all right - done in at $1500 bucks for three VERY ugly
looking monitors. I just couldn't bring myself to do it - it was
time to build something from scratch. So I typed in the words
"monitor" and up came 14,345 responses.
Several weeks later I had found the deal - it was a set of three
LCD monitors originally built to go into the back of car
headrests so you could quiet down your sniveling brood as you
drove across this great country of ours. The guy wanted -
seriously now, 30$ each for them brand new in box. I used an
eBay coupon I had and they were delivered right to my door.
Seriously, these were from a now defunct company called "Movies
2 Go" and they came brand spankin' new in three boxes a few days
later. I knew I'd have case mounting nightmares later - but for
the time being it was just enough to know that we were in
possession of three LCD monitors to make me feel very - how can
I put it, close to being real.
You gotta be able to
see it to be able to switch it - so we made our
own master switcher out of LCD monitors and an
empty computer case and power supply.
The next day during lunch Wally and
I decided it was time to go to MicroCenter again and pick up a
computer case to house these puppies in. I measured them and
knew I was in trouble - they were 5 and a quarter wide by 3
something from top to bottom - none-standard if I ever heard of.
So I went to the computer cases section and looked it just about
every new case that was there. I had competition - there was a
guy who was obviously buying the last case of his life - I could
because he looked at every case three times, had the clerk take
them down, place them on the floor and open them up. Each one,
three times. Meanwhile - I eyeballed something that I thought
might fit - caught the eye of ANOTHER clerk, and had him bring
me my new case. When we left the case aisle, the guy with the
case obsession was asking a question about the supposed buoyancy
of his case were there to be a global flood.
I got the case back to the shop, stopped home to pick up my
dremel tool (because I knew there was going to be some cutting
of plastic involved in this project that was rapidly spiraling
out of control. So I took a few of the front panel covers off,
then a few more, and finally I had all the front covers off.
These monitors had little boxes that they fit into, that
actually got mounted to the back of the car headrest. They
LOOKED like they might just snap into the front of this computer
case, but I knew the odds of that were way to slim, until
"CLICK" - they locked in like
signals all over the place so we can see what's
going out over the air before it actually does,
making it so much easier to figure out what the
hell is going on.
they were made for this box.
"CLICK" "CLICK" - the other two mounted in filling the front
panel 100%. The odds of these fitting perfectly where like a
billion to one - but fit they did - just like they were made for
the case. All I had to do was get the pwer supply rigged up and
I would be set to go. This was looking too easy. Well, it was. I
wired everything up all according to the power supply
instructions and turned it on. Nothing happened - then a
whirring started (the fan coming on) the case glowed blue(always
a good sign) and then I decided to turn one of the little
monitors on. POP - the whirring cycled rapidly down and the blue
went to black - every time I turned on a monitor, the whole
thing shorted out.
I decided to call my mechanical genius nephew, Colton - who not
only knew what these things were but he knew how to fix them.