Imagine a computer-generated voice created for radio that’s barely discernible from human, that can do its own show prep, that is aware of hot topics being discussed on social media in your market, and that can work seven days a week without taking breaks. Too good to be true? Maybe not.
Futuri Media says the future of radio is here with the introduction of its AI bot RadioGPT. For many in radio it’s surprising just how fast the future has arrived.
Interest in AI-based tools for broadcast radio is high, and with generative AI and synthetic voice technologies maturing quickly, the impact is likely to be disruptive, including the loss of on-air jobs.
Writing tools like ChatGPT already are being used for emails, commercial copywriting, social media posts and blog writing, according to industry sources. ChatGPT is an AI-powered chat-bot introduced last fall by OpenAI; the acronym refers to generative pre-trained transformer technology. But Futuri is taking GPT further for broadcast with RadioGPT, which uses GPT-3 and GPT-4 to create what it calls the first fully AI-powered radio hosts.
The natural language processing software is quite a technical feat, according to the company. An AI jock can chat about weather and sports, tease the station’s playlist of songs and perform numerous other tasks currently done by air talent.
Futuri says the synthetic voice software behind RadioGPT has been in development for three years. The platform can also write blogs and social media posts.
AI watchers say it is increasingly difficult to differentiate between what’s organic or AI-created. Broad industry discussion has focused on the many ways RadioGPT could be used by radio groups to become more efficient.
Beta test partners for RadioGPT include Alpha Media in the United States and Rogers Sports & Media in Canada, according to Futuri. The product — it is, in the end, a product — was expected to be a buzz topic at the NAB Show this month.
Its launch comes at a time when radio broadcasters are looking for more efficiency and cost saving. Considering how challenging the economic climate is, generative AI is likely to be tempting to large radio broadcast groups such as iHeartMedia and Audacy that are heavily in debt and have gone through periods of downsizing.
Daniel Anstandig, 39, is the founder and CEO of Futuri Media. According to Crain’s Cleveland Business, “Anstandig started a radio broadcast program in his parents’ basement at age 9 and sold a company to Microsoft at 17.” It said he launched Futuri in 2009 with the help of Zapis Capital Group.
Futuri Media originally was known as Listener Driven Radio and offered a variety of media services under the LDR banner. The company is privately held and based in Cleveland; it also offers sales intelligence technology to broadcasters and digital publishers. It employs around 100 people, many of whom have backgrounds in computer and data science while others have experience in broadcast media.
Anstandig declined to discuss specific potential clients for this story. But he expects RadioGPT “to be on the air at hundreds of radio stations by the end of this year.” The tool, he said, is meant to enhance the sound of a station, not necessarily replace current DJs.
“The capabilities of AI are being used to change jobs in every industry. But I do not believe people are going to be replaced by AI, but I do believe those people will be replaced by others who use AI. It could be what happens in broadcast. AI is going to create new opportunities and new jobs that right now are not even being considered,” he said.
Reactions from air talent, Anstandig says, understandably has been mixed.
“Some are excited and intrigued by the technology, and others are fearful and see it as a threat. I get it. But I ask them not to jump to the worse possible conclusion. I see a future that depends on artificial intelligence to create content for radio broadcasters. People now expect content on demand. That’s the role of RadioGPT.”
The platform uses AI-generated voices combined with real-time intelligence with what is happening in a local market to create a localized personality. A predictive AI platform called TopicPulse monitors Facebook and Instagram and collects data from over 250,000 news sources, looking for local trends; then an AI voice creates local content.
Radio clients can choose from more than 100 synthetic or cloned voices; they can also assign a voice a personality. They can use RadioGPT to create shows with one, two or three hosts, and program for individual dayparts. The tool can generate social posts and blogs related to the content on the air; it can create short videos on hot topics for social use. Its broadcast audio can then be published to podcasting platforms automatically if desired.
Said Anstandig: “This is way more than just text-to-speech.”
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“Live and local”
The RadioGPT process begins with Futuri’s broadcast interface, Anstandig says, which is tied to a station’s automation system.
“We see their program logs and the talk break commands. We use GPT4 to create a conversational element that could be about what is currently trending, or local news or weather. Or a station promo or teasing another song, even plugging in a sponsor mention.”
RadioGPT creates “dynamic and engaging voices,” which are combined with Futuri’s backend imaging and loaded to the station’s automation.
“Using AI can really create a live and local broadcast. It can make those voicetracked shifts that much more engaging,” Anstandig said, “and free up jocks to be out in the community meeting listeners.”
Anstandig stressed the ability to create new voices or clone existing ones. “Imagine a radio station being able to extend the uniqueness of their existing personalities and have them do other dayparts and audio production while being freed up to handle other tasks.”
The company estimates that 70% of air shifts in U.S. radio are voice-tracked or at least passively produced. Futuri sees that as an opportunity.
“Our research shows that seven out of 10 air shifts around the world are already unmanned with generic production or voice tracking,” Anstandig says. “What we’re looking to do is augment a station’s ability to fill its programming with more live and local content.”
