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Maximize Your Audience Interactivity

Here are three products that stations can use to connect with listeners in new ways

Listeners have been interacting with their favorite radio stations since the medium’s earliest days — by telegram, letter, telephone, email, text, tweet and online live chat. In doing so, listeners feel stronger ties to stations while broadcasters build ratings, ad sales and staff morale.

Opportunities for real-time radio-audience interactivity go even beyond live streaming and social media contacts. In fact, as the following products prove, it is now possible for radio stations to take audience interactivity to the max and to make the Web work for broadcasters, rather than against them.

102.5 The Bone uses NewTek TalkShow Skype-based videoconferencing to videostream its studio activities under the name Bone TV.

Michel Carignan, Ares Interactive Media’s president and founder, demonstrates Ares’ ability to show viewers the host (in this case Carignan) as he conducts live surveys with them.FANS + LIVE CONTENT + SKYPE
Connecting radio listeners with their favorite musicians is nothing new for broadcasters. But doing this live via Skype-based videoconferencing, with both sides interacting during exclusive concerts hosted on a radio website? Now that is different.

This is the interactive approach being used by radio group Alpha Media, in support of the company’s FM stations in Portland, Ore. Alpha Media has built what it calls its “Skype Live Studio,” which connects a musician/band in its Portland facility with fans all over the world.

The Skype Live Studio is not just a bare space. It is fitted with three cameras, a front-of-house audio mixing board, a NewTek TriCaster console capable of feeding switched streams video to the Web and a NewTek TalkShow Skype-based videoconferencing unit.

“The TalkShow allows us to use Skype as a two-way backbone for our webcasts, meaning that listeners can connect and communicate via videoconferencing with our music acts,” said Stephanie Hough, the Skype Live Studio’s project manager. “This lets us do live Q&As online, really engaging our listeners with our brand and our content, and enhancing their loyalty to our stations.”

Cox Media Group’s Tampa talk station WHPT(FM), “102.5 The Bone,” has gone even further: It is using the TalkShow and a TriCaster switcher to launch Bone TV, a 24/7 Web stream. “The Bone has talk shows all day long, one of which is based out of Long Island,” said Rusch Young, Cox Media Group Tampa’s digital content manager. “I use TalkShow to Skype that show in daily so we have a feed to show on Bone TV.”

Bone TV also uses TalkShow to provide what Young calls “a poor man’s remote camera.” Whenever 102.5 The Bone has a stunt or event happening in the studio, “we’ll call a phone on Talk Show and use that as a feed,” he said. “It works great in a pinch when you have limited personnel working.”

Alpha Media uses Skype and NewTek’s TalkShow videoconferencing unit to produce live, interactive streaming events with musicians and fans under the name Skype Live Studio. Although Alpha Media and Cox are using the NewTek TalkShow in conjunction with its TriCaster switcher, “you can use the TalkShow as a standalone device,” said Philip Nelson, NewTek’s chief relationship officer. “Designed to fit into a single rack unit with a built-in small LCD screen, you just add a monitor, keyboard, mouse and network connection to make the TalkShow your Skype portal to the world.” (Adding this capability presumes that the station is doing video streaming of its audio feeds, such as showing the morning show in-studio as it happens.)

A cool feature: Because TalkShow comes with Skype TX software, the system automatically rejects incoming Skype calls once a two-way link is established, preventing the live video feed from being disrupted by incoming call messages.

“Skype TX also suppresses the onscreen ads inserted into regular Skype feeds, which means you won’t inadvertently display ads from someone who isn’t a sponsor,” Nelson said. Add Skype TX’s ability to enable viewers with top level webcams to send video to the station at rates up to 1080p, and the result is a broadcast-quality two-way videoconferencing system that gets fans up-close-and-personal with their favorite stars, for the radio station’s benefit.

At Bone TV, Cox is using a new advanced edition of TriCaster to automate the station’s video capture/playout system. “We built macros to take the net input that has Talk Show on it and set a trigger to take the feed when it detects audio,” said Rusch Young. “As soon as a call comes in, it takes the Skype call; and as soon as it disconnects it goes back. This is useful when there is no TriCaster operator but you want a show to have the ability to use a remote camera. It works great.”

Results from Ares Interactive Media surveys are compiled and displayed to viewers in real time. BEYOND LIVE CHATS
Today, many radio stations webstream live video of their studio shows to listeners, adding pictures to the audio viewers are hearing through their computers and mobile phones. While doing so, the on-screen talent interacts with the viewers via social media, email and live chat.

But what if you could do more with this onscreen connectivity? What if the viewers could take part in contests, answer quizzes, post ratings, download documents and take part on multi-window video chats with the station’s online host?

This is the concept behind Ares Interactive Media. AIM is a cloud-based video production platform that lets the on-camera talent interact in many ways with their viewers, either directly or by having a second staff member handle the switching. Because it is cloud-based, AIM is easy to install and operate.

“We offer a radio station the ability to do anything with their audience in real time,” said Michel Carignan, Ares Interactive Media’s president and founder. “This includes live video, contests, surveys, video on demand, shopping cart, document sharing and webcam communication with up to three listeners/viewers and the host.” In turn, this level of interactivity opens new possibilities for advertisers: both as sponsors on onscreen events and to make direct contact with viewers online.

The Anchor recording app makes it easy for stations to conduct man-in-the street interviews over listeners’ iPhones without leaving the studio.STREETERS
A “streeter” is slang for a “man in the street” interview package, those often colorful montages of listener comments. They can be time-consuming to capture.

Anchor is a free iPhone app that takes the pain out of recording streeters. Instead of sending a reported outside to canvass passersby, Anchor lets broadcasters (or indeed any Anchor user) record initial thought-provoking messages up to two minutes in length. These are made available to Anchor app users: Each gets up to one minute per response to offer their thoughts through their iPhone. The collected audio clips can be accessed, edited and used by broadcasters on air. Anchor users can also access these answer feeds directly on their iPhones through the Anchor app.

A range of Anchor user-recorded “conversations” can be found on the company’s Facebook page at This is a powerful, convenient and free way for radio stations to boost their interactions with listeners, and create usable on-air content at the same time.