Engineering Experience – Radio Production as a Design Issue

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Jul 212012

One of the great things about running media courses in a Faculty of Technology, is that you get to look at the delivery of learning opportunities from an engineering perspective. I’m not an engineer myself, my background is humanities and media studies. But I enjoy working with engineers, technologist and designers because they have a very specific way of looking at the world. Rather than seeing the world as an opposing set of political forces, or as a set of signs leading to deeper rooted meanings waiting to be unravelled, engineers tend to see the world for what it is – a space to be occupied, with problems to be solved. There is nothing that an engineer would like to do, in my experience, than to make the occupation of the social and physical space we occupy more tolerable, sustainable and efficient.

Engineering doesn’t just stop at maintaining a degree of comfort. Engineers seem to have a drive to want to occupy more space in more interesting ways. Engineers are transfixed on getting from a-to-b and places that are further away in some degree of comfort. They want to build things that are bigger, stronger and faster than before, and do this in a way that is less resource intensive, more efficient and using a minimum of forces to achieve what they desire. In the twelve years I’ve worked in a Faculty of Technology at De Montfort University I’ve come to know that engineers are chiefly pragmatic and practical people.

Engineers don’t see their mission in grand, metaphysical or historical terms. Instead they look at the myriad of problems that shift and change as we interact with the physical world and attempt to come-up with solutions that can help us master them. The world is full of big and small problems that need constant attention and which require innovative design and technology solutions. The challenge of engineering, so I’ve seen, isn’t to explain things about our lives, but to do things with our lives. Engineering is about using and deploying resources effectively for clearly recognised gains at the end of a pragmatically managed process. A good engineer looks for simple and elegant solutions that keep the chosen process as well integrated as possible. A pragmatic engineer, however, will be prepared to change and adapt these solutions as circumstances require.

Complexity isn’t a problem per-se, but an experienced engineer will work on the assumption that there is always a trade-off between efficiency, technical capability and the minimum requirement that it takes to get a cost-effective solution into general usage. This approach was brilliantly exemplified in the latest edition of Material World on BBC Radio Four. Reporting from the Farnborough Air Show, the focus was on how airports are looked at as a design and engineering problem. The complexity of moving physical objects, information, power and people through a building in a rapid yet seamless flow was brought to life in vivid terms.

Ove Arup, the British engineering firm that builds airports around the world, talked through their approach to modern airport design. From heating and lighting, to check-in and immigration; from shopping and retail, to noise management and acoustics. What was interesting was the focus that was given to the experience of the passenger. This is ‘experience engineering’ on a grand scale. Not content with merely bolting-on the solutions to an otherwise already established systems approach, the engineers at Ove Arup want to start from the ground-up, making all the technological interventions that they manage fundamentally integrated into the infrastructure of the airport experience itself.

This means that Ove Arup engineers have to analyse data about the movement of people, airplanes, luggage, provisions, power, fuel and many more products and services that are the blood in a massive circulation and respiratory system. At the same time the engineers have to model and plan for different eventualities. How will the designs that they advocate cope in different circumstances? What happens if there is a terrorist incident? What happens in poor weather? How do you make ordinary passengers feel as comfortable as visiting dignitaries? How can the retail operations capture passengers for longer so that they spend more money?

From a purely systems point of view many of these problems can be solved quite easily, but the challenge is to make the airport feel human, intimate and exciting. This architectural approach to design has to give a sense of progress and advancement. The acoustic design has to maintain the balance between isolation and comfort in the passenger areas, and a sense of being within the centre of a major international transport hub. Likewise, security has to be efficient yet unobtrusive. All of which mean that the engineers, designers and architects are facing significant design challenges in their own right, at each stage of the process, and in the context of the expectations of the clients.

The Material World gave a well balanced sense of wonder at the smart solutions that contemporary engineers are dealing with and the need to be sceptical that these solutions are there to serve not only the business operation but not the people who use these airports. The fact that people can so confidently ‘engineer experience’ in this way is a testament to the future, and is something that I will consider worth developing in whatever field I find myself working. Courses in Creative Media Technology can definitely benefit from the approach I’m sure.

