Radio Futurologist, James Cridland
Posted by Kirk Harnack [TWiRT] on Feb 25, 2014 8:29:00 PM
Who better to predict radio’s future than a radio futurologist? James Cridland advises radio’s leaders across the world – on radio’s multiplatform future, the effect of smartphones on radio listening, and radio’s place in social media. He writes about what happens when radio and new platforms collide – for Media UK and other websites and magazines. And works with the brightest brains to ensure radio remains relevant. On this episode, James describes RadioDNS, which he says is one of the key technologies for radio remaining relevant and useful to a mass audience.
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Introduction: This Week in Radio Tech, Episode 201 is brought to you to buy the Telos ProStream streaming appliance. Audio in, great- sounding, robust audio streams out. Multiband audio processing by Omnia. Authentic Fraunhofer Codecs, plus metadata in coding, all in a one-rack appliance, the Telos ProSteam, on the web at Telos-Systems.com.
Who better to predict radio's future than a radio futurologist? James Cridland advises radio's leaders across the globe on radio's multi-platformed future, the effect of smart phones on radio listening, and radio's place in social media. Plus, RadioDNS. James explains what it's all about. Chris Tobin joins me for a lively discussion with James Cridland.
Kirk: Welcome in. It's time for This Week in Radio Tech. I'm Kirk Harnack, your host, and so delighted that you're here. I'm glad I'm here because this is a going to be a terrific show. It's our 201st episode. Who ever thought we'd make it past 20 episodes? Here we are 201 episodes later. Our usual co-host Chris Tobin is on his way in right now, stuck in traffic, so he'll be along shortly to re-ask the questions that I ask of our guest here in the first few minutes.
Our show is brought to you by the Telos ProStream. I have one right here. We'll talk a little bit more about it later. It is a stream and coding appliance and audio processor, and it handles metadata too. We'll tell you more about that as we move along. Our guest, I'm delighted to have this guest here. I don't know how I have missed this guy at various conferences and shows throughout the years. I've been going to NAB for 27 years now myself. I don't think James is quite that old. Let's welcome in our guest, James Cridland from the UK. Hi, James. Welcome in.
James: Hey. Greetings from the mother country. How are you?
Kirk: I'm good. On the one hand, I'm kind of sorry we're broken off from you guys. On the other hand, it may be a good thing. Taxing us too much for tea. That was the whole deal.
Kirk: James, I came across your name from some articles you'd recently written. Actually, we had a guest on several times. In fact he's due to come on again, Skip Pizzi. I think you've...
James: Yes. Very well.
Kirk: You' probably know Skip, yeah. Skip's been a friend of mine for a long time, and Skip, like I said, is due to be on here again soon. He was talking about RadioDNS quite some time ago, and I really am not sure I got the concept then. Generally, yeah, radio, pretty display, lots of pictures, and what's going on. So it's some good accompaniment to go with your radio, but I got a feeling there's maybe even more to it than that.
So first of all, tell us about yourself. You call yourself a radio futurologist. How do you position yourself in this radio industry?
James: I call myself a radio futurologist. It's a made-up word. My history is I worked for commercial radio, the BBC here in the UK. It's my 25th year in the industry this year, and for the last four or five years I've been consulting different radio companies across Europe and the US, really helping them understand what's coming up next, and what new technology means to the radio business.
Because it's clearly a time of massive, massive change. It's hugely important that we understand what new technology can actually do for us, and make radio relevant to the kind of generation that's growing up with smartphones and Pandora and on YouTube, and all that kind of stuff.
Kirk: Okay. For decades the radio kind of remained the same. We started life out with AM radio almost 100 years ago. And then along came FM radio with it, at least in the US. A quick band change from the 40 Megahertz area to the 90-100 Megahertz area. And then along came MTV in 1980 that was going to kill the radio star. It didn't quite but then MTV is no longer what it was. It's no longer a threat in its current form. Then we kept hearing about all these different technologies would kill radio.
Radio, to my view, hasn't changed much. Here in the US we have HD. I'm sure a number of stations are involved with that. Some people love it. Most people don't know it exists. In the UK you have DAB. In some other parts of the world you have to DAB Plus. I find myself listening to a lot of podcasts instead of live radio. Except when there's bad weather around, I'll tune in to radio. As a futurologist, how do you apply where we've been in the past to what you think things are going to in the future?
James: I think whenever you start talking about what the future of radio is you kind of have to start talking about what radio is for a start. When you're talking about what radio is, you're probably beginning to have to think, "Okay well radio is... Is it say, generally live?" Or, if it's not live its involving humans, and it has some kind of connection with somebody. In terms of things like Pandora, in terms of things like YouTube, I don't really call those radio. They're a different experience.
They might be taking audiences away from radio, and consumers might think that they are radio, but from my point of view, that kind of thing is a different experience. A shared, human connection where you can actually hear stories that are relevant to you, that's what I think radio is. I think the first thing is understanding what kind of business we're in. If we're in a business of an algorithmic jukebox that sits there and plays me songs that I might like, then that's great. There's nothing wrong with that.
But actually, if you're there thinking, "Okay, what is radio?" Radio's people; radio's connections; radio's stories. That story might be what the breakfast jock got up to last night, or it might be something far more cerebral on NPR, or whatever it is. That's really what radio's all about. I think you start there, and then you work out, "Okay, well, does it actually matter where people are consuming radio?"
From the consumer's point of view, it doesn't really. If you're listening to radio online, you're listening to radio over HD, or DAB, or DRM, or any of these other mechanisms of getting radio, or indeed SiriusXM, that's still radio. It's important that radio, in whatever guise it's in, is still relevant in terms of the content. Content is one of the most important things here.
Kirk: You and I were talking a couple hours ago before the show, James, about how at least I perceive radio as being interesting or uninteresting in various places, and how you perceive that. You're in the UK. I told you this story. I subscribed to some Google News Alerts. This is easy to setup, and you can find out news from around the world, and what's going on. When I subscribed to Google News Alerts to get alerts daily on stories that have to do with "FM radio" as a keyword, "AM radio" as keyword... I'm sure there are other, maybe even better keywords to use.
