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Remaking Radio, With a Visual Slant

Two ways that stations add words and images to their on-air presence

Radio. It’s not just about sound coming out of speakers. While the core function of radio is and always has been audio, now graphics and multimedia are a part of the mix. If your station is only transmitting audio signals, you may be missing out on new revenue streams and ways to reach your audience.

The topic was among sessions at this spring’s NAB Show. A session on “Graphics for Radio” addressed a couple of ways that stations are adding words and images to their on-air presence.


“Understanding and Deploying Radiotext Plus (RT+)” was the topic of a paper by Alan Jurison of Clear Channel Media and Entertainment, who has written extensively on this topic in Radio World.

Communications Research Center Canada released a free FM radio app for the Samsung Galaxy S Android smartphone with RT+ support. For a link to more about the CRC research, see RT+ is an additional RDS ODA data stream. It identifies the text that is being encoded in the 64-character RadioText (RT) field. Before the RT+ standard was developed, there was no way to understand the context of the 64-character RT field. With it, there is a way to classify types of information and its location within the RT datastream. RT+ is an open standard, free for all to use.

RT+ makes a huge contribution to the experience of the listener/viewer. By showing artist, song title, album and notes on separate areas of the display, it makes for a more readable presentation. It also enables the receiver to perform actions on RT, such as tagging a song for purchase, linking to a website, or calling a phone number.

Receiver manufacturers have been swift to introduce compliant equipment. Kenwood has supported RT+ on various FM receivers with RDS since 2007, including 13 models in 2011 and 18 for 2012. Apple’s fifth-, sixth- and seventh-generation iPod Nanos are compliant.

Jurison notes that in addition to artist, title and album, there are more than 60 RT+ content types, meaning that we are just beginning to realize the potential of this technology. An area under development involves enabling RT+ receivers to work more closely with the Internet.

Communications Research Center Canada (CRC) released a free FM radio app called “FM Two O” for the Samsung Galaxy S Android smartphone with RT+ support. CRC showed a proof of concept that RT+ could be used to encode a URL, and listeners could click on it using the smartphone to visit a webpage. This technology can be used to tag URLs, phone numbers, addresses, etc. An added benefit to listeners are the links to relevant content, as well as the ability to interact with the station (i.e., call-in numbers, SMS/texting, email, etc). For advertisers, value is added by providing a link to their website or phone number during their commercials.

While the potential of RT+ is promising, its future is uncertain. Clear Channel Media + Entertainment has been active in deployment of RT+, with implementation on hundreds of stations. Other broadcasters have implemented RT+. Nevertheless, many stations in the United States do not encode RT+. Jurison believes the reasons include a limited understanding of, and lack of communication about, what the RT+ standard entails.

A robust RT+ environment requires the cooperation of station owners, automation system developers, third-party software and RDS encoder manufacturers, he said. More broadcasters deploying RDS and RT+ will drive the development of more receivers with support for these standards.

Some broadcast automation vendors still do not directly support RT+ encoder features. Jurison urges broadcasters to request that manufacturers add them, noting that customer demand will drive more rapid adoption. Ultimately, interoperability between automation systems, third-party software and RDS hardware manufacturers will improve. Most importantly, he says, RT+ compatibility should be a requirement for any new hardware or software purchases.


Gordon Burnett and A.J. Janitschek of Radio Free Asia gave a presentation “Creating Web Video With Virtual (Few) Resources.”

What began as experiments with webcasts to an audience primarily in southeast Asia has evolved into a commitment for up to eight webcasts daily and a five day/week production schedule. There are also ad hoc requests for live streaming to and from studio/field locations and encoding/transcoding support for producers in the field. The project was featured in the story “TV Production on a Radio Dime” in the March 28 issue of Radio World.

Inside the Radio Free Asia Web video control room. Shown on the monitor is Yun Samean of the Khmer Service.
Burnett and Janitschek note that RFA faced a number of challenges in the early days: few staff experienced in video, no equipment or budget for video, and the need to prioritize radio and streaming. By using year-end surpluses, trading equipment and repurposing audio resources, RFA was able to acquire basic video gear such as a tripod, camera, DV gear computer and Adobe Premiere 4.

All that was left to find was the studio. A seldom-used conference room was repurposed as a green screen studio. A low-profile Brightline lighting system was installed and calibrated by the staff, which also designed the set and set up the video equipment.

At the same time there was a growing need to provide video capability in the field. RFA used LiveCast to provide live coverage of the 2011 Tibetan election debate, with two candidates in different parts of India, and one at RFA headquarters in Washington.

Just as important to the success of the video project as the facilities overhaul, is the culture of Radio Free Asia. Intense curiosity about new ideas and technology seems to be the norm, the speakers said. After being beset by numerous requests from audio support and language service staffs for training, RFA University was established, formalizing education into a series of workshops, seminars and hands-on demonstrations.

Of course, all is not perfect when you are working with limited resources. The floor of RFA’s repurposed studio is not level, leading to numerous tweaks to make everything appear level on camera. Radio still has first priority, and this often conflicts with video production. The “bigger and better” syndrome leads staff to yearn for CNN-level facilities on RFA’s shoestring budget.

Out of their first year of webcast experience at RFA, Burnett and Janitschek offer some advice on budgeting:

-Start small; think one camera, greenscreen, video editor, basic lights.
-Use the Internet as a resource to educate yourself and staff about video fundamentals for free.
-Use video editing software demos to try before you buy.
-Look for solutions and skills in-house.
-Be ready to move when surplus funds become available.
-Finally, consider barter arrangements for equipment when possible.