Archive for the ‘radio’ Category
This morning I outlined some apps I think show interesting trends for the radio and audio industries, and for reference, here they are, with a couple of additions I didn’t get a chance to show.
The first three are all examples of text-to-speech developments. There are many organisations trying to achieve reliable mechanisms to automatically create speech radio.
This takes any webpage or RSS feed and turns it into speech. The computer voice is surprisingly listenable!
Newsbeat adds many more options for customisation and features a combination of computer speech and real human voices to. Weirdly, I find it hard to tell the difference sometimes, not because the computer voices are so good, but because the human voices can be very robotic.
This requires subscription to unlock all the features, but even without a mobile you can get a good idea of what’s it’s like by looking at their website.
Umano is fully human speech. How do they achieve this? The power of crowd-sourcing! You can audition to become an Umano reader, and then upload your finished readings. The users themselves select the stories they think should be turned into audio.
A couple of examples of content companies who have looked at the trends in online music listening and are seeing how they can use those in speech radio.
NPR diligently tag all their live radio and their app creates a live-sounding news and current affairs station. You can tell it what you like, it will start to give you more of that. I like it a lot.
It doesn’t have the personalisation features of NPR, but if you want programme segments, rather than hour-long chunks of radio, this is a nice way of doing it.
Storytelling with audio at the core
Operation Ajax – a comicbook-style docustory. Listen with headphones. I would happily plug in and spend hours going through, not just the story, but all the supporting material as well. An excellent example of genuinely multimedia storytelling.
Vio, is a live vocal processor for iOS. Headphones are a must. Hate the sound of your own voice? You won’t with this!
There must be many other interesting apps for audio and radio, if you know of others that you think are progressive or innovative, do let me know in the comments 🙂
And they wonder why radio listening is falling
It struck me tonight what an effort radio listening sometimes is, and this came as a shock. After all, this is radio: the original electronic medium, the simplest, the most pervasive, most easily consumed.
Yeah, I thought all that too, until I tried to catch the grand finale of London 2012, the Paralympic Games closing ceremony.
I was on a train to Manchester for most of it. The on-board wifi isn’t up to TV distribution, and although I brought my digital TV USB stick with me, (yes I am that much of a geek) reception is impossible on the move.
No problem, I thought, I’ll listen. After all, I love radio – I started my career at Radio NZ (after listening to BBC World Service all through my teens) and radio is perfect for a couple of hours on the train.
I got out my phone, pushed in the headphones, flicked on the built-in FM radio app and fell at the first hurdle. Not from poor reception, actually I could get 10 FM stations from the start-up scan.
No, the problem was partly to do with paralympics broadcasting rights and partly technology.
For reasons I don’t have the strength to go into, the Paralympics on the radio is only on BBC Radio 5 Live. 5 Live broadcast on AM, DAB and online.
My phone doesn’t do AM (sensible device, it’s rubbish) but neither does it do DAB (for the same reason).
That leaves me with online, and I spent a good 10 minutes poking round in Android’s app downloads to find a suitable radio player.
I found one, Tune-In Radio if you’re that bothered.
Luckily the 3G signal on that bit of the railways is better than the TV reception and eventually, I’m listening at something close to FM quality. (Incidentally the module sticking out of my phone in the picture above is a battery extender. Continuous 3G data doesn’t half suck up the power!)
Now what a hassle just to listen to the radio! And I was thinking that accessibility was the least of radio’s problems. Listening hours are falling, even though overall reach is high, and the younger you are, the less you listen.
Thinking back what irked me more deeply was the thought of how wasteful it was. Even though we’ve built up a network of AM, FM and now DAB networks, to get what I wanted I had to have a dedicated signal of it transmitted to the train simply because none of the others was an option.
This leaves me suddenly with lots of questions over radio’s future that I hadn’t asked myself before, and it makes me look again at the ways in which you can receive 5Live and knowing exactly why they leave analogue radio languishing at the bottom.
Transmit til it megahertz, 47 years and counting.
It is such an iconic part of the London skyline, central to telecoms, and in particular television development in the UK.
I have a soft spot for the BT Tower / Post Office Tower. I gaze up at it. I watch it. I take photos of it.
When the antenna galleries were stripped of all the original (and subsequently added) microwave aerials at the end of 2011, I wasn’t the only one worried we were at the end of an era for the Tower.
In an era before fibre optics and before satellite transmission really got going, you moved signals across the country in point-to-point hops from one transceiver to the next, and the Tower was the centre of the network.
But I’m pleased to report a small return to form. The picture on the left I took in mid April 2012. The picture on the right was taken on 2 May 2012.