But so many stories that show up in my inbox about the radio industry are not from the US, at least not the exciting ones. The exciting ones are from the UK, and quite a few from Australia, and a bunch from India, where it seems like there's still a lot of excitement about radio. Maybe I'm just being too negative on radio in the US because I'm tending to not listen very much. How do you perceive that radio is more engaging or as engaging in the UK as it is here in the US?
James: I think radio in the UK and radio in the US is pretty similar in terms of the amount of people who tune in every single week. We have around 90% of the adult population who tune in every week, and that figure is much the same in the US as well. In terms of the amount of use of radio, that goes pretty well any Western country. You can see that radio itself is still incredibly strong. What radio everywhere in the world has an issue with is the amount of time that younger people are spending with radio is going down. So they're still tuning in every single week, and that's a great thing, but the amount of time that they're spending with radio is going down.
In the UK it's gone down by about 20% TSL loss in the last ten years or so. I suppose that there's two sides of that. One side of that is, is that actually massive? 20% in the last ten years? We didn't even have YouTube ten years ago. We didn't have iPhones ten years ago. Frankly, most people didn't even have iPods ten years ago. Is that a bad thing?
Obviously, what it does show you is that the future of radio needs to have a better experience if it's still going to be relevant to the type of people who are walking around with beautiful full-color screens, walking around with a beautiful experience that they can get on a mobile phone where they've got beautiful images and everything else, and then you're there on a mobile phone tuning in to FM radio.
If you can get FM radio on your mobile phone, all it says is, "98.3." That's all it says. You don't get a very good user experience out of traditional FM radio. I think part of the conversation around where the future of radio lies is actually making sure that the user experience of radio is just as good as the user experience of things that would take pairs of ears away from radio, so things like Pandora, and things like Spotify and Rdio, and all that kind of stuff.
Kirk: That's where the change is. Because it used to be, for decades, that the audio content of what was on the radio was enough to engage, excite, and interest listeners. Because of these competitors, I hear you, at least alluding to, well, maybe it's not enough anymore, or maybe because these other shiny, shiny things are available, radio needs to engage in these same shiny, shiny things.
I'm stuck on my Facebook a lot. Okay, wife is driving the car. I don't do this while I'm driving, usually. Something new on Facebook pops up every 12.5 seconds, and I'm just so rabid about going out and reading it and finding out what it is. Or my Twitter feed. I feel like my smart phone is giving me a short attention span. I do enjoy listening...
James: It gives quite a lot. There again, if you have a look at radio, what's brilliant about radio is not that you have a three hour long show or a four hour long breakfast show. It's all of the little bits of content in there. I think one of the first things that we can do is to think of ourselves as radio broadcasters as producing short-form content, rather than a three or four hour long show.
You can take what Howard Stern does or what Rush Limbaugh does or what Ryan Seacrest does, and you can actually cut that up into small, discrete sections. That's actually what they do, and that's actually what they excel in. Because they know people will only be tuning in to the radio for 10, 15 minutes at a time. They won't stay with that show for all four hours, or five hours, or six hours. So actually thinking about what you do with the great content you have, and also thinking about what you can do with that great content afterwards.
Clearly, this show here is a show which is live, but it's also a show that you can then take and package and use as your podcast. You can use in video form. You can use it in audio form. This is really very much where radio is headed in terms of being able to take great pieces of audio and package those up to allow people to consume that either live, but live in a more enriching experience if they want to do that, or also on demand. So take some of the best bits of interviews that you have.
If you do a search on YouTube for Howard Stern, as I did the other day, you get loads and loads and loads of clips of interviews, of clips of Howard Stern talking to people, all packaged up in terms of video, and all looking really nice. That all leads back to Howard Stern's brand. It leads back to SiriusXM's brand of course. There's a lot of that going around. I think that's not taking anything away from radio. That's not making radio into crappy TV, because that's the last thing that we want.
It's actually making the best of the content that we have, and allowing you to do other things with that content to reach more people with the great content that you're already making. That's hugely important. There are radio stations, for example, here in the UK that run video all the time, just in the studio. It's completely automated. It works on where the noise of the microphone is coming from and completely automated.
So you know exactly. The cameras automatically switch. What that essentially means is that you can then have video of anything really interesting that happens in your studio. There's a radio station called LBC here that occasionally has the London mayor going in and doing a call-in show. Little bits of that get taken out and reused elsewhere and get released to the TV news, who then use that on the air.
Similarly, there's another radio station run by the BBC, 5 Live, which is a news station. Again, sometimes really good things happen on that station, which, again, they can then share with their TV colleagues, and with other people as well. One of the most popular clips of that actually is a mouse going into the studio, and the presenter, who is on the air, literally jumping on her chair because she was so terrified of the mouse. It made for fantastic radio. It made for even better video that you can actually go and share with other people. That was really interesting seeing.
Kirk: We've been talking. By the way, if you just tuned in we're talking to James Cridland, who is a radio futurologist in London. He speaks at quite a few conventions in the radio and similar industries. I'm eager to know about his optimism about the radio industry and where it's going. I lamented a bit that I felt like content on a lot of radio, at least where I live, is not as interesting as I would... Or maybe my interests have changed. I don't know.
Maybe radio is as good as it used, and in some ways better. It doesn't always suit my needs. But some interactivity is always helpful. I love, for example, seeing album art or understanding who an artist is. I've heard this song before, but I don't know what it is. We're going to start moving into this area, talking about the technology that can bring some flair, some sizzle, and some shininess back the radio experience. I understand Chris Tobin has joined us in studio. Chris, are you with us?
Chris: I'm here.
Kirk: Hey. Glad to see you.
Chris: Glad to see you both. Sorry for the tardiness.
Kirk: That's fine. I didn't realize until a few minutes ago that you were actually heading toward the GFQ Studios in New York.
