LONDON — As usual, the line-up at this year’s Radio TechCon — the United Kingdom’s radio and audio industry’s technical and engineering conference — which took place Nov. 27, was both varied and interesting. IET Savoy Place, near the River Thames in Central London, has become the established venue for this event over recent years and, once again, there was a diverse audience in attendance, from broadcasters, engineers and regulators to students and academics and not forgetting various broadcast industry companies supporting the day.
Regular host of the event, David Lloyd, led the proceedings as usual, and early sessions set the tone examining 5G in a broadcast context and the challenges of maintaining broadcasting facilities in a hostile environment, Afghanistan, a case in point. The final early session considered the challenges of tracking the radio industry’s carbon footprint.
Following the first of the coffee breaks, during which attendees could visit the various stands in the Exhibition Zone, the next session took a detailed look at the challenges of hybrid radio, television and online broadcasting. Specifically, this session explored how BBC Radio Five Live coped with delivering output for radio television and the BBC’s iPlayer online platform and how to develop and operate a workflow that could operate seamlessly between different teams working simultaneously in London and Salford (Manchester).
The mini masterclass
An established element of Radio TechCon is the ‘Mini-Masterclass’ session during which the presenter — in this case, Ross Livings from Reimaginet — revises a common engineering topic for a general technical audience. This year, the mini masterclass considered broadcast facilities network design from basic principles to advanced techniques, highlighting real-world concerns, such as how to minimize the unwanted impacts of hackers.
Following a quick refresher on network basics, Livings summarized approaches to ensuring resilience, focusing on minimizing the prevalence of single points of failure. On the security side of things, the session considered how to defend against lurking security risks and minimize lateral movement in a network. Livings covered techniques such as micro-segmentation and virtualization, suggesting that the challenge, as ever, is striking a practical balance between security practice and operational flexibility.
The final session before lunch, from the Centre for Aging Better, looked at how the broadcast industry could retain more experienced workers and what younger individuals might consider to ensure a long and happy working life.
Maximizing capacity, minimizing interference
The afternoon session began with a presentation from U.K. regulator Ofcom’s Spectrum Team, explaining how to manage large-scale events such as Eurovision to maximize capacity and minimize interference. The session explained the regulator’s use of planning tools, frequency booking systems and liaising with important third parties such as air traffic control, which, for obvious reasons, must always be protected from rogue frequency use!
The second afternoon session was from transmission and technical facilities provider Arqiva. Noting how media is considered a strategic target, it observed that information security (InfoSec) is too often an afterthought simply because media technologies can overly focus on core functionality and ease of use.
Moving on to explore the increasing threats to broadcast infrastructure from ‘bad actors’ — state and otherwise — this session also considered the ongoing concern of how AI can be used to spread false information. However, perhaps more interestingly, the session considered how AI might also be a useful tool in combatting such fraudulent content through techniques such as threat detection and response, attack simulation and training, generative AI content detection and identifying deep fake materials.
Finally, drawing on examples, such as using “attested” microphones and digitally signed media, this wide-ranging session posed the question of whether creating a broadcast chain of trust, including infrastructure and content, is possible.
The AI in the room
Staying with AI, the next session addressed a very specific requirement – automating podcast segmentation. Jemily Rime from York University introduced the CLIPR (Podcast Chapterization through Intelligent Pattern Recognition) tool. This algorithmic tool can automatically segment audio content based on sound event detection with obvious potential benefits for future podcast content production and delivery.
Finally, before the afternoon tea break, another thought-provoking session considered audio perception in relation to hearing loss. Hearing expert Lena Batra, who focuses on hearing, perception and music, highlighted the risks broadcasters can run by making assumptions about who is listening and how. Approximately 12 million people in the U.K. have some form of hearing loss — a considerable number that should be catered for in some way.
Drawing toward the close of the event, the final two presentations were concerned with commercial radio and technology. First off, Radio Caroline’s Chief Engineer, Alan Beech, took the audience through the history of one of the world’s best-known radio stations, but with a specific focus on technology. He noted how the station had embraced both satellite and DAB technologies back in the 1990s and had been an early adopter of online streaming. Bringing things right up to date, he explained how the station is now using solar power to keep its energy usage costs to a minimum and its plans to increase its use of sustainable power in the future.
The final presenter of the day was broadcaster and self-confessed tech-geek Stephanie Hirst, who took the audience on a whistle-stop tour of technological innovations in U.K. commercial radio. From swapping the way faders moved (the BBC’s originally opened in the “down” position), through the use of converted Pye radio telephones for early LBC outside broadcasts, to broadcast profanity delays, downloading early computer programs over the air and split programming using analog cart players… the list of innovations was almost endless. Hirst also painted a picture of how regulation has changed and brought things up to date with matters such as broadcast brand extensions, podcasting and “studioless” broadcasters such as Boom Radio. Perhaps the most unforgettable element of this final presentation was the clip from Kerrang Radio’s “Rock Dog” Radio program, presented by a canine rather than a human, proving once and for all that you don’t need AI to deliver non-human presented radio!
Dr Lawrie Hallett teaches radio and audio at the University of Bedfordshire, and is based in Norwich, U.K.