Personal Reflection on the DMU@Radio Graduation 2012

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Jul 202012

DMU Technology Graduates 2012

Yesterday was the first De Montfort University Graduation Ceremony that I’ve been to at the Curve Theatre in Leicester. It was a great opportunity to celebrate the achievements and commitment of the graduates from the Faculty of Technology. The venue was packed and the theatrical nature of the event was great. There was a real sense of occasion and a willingness to encourage the graduates and their families to show their support for one another. This wasn’t stuffy in any way. It was easy to follow, and each student got their opportunity to shake the hand of the Pro-Vice Chancellor, Professor Andy Downton. It was clearly well designed to lay down a marker showing the progression of a whole group of talented and enthusiastic people who are no longer students, but graduates.


Simon Walsh Gowned-UP

It’s always a good opportunity to spend time with colleagues, who like me seem to enjoy the dressing-up.

Afterwards, Simon Walsh had organised a chance for a drink with some of our graduates and their families in the Font Bar, which is just on the DMU campus. In years gone past the campus was always empty during graduation week, but now that the DMU car parks are being used by the graduates and their families, it is great to see so many people about in their robes and their suits. The campus really feels alive for graduation.

So having a drink gave Simon and I an opportunity to catch-up, connect with people we’d heard about but never met. It was great to see so many people relaxing and chatting, and it gave me a good chance to talk to the parents, siblings, grandparents and friends of the students I’ve been working with for the last three or four years. It’s only when we sat and chatted like this that I felt the force of the pride and backing that our students have received from their families. Everyone who I spoke with was really proud of the personal achievements of everyone, the chances that they had, and the memories they are moving onward with.


Ryan Reflecting on Three Years

Indeed, it made me realise how much I and my colleagues have to raise our game in the future and deliver an even better service. One that goes beyond the traditional approach to learning, skills and personal development and sees each individual as someone with potential and a fair chance to do well in life based on merit. What I realised when I was sat chatting is that it is all about promoting a sense of community, identity and belonging. Our students and their families really care and have a strong sense of esteem tied with what they do.

It’s great to be able to share that pride and to show in return how proud I’ve been of the work that our students have done. It’s not an even road, and we do have zig-zags along the way, but I can really say that the graduates from BSc Radio Production & Technology are clearly stepping up to the mark. The focus for the future that this group of gradates is now concentrating on is about finding meaningful work in the media industry. The growing sense of confidence and entitlement that this is even possible, and not just a vague dream, is humbling. It’s been my dream for some years now that our graduates are able to easily make these first steps in to a life that they will find rewarding, and it’s great to see it coming on in such a unified way.


Elle’s Award for Best Media Technology Project

The group mindset of these graduates is that they believe they are capable and entitled to work as professionals in the media industries. The level of professionalism and engagement, based on a mindset that is about innovation and discovery is really exciting – and these guys have it. This batch of graduates clearly get the idea that they have defined and sought after skills that will enable them to produce compelling and interesting radio and audio content. At the same time they are able to do this with a strong grasp of the process and practical realities of the media professions. They know that they have to be entrepreneurial, and they know that the have to embrace new technology, new ways of working and new ways of thinking in order to be successful.

I’m certain that the foundation of skills and knowledge that they have acquired during their time at DMU will help to take them on a journey that will be very different from many gradates of other media courses. When I was asked what the job prospects are like for these graduates, I can honestly reply that I think they are very strong – even in the midst of a recession. This is a generation who are going to figure things out their own way, and who only need the space, encouragement and support to do so. Of course, there is no automatic stepping-stone into the media industries, but if you want a clear example of graduates who are capable of getting meaningful and rewarding jobs, then this is a year to look at.


Sam Harris Celebrating

Both Simon, myself and my colleagues in the Faculty of Technology don’t want the journey through DMU for these graduates to end at this point. W are very keen to keep in contact. We could never do this easily before, in the direct way, but now it’s possible and easy with Facebook and other forms of social media. We definitely need to be getting on with making plans for some alumni events. Then I’m very keen to organise more family and supporters events as well. Graduation has proven to be a great opportunity to talk with so many people and hear them express their pride in what they have achieved and their believe and confidence as they face the new discoveries of the future.