Chris: Yes, I had an LT-enabled phone in the car with a camera and an earpiece and ready to go if you guys wanted to come to me while I was on the interstate. It would've been fun.
James: Wow. That would have been entertaining, wouldn't it?
Kirk: We'll save that for another time. Like when you get pulled over or something.
Chris: Oh no, it's hands free. I had it propped up on the dash.
Kirk: So, Chris, you're up on James Cridland. You may have even heard of James before or seen him speak at a conference.
Chris: Yes, at several, and I've watched several videos. I enjoy very much his take on broadcasting media.
James: You will never get that time back.
Kirk: This is true.
Chris: It's a [timey-whimey] thing, so I can always figure out a way to get the time back.
Kirk: We were just about to move the conversation into the technology part. Which, of course, I love. I just eat this stuff up, and so do our viewers and listeners on This Week in Radio Tech. We like to think... We all know that content is king, but we also like to think that there are things we can do technologically to enhance a listener's experience, to hold them on longer, to invite them in better.
We're going to move the conversation in that direction, talking about these technologies, including RadioDNS, which is something that I still don't think I have my brain wrapped around. Maybe because I haven't seen it or played with it yet.
There's a terrific video on YouTube that James sent me to. We'll put the information in the show notes. It's a demonstration of RadioDNS on the Galaxy Express 2 LTE. So that's a smart phone, obviously. We'll put that in the show notes. Don't go watch it now. You can watch it after the show.
Let's have James... James, can you just...? Give us the executive summary of RadioDNS and then, probably after the commercial break, I'd like you to take us through, step by step, what an engineer or what a radio station does to enable RadioDNS. What's the executive summary here?
James: RadioDNS is hybrid radio. Just in the same way as you have a Toyota Prius that uses electricity sometimes and gas at other times, and you get to where you want to go, and it works absolutely fine. Hybrid radio is using both the Internet and broadcast radio to make a better user experience. Broadcast radio is brilliant, as we all know. It's a really good, really cheap way to broadcast to hundreds of thousands of people.
Also, on the other side, it's a really good, really cheap way to pick up a great range of stations. It uses much less battery power. It uses much less data connection on your data plan. Broadcast radio is a great thing. What broadcast radio doesn't have is any of the additional stuff that you expect from a great user experience these days. It doesn't have any "Now playing" information. It's got some not very good... I nearly swore there. Not very good RDS information.
If you sit there long enough, you'll scroll around. With the exception of that, it has virtually nothing there. So you still have to tune in using a frequency. You have no images that go with what you have. You have nothing clever for your radio to do clever stuff with. What radio DNS, hybrid radio, is there to end up doing, is to help your radio, which is tuned into your FM signal or your HD signal or your DAB signal, it helps your radio also find more information about that radio station on the Internet, and help make radio better.
Kirk: What if I'm streaming on my phone? Can I get some radio DNS activity with streaming?
James: Radio DNS is there to make broadcast radio better, but also what some of the applications that radio DNS has, which is adding visuals, or indeed helping your phone know where else this particular radio station is available is just as applicable to Internet radio as well. Visuals is an obvious one, but say I'm in New York. Say I'm listening to WPLJ. There's a great big FM transmitter there that works fantastically.
But then say if I walk into one of the shopping malls, and the FM signal goes, what my radio should be able to do automatically is go, "I can't get the FM signal anymore, but I know where else I can find this radio station. I'll flick over onto the Internet."
That's another thing that RadioDNS does. Really simple, really straightforward, great if you're driving, by the way. Really, really good if you're driving. It enables you to keep tuned into that radio station, and by the way, flick back on to FM as soon as you can get the FM signal again so that WPLJ doesn't have to pay any of the music rights. It's a really simple and straightforward thing.
Kirk: That sounds brilliant. When I was first introduced to RDS, I was doing some work in France, and I saw a Blaupunkt receiver that has two radios in it, and it would automatically keep us connected to any of the various low-power transmitters that were all transmitting the same audio for this radio network in France that I was working at.
I thought, "Brilliant." It's different than the US model, where we have one big, honking high-power transmitter that covers a large area. In France we had a lot of kilowatt or smaller transmitters. Still, that sounds brilliant, going from a broadcast environment into a streaming environment, back and forth automatically. I can imagine a lot of difficulty with that, but I can also imagine if it does work, if we can make it work, then if we can somehow line up the audio at least a little bit, then that could be pretty smart. I'd like to see...
James: Yeah and of course. You've always got that particular issue, but if, for example you were a radio station, and your primary FM is in one place, and you're also carried on an HD2 channel somewhere else, it could automatically follow that way as well. It could automatically follow onto other platforms if you wanted to as well. That's really neat. Again, it comes back to making the user experience of a radio station better. Not just dumping people with a frequency, and a black screen, and saying, "That's it. That's the only user experience you actually have."
Now you have "Now playing" information. You have ways to interact with the studio. You have ways to buy stuff if you want, but also ways to keep that signal with you however you want to end up tuning into the radio station, or, indeed, ducking out and having a listen to a podcast if you want to hear more.
Kirk: Got you. Yeah. Wow. Okay. Is RadioDNS, is this technology taking off in the UK?
James: What's really interesting is it's taking off right around the world. We're actually seeing-the German public broadcasters last week were talking about how they're producing additional visual information, and additional EPG stuff, the stuff that helps you move from FM over onto DAB, over onto the Internet. The German public service broadcasters are doing it. The Dutch public service broadcasters are doing it. Lots of radio stations in the UK.
There are already some radio stations in the US doing it, and there'll be demos down in Vegas at the NAB show, which by the way, I am also speaking at, so do come along and see me there. There are radio stations in Canada and in Australia doing it. It's taking off quite well. Where RadioDNS has suffered is that it's only been available on a couple of receivers so far, and those receivers have typically been high-end receivers. They've been DAB plus Internet, plus everything else receivers. They're lovely, but they're not how most people tune into the radio.
