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Thoughts on Internet Radio Broadcasting

Hi everyone

Apart from L's journey to the global Voice internet radio station which I wrote about last time, I didn't comment upon my own status in terms of internet broadcasting. That lack of comment resulted in a few e-mail and Twitter messages from people asking if the Music Machine, (my own show), was coming back. So I thought it would be a cool idea to write about my progress in that regard and hope someone finds it interesting, smile.

First, thank you so very much for asking about it and it is nice to know that quite a number of people would like it to be broadcast again. Certainly I've enjoyed producing it over the years irrespective of which network it has been on.

It struck me however that, before I even think about the logistics of getting it on the air, I need to find somewhere to host the show. In looking around for a station where it could be broadcast, I was simply appalled at how few stations use visual appeal and social media integration to attract listeners, hence this blog post. Certainly I could promote the show as much as I was able to, but this is of little value if an effective mechanism of promotion is not available to the broadcaster offered by the station itself.

Producing high quality audio programming is surely only part of what today's internet broadcasting is about. With on demand music services so readily available (where you select the genre of music preferred), or the ease by which one can download music to a portable player or phone, attracting listeners to a station has to be much much more than a host playing songs and injecting his or her personality into the show. I feel the station has to have a vibrant internet presence which attracts the mainstream listening audience worldwide. There has to be something to attract a web surfer from the get go.

I've been involved with several internet radio projects now and I've found there are two recurring topics of discussion among staff, namely, "how can we attract more listeners", and, "how can we best appeal to sighted listeners", baring in mind that the operators predominantly comprise visually impaired people. So, lets talk about both of those things.

Being visually impaired should in itself have no baring on the audio output because, after all, you cannot see the broadcaster! So noone need know the host or hostess of a show is blind unless that fact is communicated to the audience. But the visual appeal of the website is critical, and there are some stations which appear to be shouting at the world, "we are blind". How is that done? Because there are no graphics on the site, no photographs of presenters, in many cases not even a logo. It is plain text. The layout of the text often is better than others but there is nothing particularly eye-catching about the pages.

But turning to the subject of promotion, the mainstream audience surely will not know of the existence of a station until they are told about it. I was frankly shocked at how few stations in "the visual impairment internet radio community" (please forgive the expression) use social media to good effect. Social media and frequently updated websites are so important today as many people have Twitter and Facebook accounts, even if they do not have a computer or compatible phone available to them. There are 750 million active Facebook users for example. That's a hell of a lot of people to tap into, and doubtless Twitter has a similar number, if not more.

Some of the sites I viewed belonging to stations in this group had not sent a tweet using Twitter for over a month, some did not display their Twitter presence on their home page at all, some web pages hadn't been updated for seven years and the Facebook presence is minimal. By far the clear leader in this field that I've seen is Mushroom FM which has an extremely active Twitter and blog presence at least and does a fine job in that regard. What is impressive about this station is the way they have tightly integrated their social media tools (using the service IFTTT).

But with many of these stations there still appears to be some way to go. This is not a blog post to slate or criticise any station in this community, far from it, but rather to give food for thought about promotional tools or services which could be used to enhance web presence. Everyone without exception would want more people to listen to them. So here are a few things which (if you are running such a station) you may care to consider.
1. Try not to shout to your web browsing audience: "we are a group of blind people". Think about how your site could be made more visually attractive. Visual appeal and accessibility can go hand in hand.
2. Frequently update your web pages to include upcoming shows, new content and station promotions.
3. Consider having a Flash Player on the site. Activating a link on a page (or having a station included in an internet radio directory is fine), but perhaps make it easy for people to hear how fantastic your shows are directly from the site itself.
4. Embed a player for your radio station into your Facebook main page or use a viral distribution tool to place it on the station's wall, friends' walls or any groups created. Once a player is shared with the station's friends, their friends will see it and be curious and may listen to you!
5. Design the theme of the player to match the station's brand and colours.
6. Use services which Facebook offer to its users. Some Facebook sites of stations simply relay the Twitter feed which is fine, but Facebook as a lot more to offer such as chat, the ability to post photos, the creation of groups, and more.
7. Use services such as AudioBoo to readily promote what is being offered. If you have a team of broadcasters then presumably they like producing audio! It makes sense then to use AudioBoo as a promotion tool and encourage people to follow the station that way. AudioBoo is obviously very popular so it is worth using.

Clearly, the above will take some degree of implementation and maintenance. Maintenance is the key word here. After all, there is no point in implementing the tools only for them to lie dormant. But it seems to me that no harm can be done by implementing these or similar techniques and it is only through such channels that a bridge between visually impaired and sighted broadcasters may be constructed.

OK, that is my little blog entry almost over for the moment. Let me end with my usual section on things I am looking forward to, and, because we are in an internet radio context, I'll try and keep it all related to that subject.

Things I am looking forward to.
1. Bringing my show, "The Music Machine", back at some stage on internet radio. That's a long-term goal I think, OK, scrap that, these are all long-term goals.
2. Broadcasting in an environment in which I feel relaxed and comfortable. OK, I have that one, L's home, although she doesn't know it yet.
3. Modifying the equipment I have so I can use a sound mixer and good quality microphone.
4. Finding a station to host it who are good at promotion. As I've said, that is a tough one! Maybe I need to go outside this community to find it.

Bye for now everyone!