Word of Wisdom for the New STS

Training and role of the STS
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Word of Wisdom for the New STS

Postby ghilton001 » Thu Dec 03, 2015 2:35 pm

I was recently approached by an individual recently called to be a Stake Technology Specialist by his Stake president. I knew of me by word of mouth and had contacted me wanting to get my input on some of the things he was anxious implement in his new calling. I wrote some thigs down for him but found myself reflecting back on the 5 years I have served as out STS. After reading my own words I thought that maybe what I had learned over time could benefit other new upcoming STS members. To that end I want to share my experience and have included below.

IN RESPONSE TO THE NEW STS QUESTIONS: “Happy to hear from you. You raise some good issues. Oh, 3 or 4 more cameras? A video switcher that does transitions? Well, sounds like a lot of fun. Your ambition reminds me of myself when I was handed the keys to the A/V closet in our stake center. But, let’s talk.”

This is where it began for me and what shaped the words that followed as council I gave to Bob. I continued on hoping to inspire and direct him as I wish someone had done for me when I was first called as STS. Seeking council of others further down a path you are embarking on is one of the standard rules I always follow. I can’t see the logic of stumbling on the same stones as others when all you have to do is look up and listen. That said, please understand that I am a firm believer in adhering to the advice and recommendations of others who have spent tireless hours engineering and testing the A/V infrastructure of our buildings and who’s design has been written into the church’s standards plan for local stake unit STS persons such as you and I to educate ourselves with and follow.

Yes, I am a huge advocate of this based on personal experiences. I apologize for this prolog but I feel it is necessary to provide you with a bit of background so that you can better understand why I am so adamant about the advice I give to new up and coming STS specialist such as yourself.

BACKGROUND: Five and a half years ago I was asked to support a webcast of a stake conference in the Monterey building where I meet in my ward. All I had to do was “push a button” after receiving a text message as my “cue” and the signal from the Stake Center would begin in my building along with the audio throughout. After getting the text to “go ahead” I started the Windows Media Player and received the webcast from the stake center along with the audio. Now, I use the term “audio” lightly because what we actually experienced was an annoying buzz of distortion and hum and every now and again a word or two was picked up. The video display vaguely appeared and included a rainbow of colors and a 60Hz roll on screen. This lasted roughly 15 minutes and was followed with total nothing. Everything went down and I was at a loss as to what to do next. Long story short, I watched saddened members exit the building along with angry persons muttering things like “here we go again”. No Stake Conference webcast made its way into our other three remote units affecting nearly 3,500 people.

The stake presidency was far from pleased. This was my very first experience with the church and its effort to provide an alternate solution to holding 3 stake conferences the same day at one building. I later learned that in fact, our stake had never experienced a successful webcast since receiving the webcast equipment almost 3 years earlier. I found it hard to believe but it did explain why there were only a handful of members attending stake conference at any of our remote units. Only a few members had confidence that they would in fact see or hear any part of it due to technology issues.

I was so torn by this experience that I decided to investigate our problems that morning. I first started by researching the technology and everything I could find on the subject published through the church web sites and technology forums. I did all of this that very Sunday. Encoding video for internet streaming, setting up hardware to broadcast and receive video streams, up-linking video/audio data to satellites and repeaters, programming media servers are all things I have done since 1987. I had a good idea of what challenges my stake was dealing with even prior to meeting the current STS, assistant STS, or even our stake presidency. That evening I wrote a 15 page dissertation on suggestions and plans that should be checked that could help our webcast issues. I documented processes that in my opinion should be followed based on understanding the church’s intended implementation and workflow defined for implementing stake conference webcasts. I also listed areas of our meetinghouses to check as well as possible software configuration settings affecting bandwidth, connection parameters, etc. that may correct or at least improve our stake webcasting effort.

Well, I guess it should not have surprised me when I was asked to attend the stake presidency meeting 6:00 am the following Sunday. It was then that I was informed of the woes that ran through the hearts of our stake leaders insofar as having to deal with the pressures put upon them by frustrated members throughout our stake with complaints of not having directly listened by webcast any session put on for the past 3 years. Yet, in fact, having to learn of the message spoken from the stake center through 3rd party reference or others lucky enough to have had been at the stake center for the conference. The paper I had submit to my bishop made its way to our stake president and this had an immediate impact on any spare time I had available to me for the next 16 months.