Creative Media Entrepreneurship

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Jul 062012

Seed Creativity

I’ve had a really nice finish to the week this evening. Some long cherished plans to collaborate with Seed Creativity to co-deliver a new module for the final year radio production and media technology students has been given the go-ahead. The module is about working as an independent creative producer in a professional business world, taught by people who have first-hand experience. The aim of the module is to allow students to experience and manage themselves as independent producer, working with media agencies and collaborative partners to get a real sense of what it is like to run a business and to make money from being a creative media entrepreneur.

Jonny and Dan at Seed Creativity are passionate about the potential that graduates have in building a business network and setting themselves up as producers who make a living from from what they enjoy. We’ve spent many hours in the past talking about the type of courses that would help to make this happen. What skills do we need to help learners develop so that they are more confident and truly believe that they can play a part in the developing creative economy.

There are two aspects and aims to the collaboration. The first is to offer learners an opportunity to experience the demands of running a business. What’s involved when you invoice a client? What happens when the tax man contacts you? How can you work with banks? Are there any pots of money that you can apply for that can help you get started? The second aspect is about networking and presenting yourself as a credible professional producer who wins repeat work from well established agencies and businesses. It’s about looking at your skills and asking how you can match them to the needs of real businesses who want creative, innovative and distinctive approaches in their communications and products.

Seed Creativity has an existing link with De Montfort University as collaborative partners who work with the Faculty of Art, Design and Humanities to run the Creatives Working Commercially programme. The aim of Creatives Working Commercially fits very well with what we want to achieve within the degree programmes offered in Creative Media Technology, which is to show learners that they can work commercially outside of the lab and the lecture theatre, and that they can gain work experience, engage in start-up business mentoring, networking and making industry contacts. This is all about how learners can develop the skills and the mindset to sell themselves. By asking what it takes to be a freelancer, and what the industry expects from freelancers, then learners in Creative Media Technology courses will be able to get a head start.

Having this collaboration feels like a real step-forward. There’s so much scope for the development of the creative business community in Leicester. Hopefully, this partnership will help to make it feel more real and give it more long-term support. I’m really proud that De Montfort University is able to invest in these kind of things and to back the talent that we have in Leicester.

Carina Tillson – Regulation of Radio #RadioLab Lecture

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Apr 272012

The final DMU #RadioLab Lecture for this session was given by Carina Tillson of Global Radio, who guided DMU radio students and volunteers for DemonFM through the minefield that is compliance and broadcast regulation in the UK. Effortlessly engaging and brimming with examples of why community radio stations need to take compliance seriously, Carina mapped-out the scope of regulation for radio broadcasters, from the application process to the complaints process, and often what happens when things slip between.

Carina is Head of Compliance at Global Radio, and as such is responsible for over 2500 hours of broadcast content each week – a mighty task by any standards. This content is split across national network stations, such as Capital, Heart, Classic FM and LBC. Carina’s philosophy is that everyone at a station is responsible for ensuring that the stations stays on the right side of the law and the broadcast code. It doesn’t matter which department you work in, radio is a team effort, and so everyone should be listening-out for issues that might damage the trust that a station has built with it’s audience.

In an increasingly competitive jobs market, Carina’s advice to the students and volunteers at DMU focussed on a couple of key points: be better at your job than everyone else; make the most of your opportunities; and look for ways that you can get an edge on the other candidates. According to Carina students and volunteers at DemonFM will never get a better chance to gain as much experience as they can while running a community radio station. The privilege of making shows that say something about you as a person is enormous, but there is a heavy burden of responsibility to make sure that you get it right and do it properly. Breaking the trust of the listener can have lots of consequences, so use it wisely, was Carina’s message.