Now we're actually seeing mobile phone manufacturers putting it in as standard into their mobile phones, which is really good. Also, car manufacturers really taking it seriously now, and really working out. There are really clear safety benefits in making sure that you're not forever flicking around on your radio trying to keep with the ballgame, or trying to keep with whatever it is that you're having a listen to. If the radio can automatically keep that signal for you, no matter how it's getting that signal, then it's great news for people who are driving. It's really interesting now. You're beginning to see real take-up of RadioDNS from a receiver standpoint as well as from a broadcaster's one.
Kirk: Wow. Chris Tobin is in the megacity of New York, where maybe there's some RadioDNS activity going on there. Chris, tell us about your interaction with RadioDNS. I have no experience with this. Just still curious about how it works, and what we're going to get to in the second half of our show. Mr. Tobin, what are your thoughts at this point?
Chris: I have not had too much experience with RadioDNS, though I've read about it, and I've talked to folks who have said they've tried it out. Here in the Big Apple, New York City, I don't think everybody has really jumped on the board with the hybrid radio approach, RadioDNS, which I thought was pretty cool technology.
The big thing here in town is the iHeartRadio platform with the Clear Channel stations, Radio.com with CBS, and then Cumulus, I think, promotes iHeartRadio. So that's what you hear and see. Broadcasters in New York City I think are still way behind the curve, and they're not paying attention. Despite the fact that content might be king, they insist on producing content that shoves people away.
Kirk: So many broadcasters, including a few of my stations... We have our over-the-air signal, and we have a stream as well, but we don't have any way to connect the two or to let you choose which one easily. You're using one, you're using the other. If you're using the one, if you're using the analog signal of course there's almost no data that goes along with that. Two of our stations have RDS, but there's precious little going on there. In the examples of RadioDNS that are given, James you mentioned higher-end receivers. I think we've seen... Isn't there one that looks like an egg that's got a flat, funny-colored screen?
James: Yeah. There's one that looks like a Rugby ball.
Kirk: There you go.
James: I used to have one of those, and the TSA broke it.
Kirk: Oh no.
James: So I don't have one anymore.
Kirk: The example that's given so often now is that of a smart phone, and the FM receiver in there. In the US, Jeff Smulyan and Emmis, they've been working to get FM receivers turned on in smart phones even though many of them already have it in there. I've never gotten to play with this myself. But you go to India, and this is how everybody listens to the radio is with their feature phone, typically. It might even be a smart phone. It's a feature phone with an FM receiver in it.
Before the break here, tell us, culturally, why does that work out in India, and maybe there are other countries, where your phone is the first or your current FM radio whereas in the US, it just doesn't occur to me to use my phone as an FM radio? I guess mostly because it can't right now, but what's this cultural difference and how do we get the phone, which everybody has with them now, to be the radio?
James: You mentioned iHeartRadio, which is a really great user experience. But again, if you're sitting there in New York, for example, you're listening to a local radio station on iHeart, and you're actually using a bunch of bandwidth that you don't need to use because it's all already available on FM. You're costing the radio station money because they're having to pay for additional music licenses for all of the usage of music on the Internet.
It's using your bandwidth, and it's using battery life and everything else. So actually, in terms of making iHeartRadio, for example, better. If iHeartRadio knows that you can also get the radio station that you're listening to over FM, then great. You don't even need to know as a user that the app has automatically switched you over to FM because it can get the FM signal, but that way you're saving yourself seven times the amount of battery life, you're saving yourself incredible amounts of bandwidth, incredible amounts of... You're saving broadcasters all of that money that is spent to the music collection agencies as well. It's a win-win-win.
You can't have anything worse than something that works for everybody. I think what's interesting when you start having a look at places like India is that clearly everybody has a mobile phone in India, and the FM chip is turned on in India primarily because radio, as you know, in India has really kicked off recently. Lots more commercial radio stations have started broadcasting. The mobile phone networks haven't seen FM as a threat. Mobile phone networks have seen FM as being a reason to go and buy a phone because so many people enjoy that.
If you compare that with the US, particularly the US actually, FM is seen as a way of getting entertainment into a device that the mobile networks don't control and that the mobile networks can't earn any money from. That's the big difference. In places like India, it's seen as a consumer benefit. In places like the US, it's seen as something which actually takes control away from the likes of AT&T and those types of organizations. It's probably more a commercial conversation than it is a cultural one. We know, if you look at the NextRadio app, for example, that we're already seeing, is doing great guns in terms of the amount of time spent listening to it is significantly higher, it seems, than streaming apps.
Primarily because, again, it's using seven times less battery. If you can do that with a great hybrid experience as the NextRadio app is, then you can actually get a really good user experience for the listener. That's the really important part here.
Kirk: You pointed out something that I really hadn't realized until you pointed it out, and that is that one of the most expensive things you can do in terms of limited bandwidth, in terms of licensing costs and infrastructure costs, and in terms of just your own battery life is streaming data. That's the hardest thing for a cell phone to do, and an FM receiver chip set, as you mentioned, uses seven times less power. It can be much more efficient than all the hand-shaking and yada, yada, yada that goes on between a cell phone and a...
James: Also, of course, there's a big difference between the way that Pandora works and the way that a live stream works. What Pandora is doing in the background is it's downloading the next song. It doesn't matter if you go into a dead area, and then back out of the dead area. Your Pandora will be playing the song which it's already cached, and downloading a few more. So it's a really nice user experience, again. Once you start having a look at trying to stream live data for a live radio program, you'll know that actually that gets really quite difficult.
Either you have dead spots or you have spots where there's so much cell phone activity that the amount of bandwidth that you get is very, very low. Again, FM radio really, really helps in that regard. And you've got the emergency stuff, and you've got all manner of the other important things that broadcast radio can do that Internet can't. But Internet works fantastically alongside broadcast radio, which is where RadioDNS comes in.
Kirk: I've always thought it's kind of interesting, the different cell phone companies' attitudes towards using their data. It seems at different times in technology, cell phone companies have not wanted you to use too much data. They charge a lot for it, discouraging its use, or they want you to use a lot of data. One thing I noticed is T-Mobile. I'm a T-Mobile customer in the US. That they were the first to do everything they could to encourage you to not use their data by using Wi-Fi.