I was called to serve as the stake’s new STS specialist the following Sunday and began my path I believe you are on with only 1 single difference. You have someone to help guide and assist you and willing to advise you as to how to successfully implement a hardware and software webcast solution that is in 100% line with the church’s standard plans and thus is supported through GSC and other HQ tech and satellite support centers. Mind you, although the church firmly recommends sticking with their plans for good reason they will respect the decision of the local Stake president if he wants to deviate from their recommendations however with little or no support as one would expect.

I walked in to a hornets nest when I began trouble-shooting our stakes failed A/V infrastructure. I had little or no briefing on how our units were setup. Furthermore, I had no documentation on the wires that ran throughout and most importantly what someone before me may have changed or modified in an attempt to correct prior issues or problems.

SOLUTION: I will say this a thousand times over “become best friends with your PFC and mostly FM leader”. You MUST build a good relationship with the leaders who have been called to assist and guide you in your own duties as a STS. You must involve members in these callings on any activity you have planned that could have an effect on your buildings wires, audio or video systems. They will become your best friend and that is a promise. You hopefully have a great set of technical skills. If not, you soon will have. You are the brainchild to your stake’s ability to successfully communicate the message being spoken at stake conference from local and regional leaders. It is totally on YOUR shoulders, bar none, the responsibility for ensuring that the webcast can be seen and heard clearly by all attending members within your stake. I promise though it is one of the most rewarding tasks you will ever have if done successfully. I spent the next year and a half on my knees crawling the halls of our buildings testing and labeling every input and output plug, port, switch, etc. and documenting everything. I made a list of things not working throughout every building. I became intimate with how things “should” work. And then I called a meeting with my FM leader. We walked every room and hall of each of our buildings. We discussed every anomaly and “change” unique within our buildings not documented in other materials. He took the information I provided to him and he hired audio technicians, network specialists, any other professionals he felt he needed to come onsite to correct the problems that may be contributing to the problems preventing successful webcasts within our stake. They went from building to building. I followed behind them performing follow-up testing and would ask them to return if I found a noise, buzz, hum, flicker, or anything preventing a less then near perfect A/V experience. Eventually I was able to return things to their intended “design” state that is documented in the standard plans and only then was I able to publish a webcast for hours on end with no interruption or glitch. However, if Murphy ’s Law had raised its ugly head I was ready. I had tested and put into place the church recommended contingency plan that would keep audio pumping out to all of the remote units using alternate methods.

I am into year five as our Stake Technology Specialist. Since my first broadcast the members in our stake have enjoyed witnessing our stake conferences without interruption. Each of our buildings is nearly standing room only during stake conferences. This is a far cry from the mere handful of unsuspecting attendees from the early days when nothing worked and frustrations were high.

All I had to do to accomplish this was to listen to the mentors of my calling. Study, read, and understand the duties and responsibilities that are part of my calling. Most importantly, don’t venture off the path on your own. However, there are process and procedures in place if you feel a change may benefit your unique situation or setup. The church has a template you can use and fill out to explain what you are trying to do and why. You can document what you would like to see implemented and list the benefits and costs to help your leaders decide to support your suggestions. Also, many things can be done to help ensure that others that come after you are presented with a fully operational and documented set of instructions to help them succeed. Trust me this is a direct reflection on you. It will feel good to know that the A/V torch that you pass on will continue without any future hiccups because of the care you took as a responsible STS and the time you spent documenting the technical steps for performing a successful stake conference webcast. Work with your leaders. The STS calling is not an open invitation for you to build your own broadcast studio or editing bay. Use it responsibly to fill the hearts of others with the important words and messages from speakers attending your stake conference.

Remember, stake conference is not a time for you to shine with fancy edits, backdrops, hymn lyrics, colorful transitions, etc. The best Stake Conference experience for others is the one where you can pull it off un-noticed. Any special effect, bell or whistle as well as technical glitch only takes away and distracts from the spirit of the session. I always go to lds.org and watch a few minutes from the last general conference to remind me of how simple it should be. Aspire to mimic the look and feel of general conference. Get a good since of when and how often you see them pan the camera or zoom in or out and how fast. Learn from the best is my belief.

I have learned a lot over the years as our Stake Technology Specialist. It has truly humbled me being a small cog in the engine that helps deliver our stake conference to church members. You provide a great service with this calling. In all that you do and all who rely on your success keeping the mindset and attitude of being the “OZ behind the curtain will” will deliver to you greater blessings than you can imagine.

