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Radio Wrocław Kultura Embraces Innovation

The independent, state-owned regional digital-only station upgrades studios, goes visual

WROCŁAW, Poland — Back in the 1920s, when John Logie Baird and CBS were arguing about who had invented “Tele-Vision,” this brash new technology was referred to as “radio with pictures.”

How things have changed: Radio carried on being pictureless, and Tele-Vision went onto become, well, television.

And thus it has remained, until recently, when we’ve seen the convergence of technologies — with radio stations streaming not only their audio but also images from webcams in their studios.

The line between radio and television has become blurred, with the arrival of something that’s become known as “visual radio.”

Radio Wrocław Kultura’s Reception Area.
Photo courtesy Radio Wrocław Kultura

And a recent project at Radio Wrocław Kultura in Poland, an independent state-owned regional station, has made the most of this concept.

Mirek Ostrowski is the station’s technical director: “When we decided to put a new, digital-only station on air, we wanted to embrace all technologies,” he said, “so we looked for the best solutions to all the challenges.”

The station is not available on FM, but is digital-only, having a Web presence, an impressive set of apps for mobile platforms and — importantly — is carried on the all-new DAB+ medium.

DAB is experiencing something of a renaissance with the introduction of DAB+, which uses AAC coding and is therefore better quality and more data-efficient than the original DAB, which used MP2 encoding.

Ostrowski is a self-confessed DAB+ evangelist: “Brother, DAB+ is a-comin’,” he exulted — while holding his arms aloft — at the Now Radio conference in 2012.

Delegates, including those from Polskie Radio and from the Krajowa Rada Radiofonii i Telewizji, the country’s broadcasting regulator, saw the light, and verily DAB+ was mandated for introduction in 2013.

Today, Polskie Radio and 17 regional public stations throughout the country are broadcasting DAB+ signals, and DAB+ reaches more than 55 percent of the population, according to a recent survey. For what is still regarded as a new medium, this is impressive. Listeners are experiencing additional choice, with the capability of adding all-new stations carrying varied and hitherto unheard program content.

The Studio Showing Concealed Lighting.
Photo courtesy Radio Wrocław Kultura

With two FM stations already on air from their base inWrocław, initially the fledgling digital station Radio Wrocław Kultura was hidden away in a spare studio. But in 2015, Ostrowski and his eight-man engineering team completed the construction of a remarkable new home.

Even working with what Ostrowski described as a “limited budget,” the results are stunning. Concealed, color-changing LED lighting, a sweeping, modern furniture design and arty wall designs make the station look, as well as sound, very modern.

Notice the use of the word “look.” For some time, many stations have simply nailed a webcam up in the corner of the studio and streamed the blurred, static results.

But blur was not for Radio Wrocław Kultura. The station wanted high-definition video streaming, and indeed video streaming that looked as if it was being operated by a very experienced video director.

But despite Ostrowski’s enthusiasm, he knew his masters would not employ extra staff to run a system such as this.

He sought a solution to this challenge at the annual IBC conference in Amsterdam and came upon MultiCAM Systems. Based in Montreuil, France, the company has developed a fully automated visual radio system called MultiCAM Radio.

The Radio Wrocław Kultura studio, showing a
DHD console, DAVID playout and the MultiCAM Radio screen.
Photo courtesy Radio Wrocław Kultura

The system uses high-definition cameras with pan, tilt and zoom functionality, connects to a central controller, and integrates with the studio’s mixing console and computer playout system. In the case of the station in Wrocław, this is a DHD 52 series console and DAVID software.

The visual radio solution at Radio Wrocław Kultura knows who is speaking, and switches to a camera focusing on them. And, even though there are “just” four cameras in the studio, it is possible to see more than four shots. This is because the system will move a camera to a new shot, then switch to it, all by itself.

According to Christophe Tomasini, International sales manager, at MultiCAM System’s, the solution is able to “know” who is speaking and capture the best angle.

“MultiCAM Radio is intelligent. It determines who is the main speaker, and uses the best camera to cover them. But rather than stay still, it does cutaways to other speakers, and creates new shots on the fly to make the show look natural.”

Designed to be fully automatic and simple to use, the system can also display pictures, maybe album art, and captions — for example the “now playing” information, or the name of the speaker — plus the studio presenter can, by way of a touchscreen display, see what’s being created and even change it manually by simply tapping a touchscreen controller.

Tomasini uses the term “The Dynamism of Switching,” which describes how the system’s switching creates a live, vibrant, exciting video show.

MultiCAM Radio is based on a three-rack-unit controller that houses all camera control, analysis algorithms and even recording software, plus a video streaming encoder. All the user needs to provide is the destination streaming server.

The studio’s lighting changes to red when mics are live.
Photo courtesy Radio Wrocław Kultura

Ostrowski says he is quite satisfied with the solution. “They delivered an excellent system,” he said. “They advised us on studio lighting too — as they’re video experts and we’re just sound engineers.”

MultiCAM is also, Ostrowski adds, very open to suggestions from their clients to make the system even better.

During the studio installation at Radio Wrocław Kultura, MultiCAM Systems advised from afar about camera positioning and installation of the system, then they visited the site as it neared completion to program it, so it worked smoothly right from the get-go.

With intelligent systems like MultiCAM Radio, and inspired engineers and management like those at Radio Wrocław Kultura, radio is no longer the poor, left-behind cousin of Tele-Vision.

The line between the two may have become even more blurred, but in fact it has simultaneously become high-definition.

Andy Linton, an international radio consultant, reports on the industry for Radio World from Kilkenny, Ireland.