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How the radio studio is getting social

Facebook and Twitter have become part of how radio audiences engage with favourite stations or programmes. But manufacturers and stations are now considering that broadcast and IT need to be brought even closer together to create better interactivity through the "Social Studio".

There is something both jarring and grimly amusing about hearing aging and/or serious radio presenters talk about Twitter, hash tags and Facebook pages. At the other end of the DJ age range such talk can sound like a mass of achingly modern techno-babble. But social media is a major part of everyday life and radio stations have realised they need to be connected to all the communicating going on around them. Producers, presenters, broadcast engineers and IT types are still working out exactly how to do that but in the last year Tweets and Facebook postings have joined emails, texts and the old warhorse, live phone calls, as broadcasters up their game not just to get listeners to interact with them but for them to interact with the listeners. How to make this work was a feature of last year’s Radio Academy Festival. In his presentation ‘From TOGs to the Twitterati – Connecting Old Media with the Social Media Generation’, Dan McQuillin, managing director of software developer and distributor Broadcast Bionics, argued that audiences were ahead of the radio stations in using and exploiting social media. At next week’s festival, to be held again at The Lowry, Salford Quays in Greater Manchester, Bruce Daisley, Twitter’s UK director, will present ‘Only On Twitter’ and discuss how the 140 character online networking message service can bring broadcasters closer to their audiences, as well as “bringing you more of them and making them value you even more”. Broadcast Bionics will be at the Radio Fair exhibition within the Festival to promote PhoneBOX v4 (screen shot pictured), the latest incarnation of the company’s call handling system. This builds on previous incarnations by adding management and display of relevant Facebook posts and Tweets alongside information about incoming calls, the music and artist being played and general news or entertainment information, with the ability to arrange everything into different categories, or channels, and distribute it anywhere in a station as necessary. McQuillin says development of PhoneBOX v4 began 18 months ago based on the idea of going “beyond telephony” and looking a a fuller interactive experience for radio, which he calls “the Social Studio”. The aim is to bring “state of the art” social media into the studio where the presenter can work with it and include the audience more in the show. “We need to break down the walls between the needs of the broadcast studio and the digital/online world,” McQuillin says. “The studio side doesn’t necessarily need to understand the social stuff, the presenters and producers just want to make something work and talk to the people who want to talk to them.” As with a lot of technology today, the “backend” – how everything actually works and is put together – can remain more or less a mystery to the people using the information it provides. The key thing, McQuillin states, is presenting the information in a way the presenter can use easily. “As soon as a Lady Gaga track is playing we should be able to bring up all social media about her,” he explains. But this is only a part of what McQuillin and other proponents of the Social Studio envisage. “There are varying strands to it, like a series of channels,” he says. “There are the different sites for the radio station and people can switch between those according to what is being discussed. The listeners are ahead of the broadcasters in terms of using social media and they don’t want to just listen any more. This means there can be sub-channels with people commenting about the station, or talking about the music and the news, with the presenter also having access to feeds so that he/she can contribute to what is going on or start new threads.” The radio studio is unlikely to change fundamentally but, as McQuillin observes, there does need to be a shift in how it operates: “Up to now the radio studio has been the place where information is combined with audio and then pushed out at the audience. Now the process is bi-directional, with the audience getting involved because they want to do more than just passively listen to the radio.” Full integration is likely to pose problems but the biggest shift is likely to be one of perception, how radio people and the audience see themselves today in what has always been a symbiotic relationship, albeit with one previously passive partner. “Stations don’t have listeners any more,” concludes McQuillin. “The audience wants to be involved as much as possible, so the radio station needs to be the one listening, with bigger ears not a bigger mouth.”