Johan Boqvist de Lawo reflects on the next century of sports radio
Podcasts, “immersive audio”, IP will be major factors
Radio was the first electronic sport broadcasting medium, and just over 100 years after the first advertisers crackled on the air, radio remains a prominent media format for sport. This is also where the streamed audio expands, offering more detail and nuance. And a lot more screaming. SVG sat with Johan Boqvist, Senior Product Manager, Radio Products and Systems, Lawo, to discuss how the radio is preparing its infrastructure for the next hundred years.
When people say “broadcast sports” the implication is that they are talking about television, and television gets the lion’s share of the conversation around audio for broadcast sports. How does Lawo view the role of radio in this conversation, and is radio properly valued for what it delivers?
Radio is and always has been a perfect medium for sports because it is so easily accessible and always available, no matter what time of day or place. Many events and games take place exactly when you are working out in the garden on a Saturday, in the car on your way home from the office, cooking dinner in the kitchen, or going for a run or exercise in the gym, and the radio is the perfect companion for these activities since it engages you but does not require your full attention. The radio format also allows networks to deliver longer, more detailed stories for die-hard sports fans, either live on dedicated digital sports channels or in podcasts.
However, for a broadcaster, it is much more difficult to deliver a great user experience of a live sporting event to a radio audience than to television. As a show host you need to create the right atmosphere from the start and be very ready to engage the audience with interesting stories and information before the game starts. The commentator needs to provide detail and create text images. that give listeners the feeling that they are really there. In many cases, the sports radio team does all of this while operating the equipment, so they have to be really on top of their game. Is the radio getting the appropriate value for what it offers? Listeners certainly appreciate it.
Where has sports radio failed in recent years? Are its capture, mixing and processing technologies maintained or are they generally considered secondary to those of television? With nearly two decades of TV sports surround sound and immersive sound on the table, how can radio “improve its playing”, so to speak? For example, is automotive sound a market of interest for this?
All of our radio consoles and mixing engines are multichannel ready and support several assistive technologies and audio enhancement features that can be used in sports production. However, the challenge for the broadcaster is not so much in production as in distribution. How do you distribute the 5.1 or 7.1 stream to listeners at home or in the car using “traditional” radio broadcast formats, such as FM, DAB or satellite?
Networks, the automotive industry, and the consumer electronics market are all working on easy-to-use solutions and standards for this, and I really believe that when we start to see more and more 5G connected vehicles on the roads, we you can also listen to live sports with multi-channel sound in the car. The same principle will apply to smartphones when products like Dolby Atmos headphones hit the market on a larger scale.
Dialogue Enhancements for the Hearing Impaired is an additional “immersive audio” application that many of our public broadcasting R&D departments are working to implement. The possibilities of this are really interesting. For example, imagine giving listeners “dialogue” control in their smartphone app so they can adjust the balance between music and speech to their own preferences. We have even seen experiments where the end user application has a “supporter” slider. How many audio features supported by the listener would you like to hear? Just adjust the slider. OK, that’s a bit esoteric, but you get the idea: the application scenarios for next-gen audio are endless.
Streaming is an industry that sports media are embracing, especially with the new popularity of podcasts (which are audio only and are sort of a version of radio). What are the opportunities for audio technology?
The podcast format is perfect for long sports interviews, stories, documentaries and game highlights, and we are certainly seeing an increase in demand for products suitable for “off-air” productions. After all, you don’t hire a master studio every time you preproduce, so why do it to create podcast content?
Over the past few years, we have seen a growing interest and adoption for “virtual radio” solutions: software products that replace hardware and provide an integrated production environment as well as increased cost-benefit. For example, our R3LAY virtual mixer lets you deploy an eight-fader touchscreen mixer application on your PC and integrate your audio editing software, playout system, phone management system, and audio tools. social media, controlling them all in the same interface. . And, as PCs are naturally network compatible, this virtual radio setup can operate in a stand-alone home studio or connect to the main studio via a private IP network. It’s a perfect solution for those times when more and more talent is working from home or remote studios.
What does the Lawo Diamond modular console bring to the production of sports radios? More importantly, how does it line up with the broadcasting industry’s pursuit in terms of profitability and budget concerns?
Everyone is looking for more workflow flexibility, better performance and better value for money. It’s the radio industry as a whole, not just sports radio. But one of the benefits of diamonds that should attract sports broadcasters directly is remote production. Diamond is a native IP console, so it can be used remotely via WAN or LAN. Imagine having a PC at the stadium with a touchscreen interface that directly controls the main studio console. You can design the entire production remotely or just give talents custom screens with the controls they need. Or, for larger productions with remote trucks on site, a physical diamond control surface in the van can connect directly to the mixing motor at the technical center. Remote production capability is a huge advantage for sports broadcasters.
Another thing that Diamond offers sports commentators is a faster, more intuitive workflow. Our live production consoles have pioneered many workflow features over the years, such as touch controls, illuminated keys with functions grouped by color, context menus, and built-in control of the options. touch screen. These are all things that are common on television, but, with the diamond, we have incorporated them into the suite of radio production. All of this attention to design, interface and workflow is intended for engineers and talent, whether TV or radio, to understand and use the console intuitively. and efficient, without a huge learning curve.
There are some other characteristics that make the diamond attractive for sports operations. It is fully modular which means it is very flexible in terms of configuration by customers. You can have split surfaces, locate the surface remotely or with the mixing core, schedule custom snapshots for specific show types or individual talents. It’s an IP audio console, which means you eliminate the cost of legacy baseband infrastructure and the “big iron” basic routers that come with it. And, of course, it pays off. Depending on the size of the surfaces, one Power Core motor can serve up to four diamond consoles. This is quite convincing for the result.
How will radio in general be impacted by developments around audio broadcasting during its migration to IP platforms?
The pandemic has forced many broadcasters to work remotely. It was difficult at first, but the industry adapted quickly, and intellectual property is the reason. You no longer need a complete hardware studio setup with nailed-down audio transmission lines; with IP, you can easily control studio equipment remotely or deploy software mixers at the end for talent to use. It used to cost thousands of dollars to build a remote studio; IP allows this for a fraction of the cost and delivers the same results. I think we will continue to see organizations and individuals embrace the flexibility of remote production.
Another outgrowth of IP is virtual and cloud-based platforms. Backend systems such as automation and delivery are available as online solutions. There are even cloud-based mixing offerings. While not all are suitable for live production, continued interest in this area could lead to some interesting developments.
Do you see a difference in the way radio sport is watched and used in the United States compared to Europe? How does this affect the development, acquisition and implementation of technology? For example, are public broadcasters placing more emphasis on updating their radio technology?
As a European resident, I can certainly say that sports radio is important to the public for the coverage of local, regional and national sports, and my colleagues in the United States have told me the same. Of course, major world events with 24/7 coverage also attract many listeners. And then we can watch 24 hour sports radio, all sports satellite radio channels, local commentary and phone shows. I think sports radio is important all over the world.
In my opinion, public and private broadcasters place equal value on sports radio. It’s a proven winner in terms of audience and (for commercial broadcasters) revenue, so it’s in broadcasters’ best interests to maintain and advance their infrastructure. That’s exactly what we’ve seen at Lawo, and that’s why we continue to actively engage our customers in conversations about the types of technologies that will enhance and grow their production capabilities.