Broadcasting Codes of Practice

Carina was impressed that so many of our volunteers on DemonFM know their way around the broadcasting code, and where able at one point to recite it back! Ultimately, Carina argued, it is down to the individual presenter to take responsibility for their output, but the general rule can be summed up in four words – don’t be a dick!. If you want to avoid the Ofcom Sanctions Panel, then a station can take prudent steps to ensure that their content is free from the potential to cause offence and harm, and if it is not able to guarantee that content won’t cause offence that it at least is broadcast at a time when children won’t be listening.

It was refreshing to hear the rules for broadcasting explained with such passion and knowledge. Keeping trust with your listeners is not something to be taken lightly, but has to be nurtured and protected at all times. Carina gave us a clear account of our responsibilities then urged us to make the most of our creative freedom.


Sound Women

Carina gave a massive plug for Sound Women, the newly established group that promotes the interest of women in the radio and audio industries. More information can be found at

#RadioLab Lecture – Tom Bateman

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Mar 022012

Tom Bateman – Editor BBC Today

The latest in the #RadioLab lecture series saw BBC Radio 1’s Tom Bateman give a talk to De Montfort University media students about his experiences as a Senior News Producer for Newsbeat and BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme.

Tom gave us the low-down on how to get a job in radio. He shared some of the experiences of the Radio 1 Newsbeat Team as they introduce more mobile media technology into the production of news shows, and he made a passionate argument that news is about judgement and trust, the essential building blocks for the defining relationship with BBC Radio’s audience. If you want to be employable, according to Tom, you have to tell interesting stories.

For Tom, what makes a news story interesting is the ‘compelling characters’ and the ‘real people’ that any news producer encounters. Tom’s warned against producing content that is pre-scripted and cheesy, while keeping the feel of a report spontaneous and emotionally authentic.

Any station is a coalition of listeners, according to Tom. At BBC Radio 1 the level of commitment and interest varies, from those who are content with the music output, and who have more mainstream tastes, to those who are restless, and like to shift their listening patterns about – on to those who are ‘scensters’ and who like the more specialist music output.


Tom Talks About News Priorities

Tom talked us through the production process for any typical Newsbeat show, and how mobile phone technology is helping to bring programme content together much more quickly, from locations that are much more spread about, and using a range of voices that are much more diverse. Connecting to the Newsbeat studios across data networks, while still not perfect, is giving programme teams the chance to email-in stories that are in much higher quality than telephones, and more up-to-date than anything that needs to be physically edited.

But as the speed of turn-around increases, the desire for more creativity also increases. Tom reckons that while it’s good to know the rules, it’s also good to be able to break the rules – or at least bend them a little. Keeping stories light and playful is important, but Tom warned against being afraid to ask ‘what if?’

And so, Tom’s tips for a good story are:

Use a range of different treatments.
Use different techniques at the same time.
Think about getting to the ‘nitty-gritty’ of a story.
Be prepared to make decisions quickly.
Be prepared to make fine judgements everyday.

In short, Tom’s advice is to always keep your stories authentic, honest and passionate.

It was great having Tom visit De Montfort University and talk with students and volunteers on DemonFM. We’ll certainly take him up on his offer to come back and talk with us again.

#RadioLab Lecture – It’s All Going Interactive

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Feb 282012

Enterprise Week is a new innovation in the Department of Media Technology. Bringing together students from across the department with professionals from the media industries and business. Across a series of lectures and workshops learners get a chance to find out what it takes to run your own business, work as an independent producers, or get to the top in a large media organisation.

On Monday I ran a session that brought together three speakers: James Stodd, Chris Skinner and Andrew Dudfield, who talked about their experience working in the radio industry and on the BBC’s web design team. Learner’s were keen to hear about each of the speakers approach to maintaining a career, and what the rules are that they stuck-to or broke as the went about getting established.

James Stodd is a successful sound producer for the BBC. He’s worked independently and has extensive experience working in the independent radio sector. James talked about how ‘breaking the rules’ is an important way to get noticed, and that to stand out you have to be different. James talked us through the process of developing sound packages for radio and television and explained how the combination of content, music, voices, talent and skills can lead to content that is distinctive and which the audience will remember and cherish.

