Automaton…

What is your attitude to pre-recorded radio shows? I spent the 1980s and 1990s presenting live radio shows, so they’re very much in my blood. However, technology has changed enormously in the past few years. I think it’s altered what ‘radio’ is. Let me start with an example.

SW Hoher 1 (3)
Photo (c) Martin Cooper

In Reidsville, North Carolina, in the USA there’s one internet radio station that’s taken the idea of ‘pre-recorded’ to the limit. It uses computer technology to automate every aspect of each show. So the DJ (and there’s only one who’s ‘on-air’ 24/7) pre-records three or four different introductions to each piece of music. The software randomly assigns one of those intros each time that track is played. Read more about the technicals here. I think it’s a great idea, and I love the concept of breaking a radio show down into thousands of discrete parts, recording each one separately, and then letting a machine put it back together again. The North Carolina station uses automation software called StationPlaylist.

In the UK I’ve used Myriad. It’s radio playout and automation software developed by a firm called P Squared based just near Hull. I’ve found it to be intuitive and easy to use – and it creates great radio too.

Pre-recording talk-overs of song intros is so easy with Myriad: it takes the guesswork out of hitting the vocals cleanly. Over the past two decades it’s become the leading software used by British radio stations: many national commercial, local community, and student stations have the system. I recall one colleague who got work a couple of years ago doing the overnight show (midnight to six AM) at a local commercial station. Working with Myriad she’d go into the station at 4pm, record all her links for that night’s show, insert them in Myriad, and be out of the studio within an hour. You, like me, will have observed that for this she was paid for just one hour’s work. The radio station’s boss was saving loads of money by not paying her for a full night shift. That’s one benefit of automation. As far as the presenter was concerned she could then use her time and skills for other things. Potentially good news all round.

However. Should radio be live? Is automated 24/7 radio, like Carolina Classic Hits, a radio station in the true sense of the word?

Indeed, what is true radio? That’s something that broadcaster and academic Andrew Dubber has written and worried about. I admit that as a late baby-boomer I still cling to the notion of radio being AM, FM and a bit of short-wave too (and, of course, long-wave for Test Match Special). I’m not, for example, fully convinced – yet – that listen-again, podcasting, music streaming services, on-demand radio, Sky-radio-stations-via-satellite-through-the-telly, Freeview-radio-through-the-telly, or even ‘internet radio’, is pure. I could well be wrong (especially since I use most, if not all, of these services on a daily basis). The question is: do I call them all ‘radio’? And if not, what do I call them? It’s important to consider these things; and in order to analyse radio it’s crucial to first know what it is, and what it’s not. Perhaps more accurately I should say: what radio was, is, and will become. Technology is changing – and perhaps even determining the definition of radio itself…

Valve dial
Photo (C) Martin Cooper

 

 

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