Gary E Hilton
STS – Boulder Creek Stake Mesa Arizona

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Re: Word of Wisdom for the New STS

Postby kaaloa » Wed Feb 24, 2016 2:13 am

Awesome info Gary. Mahalo for that. I became the STS about 4 months ago. I didn't want to up and change everything so decided to just be a "helper" at the next Stake conference which was about a month and a half ago to watch how its done. I wanted to see what worked, didn't work, could be improved upon, could be eliminated, etc. I also was informed that we just received our Vidiu which told me right away that the broadcast (the old system) after stake conference would be different. I really just wanted to observe the "front end" of the broadcast to see how they dealt with video and audio.

Just a little background. Our Stake has 3 buildings. My ward is not at the stake center. Every year, a different ward is assigned to be at their assigned building for stake conference and everyone else goes to the stake center. Last year, was our year to be "watch" stake conference. For whatever reason, I was tasked to set up and run the receive end the broadcast at our building. I basically just had to set up my laptop and route video to my projector and audio through my mixer (our building doesn't have a crab box) in the house system. Both broadcasts last went was basically the same. Video quality wasn't the best, but you could see what was going on. It was pretty much just talking heads so it didn't have to be the best. Audio was decent, but the levels were all over the place. Luckily, I was routing audio through my mixer so control the in-house level through that instead of from the stage. FYI, I work in live TV doing audio so that just drove me crazy.

So, fast forward to the end of the year and I am now the STS. So, I "helped" with stake conference and then started devising a plan for future broadcasts. I wanted a plan built around the Vidiu and the church servers. So, the old system was sd. The Vidiu is hd based around the hdmi format so new hardware needed to be purchased that worked with it. Since I work in Live TV, I know that the heart of any system is the switcher. So, I researched many different switchers with specific parameters of under $1k and accepted HDMI. This led me to the Roland V-1HD which I actually do like even if it is pretty basic. At the very basic, I could have my 2 cameras feed into the switcher and then out to Vidiu.

Our next stake conference is not till June, but luckily there was a regional conference a month later so decided to use that as my first real broadcast. I got all the gear that would be needed, did many tests of different kinds testing hardware, software, Vidiu connections and everything else I could think of to make the broadcast a success. So, the day came, I arrived early, set up the broadcast gear, set up the local needs, and started up the broadcast feed. NOTHING. Long story short, I didn't anticipate the fact that the church's system would fail me. I had multiple backup options for my end, but no backup options for web delivery. That lit a fire under me. I was now on a rampage path to find out what went wrong. I eventually found out that there was nothing I could have done to fix our broadcast which made me feel better even though the damage was already done and people at the satellites didn't get to view the local portion of the regional conference.

Anyways, I have a few months to keep working at it till the next stake conference so will be doing many more test and now even have different streaming servers as backup options. I know it will take a few more rounds to get right, but hopefully not too many more.


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Re: Word of Wisdom for the New STS

Postby russellhltn » Wed Feb 24, 2016 10:50 am

kaaloa wrote:Our Stake has 3 buildings. My ward is not at the stake center. Every year, a different ward is assigned to be at their assigned building for stake conference and everyone else goes to the stake center.

Yikes. That means sometimes you're broadcasting from a building that has no infrastructure.

kaaloa wrote:Long story short, I didn't anticipate the fact that the church's system would fail me.

We've discussed that in another thread, but the instructions I read discouraged attempting to do building to building streaming. Each location was to have their own "local" part. I do think it wise to avoid the church system for regionals - it puts too much strain on the system. Since this is a training thread, I would suggest getting your hands on the instructions to read for yourself. Too much gets lost in the translation if you get your instructions by word of mouth.
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Re: Word of Wisdom for the New STS

Postby kaaloa » Wed Feb 24, 2016 8:31 pm

russellhltn wrote:Each location was to have their own "local" part. I do think it wise to avoid the church system for regionals - it puts too much strain on the system. Since this is a training thread, I would suggest getting your hands on the instructions to read for yourself. Too much gets lost in the translation if you get your instructions by word of mouth.

I totally agree. This was really my first broadcast so a huge learning experience for me. I didn't know about the local part being in each building. Otherwise, I would have suggested it. In a way though, I was glad that I got to experience total failure because it only showed me how things could go really wrong. It gave me a huge list of things to add to my checklist for both local AND remote. Hopefully, I don't have another fail like that again.


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