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Belgium’s Qmusic Airs Live From LA

Peter Verhoeven’s weekly radio show crosses borders, sending real-time audio and HD video feeds from the US to Belgium

Peter Verhoeven in His Los Angeles Studio

Peter Verhoeven has been a radio host and DJ at Belgium commercial radio station Qmusic since 2001. In 2014, he moved from Antwerp to Los Angeles to host a weekly radio show, PeterQSA, on Qmusic’s national radio and television station as well as on its YouTube channel. Verhoeven produces the show — renamed LA Chill after the broadcaster rebranded last year — from his California apartment, providing real-time audio and full-HD video (1080) feeds back to Belgium.

Radio World: What inspired you to set up this unique, international project?
Peter Verhoeven: Actually the main reason was my love for Los Angeles. When I was here on vacation for the first time in 1998 I immediately fell in love with the city and decided I wanted to live here. But the fact that the language barrier is such a huge obstacle in hosting a radio show held me back from making the big move. That’s when I came up with the idea to launch my own program, broadcasting from LA to a European (Belgian) audience in the Dutch language.

RW: What was Qmusic’s initial response to your idea?
Verhoeven: Program Director, Tom Klerkx, was very supportive from the beginning. I believed it would give Qmusic a more global feel and that we would be considered pioneers since nobody in Belgium had ever tried this before. I financed the radio studio myself, applied for a work visa, sold all my furniture and took off.

RW: What does your program consist of content-wise?
Verhoeven: Los Angeles is such a vibrant city with all these very different communities and people. During my show, I like to put my finger on the pulse of this diversity of what’s musically happening and what’s going on celebrity-wise in Hollywood. We have had some interesting famous guests over, had DJ’s play sets and have hosted a few small private roof gigs on the roof terrace of my building. In February we held an “Oscar Party” in the apartment, which attracted over 60 Belgian celebrity guests. We had food, champagne and extra cameras and my apartment was turned into a television set!

I also like to Skype (or videochat) with people from all over the world during my show. A few weeks back we had a Belgian listener who Skyped us while he was jogging in Lisbon and showed us the city. Last week we had journalist Kristien Morato who video-Skyped with us live from a taxi cab in New York city. The cab driver had no clue what was going on, which made for great radio (and television).

A Qmusic billboard promoting Peter Verhoeven’s weekly show, LA Chill.

RW: What are the major challenges you have faced if any during this project? And how have you solved the issues?
Verhoeven: It was important for me to finance the entire project myself because I didn’t want to receive any “preferential” treatment from Qmusic as compared to my colleagues. So one of the main challenges for me was to get the whole technical framework in order in a cost-effective way. Not only do we have to manage sending quality audio to Belgium but to transmit live video in full HD. Some of my colleagues were rightfully concerned about using the internet as a delivery medium. We carried out tests, working closely with Qmusic technical supervisor, Kurt Vervondel and Jan De Wever, Qmusic’s Visual Radio manager at the time, and came to the conclusion that this was feasible. It’s worked out well thus far. In fact, during the first few months of broadcasting from LA, some of our listeners didn’t believe that I was actually on the other side of the world. They thought I was broadcasting from a basement under the original studio in Belgium.

RW: Please explain a little about the show’s technical workflow.
Verhoeven: I wear multiple hats: I’m the producer, technician, researcher, studio repair guy, musical director, radio host, camera switcher, etc. If there’s a technical problem I can’t blame anyone else and I have to fix it myself. It’s also a longer prepping process than just hosting a show. I compose a playlist, arrange guests, edit the music clips for the video feed and look for content. I host the show, but also do the job of a television director by switching cameras while on air. It’s like driving two cars with two steering wheels at the same time during rush hour. But if you do it frequently enough you get the hang of it! So basically I have my own little one-man radio station within a bigger one. And it’s live from Los Angeles, for which I pinch myself in the arm every week.

RW: What equipment do you rely on to ensure quality audio and video feeds back to Belgium?
Verhoeven: We have a backup system for the audio we send to Belgium and audio we get back from them. For example, so I can hear the cue to take over after the hourly news bulletin. For this, we use Orban Opticodec 7600 AoIP codec in full WAV quality over the internet.

The main stream of audio and video signals to the facility in Belgium is done with a WMT SL-25 audio and video encoder from Netherlands-based firm Mobile Viewpoint. The format is in HD 1080 50i and uses a H.264 high profile MVP codec for the video signal and an AAC encoder for the audio. The WMT is fed by an HD-SDI video signal with embedded audio by the Blackmagic Design ATEM 2 M/E camera switcher. The camera switcher itself is partly operated by automated macros and macros that I trigger using an x-key programmable keypad with JustMacros software. In addition, I use the Dalet radio automation system for audio playout and Serato playout software from Rane to manage video music clips along with three Shure SM 7 mics and a Studer 1500 12-channel digital mixing board. The Studer board is equipped with a Nano Score core and all the connections fit right under my table in a 19-inch rack.

Funnily enough, I call “locally” to Belgian listeners when I am on the air — we have a VPN connection with Qmusic’s head network where I have three VoIP telephone lines connected. So when I call listeners during my show, I don’t call them from Los Angeles, but locally from Belgium. It works flawlessly. To direct the call to my Studer mixing board I use a Telos HX-1 digital telephone hybrid.

RW: In general, how has the radio industry as a whole and the role of radio host changed since you began working in this sector?
Verhoeven: I started working in radio in 1987, so the biggest change for me has to do with the internet and the digital age. Not only are there more ways to tune into a station, but the content, the speed and the delivery of the medium have changed in a major way. The cross-media and social-media challenge is getting more complicated with the creation of every new app. Today it’s Snapchat and Instagram, tomorrow it will be something else. You need to be faster and more creative in making content on different platforms — it keeps you on your toes.

RW: What is your advice to radio hosts just starting out?
Verhoeven: This may sound cliché, but always stay true to yourself — don’t ever wear a mask. Try to master every aspect of radio first to get a better understanding why some things work and some don’t. Keep it simple. Work in a team, but color it with your own personality. Don’t put yourself on a pedestal, but be a friend to your listener. Just be a pal.

Verhoeven uses a webcam during his show to offer the audience “scenes” from Los Angeles.