Internet Redistributing Power and Opportunities in Talk Radio

This week we are proud to present a guest post from Michael Harrison, Editor and Publisher of Talkers Magazine.

Michael Harrison - Talkers Magazine

Michael Harrison – Publisher and Editor, Talkers Magazine

The inevitable course of radio and associated media toward the converged digital “media station” is now becoming a reality.  The radio station has transformed from a capital and debt-intensive, bricks-mortar-steel (and license) based facility to a laptop-cloud-backpack anywhere entity.  The barriers to entry have been stripped away, leaving traditional AM/FM station owners holding an ever-depreciating bag.

At the same time, radio talent abounds.  Today, there is a greater abundance of engaging radio hosts than at any time in recent memory, many unable to find an AM/FM radio gig.  Fortunately, online radio is a welcome, if amorphous, vehicle to showcase these individuals.  The pervasive question then becomes “How does the listener find me?”  The answer lies in the concept of the content “platform” replacing the station “infrastructure.”   In other words, it pays to put an online broadcast entity on a prestigious platform.

A good example of this is the Boston Herald Radio station, launched in August 2013, whichBoston Herald Radio Logo combines the immediacy of a 100+ person major newspaper newsroom with well-known on-air talent to become the “other” talk radio station in the city. Working with Backbone Networks Corporation, the Herald was up and running in a matter of weeks, conducting a series of mini-debates in Boston’s preliminary mayoral race.  There was no capital equipment to buy, other than a couple of computers, a mixing board and a few microphones, and listenership continues to grow.  Content, not transmitter wattage, makes the difference.

Talkers Radio logoAnother example, closer to home, is Talkers magazine’s TalkersRadio, an experimental online station we created to provide a platform for self-produced “bridge shows,” hosted by terminated AM/FM talk show hosts that are between gigs or plunging into the new medium, and “orphan” programs that do not conveniently fit into prevailing AM/FM station format categories.  We think of Talkers Radio as an experimental theater – a stage upon which established talk show hosts can try out new ideas and program concepts that might be too risky to test on their far more rigid terrestrial radio platforms. TalkersRadio is emblematic of the Content Platform — forming a nucleus for talent to find a forum and listeners to find the talent.

To create TalkersRadio, we called upon Backbone Networks, our technology partner, to build a network for hosts in any part of the world.  Their cloud-based broadcast production and automation tied in perfectly for our plans for a 24/7 schedule of live and automated programming.

At each host location, we suggest a simple equipment package composed of a MacBook® Pro laptop computer, a basic mixing board such as the portable Mackie® ProFX8, Sennheiser HD203 Pro DJ headsets and couple of Shure® 58 microphones.  This mix of equipment has proven to be ideal for taking the show on the road for remote broadcasts, such as breaking news and sporting events.

The other necessary item is a solid connection to the Internet.  In the studio, that could be DSL or a cable modem with at least 128 kbps upstream bandwidth.  In the field, hosts will use venue wi-fi, wired Ethernet, or rely on 3G/4G or WiMax access.

What distinguishes compelling talk radio is a host’s ability to interact with co-hosts and listeners, and that is where a multi-line call-in telephone system is key.  The Backbone Radio product offers, in addition to interfaces for host and producer, a complete multi-caller phone system, with a Mac interface for the host and, if desired, a call screener.  Since the phone system also resides in the cloud, no phone lines, handsets or extra equipment is necessary.  Consequently, events like the Talkers Conferences or the RAIN events are simple and easy to broadcast.  Our studios are wherever our talent and their laptops are, and signals go direct to the Internet without anyone “back home” having to flip a switch.

The opportunities are just reemerging for talk radio luminaries, all with the help of online technology and the content platform.  This is a big departure from what we once knew as talk radio, and it is only the beginning.

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