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World Radio Day: What Radio Means in a Technology World

February 13, 2012 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has declared Feb. 13 World Radio Day to emphasize the ongoing value radio contributes to an ever-changing technological world. Despite the proliferation of the Internet, radio remains the single most important medium for communication and information access to the widest possible audience. Radio still goes many places the Internet infrastructure can’t, especially in many of the world’s developing nations. So, why do we need to give special emphasis to radio and what does the technology mean to us?

Have we taken radio for granted in our high-tech world? I think the answer is an emphatic “yes!” We may not realize this, but many of us are constantly on the air nowadays. It’s no longer just about the DJ on the broadcast radio airwaves, the ham radio operator keying Morse Code on a primitive transmitter or the pilot talking with her air traffic controllers to ensure a safe flight.

The world is now comprised of an uncountable number of tiny radios found in many electronic devices we have come to enjoy and use every day. We know, for instance, that an iPhone 4S contains at least six distinct radios: a radio capable of receiving and transmitting signals on the 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi band, a radio that can talk to Bluetooth devices such as headsets and keyboards, two different radios for talking on the CDMA and GSM cellular frequencies, another radio to facilitate Internet access through the cellular data networks and, finally, a GPS receiver. When you use your iPhone, it is safe to say you are probably using at least two, if not more, different radios all at the same time!

How is it we have come to forget about radio and take it for granted in our highly-developed technological society? I think the answer is that radios are not as obvious as they were once upon a time. In the not-too-distant past, if you listened to the radio, you were looking at a separate box with buttons, dials and switches and a set of headphones or a pair of speakers. If you were a radio star, you held a microphone and faced a bewildering panel of carts and controls. If you talked on a two-way radio, you probably had a special license or it was part of your job and you either held a small walkie-talkie type box or you sat in front of a bunch of equipment with lots of buttons, dials, knobs, meters and switches. In any case, the radio part of the task you were performing was front and center. That’s not so now.

When do you think about radio today? Perhaps, most of us really give it serious thought when we’re riding in our cars or listening to our stereos at home. Otherwise, although the radios in our lives are present, they’re usually buried. When I was talking with a friend about the radios in the iPhone, she thought I was referring to all the radio apps out there for listening to broadcast stations streamed on the Internet. Despite the shrinking of radios into tiny chips on circuit boards hidden inside our favorite electronic devices, we’re using them more often today than we ever have at any time in the past. When we talk on a cordless or cell phone, we’re talking on a radio. When we use a laptop computer to go online from our favorite coffee shop, we’re on the air. Believe it or not, we are all radio stars!

What does all this mean for the world? I think we’re slowly forgetting about radio’s past and, in the process, we may be leaving many people in disadvantaged populations and developing nations behind. The advent of Internet streaming and satellite radio has been cited as justification for massive cutbacks in the availability of programming on the shortwave radio broadcast bands, despite the fact that these radios are the only way hundreds of millions of people may be able to gain timely access to entertainment and important information about their world.

The long-time switch from the inherently non-visual radio medium to television and, now, streaming video on the Internet has meant that it can be more challenging for blind people to enjoy many forms of entertainment that were once more accessible. This is probably a significant reason for the resurgence of old-time-radio listening in the blind community.

How about emergency communication? What happens when the cell towers are blown down in a hurricane? What would happen if a significant number of the satellites we rely on for communication and navigation suddenly became unavailable? What would the world’s survivors do in the event of a massive electromagnetic pulse or nuclear war? The uber-geeky amateur (ham) radio operators have the enthusiasm, innovative spirit, qualifications and access to older equipment it would take to communicate during an emergency and coordinate the reorganization of the world when our high-tech gadgets and infrastructure become useless.

Unfortunately, the world’s governments continue to deemphasize radio. Shortwave broadcasts to many parts of the world are cut every year. Fewer and fewer people are interested in ham radio and there’s no longer a Morse Code requirement for any class of amateur radio license in America and many other countries. Morse Code can cut through radio noise like no other mode of radio transmission, but who is going to know how to use it when it is needed most?

How can we continue to move forward into the bright future of a technology-driven world while ensuring our safety and promoting stability and security? I think one small thing we can do is to keep radio in our minds and think about it a little each day. When you’re checking your email, talking or tweeting on your iPhone, remember that you are using several tiny radios to make it all happen. When you’re listening to satellite radio or streaming your favorite station through ooTunes, think about all the people in the developing world who don’t have access to this content and remember that an older technology called shortwave radio can reach them if we ensure its continued existence. Finally, think about those of us who have passed numerous qualification exams and learned Morse Code to earn our ham radio licenses, which we may someday need to use as a means of providing life-saving communications services in the event of a disaster.

I’d love to hear from readers. What does radio mean to you? Please feel free to post your story in the comments or mention me, darrell on Twitter.

Don’t Miss the Return of the Desert Cafe to ACB Radio Interactive

August 19, 2010 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

The Desert Cafe is open for business and back on ACB Radio Interactive once again.

So, after a long day at  work or school, come  in , sit  back and chill out.

We will  serve more than just your favorite beverages.  There will be other goodies to nosh on  while you kick  back and listen or  dance to the tunes.

Go ahead,step inside,get out of the heat and  sit down in   one of our comfy Chairs,recliners  or lounges. Sun goddesses can relax on the patio. We have misters to make it a more pleasant experience.

The doors will  open at 6 p.m. Pacific, 9 p.m. Eastern on Monday Aug 23 or 01:00 UTC Tuesday Aug. 24.

You may tune into ACB Radio Interactive and listen with your favorite media player or portable device.