Andrew Dudfield is an BSc Media Technology graduate. After leaving DMU in 2001 Andrew went on to various web design jobs that eventually led him to the BBC, where he worked on the design for the BBC Home Page,via the Dr Who pages, and is now working on the new design for the BBC iPlayer. Somehow Andrew and his team have got to find a way to make the eleven million pages on the BBC website more accessible. Andrew talked about how enthusiasm and asking questions were the key that started his career, even when he felt that was continually trying out new skills.

Chris Skinner also graduate from BSc Media Technology in 2002, and always knew that he wanted a job in radio. Chris is the producer of The Bugle and Dave Gorman on Absolute Radio. Chris described how his approach has been one in which multiskilling has been his most personal valuable asset. According to Chris, when you are working for yourself and need to build-up clients, it’s essential to be able to offer a range of skills. Chris was most surprised that the skill of soldering cables has been on that has most unexpectedly come in handy.

After an hour of entertaining and engaging presentation and discussion the message from our three guests was simple: you are too young to specialise now; be a diplomat; know when to obsess; know your audience; use your audience – but know their limits.

Cultural Quarter Podcasts Roundtable Meeting

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Feb 202012

This weekend was something of a watershed moment for the production team behind DemonFM’s Cultural Quarter Podcasts. The general feeling among the team was that the show isn’t being as well supported as it might be. This week’s show ran short of content and was felt by all involved to be light on material.

Rather than struggling to have a decent debate and discussion in our usual computer lab venue, we moved into the Queens Building meeting room, tucked just behind the staff tea room. We could sit in one place, face-to-face, and discuss why we felt that the show was lacking cohesion.

It was a very frank discussion with some very realistic assessments of the issues being put forward and discussed, but what really made the difference was that it was all done in a sensitive and collaborative manner. Rather than lead the discussion I took the role of note keeper, which was very useful because it forced me not to interrupt and to listen intently to all the points of view expressed.

Once we had established a list of issues that everyone agreed on as in urgent need of attention, we then put together a list of fixes and some simplifications to the production process for managing this content, including the usual who and what? Then we thought about how and in what way? We don’t tend to ask why, because the answer is often too vague.

It was established that:

  • Facebook is sole point of communication and alert – we have a TECH3013 Cultural Quarter podcasts group which can be used to share information, ideas, links to documents, etc.
  • Simon Cooper is going to be the sole presenter. Rather than struggling to find a presenter who can be cajoled in to giving the links some credibility, it was agreed that Simon gets this already and so makes the most suitable choice.
  • Ryan Arnold and Elle Hall are going to assist Simon with production issues, and will do the chasing of the events and the production team to ensure that content gets made, shared on the DemonFM website, and broadcast on air.
  • There’s a pressing need to set up a media share resource, with a set of file name conventions, standard file formats and a process for alerting the producers that the material has been posted, and acknowledging that the material has been downloaded.
  • All content producers are able to upload content to Rivendell for play-out on the broadcast systems. What names and tags are given to this content needs to be identified.
  • It was agreed that Google Docs would be used for planning each show in detail and to share script information, background and research documents.
  • Each person is going to self-edit and mix their own audio, and they will be asked to write a detailed cue sheet. This cue can also be sued for information posted online about the podcast.
  • Each piece will need a standard ‘top & tail’ to link the feature into the podcasts as a stand alone and as part of the general programme.
  • The deadline for delivering the audio to Simon is 9am each Friday morning, giving him time to sequence the material and write a linking script.
  • Everyone agreed that taking photos of event and the interviews sessions would be a great idea, as it looks better on a site if it is visualised as well.
  • Finally, Simon Cooper will collate and share everyone’s contact details via Facebook and the Google Docs.

So, in the end, not a bad session. There’s much more of a sense of urgency now about the content, and I’m looking forward to listening to the content that they produce for Cultural Exchanges next week – oh, that’s after the next show on Saturday. Tune in. DemonFM, Saturday, 12-1pm.

