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Radio Talent Say “Up, Periscope”

Video streaming platform adds both reach and new tasks for radio talent

Remember the days when the only thing a DJ did in the studio was be on the air? Broadcasters of the 1960s or 1970s might be amazed to watch their successors at work half a century later, juggling not only their on-air performance but also responding to text messages, updating their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds — and now, increasingly, streaming live video to their followers over Periscope or its rival, Meerkat.

Kincaid used Periscope to maximize the impact of his farewell show. Since the services launched in February and March, they’ve picked up a following among forward-thinking radio people.

“I laughed at it when I first saw it,” said JJ Kincaid of his first exposure to the services. “I thought, this is what we were doing back in 1999 with our webcams. That was a huge thing when it started. Every studio had a webcam; there was huge interest.”

Back then, the Internet was desktop-only and bandwidth was limited, and webcams lost their luster pretty quickly. By making both the camera and the viewer mobile, though, Periscope has opened up new possibilities, some of them exceedingly mundane.

“The first week Periscope started, I had 500 people watch me walk home through Tribeca,” said Kincaid, who recently moved from afternoons at WHTZ(FM) Z100 in New York to mornings at iHeartMedia sister station KPTT(FM) in Denver. Since then, he’s had hundreds of viewers tuned in for Periscope coverage of artist visits to Z100, as well as peeks at his regular on-air shifts.

Gary Hoffmann, who hosts the early-morning “Wake Up Call” and anchors morning news at KFI(AM) in Los Angeles, says Periscope taps into a long-running bond between listeners and stations.

“I remember back when I was in high school, how interesting it was to see how radio was made. I would sit in on the morning show in my little town” — KTOB(AM) in Petaluma, Calif. — “just to see what they did,” he said. “I thought [Periscope] would be interesting to bring people in to what goes on behind the scenes in the studio.

“It adds another dimension into the conversation that goes on between the host and the listener. [Listeners] are always amazed at the abilities of the people on the air to multitask, to come up with information quickly, to make all those sounds come alive. They want to see how it’s done. It can be a very voyeuristic tool for the listener.”

Hoffmann started streaming with Meerkat, which was the earlier of the services to launch. When Periscope launched with Twitter’s backing a month later, he switched. “It’s Beta or VHS, and I had to pick one,” he says.

When Hoffmann goes on the air at 5 a.m. Pacific time, his iPhone 5c is perched on one of several copy stands in the KFI studio. Among the viewers tuned in, he says, are not only southern Californians but also fans from as far away as Dubai and Liverpool. When they’re watching Hoffmann reading the news, they’re seeing a focused radio performer — “When I’m doing whatever segment I’m doing and the big microphone is in my face, that’s what I’m paying attention to,” he says — but during commercial breaks, Periscope viewers get to see in-studio banter and influence the flow of the show.

Periscope viewers can tap their phone screen to send a stream of hearts onto a Periscope feed to indicate they like what they’re seeing, or they can type in brief comments that scroll up the left side of the screen. “They provide that sort of immediate feedback we didn’t have with phone calls,” Hoffmann says. “On KFI, we’ve got a 60-second delay, so if I pitch for calls there could be a 90-second gap before I get any kind of reaction what I just said, but on Periscope it can be immediate.”

For Kincaid, Periscope opened the doors of his July 31 farewell show on Z100. In addition to the station staffers who packed the New York studio to say goodbye, Kincaid handed off his phone to a promotions intern who weaved through the crowd streaming video to his followers. It’s a task Kincaid says would have been difficult without some help.

“You need to be an octopus,” he jokes.

Even on a normal morning, Hoffman lets listeners have a unique perspective on the making of radio.LISTENER INVOLVEMENT
If broadcasters need extra hands now to handle all their social media duties, they can also benefit from the extra eyes of their audience that Periscope can provide.

At KFI, Hoffmann says he’s now asking listeners to send video of news events that can go on the station’s website. “If they happen to be in the middle of it right then, they can Periscope it and we can keep an eye on it that way.”

Commercial broadcasters aren’t the only ones getting into the act. At public broadcaster WXXI(AM) in Rochester, N.Y., where I’m a part-time newscaster, my colleague Veronica Volk has been experimenting with Periscope for several months.

“Because I mostly do pre-produced news, Periscope gives me the chance to give my audience more live coverage,” she says. A recent visit by vice president Joe Biden was a perfect test. “Of course you could get live TV coverage, but a lot of people aren’t sitting in front of their TVs anymore,” Volk says. One lesson she learned from holding her phone up through the entire event, resulting in a sore arm afterward: “It’s next to impossible to Periscope and do anything else with your phone unless you have a stand.”

Another lesson several early adopters learned was to “sanitize” their studios. While the video feed on Periscope is still relatively low-definition, it’s easy to include staff phone lists and other sensitive information accidentally in the frame if they’re not tucked away out of view.

Volk, Kincaid and Hoffmann all say they started using Periscope of their own volition, not because they were told to do so by management. As it catches on, though, sales managers are thinking about the possibilities. Kincaid expects to see more in-studio signage in the future to promote sponsors. Hoffmann says that could lead to overkill — “it’s going to look like the outfield of a baseball stadium!” — but he’s been trying out other ways to partner with sponsors. Over the summer, he and his family took a trip in an RV provided by a KFI sponsor, Dennis Dillon RV, and Hoffmann took several opportunities to Periscope from the trip, showing viewers the RV and talking up the dealership.

Hoffmann says there can be backlash from Periscope viewers if they sense they’re being openly marketed to. It’s a line he and others are still trying to feel out.

“I think it makes sense for sales to look at a host’s social media presence as a benefit to clients,” he says. “I’m just not sure anyone has a grasp on it yet.” 

How is your station using new tools and platforms? Email [email protected]

Scott Fybush, a frequent Radio World contributor, just might be Periscoping visits to radio towers sometime soon. Find him on Twitter @NERadioWatch.