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  • Writer's pictureLewis Harrower

Radio Tech Con 2019: From the View of a Non Techie

Radio Tech Con for me started the day before with a long train journey from Kirkcaldy to London and some sweet accomodation at Travelodge Central Waterloo for the night all thanks to the Radio Tech con’s travel and accommodation bursary without which I would have never been able to be there.


The 25th of November started with unlimited breakfast at the hotel with bacon, sausage, egg and the obligatory orange juice that you only ever drink when having breakfast in a hotel. However, the real juicy stuff was still to come, just a short walk away at the IET Radio Tech Cons registration was beginning and when I got there I had just enough time to get to know some lovely radio techies at the Meet and Greet table. Lisa Hack introduced me to some great people and if attending in the future yourself I highly recommend it.


Now the real juice, the con began with a debate/discussion on the Technical Future of Radio in which Andrew Murphy, Adam Bowie, Simon Nelson and Quentin Harold… each presented the pro’s and con’s of DAB+, 5G and IP (internet radio). Starting with DAB+ and Quentin covered the history of DAB, how it works and the benefits (efficient, better reception and cheaper). Outlining that there is no big difference between DAB+ and 5G. He also stated his grand plan for the launch of nationwide DAB+ coverage.

  1. You only need 100 more DAB+ transmitters across the UK to start with.

  2. Out with the old and in with the new, we get rid of all the old radios in cars and houses and swap them out for DAB+ enabled ones over time.

  3. Have a DAB+ day. Perfect for launching all the stations and getting your DAB+ radio.


Simples.


Next up came Adam with the hard task of convincing a room full of radio techies that IP based radio was the way to go. To do this he had to lay out his own set of assumptions/rules to stick to to even make it viable such as not including car radio’s as you don't get the internet in a car and no FM, DAB or anything like that. However he did make a good point about the rising popularity of Smart Speakers and the use of them for internet radio stations and the fact that internet connectivity and accessibility is better today than it’s ever been. It was after that point that he got into the dangerous maths stuff that went over my head but I think he was saying we would still have enough bandwidth if we all suddenly switched to listening to internet radio, or we would need a little more (math is not my strong point). His conclusion was that it would be a viable option as we ‘probably’ have enough bandwidth to cover it wouldn't be any good for, the elderly, people living in rural areas, unemployed people, poorer people and pensioners.


Finally Andrew Murphy and Simon Mason discuss 5G starting wtih where we are now and how 4G+ 5G is in play then going into a project I found super interesting, BBC Research & Developments Rural First, where they went up to Orkney where they didn't have very good signal and set up a small 5G transmitter, the results were great and I urge you to take a look into this more. 5G however has an issue with traffic, if all people in traffic are on the same network on their phones they will be sucking up all the data and that causes issues. So it is better for rural areas than city's.


I think everyone came to the conclusion after a short discussion that DAB+ will be the way to go and will be the future of Radio Tech.


Our second presentation of the day was about the Tech behind Brexitcast turning it from podcast to tv show. This was interesting seeing the evolution of Brexitcast and how they had to adapt the studio to suit both the podcast and tv style, making sure the audio quality didn't suffer at the expense of the cameras. How they use Scisys for scheduling and Jupiter UX for edit and output for video with the use of a trigger mix so that when someone talks the video is on them.


UWot an intro to UX and UI taught me that UI is user interface and UX is user experience. And both of those are incredibly important when designing a radio studio. I have never thought of how much thought goes into them, you need to understand the user, like the radio presenter and what they are going to be doing, what do they need to see on the screens and how easily can they interact with that and talk into a mic without bumping it? I also learnt that when designing a studio, it's a good idea to start with a lifesize cardboard version if possible.


Next on to one of my favourite presentations of the day, Super Soundbars. This is an immersive soundbar experience designed at the University of Southampton that was then developed by Audioscenic. And it blew my mind! In its simplest terms its a soundbar that watches you, determines where you are in relation to it and adjusts the sound to give you that 3D surround experience you get from headphones… without the headphones. I know right!!! And it works, they did a demonstration on stage and the person that took part was very impressed. Currently it just works for one person and it can be built into laptops which is awesome however they are working on a version that works for multiple people. This made my creative juices tingle with excitement, just think of the cool immersive audio dramas and documentaries you could make and listen to with that. The soundbar is to be sold for about $400 and will come out in Spring 2020.


