Day 3 of RadioWeek explored one of the biggest technological shifts in broadcast radio
LONDON — Radio TechCon, which returned to its regular venue of the Institute of Engineering and Technology in London after two years as a virtual event, endeavors to highlight current issues, trends and influences in radio technology. So, fittingly, the first session of this year’s conference — “Ukraine: Staying on Air” — took the audience of the Turing Lecture Theatre to Kyiv to hear how broadcasters were keeping people connected and informed during the invasion of their country.
Yevheniy Chyzh, chief producer with Ukrainian public broadcaster Suspilne Radio, explained it was the largest broadcaster in the country, with 190 locations able to reach listeners even where there was no electricity. He added that AM frequencies are crucial in ensuring services during the conflict. This often involves sharing transmitter sites with commercial broadcasters, but it was absolutely necessary. “We’re scared,” he said of himself and his teams, “but we realize we can bring real information to the country.”
The following session returned closer to home, looking at “100 Years of BBC Technology in a Dozen Objects.” Dr. Rachel Boon, curator of computing and communications at the Science Museum, and, BBC R&D’s Assistant Technical Project Manager Simone Eubanks and Principal Research Engineer Bill Thompson presented 12 innovations from the broadcaster, including the AXBT microphone, stereo sound for television and BBC Microcomputer.
A monarch’s passing and mental health
The coverage of Queen Elizabeth II’s death and funeral featured in the afternoon session “London Bridge” (the code name for the operation). Ioana Barbu, production support engineer at Global Radio, explained how the group’s stations — primarily LBC — had covered the breaking news of the Queen’s passing, while Bob Nettles, technical producer with BBC Audio, described how the sound came in from multiple commentary positions along the route taken by the late monarch’s coffin. “There was a massive amount of planning,” he said, adding the intention was to tell the story of the event “through sound as much as the content.”
Acknowledging that radio is about people as much as technology, two of the event’s presentations considered listeners with autism and associated conditions and the emotional and psychological well-being of those working in the industry. In “Adding Neurodivergence to the Mix,” Dr. Lauren Ward, media accessibility research fellow at the University of York, and Samera Haynes, co-host of the “Quirky and Autistic Parenting podcast,” outlined how program makers could ensure their productions were fully inclusive. This is important because 20 percent of the global population is neurodivergent, and 30 percent of the neurotypical world would benefit from recommended accessibility features. These include avoiding high-pitched noises, people talking over each other and fast speech. “Most of it is about good production values,” Ward commented.
The “Mini Masterclass: Mental Well Being at Work” was a timely look at how media sector workers can help themselves and employers can support them. Dolly Mental Health founder Jude Spencer, who had her own difficulties with depression while working in the media sector, gave the troubling statistic that nine in 10 people involved in film and TV experience mental health problems, compared to six in 10 for the general population.
Elements of change
The changing face of radio featured in both “TalkTV: Telly on the Radio and Adaptive Podcasting.” Chris Thame, lead stations engineer at NewsUK, described putting TalkTV on air and how radio professionals had to learn television engineering techniques. Rebecca Saw recounted working with BBC R&D to produce an app that enables the creation of different versions of a podcast according to external conditions, such as time of day. This involved using sensors and object-based — or “flexible” — media, resulting in an app that, explained Ian Forrester of BBC R&D, would be open source by September 2023.
Radio is facing a wide range of challenges right now, including misinformation. “Defaking News,” presented by Kate Brightwell, head of policy and government relations for Adobe UK and Europe, outlined the endeavors to ensure material origin using open technologies developed under the Content Authenticity Initiative. In The Clone Rangers, Alex Serdiuk, co-founder and CEO of “synthetic speech” specialist Respeecher, illustrated the technology to recreate people’s voices for legitimate purposes.
Nine in 10 people involved in film and TV experience mental health problems, compared to six in 10 for the general populationJude Spencer
“Winter is Coming” looked at the prospect of rolling power cuts in Britain and how this would affect radio broadcasters. Alison Craddock, operational resilience manager at transmission provider Arqiva, described the company’s preparations for this eventuality under the Electricity Supply Emergency Code.
Power outages are extremely worrying, but in the session “World Radio Congress,” David Hemmingway, representing both the EBU and BBC Distribution, wanted the delegates scared. The reason: At WRC 2023, it is highly likely there will be agreement to free up spectrum in the 470–960 MHz UHF Band, currently used for not only digital terrestrial television — and radio stations on TV platforms such as Freeview — but also wireless microphones, which are interleaved between the TV channels. “If DTT disappears,” he said, “there will be no radio mics.” That was indeed a scary thought.
On a lighter note, before the traditional “Quiz at the End,” Dr. Zoe Laughlin of the Institute of Making at University College London, entertainingly explored the acoustic properties of substances in Adventures in Sound and Materials. This involved listening to tuning forks made from different metals and ended with Dr. Laughlin making ice cream using liquid nitrogen, which provided some light relief after a varied, stimulating and often sobering range of subjects.