I guess they were the first to let you make phone calls over Wi- Fi. I'm in a basement office here. I do have a window out the back, but my cell phone signal is a little weak right here even though the tower is not far away. But I've got strong Wi-Fi, and I can do anything over the phone on Wi-Fi that I could do with the cell phone signal. T-Mobile has been... It reduces the load of them to have to build out their network. It dovetails nicely with the whole RadioDNS idea that you're receiving the broadcast the way, I guess you could say, you should be, in a mass distribution manner, and then picking up the little extra bits of data about that, the metadata.
James: Yeah. Exactly right. I think it is interesting. Once you start having a look at what some of the mobile networks are doing in terms of trying to offload as much data onto Wi-Fi as possible. Well that's fine, but you then start walking down a typical High Street, and what's happening on your phone now, because BT does much the same here in the UK, is that your phone is constantly connecting to the cell phone network, and then when it sees a BT signal it'll try connecting to that, and it takes time to connect, and everything else. Then when it sees another BT signal, it'll try and switch over onto that.
That's actually fine from the point of view of using a phone as you would normally use it. Because you don't need that consistent connection in terms of bandwidth. As long as you have bandwidth 50, 60% of the time, you'll still get your email. You'll still be able to tweet. You'll still be able to get your Facebook messages and everything else, but of course for streaming audio, you need a consistent stream of data, and you need that to be always there and always available. Off-loading stuff onto Wi-Fi is normally a great idea, but it really hurts streaming radio.
Kirk: Hear you. Hey, you're watching or listening to This Week in Radio Tech. I'm Kirk Harnack. Our guest is James Cridland, a radio futurologist. In the second half of our show, we're going to talk some tech specifics of how to implement an infrastructure in your broadcast plant to support RadioDNS. I'm really interested in hearing this. I want to understand this. Chris Tobin is in studio at the GFQ network. Hey, Chris. Are you there?
Chris: I'm here. I'm enjoying it. I'm enjoying this.
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Which is better for streaming, PC and software, or an appliance? The answer is up to you. It's totally your comfort level. Me, I'm a little tired of updating Windows PC's all the time. I'm a little tired of the reboots in the middle of the night. I know, you can set them not to do that. I seem to forget to. I'm a little tired of all that. I'm a little tired of the fan clogging up with dust. Of course, that's my fault for not cleaning it. I get that.
But there's some advantages to an appliance, a box that you just plug in. Yes, there are software updates available for new features if you need them. Otherwise, you just set it up, and you leave it alone. That's what the Telos ProStream does. The ProStream is a one-rack-unit-high box. Let's see. Can you see here? Let me turn that a little bit. There we go. It's this box right here. I'll brighten up the display a little bit. It has, on the back, audio inputs analog, left and right, XLR inputs.
It also has a LiveWire jack on it so it can feed it from your LiveWire network if you happen to have that in your facility. Coming out in a few months, we will have the AES version as well. So analog, AES, or LiveWire. It will cost a little bit more money. So, for now, if you want to get this one, that's analog or LiveWire. Inside is, first of all, an Omnia audio processor. It's not just... We didn't just take the FM Omnia code and port it into this, no.
We really studied what you have to do to properly process audio that's going to be going into an encoder, a bit rate production encoder like MP3 or one of the AAC family encoders. We determined some things about this years ago. We keep improving on that tech, but inside the ProStream is a three-band Omnia audio encoder. It's pretty gentle. You can crank it up, but the presets are fairly gentle. Then it's got a very sophisticated look-ahead limiter. So it doesn't do any clipping to your audio.
You could easily set the audio bandwidth to... Set it appropriately for your bit rate encode too. After the Omnia audio encoding, after the Omnia processing there are two encoders. Now this starting with version 2.0 of the software. If you're still on a 1.0 software upgrade to something newer. Two encoders in there, and these can be completely different. One can be AAC at maybe a low bit rate. We have HEAAC V2, for example. You can run that at 57 kilobits per second, and it sounds quite nice. Then you can continue to make a stream, an MP3 stream for example, at 96 or 128 kilobits per second.
Then you can take these two streams that you've encoded, at whichever bit rate and whichever algorithm you want to, and we have an output matrix of four outputs. So these four outputs, you can send these streams to maybe to geographically divergent servers around the world. Maybe you want to send a stream over to Europe, to a stream server, maybe a SHOUTcast server there, or maybe you want to send one to Australia, or just have a couple in the US, one main, one backup. So there's different ways you can get that done.
Now here's the cool part. We're talking about metadata on this show. The ProStream has this very cool metadata ingest system. It's done using the Lua scripting language, and there are already a bunch of filters already in there for you, that may already fit your automation system.
If you have an automation system or a need that the built-in filters don't quite fit, then you can run a little program we provide you, grab the data from your automation system, send the output to us, and we'll build you a filter that grabs the title and the artist, commercial sponsor information, whatever you want, and puts it into the metadata system that is part of streaming. So check it out on the web. If you go to Telos- Systems.com look for ProStream. Check it out there.
We're shipping a bunch of these every month. People are using them all over the world. I like it because it's reliable. I haven't had to reboot it. It just sits there, and runs, and puts out streams. By the way, it is compatible with...
James: One of the really interesting things about this is that because you're actually processing your audio separately for online, that's exactly the right way of doing it. The amount of radio stations that I've worked with who have taken their FM audio and tried to then use that for their own line audio, it really does not sound as good as properly processing audio for online. So it's really good to see that the Omnia Audio stuff is already in this box as well.
Kirk: Frank Fodey did a great white paper on this very subject, and the white paper kind of goes along the lines of, "You know. We understand audio processing for AM, and we understand it for FM. These are really flat, mathematical functions. They don't change. We know what goes in. We know what comes out. To get the most out of it, it's a flat two-dimensional mathematical function, but stream encoders change their behavior based on the audio coming into them."
