It's come to my attention that some people simply do not grasp the situation...
We do this show from a public access studio. These are studios that were built when the cable companies first started in order to promote free, community-run programming. These studios are old and vanishing...very few cities have studios and even fewer support live shows or call-in shows. We're fortunate to be able to do the show at all. (Just ask the Seattle Atheists...)
The studio equipment is largely beyond our control. We can't rewire the studio and while we've spent quite a bit of money on our own equipment, you can have the best equipment in the world and if you're plugging it into antiquated or improperly configured gear, it won't make a bit of difference. Their recent $1M renovation doesn't seem to have involved any significant improvements to the audio.
The studio uses a Telos digital telephone hybrid but the soundboard at the studio isn't properly wired for a mix-minus setup and doesn't have sufficient discrete channels.
We use the studio on Sunday afternoons and it's used by many other people throughout the week. Those people change settings. They break things. They attempt to "fix" the problems that others have created...which creates more problems. They have different needs and requirements for their show, so they reconfigure things to suit them.
Every week we show up an hour (or more) before the show, run cables, configure lights, set up the table, reconfigure equipment, figure out what is broken and try to find a way to fix it before the show starts.
Every week we're walking into an unknown configuration and doing our best to get it back to "our" setup. We're talking lights, sound, camera, CG, DVD recorder, background, telephone (and more)...and most of it has been "adjusted" by someone else during the week. (I can count, on one hand, the weeks where we've had nothing to fix.)
Additionally, there are settings we're not allowed to change (though it doesn't stop other people from messing with them).
We then do a 'test call' - which seems to work just fine, though it doesn't seem to indicate whether or not all of the calls on a given show will work fine. The problem is intermittent. Some calls are worse than others...some have NO feedback, some have a little and some have a lot. Some calls seem to only be working in half-duplex, some are full. We've found no discernible pattern (I do suspect that cell phones are a huge part of the problem as they're notoriously horrible at full-duplex and signal quality).
If you think we're unaware of the problems, you're wrong.
If you think we're not MORE frustrated than anyone who watches or listens to the show, you're wrong.
If you think we wouldn't love to fix the problems and aren't doing everything we can, you're wrong.
This isn't just a matter of finding the right expert or throwing more money at it. (I'd recommend watching the Super Bowl half-time show for a prime example of how knowing what you're doing and having money to throw at something is no guarantee that things are going to work correctly.)
I appreciate the feedback and the suggestions. I appreciate that people care enough to try to improve the show....but I'm also baffled at how anyone could think we're unaware of the very problems we've spoken about countless times on and off the show - often WHILE the problems are happening.
One recent letter added a rather ironic note (which did make me laugh):
"Please fix the phone problem! (This is your money maker, and it's ruining discussions. Stable and clear sounding phone-lines are crucial"
Wow, I've never thought of that! The irony of using the phrase "money maker" when referring to a show that we actually pay to produce and freely donate thousands of hours to, is sadly humorous.
Don't misunderstand - I'm not writing this simply to bitch at the people who are writing us about this problem, I'm just expressing my own frustration and letting people know that e-mails that are essentially pointing out the elephant that I'm riding have been read, and won't be getting individual responses.
We'll also continue to look for solutions, but I wanted to give people a taste of what we're dealing with in order to avoid some of the suggestions that aren't very helpful.