Audiotheque Development Opportunities

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Jan 312012

Audiotheque Logo 2012

It’s been just over four years since Audiotheque was born as an online space for audio drama enthusiasts and audio content producers to share and develop ideas about audio drama in an increasingly multimedia and social online world. Simultaneously riding waves of optimism and frustration, the Audiotheque project has turned into something of a labour of love for all involved. As the IT platforms supporting the website have creaked and strained at the seams, and as the teams expectations of what can be achieved have evolved, it seems that the challenge of developing a media site for innovative and free-thinking audio drama, while simultaneously building a social media community, is not an easy one. Audiotheque has been through an interesting and prolonged gestation, to say the least.

Sparked by an idea between Connor Lenon (then of BBC Radio Drama) and Rob Watson (De Montfort University), the aspiration of the site has been to mark out a space where creative audio producers, writers and performers can exchange ideas about audio drama and give visitors to the site a chance to listen to some exciting, innovative and up-front audio drama production – the one essential caveat being that they are short, only a couple of minutes long. Largely produced by non-professionals, Audiotheque has sought to define itself through independent production, emerging writing and non-professional story telling. Often exploiting ready-to-hand recording techniques, the aim has been to come up with innovative and interesting narratives in the form of sonic drama. Bedroom producers are as welcome to Audiotheque as professional producers.

When we first talked about the Audiotheque concept with BBC Radio Drama’s Jeremy Mortimer, who is a Senior Executive Producer for Radio Drama, and the guiding hand behind BBC Radio Four’s Plantagenet series (and more recently the adaptation of Charles Darwin’s A Tale of Two Cities). Our discussions focussed on the likely shift of the phrase ‘radio drama’. How could we continue to talk about ‘radio drama’ in an online world? How would the move to online programming progress, and what would be the impact of the (then) to be introduced BBC iPlayer on the consumption of radio drama? How would the audience for broadcast radio drama, built by the BBC across their national and international radio networks, take to this new way of listening to audio drama? Would the BBC’s radio drama audience take to podcasts, streaming and listening through their digital television? Or listening on their mobile phones, or what we now call smart phones? Jeremy has been steadfast, patient and consistent supporter of the Audiotheque experiment, as we’ve lurched from one approach to another, and struggled to give shape to Audiotheque against the backdrop of a whole series of wider changes in online media consumption and audience perceptions.

It is a testament to the resilience of this initial discussion that went on more widely at the BBC however, that the inaugural BBC Audio Drama Awards was not called the ‘BB Radio Drama Awards’, and recognised innovation and online audio drama as an equal with broadcast drama. Things have definitely moved on.

More recent progress with Audiotheque, however, has been somewhat frustrating for all involved, as we’ve struggled to secure a stable foundation for the website. Plagued by spam and a rather dodgy server, the site ended up being inoperative for long periods of time. Momentum was lost and the chance to interact and listen to the many excellent dramas that had been posted to the site was erratic. Combined with some poor web design on my part (not being a web developer but a bodger), the whole thing was in danger of fading away or falling through the cracks of the many other jobs that we are otherwise paid to do. But lets wind-forward to August 2011, and enter David Watts, who describes himself as a ‘web guy’ for the Faculty of Technology at De Montfort University. David has been able to renew and rebuild the site, put it on a more stable platform and give a lot of thought to simplifying the user experience of the site and the way that it integrates with other social media platforms.

The Audiotheque site, for those who are interested, runs on Drupal 7, which is an open source content management system used by the White House no-less. Drupal allows for pre-programmed modular components to be added to the site and extend it’s functionality. Drupal is supported by a network of developers and programmers across the world. It’s an adaptable platform, but it needs some degree of coding skill in php programming and systems management in order to make it function effectively. And even though Audiotheque is hosted in the Faculty of Technology at De Montfort University, the site has received only ad-hoc support – very welcome support – but ad-hoc nonetheless. The trick at this point, therefore, is to figure out how we can now make this ongoing support more embedded, resilient and amplified.