Maybe an older one like an MPEG layer 2 doesn't so much, but newer ones do. We'd like to understand what the encoder is likely to do with the audio so that we can make the encoding easier, you'll get more efficiency from the encoder, not give it things that are difficult to encode if we can do that without hurting the audio. That's a lot of the philosophy that goes into Omnia processing for encoding.
You wouldn't use your AM processor on your FM station, especially with the NRSE curve. It wouldn't sound right at all. And the 10 Kilohertz brick wall filter. So don't use your transmission processor for your stream.
All right. We're here with James Cridland on This Week in Radio Tech number 201. James, for me, and for Chris Tobin, please walk us through. I own some radio stations. We've got automation systems. We've got a little bit of RDS here and there, good Internet connections at our stations. What do we need to do to grab the data that needs to be grabbed and make it available to RadioDNS? Several step process.
James: Okay. Yeah. It's a three step thing. The first thing that you have to do is to do the magic. The magic is connecting your radio station, your radio station's broadcasts, with something that then helps the app find more information over the Internet. That's what RadioDNS is. That's the glue that links your FM broadcast in this case, to your web servers. You have to...
It's deeply, deeply tech-y, but the way that it works is it uses information that's already in your FM RDS signal. It uses that alongside your frequency and alongside the country that you're in and various other things, to essentially make a domain name. That domain name is hidden away in the system, but that domain name then points to your servers.
It's a really simple, straightforward mechanism. It works in the exactly the same way as DNS works across the rest of the web. It's highly reliable. It works fantastically well. That's why RadioDNS is called RadioDNS. It really is a look-up table in between broadcasts.
Kirk: Oh, so the DNS really does come from Domain Name Server? That's where the idea comes from?
James: Yeah, absolutely.
James: That's exactly what is going on under the hood. What any of these apps are doing is that they're looking at your FM signal, and they're going to the equivalent of a domain name which has your frequency in it, and your RDFPI code, and your country code, and various other things that you're already broadcasting. Has a look, sees if that exists. If that exists, yea, you are RadioDNS enabled, and the app can then go and find out, directly from your servers what kind of things you support.
Do you support visuals? Do you support radio EPG, which is the mechanism of handing you off from FM onto the Internet? And by the way, an awful lot more as well. That little bit, setting yourself up in terms of RadioDNS is free, and you need to go onto the RadioDNS website in order to end up doing that. The address is really simple. It's RadioDNS.org. RadioDNS.org.
You should probably sit there with your engineer who understand RDS and your IT guy, who understands how C names work, and that kind of thing in terms of DNS to understand exactly what you have to do. But it's simple and it's relatively straightforward if you understand this stuff.
Kirk: So, let me interrupt you for a second. If I understand you correctly, if I'm already doing RDS on my FM-so I'm grabbing title and artist information and maybe commercial sponsor information, and maybe a program name. If I've got a morning show and I've got a program name...
James: You don't even need to do any of that. You don't even need to do any of the clever, automatically-updated stuff in terms of RDS. The only RDS information it uses is the PI code, and the PI code is a little piece of data which is always there in your RDS. Nobody sees it, but it's hidden away in your broadcast information.
In the US it's made up of an algorithm based on your call letters. In UK, we're told what PI code that we have to broadcast by our regulator. So it's just that. So you don't even need to have clever RDS. If it's just pumping out a station name, great. That's all you actually need.
Kirk: I just found an RDS PI Code generator or calculator on the Web. So I entered the call sign of one of my stations, and bam, it gives me back a decimal and a hex PI code. So this would go in my RDS generator. Hopefully, it's already there. If I missed that part, I need to put it.
James: It should be already there. Otherwise the FCC will be very upset with you.
James: But yes, it should be there automatically. Literally all that RadioDNS uses is that alongside your broadcast frequency which your radio already knows, alongside the country you're in which your radio probably already knows, and you're actually broadcasting that information over RDS anyway. It uses that to literally find out from that information, which is relatively unique, to find out, is this radio station in RadioDNS? Is there more information I can find out? Really easy and straightforward.
Kirk: Now, if I'm not in RadioDNS, you mentioned a registration process earlier.
James: Yeah. So you literally go onto the RadioDNS website, and you can drop the project team an email there. It's free right now. Eventually there will be a charge. It says on the RadioDNS website that the charge will be ten pounds a station. Sorry, ten US dollars a station, in fact. So it's even less in terms of pounds. It's not going to be huge. It's just essentially another domain name. But it's a long, complicated one that only your RadioDNS receiver will actually cope with. Really simple and straightforward, and free.
You can go ahead and do that, and once you've done that, then any RadioDNS-capable receiver will know where you are on the Internet as soon as they tune into one of your FM stations, and this works with HD. It works with DAB Plus. It works with DRM if you're broadcasting that somewhere in the world like India. It works with all of these services as well. Once your radio is now looking at your web server to find out what other things you support, that's this next part.
Kirk: So let me get this clear now. I've got my smart phone. The FM tuner is tuned into a radio station. I'm getting a PI code from there, so the application knows exactly what station I'm listening to. Now, it knows how to make that URL and goes out that URL, the server that I control, and it's going to grab some additional information from that. Right?
James: Exactly right. Exactly right. So you're in control of absolutely everything from that point forward. So you've got a simple, straightforward mechanism of telling RadioDNS what your broadcast is, and where you are on the Internet. Once you've done that, it's a once-only thing, and then that's then done. You need to... If you're going to support the new stuff which is in all of these new Samsung phones, and there are quite a few available throughout Europe and Asia right now, and of course it'll be a global thing fairly soon because Samsung clearly wants to make sure that the apps in their phones are as global as possible. So I'm sure that we'll see that in North America as well.
What they're supporting is they're supporting two things. They're supporting something called RadioViz, and something called Radio EPG. Now RadioViz is the pretty images that you see when you're tuned in. This is a smart phone. This will really work on the MP3 version of this podcast, won't it?