Auto industry analyst Roger Lanctot of TechInsights attended a presentation by Daniel Anstandig at Radiodays Europe in March. Lanctot marveled that RadioGPT can see what’s in a station’s music log and talk about those songs and artists; tease and promote content going into breaks; discuss the weather and traffic; take audio from listeners and incorporate their comments into the show; give away prizes; and riff on what’s happening in a given market in real time.
“It isn’t just that RadioGPT can do these things,” Lanctot wrote in a blog post. “It’s that RadioGPT can do these things well with appropriate emotional inflection and location appropriate accents. The 2013 movie ‘Her’ comes to mind.”
He described the effect as eerie.
Keeping up with streamers
On the surface, the fact that RadioGPT describes this kind of radio as “live and local” seems counterintuitive or misleading. Yet Anstandig argues that Futuri’s natural language processing software can deliver exactly that.
“It is live and local because the voicetrack is generated by AI in real time based on what is happening in a specific market. Let’s be real. Many of those voicetracked shifts today on radio are far from live and local. Sometimes they are tracked from thousands of miles away and days ahead of time, literally.
“RadioGPT can create a jock, one with real emotion and personality, targeting a specific demographic that can do an even better job being live and local utilizing the technology,” Anstandig said. “There will not be a need for just a jukebox radio station with sweepers ever again.”
The upshot of RadioGPT, Anstandig says, is that it can create a truly synthetic voice or clone an air talent’s voice so that it is remarkably close to the real thing. “Imagine freeing up a local talent to use the voice to create spec spots. The potential is really remarkable.”
Ironically, streaming companies like Spotify now want to sound more like radio, Anstandig says, and make themselves more of a companion technology. The streaming service, which has long aimed for more in-car listening, released a new AI DJ that guides and personalizes a user’s experience.
Anstandig says Apple and Amazon are developing their own version of AI jocks. “There are becoming AI-powered streaming services,” he said. “That creates an urgent need in the radio industry to keep up.”
Other technology companies, like Veritone and Super Hi-Fi, have developed synthetic voice and AI tools that mimic or create a radio listening experience. iHeartMedia is using Veritone products to translate podcasts into foreign languages, Radio World has reported. Adthos uses generative AI to create 100% automated audio ads.
“AI is being used in nearly every industry,” Anstandig says. “AI was surely going to come to the broadcast industry. The convergence between tech and media is happening. AI can make completion of human tasks far more efficient, and it delivers insights that no human can replicate. It allows broadcasters to leverage their best talent and use AI as content creation and grow audiences. It is an AI powered tool that can help grow revenue.”
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“I love radio”
Anstandig, who describes himself as a tech futurist and has done radio on-air work himself, says he is passionate about radio and tech, and that Futuri created RadioGPT to save radio, not compete with it.
“I love radio and we are helping shape the future of broadcast media, which means finding ways for audience and revenue growth for broadcast. Part of it is to implement AI personalities to make radio sound better. To have AI that can share news updates and current events relevant to an audience’s interests and demographics is something special,” he said.
“I do believe listeners favor live personalities. But at the end of the day, it’s all about the value of the content. If the content is engaging and interesting and providing value, then the audience will continue to listen. So long as the synthetic voice is not so robotic that it becomes grating.”
What about fears that AI can create misinformation from incorrect data, outputting bad results in what some call “AI hallucination”?
“We have a high level of assurance that RadioGPT has implemented more preventive filters and training compared to most broadcasters in their operational processes. RadioGPT obtains content from reliable and verified sources [via TopicPulse], which has a team of human moderators; and our AI is programmed to cross-check and reduce the occurrence of speculative or inaccurate content, sometimes referred to as hallucination.
“Additionally, RadioGPT automatically confirms that any generated content does not contain any offensive material.”
Anstandig expects the broadcast industry will continue to debate the ethical implications of using AI bots as DJs, and whether and how to disclose it to a listening audience.
“I believe that transparency builds trust and eliminates confusion. For certain uses of AI, say in the medical or financial industries, it’s particularly important to disclose the use of AI and the possible consequences. Yet in broadcast I don’t think it is going to be as important for every single radio station to take the air time to qualify the use of AI for every voice on the air.
“I just don’t think radio stations have the ethical need to explain their production processes or the way that every minute of their content is created.”
Futuri listed Alpha Media, which owns about 200 stations, as a beta partner in its March announcement. Executive VP of Content Phil Becker was quoted: “At Alpha Media, we always seek innovative ways to engage our audiences. That’s why we’re a part of Futuri’s RadioGPT beta group. With RadioGPT’s cutting-edge language and content technologies, we can deliver a real-time, hyper-localized, innovative audio experience. In fact, I have such faith in AI that I had it write this quote for me.”
But it’s not clear when the company might put RadioGPT on its airwaves. Becker responded to a Radio World query by email: “At this time, we are conceptualizing some use cases for RadioGPT. We haven’t activated, used or shared with anyone our recommendations or findings.”
Radio World also sought comment from Rogers Sports & Media, which did not respond.