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NPR member station WAMU (88.5 FM) connects Washington, DC-area listeners with each other and the world through programming that reflects the region. The public broadcaster has deployed ENCO’s enCaption4 captioning system to provide live, automated transcripts of its on-air audio to deaf and hard-of-hearing audience members through its website.
The Washington area is home to a substantial population of deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals, notes a press release from ENCO. It includes approximately 1500 students at Gallaudet University. The inspiration for WAMU’s captioning project came when a deaf political candidate seeking office in Washington requested to appear on the station’s popular Kojo Nnamdi Show. He wanted the result to be accessible to all of his constituents.
“At that moment, it stood out to us that we hadn’t been serving that important part of the population before and that there was demand for bringing our content to this audience,” said Rob Bertrand, senior director of technology at WAMU.
For that broadcast, WAMU used a service provider with live human transcription and live sign language interpretation. However, the broadcaster recognized that it needed a different approach to serve the deaf and hard-of-hearing community on an ongoing basis.
“The timing of the content can be unpredictable, which means we can’t schedule a transcriptionist or sign language interpreter,” explained Bertrand. “We realized there was now technology that would allow us to automate the process. Automated closed captioning has existed for television for some time. What if we could take the equipment used to generate captions for TV, and instead use it for radio to bring captions to our website?”
After some research, WAMU decided on ENCO’s enCaption4. “We did a demo of enCaption4, and our web development team came up with a way to present the captions it creates on our website,” said Bertrand.
ENCO explained that audio from WAMU’s Telos Alliance Axia AoIP backbone is converted by an Axia xNode to an AES/EBU signal that serves as the input to enCaption4. The system ingests the same on-air signal path being routed to WAMU’s transmitter and online streaming encoders, enabling live, 24/7 captioning of all of the station’s on-air content. The captions created by enCaption4 are then fed to the website, where they are displayed in a dedicated transcription page.
WAMU’s pilot drew roughly 150 people routinely watching the station’s captions for around 30 minutes per day. The function is still currently in beta.
WAMU plans to upgrade its content management system to allow integration of its internal data sources with enCaption4. This will provide a dictionary that will increase the accuracy of WAMU’s captions with the spellings of challenging local names and events. The station also ultimately intends to integrate the captions directly into its core streaming player, added ENCO.
“We believe that the content we produce has meaning and power for the public of the greater Washington area, and we are proud that we can now reach this important segment of the population that radio, as an audio medium, has been historically unable to reach,” said Bertrand. “Our mission is to inform and enrich every possible member of the community, and ENCO is helping us achieve that mission a way that was not possible before.”