This is a smart phone that's running a little test here. It's tuned into Capital FM here in the UK. You can see there's some really nice images on the screen. You just saw one of the songs that was playing, and now this is a guy called Marvin, who's their evening show jock. There you go. There's a...
Kirk: Pretty visual dresser there, Marvin is.
James: Yes, indeed. How fantastic. And there's a little piece of text underneath, which you won't be able to see on my camera. So that's what RadioViz is all about, and there are a number of different ways of producing those images and that text. You can do it yourself, and there's a bunch of codes and software out there to end up doing it. It uses a protocol called Stomp or called Comet. There's simple, straightforward code that you can download and install.
Or of course, you can pay somebody to produce that for you. There's a bunch of companies on the Radio DNS website that can actually help with that. It could well be that your playout system is already outputting enough information to be able to produce these images in a really nice way.
By the way, the reason why it's images as well as text is that you can put stuff in your images that... You can put a bunch of really interesting things like pac shots, like station logos, like advertiser logos. All that kind of stuff.
As well as things that will actually take some of the clutter off the air, traffic and travel, whether the subway is working, all of that kind of information. You can actually add onto the screen there. That's one of the things that quite a few of the radio stations here in the UK are doing. So that you've actually got additional opportunities to actually see some really interesting while you're getting the kids ready for school, or while you're doing other things, while you're tuned into the radio.
Kirk: One thing I may have missed here, so help me understand this. So I'm running the app, and a new song starts, and I take it that at the same time, or very shortly thereafter, I could have album art, or I could have a picture of the artist or some such. Something to do with the artist on my screen. Where does the timing of that take place? How does the app know that I've switched songs, and then where does the art come from, and do I have to assemble all that myself or can I hire a company that's already put the album art together for me?
James: Well, in terms of who does it, either you can do that yourself or you can hire someone. So there's a radio station here, Absolute Radio. When it was called Virgin Radio I worked there, and they've got a very clever, tech-y team, and they made their system to make album art in an afternoon. So it was relatively fast for them. I'm not saying that everybody's going to be as fast as they are. You can build that yourself, and of course you can also find organizations that can do that for you.
There's a bunch of companies on the website. The technical way that it works in terms of timing is quite interesting. It does two things. Firstly what it's doing is your app is connecting to almost to kind of a chat server. So it's watching what that particular chat server is doing. And that chat server says, "I'm playing a new song. Show this image now." And it will go off and show the image. It's pretty dumb.
Kirk: Is that chat server code that's running on a server controlled by the station or some third party?
James: It can be either. It uses Stomp, which is a pretty standard protocol to do this kind of thing. I will be laughed at for calling it a chat server, but that's essentially how it works.
Kirk: It works in my head. Thank you.
James: So what it's actually saying is, "Show this image now." That's all it's actually saying. "Show this image now. Show this image now. Show this image now." That's all it's actually doing. So, pretty simple and straightforward. What you can also do is you can say, "Show this image when it's this time." So you can actually program ahead if you want to, as well as just rely on the Internet being fast enough to actually switch automatically.
Once you go into an ad break for example, into a stop-set, you can actually, potentially program all of the images to go alongside the ads, so that you know that they're going to change instantly rather than having to wait for that particular image to download. So you can do some quite clever things in terms of the timing. That was important to quite a few broadcasters that just wanted to make sure that they weren't just going to rely on the speed of the Internet to show an image. They reckon that that was a better way of actually pre-scheduling images.
By the way, this is pretty close to Slideshow, which DAB and DAB Plus uses. It's not too far away from the Live RCS Experience as well the Experience from HD Radio as well. Actually, all of these do fit together quite nicely. So you got...
Kirk: Wow. Okay. My head, my head-yeah, go ahead.
James: Yeah, go on. Well, I was going to say. So you've got RadioViz, which is the images, and that's really nice and really straightforward. The one that's even more straightforward is the other one, which is Radio EPG. What Radio EPG is is it's an XML document that contains information about your radio station. The Samsung apps use that to find out where you're broadcasting on the Internet. If I've tuned in over the FM, where else is this radio station available? And it will link to the streams and the stream types and all of that.
It even has an inbuilt cost, if you like. If you want most people to switch over to an HD2 channel instead of the Internet because the Internet costs you more, then you can do that. You can actually program in, into your XML, "I'd really prefer you to use these platforms in this order."
Kirk: Ah, okay.
James: Which is actually really nice. Because there are certain broadcasters, maybe ones who are using quite intelligent ad- insertion, that maybe don't want you tuning into the FM at all, and would much rather that you were tuned in over the Internet because they get more cost per thousand in terms of the ad- insertion. So you can actually do quite clever business rules in terms of that.
What the XML also includes is things like what your radio station is called, logos, a program schedule if you want to fill that in. All of this kind of information, and again, it's really, really close to the specification for DAB, for DRM, for HD radio as well, in terms of the specification of what you're actually sticking in there. So it really isn't a whole lot of extra work in there.
That goes on your website. You're in control of that. You can change that whenever you like. What's really nice is that we know that other organizations are using that format to keep their lists up-to-date. So, some of the large aggregators are using the Radio EPG XML file to go, "Oh, where do I get a decent logo for this station? Where do I get information about what show is on now?" and all that kind of stuff.
It's relatively easy and straightforward, and there's documentation on the RadioDNS website. It could probably be even easier still if somebody wanted to write an XML generator so that you just had a really simple form to fill out. The wonders of an open project such as RadioDNS should hopefully mean that somebody will build that and make that available to us.
Kirk: I would look forward to that. I would be scared to death to edit an XML document myself, not knowing the right syntaxes to put in, but if I could fill out a form, and have it bam, do it for me, that would be very cool. I take it there are commercial services, or there certainly should be, of people who will take care of that for you if you don't want to go through that yourself.
James: Yeah, absolutely. There's a bunch of people who can do that, and it may well be that the company that runs your website is already able to export information in that form as well. And if not, you should probably tell them to because, actually, if you imagine this technology in millions of peoples' pockets, right around the world, that's a pretty important thing. People who make radio station sites are already supporting other content outputs, and RadioDNS stuff is just yet another content output exactly like that.
