James Cridland

Do you really need a physical radio “station” at all?

I still remember my first look round a radio station. In spite of writing to Signal Radio in Stoke-on-Trent and being ignored (shame on you, Signal), Radio Aire in Leeds held an open day, and I got to look round the studios. I remember being amazed by the equipment, and was astonished at how great the jingles sounded on the decent studio monitors; and the equipment everywhere.

Do you need an on-site playout system? The BBC’s ViLOR solution for their local radio stations keeps the fancy studios, but moves all the playout equipment into a few regional centres — so, as a presenter on a local station, you’re not pressing “play” on a computer in the basement any more, but one a few hundred miles away. The benefits here are obvious — easier maintenance, more efficient air-conditioning, cheaper studio facilities.

Speaking at Next Radio, RCS’s Philippe Generali unveiled a cloud-based system called Raptor, that moves all of the playout software for a typical radio station into “the cloud”: so RCS look after the racks and the transmitter link, rather than your radio station.

Do you need a music library? OmniPlayer’s playout system uses Spotify (as well as your local audio) so you’ll have access to any song that you need, almost.

Do you need expensive soundproofed studios? A few years ago, I wrote about Vista Radio, a company that I’ve been proudly working with for the last two years, who don’t have radio studios in their new facilities. Instead, their “open-air” studios are part of their office space. If you’re doing music programming, it’s unlikely you need the type of heavy soundproofing that legacy studios have; and if the only speech blocks are at breakfast, your office is quiet then anyway.

Do you need studios at all? For UK-based EDM station This Is Electric, their presenters are at home, using their own home studio (typically, a USB microphone into a laptop), controlling the playout software which is hosted for them by the UK company Broadcast Radio. The station is on DAB and on the internet.

Do you need offices at all? Google’s G-Suite or Microsoft’s Office 365 offers all the functionality for office work, alongside planning systems like WideOrbit or Aquira. For most jobs, there’s little need for anything other than a web browser.

The team at Aiir, who do radio websites, apps and many more things, don’t have a head office at all: and all work remotely from home. There’s no reason to spend all that money on rent and office space if your team are all remote workers.

I’m now hearing about FM stations in the UK who operate entirely virtually — no offices at all, presenters doing their shows from home (both live and voicetracked), and all back-office work being done by home-workers on systems based in the cloud. Many sales operations already work this way.

The discussion in the US earlier this year was all about “the local studio rule”, but, it seems the discussion for some forward-looking radio stations is whether they need a building at all.

(For the hard-of-thinking old US radio engineers, who’ve linked to this piece and are bemoaning radio stations that just rebroadcast stuff from thousands of miles away, I hope it’s clear: not having an actual radio building does not mean you can’t be doing “live, local” radio every single day. Just that you needn’t pay business rates for the privilege.)