I’ve written most of this site with reporters in mind but most of my traffic comes from people who are contributors to radio and television. So I thought I should do some work for you!
You’re a carpet manufacturer. You’ve been asked to appear on a BBC Local Radio programme to talk about the different types of carpet available. Here are some of the questions you’ll obviously be asking the producer:
How long is the item going to be on air? 5-7 minutes.
Is it live or pre-recorded? Live.
Who else will be on the programme with me? A rival manufacturer.
Do you want me on the phone or in the studio? Phone’s fine but the other guest is on an ISDN line – so “in quality”.
And that’s where you should start to get worried. If your business rival is appearing in quality then so should you be. Think about all the conversations you have: the shortest ones are on the phone, the longest are when you meet in person. On the radio the person who’s not in the studio will get less air time – or, at least, sound as if they’re getting less air time – than the person whose voice sounds clear and in high quality. Quite honestly: you have to do everything you can to appear in the highest quality you can. So the choices are to get into the studio in person, ask to be allowed to go to your nearest Local Radio station and be patched through from one of their studios to the one you’re talking to or think about a third option: getting on the air IN QUALITY on your own.
In ‘the old days’ (by which I mean anytime up to the last six months or so) getting on air would have cost you thousands of pounds. An ISDN line costs around £500 to install and a fairly large monthly bill on top of that. There’d also be hardware costs: £150+VAT per week to hire an ISDN codec or between £500-£3500 to buy one (depending on whether or not you go for a computer based solution like this or a physical ISDN codec like this).
On top of this you’ll have to factor in costs for microphones, cables, stands and headphones.
There are some alternatives though which are much cheaper – although, of course, there are some limitations and compromises.
Comrex’s Access is a piece of hardware that links up with a computer server at the radio station. The connection is made over the internet and requires a hardwired internet connection, a wifi connection or a 3G dongle (and a good signal). it’s hard wearing and robust but relatively expensive and complicated to use. So let’s look at two alternatives which are low cost and might be good for you.
If you’ve made it as far as this on my website you’ll probably have spotted that I use an iPhone to broadcast with. Live. I use an app called Luci Live (there are alternatives such as Tieline’s Report-IT) which costs £249. I simply talk into the iPhone as if I was making a phone call (being careful not to have the microphone too close to my mouth) and it sounds like I’m in the same room as the radio presenter. You might wonder why I don’t just use Skype. The reason is that I don’t like sounding as if I’m standing by the sea when I broadcast (Skype has a tendency to have an accompanying swishing noise sometimes). The problem with Luci Live though is the cost.
Now there’s a lower cost solution though: Luci Live Lite. Here’s a bit of technical stuff: Luci LIVE uses an expensive high quality audio codec which can make it sound almost as good as the radio station itself (if you’re a Studio Director PLEASE don’t shout at me for that.. I’m talking in generalities here!). Luci Live LITE doesn’t. It uses a codec which is about as good as ISDN. If you realise that every football commentary broadcast on Local and National radio uses ISDN lines then you’ll understand that it’s not rubbish. It’s quite good.
Luci Live LITE costs £21.99 and runs on Android, BlackBerry and iOS devices. Think about how much it will cost you to drive to the nearest Local Radio station, how much it will cost to park, how much time it will take and you’ll realise that, as an investment, it might be worth it.
There are some issues however. Before you buy the app it is worth you contacting the Local Radio station to ask them about it. You will need to get some information from them before you can connect to their studio. Then you’ll need to do some under-the-bonnet work. If you faint at the sight of IP addresses then this is not for you. Get in the car and start driving.
If you haven’t gone wobbly then this is what you need to do:
Tell the radio station that you are going to buy Luci Lite and you need the IP address of their Luci server. They will need to get back to you on this one. They will have a bit of a flap about this and may put you through to their engineer. Explain what you’re doing and, if need be, refer them to this website. When you have the IP address of their server you should proceed.
1. Buy the app and let it install.
2. Tap on the icon to launch the app
3. Look at the middle bottom of the screen and tap on the cog wheel.
When the next screen opens tap on the + button (bottom right)
4. When the next screen opens choose CUSTOM STATION
5. Don’t panic.
On this screen tap on where it says untitled station and type in the name of the station you’re about to use. Then in the DESTINATION section you will need to type in VERY carefully the IP address that the station gives you.
6. Now tap on the bit of text underneath where it says AUDIO. You want to select where it says PROTOCOL RTP. A menu appears with two options on it. RTP and NACIP – choose NACIP. Then tap DONE (top right) and on the next window select DONE again. Finally tap on the little icon in the middle & bottom section of the next screen (it looks like an iPhone). You will now be back at the main window where, in the LCD-style window the name of your radio station should appear. Tap on the microphone button and you will link up to their studio. If you want to be ultra-professional plug in a pair of headphones BUT NOT THE ONES THAT CAME WITH THE IPHONE!!! (they have an in-line microphone in them – and it’s rubbish). Use a normal pair of headphones. Hold the microphone about six inches away from your mouth and speak ACROSS it rather than INTO it (to minimise popping). Make sure you are indoors when you do the broadcast as the iPhone is particularly prone to wind noise.
What is absolutely vital is that you make sure you are in a wifi network that’s got very little traffic on it – the free one at McDonalds is NOT an option. Alternatively you can be in an area with a VERY good 3G signal – anything less than full bars? forget it. If you are relying on 3G and lots of other people are also on their smartphones then forget it. You will fall off the air and it’s worse than being on the phone: falling off air is the ultimate cardinal sin – radio stations will get cross and you will find yourself not on the air at all. The best bet is to be at your home on your own wifi network and make sure your husband/wife/son/daughter isn’t watching Dr Who on an HD iPlayer stream at the same time.
With huge thanks to @MarcSettle I also add the following: it is vital that, prior to broadcast, you divert incoming phone calls to your voicemail- otherwise you’re bound to get a phone all in the middle of your broadcast which will bounce you off air. This isn’t a good thing to happen. There are some more instructions How to do this here.
Furthermore you should think about the room you’re going to broadcast from: if you’re on a phone in a noisy environment the person you’re calling may find it hard to hear you. If you’re broadcasting in quality on the radio then the problems are ten times worse: the people next to you chatting about their bowel problems will sound as loud as you on the radio. This is unlikely to be the type of message you’re trying to get across. So: a quiet room is essential in most cases. Bathrooms and kitchens are not going to be much good either: wooden floors, tiles, glass – they all reflect sound. You want a “deadened environment”. I often leap into bed with a duvet over my head or work out of a curtained lounge full of soft carpets and upholstery – anything to soak up echoes and “pinging”. Remember that most radio broadcasts don’t come from Platform 3 at Birmingham new Street Station… For very good reason.
If you do another broadcast for another radio station you will, of course, have to create another custom station. There is every chance, of course, that the radio station may not want to give out their IP addresses – that’s up to them – but if they want to hear from you more than once it might work in both your favour and theirs to get this to work. One final caveat: Luci Live Lite isn’t widely compatible with BBC national network radio and if you’re not in the UK you should check with the radio station to see if the radio station you want to talk to can accept calls. If you need to point the radio station to the manufacturer of Luci they’re at http://luci.eu