Chris: RadioDNS also gives you the local aspect of radio.
James: Yeah. Exactly.
Chris: That's the part... What I'm finding amazing is that RadioDNS has not picked up any traction here in the States as it should because if anything, content being king for the local listener will say, "RadioDNS actually puts you in their pocket," as you pointed out, and by marrying or merging the cell phone or the mobile phone technology with the local, traditional legacy FM broadcast, you have now a captive audience you can add more and do more with. In the end, the advertiser could actually benefit more than just a simple aggregating service or ad server on a website.
James: You are absolutely right. I think one of the really cool things is that the Next Radio app, which is a really clever example of hybrid radio that is actually getting FM chips switched on in mobile phones in the US. If your radio station isn't signed up to Tag's station, which you have to do for all of the functions in the NextRadio app, then even if your radio station isn't signed up to Tag station, the NextRadio app with still use Radio DNS under the hood to give you visuals when you end up tuning in.
Actually, it's already there in the US if you use the NextRadio app. That will automatically grab some of the information. You'll get a better experience if you sign up with a Tag station, of course, but the fact is it will still at least give you a better user experience than just a number on a screen. Because to come back to our earlier conversation, that's what this is all about. This is all about getting a better user experience for broadcast radio to make sure that you get a streaming radio app like Experience, but for broadcast radio as well.
Kirk: This is fascinating. Unfortunately, we're about out of time. Chris Tobin, do you have any wrap-up questions here before we ask James to give us the download on where he can be reached, and where he'll be speaking and where folks can go for more information? You got any follow-up questions, Chris?
Chris: No, no. I think he's covered them all. I just find it fascinating how this technology does work exactly as I would expect from years ago working with a couple of projects that involved streaming and radio stations and trying to synchronize the over-the-air with, I'll call it, the Internet experience. I'm just fascinated how everybody in the business is more concerned with other methods of trying to marry the two, the listener and the experience.
This RadioDNS, from what I've heard, and from your explanation has actually pretty much hit the nail on the head. It will be interesting to see if more people adapt to Next Radio tag station combination approach and if RadioDNS can gain traction. This would be the only way, if I will, save the industry from what it's going through. Because things are getting really bad for broadcasters in the States.
James: I don't know whether it's going to save the industry, but I think it will certainly make a better user experience for those of us who really enjoy radio. At the end of it, it doesn't matter whether you get your radio through the Internet, or through broadcast radio, as long as it's a great user experience. That's the important part to that.
RadioDNS is still very, very young. I was a founder member. I don't actually work for the organization now, but I was a founder member back in 2008, I think. So it's not been going very long, and it's got a real amount of traction right across the world, which is a really nice thing to end up seeing.
Kirk: Very good. My head's about to explode, but it's not going to yet. The key website that you mentioned, James, is RadioDNS.org, and I've already looked that up. Plenty of information at RadioDNS.org. That's the first stopping point.
James: So there's a bunch of information there, and I will point you in the direction of two more if I may. One of them is my own personal website where you can find... It's very content-light, but you can find lots of ways of getting in touch. That website address is really easy. It's James.Cridland.net, much like my name, but with dot net at the end. James.Cridland.net. The one that I use, if you're interested in radio in the UK, then I look after a website called Media UK, which is basically all the information you need to know about radio in the UK.
That's everything from who the radio stations, what their audience figures are, who's in charge of them, who the head of music for Capital FM in the East Midlands is. All of that kind of information is on there. It's entirely free, and it's MediaUK.com, and that's where you'll find me blogging as well. So MediaUK.com is a very good website, and I would heartily recommend it.
Kirk: I just realized. Oh, I'm sorry. That same site hosts the article that you pointed me to before the show called, "Hybrid Radio: What Your Radio Station Needs to Know." This is a terrific summary of what you need to know. I'm going to put this article specifically in the show notes as well. Go ahead, I'm sorry.
James: Well, fantastic. And I was just going to say, I will be at both the Rain Summit in Las Vegas and the NAB show. I think I'm speaking on the Wednesday at the Digital Radio Strategies Conference, which your friend Skip has helped organize. So I'll be in Vegas, and I'm looking for other places to go and see around that week as well. I'd be really happy to meet up with anybody who wants to talk more about what the future of radio might be.
Kirk: Super. We've been talking on This Week in Radio Tech to James Cridland from the UK. He's a radio futurologist. Not only does he understand the audience and audience behavior concepts, and how people really do listen to and consume radio, but the back- end, the technical part as to how to make that experience better.
So we appreciate you, the TWIT listeners and viewers listening in, and thanks very much to James Cridland. Again, his website is easy. James.Cridland.net. There are links there to all things about him and the knowledge that he has. Chris Tobin, thank you for making that big effort, heroic effort to get into the studio this afternoon. I appreciate you being there.
Chris: Ah, it's nothing heroic. It's just a typical day on the motorway. That's how it goes.
Kirk: That's heroic. I've been there.
James: May not be the M6 or whatnot, but it's definitely lots of cars.
Kirk: All right. Our show's been brought to you by the Telos ProStream, and that's the box. It's an encoding appliance with Omnia Audio processing built into it. It's really cool. Check it out on the web at Telos-Systems.com, and just look for ProStream. You'll find it there. I'm Kirk Harnack. I hope you'll tune in every week about this same time, or grab the podcast.
You can always get lots of information, including links to download the audio, watch the video, or subscribe to the podcast. That's the best way to do it. Whatever podcast device, whether it's your PC or an iPhone or an Android phone. I happen to use, what is it called? Pod Bucket or something like that. But I grab all these podcasts, love them.
You can do all that from the website at GFQNetwork.com or you can go the original site, ThisWeekinRadioTech.com, where I conveniently copy and paste all the stuff from the GFQ Network website onto ours to keep it all together. So, check it out there. If you want to subscribe, it's the best way to go. All right. We'll see you next week on This Week in Radio Tech. Bye.
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