E.J. James then gave an uplifting presentation on dealing with change that began with us learning about the Existentialist perspective of the 4 givens

  1. Death

  2. Isolation

  3. Meaninglessness

  4. Freedom

And how we are really designed for

  1. Safety and security

  2. Homeostasis

  3. Safety as a felt sense

  4. Out adaptive selves

If we learn how we adapt to situations we learn how to respond to them and for me it seamed like it was about acknowledging a change and preparing for it mentally, the way that suits you best. Quite an eye opening session.


After a short look at what the new Maida Vale studios are going to look like we also got a chance to see inside the new Wireless studios and what their recent move looked like.


Next up was Dr Bruno Fazenda with a great masterclass on Audio Acoustics, this is extremely useful if you are wanting to set up your own studio space. From the basics such as if audio rays (mid to high frequency sounds are known as rays not waves) have more surfaces to bounce off of you get more reverb and the basics of room acoustics. When designing a room for audio recording it is important to consider the direction of the audio so that you can determine where it would bounce off and introduce complex surface to redirect the sound around you, some of the sound can be absorbed using thick material and some diffuse. You can avoid flutter echoes by putting absorption on the flat surfaces in direct lines to the speaker positions. And if you really have a chance to design the room well creating walls of the correct angles you can create a reflection free zone where the sound will bounce completely around you and be diffused at the back of the room. We also learnt about modal control and room modes are standing faves that exist a specific frequencies associated with the room dimensions. These can cause frequency variance, spatial variance and resonant behaviour. Splaying the walls won't help with this but Modal dampening (LF absorption) is the most effective way of controlling it. And you can use specifically tuned resonant absorbers in the room to help combat it. All and all Dr Bruno gave me some great things to consider when I am setting up any studio space from now on and I will always be more aware of audio acoustics because of this.


Dr Sandy Clares from VRT was next up explaining how they developed software for studios. They explained how they studied who would be using the software and what they would need it for. So they came up with a modular design that wouldn’t require hundreds of screens to use. You would have different modules for the songs playing out, social media feeds, listener interaction, the running order and any contest details and the layout is fully customizable. Its like a radio version of TweetDeck. With such a simplistic and easy design and it being so easy on the eye and simple to understand their software could definitely be the future software seen in every radio studio. You may be able to sign up for a demo here https://www.projectmarconi.eu/toolkit I will definitely be keeping an eye on this project.


Next on the docket was Small Scale DAB with Lawrie Hallett where he outlined what had been going on with the Small Scale DAB trials and what the future of it was all about and what questions you should be thinking of if thinking of running an SSDAB. With Secondary legendary in place, Ofcom consultation underway and licencing expected to start in 2020 with relincencing of the trial areas. Areas to consider if thinking of running one include,

  • How many clients?

  • Income base?

  • In house expertiese vs external support?

Lawrie also highlighted some software to monitor your SSDAB with Observa and Bandscanner being good options.


Andrew Bonney then gave us a presentation of NMOS (Networked Media Open Specifications) in Ten minutes. Which as far as I could understand is an online open source testing tool, Imust admit this is one presentation that mostly went over my head.


We then learnt about Fenchurch from Luke Eldrree and Chris Robertson from the BBC. Fenchurch is their new audio transcribing project that is automatically clipping up a radio show into the different sections, transcribe the audio and then tag it with appropriate search terms based on intended audience, editorial tone and what its about or mentions. This is a project aimed at creating better metadata so that producers and listeners both can find content easier. Even though the transcribing isn’t 100% accurate it’s pretty good. They are currently running Fenchurch on Radio 2 but are hoping to roll it out on more stations in the coming year.


The final presentation of the day came from Leslie Gaston - Bird in the form of a journey through her roles in life from University to beyond and how all the jobs she has done over the years have added more and more to her CV. This was to demonstrate to us that skills she gained from one job was transferable to another different job and at that job she gained other skills that were also transferable and so on.


Last up was the end of day quiz but sadly I had to leave as this was starting to catch my train back home.


My Radio TechConclusion is that there is a lot going on in radio tech right now and there was some great presentations for someone like me who is looking to start up in the radio industry from designing the perfect studio with the right audio acoustics to having some great software and some immersive soundbars to go with it all. I would highly recommend attending Radio TechCon next year or any year as there are some great people who are passionate about what they do and want to help everyone else have a chance too. Thank you to Radio TechCon for allowing to come along with your Bursary and all the companies involved in supporting the bursary and travel and accommodation bursary too.


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