It used to involve a car, a huge telescopic mast, someone to operate it and lots of patience because it was so slow to drive. Now all it needs is a good phone or wifi signal.
You speak into a microphone, it travels on the internet to your studio and you appear on the airwaves sounding as if you were sitting next to the presenter. Of course, it’s slightly more complicated than that although Luci Live hides all the technical stuff under the bonnet. There are versions for windows laptops, mac laptops, android and iOS devices. Here’s a short film, taken from an early edit, of a piece for the BBC’s College of Journalism. It shows the way the app can work in the field and some of the difficulties it overcomes.. and some of the problems that are created, simply by relying on one form of technology. Full copyright exists on this film with the BBC – so please don’t try and lift it!
So…the original version of Luci Live costs £249. A radio car with a mast costs £40,000. A satellite transmitter and ISDN codec costs around £7,500. Suddenly £249 doesn’t seem so much but in a period of history that demands everything for free the developers have realised that Skype was a real threat. People who run community radio stations or student stations don’t care as much about quality and want cost-effective solutions. They want cheap. So say hello to Luci Lite.
It costs £21 (less than a tenth of Luci Live’s price!) and works in a remarkably similar way. The two cut-downs are:
1. G722 quality instead of AAC-HE
2. No ability to record an interview within the app, edit it and then play it in LIVE as you are talking on the radio.
What does that mean in reality? The G722 quality means Luci Lite sounds like ISDN quality. Listen to a football commentary on BBC Radio 5 live and you’ll hear a trademark flatness to the sound. It doesn’t sound like a studio. However, because it’s at a football match with 50,000 fans shouting in the background it doesn’t matter that much. The same can be said for most live inserts that you’ll be asked to do as a reporter. Successful radio is more to do with great contributors saying interesting things in a live environment than the s/n ratio or frequency bandwidth. The same can’t be said for studio quality links or two ways and that’s why Luci Live is the best bet if ‘quality’ is your thing.
As for the inability to record? I’ve used Luci Live on an iPhone since September 25th 2010. I’ve never once used the in-app recording or editing feature and I use Luci at least half a dozen times a week.
Will Luci Lite stop the march of Skype? it depends. If we continue down the we-want-everything-for-free road then no, it won’t. But Luci provides a far more stable, far more assured User Interface and it’s based on technology that works.
It also has one more feature up its sleeve that’s truly brilliant:
Apple, Google and BlackBerry (all have Luci Lite versions) have the ability to allow you to ‘gift’ an app to someone. This was developed so that Mum or Dad could give the kids a new version of Angry Birds without allowing the little sods free access to their iTunes account. Clever. But what’s even more clever is that it allows app delivery at no cost to the end user. Here’s a scenario: riots begin in Tahrir Square in Egypt. It’ll take your radio station 12 hours before it can have a reporter deployed. In the meantime you’ve found a freelance reporter who lives in an apartment facing the square. She has an iPhone (or Android or BlackBerry or Mac or PC – it doesn’t matter) but Skype is her only way of linking up with you in quality. You send her an email ‘gifting’ her Luci Lite. She installs it and is then able to broadcast to you in near-as-dammit studio quality.
What’s even better and has only just become available in the latest build version changes the game even more: to link up with YOUR radio station, the end-user has to fill in a complicated form with ip addresses and such.
It can be confusing for people who know their way round computers – what’s important for people we ‘gift’ the app to is that they don’t then have to spend ages on the phone being talked through how to configure it. So the people behind Luci have taken the hard work out of it by allowing you to configure the IP address of your server back at the station, create a short piece of code that you then attach to another email and send to the contributor. She then clicks on it, it opens up Luci Lite, it adds the address to dial into its internal phonebook and asks the user if they want to dial the studio now.