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“Radio” does not really have the same buzz quotient as many of the technologies used to amplify conferences. However, yesterday Brian Kelly drew my attention to the Pontydysgu: Bridge to Learning event, which is happening in Helskini later this week. The organisers are offering three internet radio programmes as part of their amplification of the event, allowing people to “drop into the conference”. After chatting with organiser Graham Attwell on Twitter, he revealed that these programmes will include interviews, vox pops, features and more.

So what is the potential for wider use of internet radio for amplified events? My main interests are accessibility and interactivity, so I want to consider how internet radio could help towards these two goals.
 

Accessibility

 
Whilst it does not happen often, I occasionally come across people who were unable to access the live video stream from the event due to firewall restrictions. I normally offer a drop-in tech check session prior to the event for conferences where delegates have paid in advance to attend online, but when an event is amplified to the general public it is difficult to help everyone check their set up beforehand and equip them with the right information so their IT departments allow access, as people often discover the conference whilst the event is already in progress. I also find that sometimes people do not have sufficient bandwidth to enjoy a smooth video stream, making this a source of irritation and interrupted learning. As internet speeds increase, this will become less of a problem, but these issues can occasionally exclude participants from not only viewing the event, but actively participating in any accompanying discussions, as they may feel under-informed.

Internet radio may be a way of offering an alternative route to accessing the content in these situations. The audio stream can be played in any mp3 player that the user has installed and will take up less bandwidth than streaming video. However, it would be important to ensure that visual materials, such as the speakers’ slides, are easily available. I also worry that many speakers do not necessarily speak with a non-seeing audience in mind, so other visual cues may be lost to the radio audience without some type of audio description service being on standby. A live blogger who is aware of the need to explain any gaps within their coverage may also be beneficial, although this would not be the most practical solution for anyone in the audience with a visual impairment.
 

Interactivity

 
I see no reason why a live audio stream need be any less interactive than a live video stream, if positioned in such a way that the listening audience can clearly see how to submit their question so that it can be relayed to the speaker in the conference room. This may include the chairperson inviting questions from the online audience, as someone listening in via an MP3 player may be slightly less likely to have open a conference web page unless they are viewing the speaker’s slides.

Radio also has a history of interactivity in the form of listener call-ins, which began in the mid 1940s. It would be interesting to see if this format could be incorporated into a live event. I have been mulling over using Skype to host a webcam/voice call-in to engage an online audience in a live Q&A session for some time, so I am keen to find an opportunity to facilitate this in practice.
 

Creating good radio

 
During our discussion, Graham Attwell also made the point that whilst producing an internet radio stream is not technically difficult, creating good radio can be difficult, with which I thoroughly agree. If internet radio is to be used successfully and professionally as an alternative to the live video stream, there would need to be a fair amount of planning, careful production and the provision of pre-created materials to fill in between sessions.

I very much like the idea of collecting materials throughout the event and putting together a more crafted radio show as a sample of the conference happenings, particularly if a conference has multiple parallel sessions going on, as at Pontydysgu. Audio gives an opportunity for connecting more content, voices and ideas together into a sustained, structured piece reflecting on the conference from a greater height. This would be more difficult to do to as high a quality with video, particularly given limited time and resources during an event. Creating a video content from the event is not much more difficult than creating an audio content to the same standard, but creating video content to connect and contextualise a range interviews, clips and vox pops can be more challenging. I would usually do this type of high level contextualisation purely with text in the form of a blog post, but creating a radio show could provide another engaging way to present a conference online. It still takes careful planning to pull it off in a timely manner, but could be a really viable option for large, diverse events or perhaps events with a strong exhibitor focus.

I will certainly be exploring the technology and experimenting with the different ways in which internet radio could be integrated into an amplification plan, so thanks to Brian Kelly for the heads up and Graham Attwell for the inspiration!
 
 
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