Coffee and other items will be served up along with music  from the 60’s through today.

Darrell and I will greet all of you at the door and little Joycie will be there with her licks and waggie tail. Hope to see you there.

Categories: broadcasting

Guide Dog Users Group Features Inaccessible Convention Streaming

July 7, 2009 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Investigating a report late Sunday evening, we confirmed that GUIDE DOG USERS, INC., an affiliate of the American Council of the Blind is broadcasting its convention using an inaccessible embedded Flash media player. Blind users can listen to the broadcasts but unlabeled buttons provide an inferior experience for the blind as compared to that enjoyed by the sighted.

“We will make efforts to make our site more accessible,” said Bill Clanton, founder and producer of All Pets Radio, the company through which GDUI outsourced the streaming. “Some of the changes you’ve suggested will take some time to redesign, but we want to make All Pets Radio available to all audiences, so we will make the necessary changes.”

“I wonder why they didn’t use ACB Radio for this?” asked Karen Shandrow, a guide dog owner and potential target audience for the broadcasts.

GDUI’s webmaster, Earlene Hughes, was not available for comment.

NFB’s Accessible Convention Broadcasts Highlight the Organization’s Responsiveness

July 7, 2009 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

On Sunday, we reported the inaccessibility of the live convention broadcasts of the National Federation of the Blind. A new, accessible streaming option was released by the organization Monday morning.

“You’re 100 percent correct about the inaccessibility of Silverlight. The first time we realized the company who donated the streaming to us used Silverlight was when we saw your blog post,” said Chris Danielsen, NFB’s Director of Public Relations. “The NFB will never purposely launch an inaccessible technology. We make every effort to make sure we’re practicing what we preach. In this situation, we screwed up. But we rectified it immediately.”

We jumped the gun by writing the story without giving NFB officials a chance to remedy the issue.

“You could argue we should have been aware of it, but we weren’t. As soon as we found out about it from you, we rectified it. I wish an e-mail had come to us before the blog post. I wish you would’ve confirmed this before blogging,” Danielsen said. “In the future, please talk to us before calling us out.”

“The fact that the organization was able to remedy the situation very early on when few staff are in their offices is promising,” said Angie Matney, a blind law school graduate and NFB member. “It demonstrates that NFB is committed to ensuring the best possible convention listening experience for all who were unable to attend.”

NFB Provides Fully Accessible 2009 Convention Streaming Option

July 6, 2009 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

The National Federation of the Blind announced Monday morning that it has made available a fully accessible streaming option for its 2009 national convention.

“We have placed a different streaming link on the home page that should open the stream in the user’s default media player of choice instead of the Silverlight player,” said Chris Danielsen, Director of Public Relations with the National Federation of the Blind. 

“We apologize for any problems that this has caused anybody,” David Andrews, the organization’s webmaster and mailing list administrator, said.

New Internet Radio Station, The Ride, Serves the Blind Community and Beyond

September 7, 2008 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Deb and Rick Lewis, former broadcasters on ACB Radio, have just started a new Internet radio station called The Ride featuring the return of their Christian, country and oldies radio shows to the air. They are looking to expand by adding more shows in the future.
The new station remains quite accessible while operating under a licensing arrangement more friendly to broadcasters. The first show, Rick’s Oldies and More, is currently broadcasting live from 2:00 to 6:00 PM Pacific time. We are excited about this development as well as the quick return of Deb and Rick to the Internet radio scene.

Categories: broadcasting

Alternate ACB Radio Interactive Broadband Listening Stream Now Available

August 20, 2007 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

ACB Radio Interactive listeners now have an alternate listening option, thanks to additional streaming bandwidth provided by Paul Merrell. Please feel free to utilize this option at any time in cases where you experience any breakup, buffering or outage of the primary broadband stream.

Once again, we at ACB Radio thank Paul for his generous donation!

Audio Promos Now Available for the Yahoo! Accessibility Improvement Petition

July 29, 2007 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Thanks to Steve Bauer of ACB Radio fame, the following audio promos for the Yahoo! Accessibility Improvement Petition are now available for podcasts, streaming Internet broadcasts and all other audio programs where running public service announcements may be appropriate:

Once again, we thank Steve Bauer (The Jazz Man) for his hard work on these excellent promos!

Broadcasting a Skype Voice Chat Over Station Playlist Studio Using Two Sound Cards and No Mixer

May 12, 2007 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

I have figured out how to broadcast a voice chat session using Skype over Station Playlist Studio using two sound cards with no hardware mixer. This configuration was tested for the first time this afternoon during a four hour show on ACB Radio Interactive. Feel free to try this procedure and give us some feedback with your own results.

Sound card settings

Make the following adjustments to the sound card volume control in the Control Panel:

  • Playback: Microphone and wave not muted. Reduce microphone volume to prevent distortion.
  • Recording: What you hear selected with 100 percent volume setting.

Studio Settings

This configuration requires at least Station Playlist version 4.0, as it takes advantage of the software’s built-in mixing capability:

  • Input > Mic Input tab:
    • Recording mixer: “What You Hear”
    • Output mixer: none
  • Output > Mixer tab: Switch device to another sound card or possibly Null output. Switch the screen reader to the sound card selected on Studio’s Output > Mixer tab or a second sound card if null was selected in Studio. Use a second pair of earbuds or headphones to hear broadcast monitoring and speech from the screen reader.

Skype Settings

In Tools > Options > Audio, uncheck “let Skype adjust my audio settings”. This adjustment is necessary to prevent Skype from significantly reducing the volume during the broadcast.

Categories: broadcasting, Skype, tips