Simultaneous to this technical challenge has been the more fundamental challenge of bridging mindsets. Those with a passion for creative audio drama on the one side, and those with a passion for software and web applications development on the other side, are not easy to bring together. Computer gaming design is probably a field that has had much more success in this area, and made much faster progress. Probably because there is a more defined economic model at work. The perception is that audio drama isn’t a multi-billion pound global commercial industry that sucks in creative talent, but is a rather sedate and at times mature specialist interest that sits more easily with people who read the Daily Mail, who are obsessed with classic literature, and who have been to university. I’m cynically caricaturing, but it’s safe to say that radio drama doesn’t have a hip, young, alternative, sub- and counter-cultural profile. That said, it would be very interesting to put a value to the market for audio drama, and see how much audio drama is actually worth to the UK economy. And this is before mentioning the work that companies like Big Finish undertake with their science fiction and fantasy audio drama series, that are mainly sold online, but are also broadcast as commissions by BBC Radio Four Extra.

The computer games industry can probably offer some useful success models in our search to develop Audiotheque, as the bridge between storytelling and computing has becomes a more integral component of the process of games design in recent years. And indeed, story telling is the beating heart of what audio drama is seeking to achieve. Through voice and through sound we have always told stories. The aural tradition is embedded in our basic cultural make-up, and even possibly our evolutionary make-up.

So how come it is hard to get young people to listen to audio drama? What is it about the way that we consume modern media that leaves little space for younger audiences to get into a mental landscape of sound based story telling? Why is the picture or image so dominant? Why has online music culture exploded on the internet, but audio drama has not? Why do video production sharing sites dominate the creative online mediascape, while audio drama is seemingly confined to the margins? Why doesn’t audio drama have the same allure or resonance? It did once, when radio was the dominant broadcast medium of the twentieth century, so why have we not seen a radical explosion of audio drama production as the tools of recording sound have been democratised and mass produced, and the ability to share audio content has exploded?

Is it something inherent in the stories that we are generally telling in audio drama communities? Is it something to do with the listening skills of younger audiences? Is it something to do with the platforms on which audio dramas are shared and promoted? Is it something to do with the voices that support and promote audio drama? Is it because audio drama requires a foregrounded mental attitude which doesn’t lend itself well with mental multi-tasking? I’m making some very general assumptions that these issues are not being tackled, but in our search for the essential spark that will light the flame of a re-kindled interest in audio drama, the search goes on.

To some extent, it’s obvious to me now that the best way to develop Audiotheque is to do it in a way that appeals to the people who are most closely involved with the project. If the site and be developed and managed in a way that pleases those most committed to investing time in it, then it stands some chance of attracting other people who might share a similar outlook, worldview or sense of their own limitation/endless possibilities?

So, here’s a simple list of things that need to be discussed and acted on as we develop Audiotheque. This isn’t a closed list, but a prompt for further discussion, debate and orientation:

Development Issues With Audiotheque Site:

Credibility with audio production industry?

Sounding-board for willing and motivated contributors?

Needs editor and editorial strategy?

Needs functionality and usability strategy?

Needs social media strategy?

All about CONTENT?

Audio Posts — Articles — News — Features — Contributors — Blogs?

Travels in audiology….

More than a ‘school’ or ‘training platform’?

what models are appealing – Paris Review? Oki-Net?

Gathering and circulating stories using audio drama?

Articles about:

Audio Drama Awards / Who are the cool audio drama producers outside of the BBC?
How does the Computer Games Industry align with the audio drama community?

Take an approach of an underground fashion magazine / subculture?

Looks for a design competence?

‘Free Thinking, Open Source, Audio Drama’

Audiotheque is a place where creative ideas are not restricted by the company or organisation that you work for?

Audiotheque goes beyond working for a brief?

Individuals can be creative for themselves?

Audiotheque is non-proprietorial?

We like to remix, reuse and mash-up material – giving it’s proper attribution for things that we share?

Sharing ideas and leading off other people’s ideas?

Telling stories with audio?

What is the transformative story behind Audiotheque?

What is the role of the editor?

Does the editor support the people who are going to be telling their stories? Does the editor need to be telling stories themselves?

What’s the relationship between Motivation and Guidance?

Interview people about telling stories for audio drama?

Site issues:

Play button for images?
Subtitle on site?
Navigation by lists, type of content, producer & organisation?

