How we do it...

We break the monitoring process into 5 steps -- collection, transfer, processing, analysis and reporting.

In 1987 we began changing the way IBB collects and transfers data from within broadcast target areas. We are now able to automatically process and report on millions of monitoring observations via the web.

Collection

We collect three kinds of information from our remote locations:

  1. subjective, numerical, SDO ratings of the audibility of live broadcasts
  2. short (15 - 30 second), digitized, audio samples of reception
  3. spectrum occupancy or bandscan information

Armed with small portable radios that roughly equal the sensitivity and selectivity of what a 'typical' listener might have, contract and professional monitors listen to IBB programs on a daily basis. This monitoring network collects over 50,000 observations of IBB and others' broadcasts each week. These observations are used to:

  • verify the audibility of IBB programs
  • confirm relay station schedule compliance
  • validate leasing and placement agreements
  • compare IBB program reception with that of other international broadcasters
  • identify and suggest 'fixes' for reception problems

The human component of our network, consists of 4 full-time Technical Monitoring Offices (TMOs) and over 40 contract monitors (CMs). They 'rate' reception quality in real-time through a subjective 'SDO' rating system.

Human monitors and a subjective rating scale? Not very scientific, eh? Even though no two humans rate reception exactly alike and a subjective 1 through 5 rating scale lends itself to a lot of interpretation, we know of no other way to get this kind of information. To offset this variability we try to collect lots of observations and work with our monitors to carefully rate each reception on the same basis as the last.

Humans may not make the best 'monitoring machines', but they are excellent when it comes to judgement calls about propagation, identification of interference sources and advice on how best to improve reception. No machine or software I'm aware of can do all this.

Transfer

Shortwave propagation and spectrum occupancy (who is on what frequency) change in REAL TIME. It doesn't do much good to collect tons of useful data if you can't get access to it for days or weeks after it's been collected.

To address this problem we developed the Monitoring Data Entry System. Using a handheld computer and an internet email account our monitors can send data to our central repository on a DAILY basis. The data is then automatically processed into our master database.

Processing

OK, now that you've got the data in a timely fashion, you've got to get it someplace where it can be made sense of -- usually a database of some kind.

In order to handle the more than 1.3 million observations we gather each broadcast season we had developed the Frequency Management Database System [FMDS]. Through a traditional 'query' mechanism one can 'drill down' into monitoring observations and IBB schedule information to any level of detail they desire.

Analysis

Ouch! This is the toughest part of the whole process. You've got data flowing in and you're shoving it all into a database. How do you get people's attention when there's a problem?

Reporting

OK, once you've got all this cool information to hand and you've processed it, analyzed it and you're ready to tell someone something about it, what do you do? Print off a page of numbers and shove it in their in-box? No indeed!

What if they're not in your office area? What if they're on the other side of town or the other side of the world?

The answer? The web!