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New KCRW Website Launched

June 17, 2014

KCRW is Southern California’s flagship National Public Radio affiliate, featuring an independent mix of music, news, and cultural programming supported by more than 55,000 member/subscribers. The non-commercial broadcast signal is simulcast on the web at, along with an all-music and an all-news stream and an extensive selection of podcasts. KCRW was a pioneer in online radio, they’ve been live streaming on the web since 1995.  The station has an international listening audience, and is widely considered one of the most influential independent music radio stations around the globe.

KCRW has used the Plone CMS for 7 years and for the last 6 the website has been running on Plone version 2.5, which has been increasingly showing its age. Over a year ago KCRW embarked on a project to redesign the site and upgrade the software and functionality, and they selected Jazkarta for the technical implementation. It was an amazingly fun and challenging project, with lots of interactive multimedia functionality and a beautiful responsive design by the New York City firm Hard Candy Shell. We’re very excited to announce that the site launched last Monday!

Making the Most of the CMS

Plone is a robust and feature rich enterprise CMS with many features and add-ons that were invaluable for developing the KCRW site. Some highlights:

  • Flexible theming – Using Diazo, a theme contained in static HTML pages can be applied to a dynamic Plone site. For KCRW, Hard Candy Shell created a fully responsive design with phone, tablet and desktop displays. Jazkarta applied the theme to the site using Diazo rules, making adjustments to stylesheets or dynamically generated views where necessary so the CSS classes matched up.
  • Modular layouts – We used core Plone portlets and collective.cover tiles to build a system of standard layouts available as page fragments. Many custom tiles and portlets are based on the same underlying views so editors can easily reuse content fragments throughout the site. Plone portlets are particularly handy because of the way they can be inherited down the content tree – for example allowing the same promotion or collection of blog posts to be shown on all the episodes and segments within a show.
  • Managing editors – Plone provides granular control over editing permissions. For KCRW, this means that administrators can control what different types of users are allowed to edit in different parts of the site.
  • Customizable forms – We created PloneFormGen customizations to track RSVPs, signups, and attendance at events.
  • Salesforce integration – Plone has an excellent toolkit for integration with the CRM. For this phase of the project we implemented basic integration. Stay tuned for additional KCRW member features to be added this fall that take advantage of the Plone-Salesforce connection.

Supporting a Radio Station

KCRW is a radio station, and we developed some cool features to support their content management process and all the rich media available on the site.

  • A set of custom content types (shows, episodes, segments, etc.) and APIs for scheduling radio programs and supporting live and on demand audio and video. The APIs provide all sorts of useful information in a consistent way across lots of contexts, including mobile and tablet applications.
  • An “always on top” player built using AJAX page loading – as you navigate around the site it just keeps playing and the controls continue to show. This works equally well on mobile devices and desktops.
  • Central configuration of underwriting messages in portlets using responsive Google DFP tags.
  • Integration with many external services like Disqus for threaded comments, Zencoder for audio encoding, Ooyala for video hosting and encoding, and Castfire for serving podcasts and live streams with advertising.
  • An API for querying data about songs played on the station – live or on demand.  The API is built on the Pyramid framework and queries a pre-existing data source.

A Robust Deployment Platform

More than any other client, KCRW’s site provided the impetus for us to adopt AWS OpsWorks. had been hosted on a complex AWS stack with multiple servers managed independently. We needed an infrastructure that was easier to manage and could even save KCRW money by being easily scaled up and down as needed. Another major concern was high availability and we tried to eliminate single points of failure.

To accomplish this we made sure everything on OpsWorks was redundant. We have multiple instances for nearly every piece of functionality (Plone, Blob Storage, Celery, Memcached, Nginx, Varnish and even HAProxy), and the redundant servers are in multiple Availability Zones so the website can withstand the failure of an entire Amazon AZ.  The layers of functionality can be grouped onto a single instance or spread across multiple instances. It’s easy to bring up and terminate new instances as needed; this can be done manually, or automated based on instance load or during specific times of day. Time-based scaling is particularly relevant to KCRW and we are still experimenting with how best to schedule extra servers during popular weekday listening hours. Amazon’s Elastic Load Balancer and Multi-AZ RDS services give us the ability to deploy resources in multiple Availability Zones and eliminate single points of failure.

Dynamic Client, Dynamic Site

All of these technical details are fun for developers to talk about, but what’s really impressive is how much fun the site is to look at and use. Kudos to KCRW for having the vision to create such a great site, and to KCRW staff for the appealing new content that appears every day.

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