Join us online:



Twitter: @audiotheque

Global Radio’s Creative Space

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Jan 312012

Global's Dave Walters Talks to DMU's David Watts

You can’t get anymore central to London than Leicester Square. Global Radio’s impressive headquarters runs its main networked operations from its recently refurbished block, right in the center of the capital, sandwiched between some of the biggest cinemas in London’s West End. I went to look around and talk to Dave Walters, head Technology and Broadcast Operations for the Global Group.

As the home of the Global groups radio operation, Leicester Square is the national hub for Capital, Classic FM, Choice, Heart, XFM, LBC. Each of these radio stations are nestled snugly together, while occupying a separate zone within the building. Each with a clear sense of individual identity, but each maintained separately in a building that has an overall sense of interchange and fluidity. Moving from one working zone and set of studios, to another was surprisingly easy. There are few barriers and few partition walls. The walls are painted white through the building, with a minimum of visual branding, some mood lighting in places, and with office furniture stripped back and minimal in the Swedish design style. While this is not a large building, and has many people working in it, it feels open and bright.

Dave explained that the big innovation that Global Radio are pushing through the company at the moment is their shift from Windows based PC, to MacBooks and tablets. Making use of more open and collaborative work spaces, production teams are as likely to meet and talk over a coffee in the roof-top atrium (with it’s very impressive London skyline vista), or in the break-out areas that pepper the studio and production room spaces.

With the consolidation of the radio industry in the last decade, many of the smaller local heritage radio stations that have been absorbed by successive waves of take-over have meant that Global has championed the network approach for it’s national operations. With the exception of Classic FM, all the other stations that Global runs are regional or local, and yet they have the feel of a cohesive network. With split operations and programming mainly run from the network centre, and some local input from the remaining satellite operations. This is not everyone’s idea of how radio is best delivered, but it is, according to Dave, a successful business model that is allowing Global to prosper in an increasingly competitive and fragmented media world.

When Dave stepped up to the job of running the Global operation he had many problems to deal with. Local studios that had very little investment for years. Seven different playout systems that meant that content couldn’t be managed efficiently and advertising value that couldn’t be maximised. This was combined with a whole set of different network and operational systems that meant that simple on-air functions, like delivering networked news, couldn’t easily be managed across different sites, because they each had a different time-source, which meant simultaneous programme elements couldn’t be linked automatically.

Dave’s chief job has been to bring all of this together and to ensure that production teams are aware that their national operation, despite being run mainly from London, still has a local feel, and still maintains it’s integration with the local network transmissions. Screens on the walls in each of the production suits identify the status of each broadcast service in each area. Are they running to time and are the broadcast signals at the right levels?

Moving into the Global news room, the most impressive level of integration is the ability of correspondents and reporters to link directly with the broadcast studios from their desks. Each workstation is fitted out with a microphone that ties directly to the main news studio. So there is no dropping in to soundproof booths or studios, as reporters can read their script directly from the Burli News Management system, and can ingest their report without moving away from their desk. The next stage of Global’s shift away from fixed workstations will be the news operation, with reporters linked by 3G or WiFi data networks out in the field.

I asked Dave what his thoughts are about how this removal of barriers between the production teams will impact on the output of the different networks? If XFM’s Danny Wallace is rubbing shoulders with Classic FM’s John Suchet in the coffee bar, what will this mean for the programmes that the listeners tune in to? According to Dave the future is about collaborative working and mixing with a lot of different people, so the creative space that this takes place in is as important as the brands that these different voices represent.

Finally, we talked about the skills that new producers and programme makers will need as they prepare for working in this high-pressure, dynamic environment. According to Dave, just as you have got used to a technology and learnt how you apply it, a new one comes along that changes the nature of what you do and the way that you do it. Being flexible and multi-skilled in a multimedia world is the challenge facing new producers. Being an engineer by training though, Dave still values the traditional competences. Soldering-up an XLR cable gets you credit still with Dave, because if the microphones don’t work, how can you do radio in the first place?


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Radio Production – Location. Recordings

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Dec 082011