If you're responsible for a telephone system, you may be interested in this project. It provides a legal alternative to Music on Hold (MOH). Using published music, such as CD's or radio stations, is considered Public Performance. You're expected to pay for the right to play the music to people calling your business. Music licensing companies, like ASCAP and BMI may contact you to let you know that you owe them money.
One legal alternative is to use royalty free music. With this, you pay the author for the right to use it as an MOH in advance.
A cheaper alternative is to get other interesting content for your callers to hear while on hold. Why not something that's different every time they call? The system I designed provides listeners with announcements intermixed with local weather conditions and forecasts. I'll call it Weather on Hold (WOH). If you want to hear my system in action, dial 786 336 6658.
I think I was one of the first to have access to these weather mp3 files in
Miami and I'm pretty sure the first to use them on hold. Their location
was given to me as a sort of unofficial beta test a long time ago. I found them
on a public page, so I have to assume they're for general distribution now. I'm
not sure how much of the nation has these available. They likely exist for any
area with NWS Radio since these are the same files played on the 162 MHz
transmitters. It may just be a matter of getting them out on the public
Here's where I find ours:
Now look for the little speakers. Click on one to and look at the file name
and location in the browser. For example, next to Western Collier, I click on
the speaker and we go to:
http://www.srh.noaa.gov/mfl/nwr/MIAZFPAPF.mp3 Cut and paste that.
Look up your local area. If your page doesn't have the tiny speakers, you may
want to ask your local NWS office when they'll have theirs on line. It looks
like the local page format is up to the local office. Miami wasn't the first to
have audio. I think my suggestion got them thinking about it. Here's how another
city's page has it:
http://www.wrh.noaa.gov/psr/broadcast/index.php?wfo=psr Same deal, click on
the right link, copy and paste the link location.
Now here's my .m3u file text. It's a plain text file made with notepad, just
saved as yourname.m3u.
The \\s... files should point to a local or network file with your company
message. The file name isn't important. The file format isn't
important either, .mp3 or .wav is fine. The ones starting with http: are
NOAA files you get from looking at the NWS service page for your area.
Their name is critical and unique to each area. If the directories are
open to the public, you might be able to go up a level and see a directory of
all of the available audio files. Like this:
You should be able to see a pattern to the file names. Ours start
with the weather office the come from, then the code for the location the report
covers. In the middle is the report type.
When you have the .m3u file saved, click on it and MS Media Player should open it. If not, check your settings to relate m3u to Media Player. Set MP to repeat the file and it will just keep on going. Each time it cycles, it gets the current file so you'll always be current. When a file is missing (or you lose your Internet connection) you'll just play the local messages. If you find the file name for severe weather warnings, it will skip right over it when nothing is going on.
Keep your local files music-free to keep BMI and ASCAP away. Or purchase some
royalty free music. If your callers get long queue times, think about the
repetition. It's nice that they get a different forecast every time they
call, they do NOT want to hear the same forecast twice in the same call.
Files are small. Offer lots of messages. Maybe have employees offer
files they made at home. You may have some great voice talent right in the
office. If they know they're helping the customer they're going to sound
great on hold.
Connect the speaker output of your PC to the MOH input of your switch. A unbalanced to balanced audio transformer from Radio Shack would be perfect (don't forget the connector and adapter), or, if you don't mind some soldering, a simple transformer would work too. But it seems to work just direct connected. Once you have everything sounding good on your computer, move the .m3u file over to an old PC. Playing music doesn't require a lot of horsepower, so a few year old computer dedicated to WOH is fine. Windows 2000 works just fine. The stock sound card is fine too. Telephone audio is limited to 300-3000 Hz, so even the worst sound card is more than enough.
One minor catch... Windows sound effects and other programs will be heard on hold too. So either silence other programs or don't run them on this WOH computer. Your AIM IM alert on hold is going to confuse a lot of people.
If you're comfortable with Windows scheduler, you could even make your WOH
time-of-day aware. Add a 'Good Morning and thanks for calling..." in
the mornings. Just call for different .m3u files. You can also
repeat the files in different orders within the m3u file so they don't always
come up in the same order.
On my list of things to try... add a music bed under the messages. Like some music we already have rights to use for MOH, some light jazz. If I can get MP to play two things at once, or maybe MP and Quick player at the same time. Then adjust each one's level so the music is in the background.
There might be a royalty free news source on the Internet somewhere. Same idea would work. Just news headlines instead of weather. But be very sure it's public domain before you even think about putting it on hold. Suggest to a local news radio station they offer such a service from their web site. "This is John Smith in the WXYZ news room with this hour's headlines..."
If you find this useful, or have any suggestions for improvement, please let
me know at firstname.lastname@example.org