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RadioHack Drives Innovation

The 2018 edition of RadioHack focused on broadcasting tools for small and community stations, new hybrid services and smart speakers



Ofcom Senior Broadcast Specialist Rashid Mustapha explains his “hack” based on IPTV boxes to fellow participants.

GENEVA — The European Broadcasting Union’s RadioHack event, which takes place each year during the EBU Digital Radio Week, brings together hardware and software developers from various organizations, including non-EBU members, to share projects and ideas.

The event aims to push technology a step further by modifying it. Radio is traditionally “live,” but it is safe to say that during each RadioHack, radio becomes “lively!” It is a place where coders, solderers and thinkers collaborate and innovate together, working on new ideas and technologies and exploring how existing ones can be linked together.

ASKING BROADCASTERS

Probably one of the least formal events organized by the EBU, RadioHack has no dresscode, and once inside the “laboratory,” participants find evaluation boards, software-defined radio platforms, test-bed hardware, as well as “donor” off-the-shelf devices to be “hacked.”

The 2018 edition of RadioHack focused on broadcasting tools for small and community stations, new hybrid services and smart speakers.

Matthias Brändli, lead developer for Open Digital Radio, fine-tuned a set of tools capable of turning any computer into a microrange digital audio broadcasting transmitter, and ran a live demo. Open Digital Radio is a nonprofit organization with the goal of enabling small and community radio stations to step from analog transmission to digital radio.

“This set of tools have been tested in several locations,” Brändli explained, “and we’ve also been able to prove, using this set of technology tools, that digital audio broadcasting can be used for small coverages and for projects on a small scale.”

On another topic, the entertainment system of the current Audi A8 can seamlessly switch across FM, DAB and online streaming emissions of the same station. On hand was Florian Hoffmann, a radio development engineer at Audi who worked at their development platform for in-car hybrid radio receivers.

Radio slideshows now appear in low-resolution on a receiver’s display, but on Audi’s prototype attendees could preview the same slideshows in high resolution coming from the RadioVIS service of RadioDNS. “We ask broadcasters to support and implement the RadioDNS standard so we can implement these pre-development features on the next generation entertainment systems released for production,” Hoffmann said.

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SMART SPEAKERS

Also during the event, Rashid Mustapha, senior broadcast specialist at the United Kingdom’s broadcasting regulatory authority Ofcom, explained how the organization is facilitating the development of innovative ideas and tools for smaller stations.

“We would like to develop new ideas and software tools for small radio stations, specifically community radio and other special interest broadcasters. Moving from one of the nowadays popular IPTV boxes which are very low-cost mass-produced things for watching YouTube or Netflix on turn any TV into a smart TV,” he said. At Ofcom we replaced the standard Android operating system IPTV boxes usually run on with a Linux OS.”

The new operating system enables researchers to control the hardware and build their own software tools. During RadioHack the modified IPTV box ran a DAB source encoder, a DAB multiplexer and a DAB modulator, which fed a software defined radio transmitter via a USB cable. Users were able to upload and store audio content and music files to the same modified IPTV box, which also featured an embedded web-based playout system.

“The modified box can also pull web streams and podcasts from the internet, so that it actually contains a complete radio station,” Mustapha added.

Software defined radio peripherals and open standard digital radio encoders were part of the hack by Belgium’s Dutch-speaking public broadcaster VRT, which also focused on smart speakers. The broadcaster developed a skill for Amazon Alexa that allows listeners to talk to their radio station of choice.

As an example, Floris Daelemans, VRT innovation researcher, prompted an Amazon Echo Dot device running Alexa: “Alexa, can you tell Radiohack I’m feeling fine and dandy?”

The smart speaker acknowledged the request and whispered “Message has been sent.” In response to this, the system sent an email to the radio station and immediately the dummy RadioHack station received an email reporting that that listener is feeling fine.

“There are multiple emotions that can be conveyed, easily and immediately shared with radio stations. With this, listeners can give an immediate feedback to the radio station,” Daelemans concluded.

NEXT GENERATION AUDIO

Orpheus is a project funded by the European Union, focusing on the research and development of next generation audio. Werner Bleisteiner, creative technologist at Bayerischer Rundfunk explained how speech intelligibility, 3D audio, as well as advanced features like user-definable lengths of sound bites are among the features enabled by the Orpheus project.

“We’re going to make audio more interactive and responsive, delivering audio objects to the end user device where they get assembled in the way that suits listening conditions, the preferences, and the choice of the user,” said Bleisteiner.

At RadioHack, Bleisteiner demonstrated an audio piece built with five levels of “importance”; each one of them is presented with a different color on the receiver’s display.

“In this example, the most important level is highlighted in red,” he said. “In case the listener wishes to listen to more levels, the user experience can become longer and more in-depth regarding information.” Through a dedicated app, developed by the Orpheus partner Elephantcandy, listeners can “readjust the length of the program to their needs.”

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Sam Matheny and Joe D’Angelo addressed the future of radio technology at event in Switzerland

GENEVA — More than 120 delegates attended the recent Digital Radio Summit — part of the annual EBU Digital Radio Week — to hear from EBU members and others about the present and the future in radio technology and innovation, according to tech.EBU .

For those readers in the states that perhaps wonder just why we cover European radio so much, it’s because broadcasters over there are in many ways ahead of us and we can learn something about what will happen in North America by seeing what happens there.

A primary theme running through the summit this year was “user experience,” including automotive and voice control. Questions that kept coming up included: How can radio compete with the user experience offered by other audio services? What can radio do to go even further? And how can broadcasters actually drive change, rather than be swept away by it?

Are we asking these same questions enough in the US? The good news is that US broadcasters were in attendance and spoke to the assembly. Sam Matheny, CTO of NAB , said that broadcasters were currently fragmented, but trying to work with global companies — and that coming together and using scale to leverage change could be the winning tactic. He also pointed out that something as simple as using the same words on a global scale would help to drive this change. 

Matheny reminded attendees that in times of crisis, people continued to turn to radio as their primary source of information, as witnessed during tragic events such as Hurricane Harvey in the US or the Tōhoku earthquake in Japan. It was this reliability of broadcast over mobile networks that drove the NAB push to get broadcast receivers in mobile phones, said Matheny, according to the same article.

Radio remains of vital importance in cars and accounts for a huge proportion of listening hours through the world. The experience of radio in cars is evolving, though. 

Joe D’Angelo of Xperi called these changes “table stakes” that radio must offer to keep its prominence in the dashboard. Presentations from Xperi and Audi illustrated that graphical branding and information about what is on-air enriches the radio user experience, and Audi issued a call to action for broadcasters to provide logos, content and metadata to feed their increasingly sophisticated and capable in-car media surfaces.

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