Spot the difference (apart from the weather) There’s a new white microwave antenna – the tower is beaming long-distance signals again! 47 years on, it still performing its original purpose.
Interestingly, the new dish isn’t located in the traditional gallery, but much further up the tower which means it probably has a range of around 25-30 miles depending on the power output. It’s facing west, which takes it out to about Slough.
The diameter is about 2 meters, so a significant sized dish.
It’s highly likely that this link is being used by a company other than BT, but if you know any details, let us know in the comments.
Restructuring doesn’t just affect paper
I’m a huge fan of time-shifted and downloadable radio. I currently have 12 regular ‘must listens’ on my phone at any one time and they’re brilliant accompaniment for walking to and from train stations as well as drowning out other people’s overly-loud personal music choices once you’re on the train.
But my ‘must listen’ count has just reduced by one. The Guardian has decided to drop its regular business podcast. This is a shame, because at a time when I feel we need more analysis of business, there’s slightly less choice now.
I also feel it’s loss should be noted, as when I looked around last week to see if anyone was noting it at all, I was surprised and saddened to find almost nothing bar the odd mention on Twitter:
RIP The Guardian Business Podcast, you were useful, interesting, and no more bit.ly/ue7xeE
— Mark Hillary (@markhillary) February 6, 2012
This might be for a couple of reasons. The mention that the current episode was the final one came in the final 30 seconds, perhaps people had dipped out before the end and missed it. The second reason might just be that there were few people actually listening at all.
That annoys me because it was genuinely good. But I’m a realist, things change, efforts are put in other places. I don’t read the Guardian’s business pages, so sadly, my contact with that part of their journalism ends here.
It’s worth touching on another change I’ve heard while listening to another Guardian programme, Tech Weekly. Talented long-time producer Scott Cawley left at the end of January.
With the Guardian’s former Head of Audio and presenter of Media Talk, Matt Wells, now in New York, there are clearly changes ongoing to the area he launched and championed.
I’m trying to think what else will be in the pipeline. Media Talk itself has competition now in the form of the Radio 4 Media Show, and I haven’t heard an episode of the US edition of the podcast in years.
Also a loss.
In the meantime, here’s some other business and economics programmes that are worth adding your feeds to replace the Guardian.
BBC In Business/World Business with Peter Day (if you’re not already listening to this, go to the back of the class)
NPR Planet Money – twice a week and addictive
And finally the Economist’s weekly “Money Talks”. Don’t look for it on their site. Due to their hopeless search and out of date RSS feeds (which I’ve mentioned before) you’ll be taken to an episode from October 2011. This is a shame, because the programme isn’t bad, just hard to find.
The Economist, this means you!
If you move home, you can get the post office to redirect your letters so they come to your new address. If you change your internet address, it makes sense to tell your users where you’ve gone too.
So why do websites make it difficult for themselves by not doing this on their RSS feeds?
I almost never visit homepages, they are generally a waste of my time to flick through and find out what the new stuff is. I’ve even set my browser to come up with a blank page. Like most webusers, I begin with a search, or if I’m using some type of internet news reader software, then I’m using RSS.
If you change the address of your feed and don’t tell me, you’ve just lost me and everyone else who used to read you from that source.
Better still if you’ve decided to retire the blog, tell me and suggest alternatives. Don’t just stop updating. Best practice here from the Financial Times.
And the bad practice award also goes to the FT, as that’s exactly what they did almost a year ago when they moved their Tech Blog from
This means my feed just hangs on the last entry, 30 Dec 2010, and my tablet/phone/desktop newsreader stops working.
It’s not just news articles. Media downloads or podcasts depend on RSS. I haven’t had a new piece of Economist audio or video on my MP3 player since the end of October! No reason as to why in the feed. It still works, it’s just got nothing new in it.
So I pop over to their multimedia page. Lots of new stuff on there, so at least they’re still making it. The RSS indicator on the page takes me to http://www.economist.com/rss which oddly mostly contains links back to the main websites, rather than to RSS links and certainly not a working multimedia RSS.
Their (possibly out of date) video portal at http://video.economist.com does have a front and centre RSS link. But that takes me to yet another (possibly even older) list of feeds, none of which is the one I’ve requested.
So, the Economist was making interesting stuff that used to turn up on my MP3 player/tablet/phone.
It’s still making useful stuff, except that now I can only watch/listen when I’m at my computer (which is increasingly irregular). Or maybe I can get it on a more useful device, except they’re making it really hard to find out how.
If you’ve got a working feed for the Economist’s multimedia output, do let me know in the comments!