Wednesday, 10 February 2010

[creative-radio] OpenBroadcaster - free software program runs radio stations via internet


Rob Hopkins

Bob has spent the past decade fine-tuning a free software program that
allows a radio station to be run by someone with little technical
experience from the comfort of any computer connected to the internet.

The program, called OpenBroadcaster, is currently used by Hopkin's own
small station in Tagish and by CJUC, Whitehorse's community radio station.

Hopkins, 47, has high hopes the program will allow new community radio
organizations to sprout across the territory.

And while the software itself is free, Hopkins hopes to turn a profit by
selling to organizations his expertise of setting up and running small
radio stations.

He figures he could have a new station up and running for less than
$10,000. And for a monthly fee of about $100, he would provide technical
support and maintenance for the station.

He envisions community groups and First Nations operating these stations
and pulling in revenue from advertisements sold to local businesses.

Whether he succeeds in persuading these organizations to get into the
radio business remains to be seen. He's received a cool reception from
First Nations so far.

But Hopkins imagines many possible benefits arising from the proliferation
of low-cost community radio across the Yukon. He sees it as being
particularly useful for emergency broadcasting.

He's designed a feature in which emergency workers would be able to easily
trigger a pre-recorded message that could, for example, warn at regular
intervals that a forest fire is approaching the community.

He's now pitching to Yukon's Emergency Measures Organization the idea that
the territory ought to help subsidize the operation of these small
stations as an inexpensive emergency broadcasting network.

If disaster does strike, the system could quickly pay for itself by
mitigating damage. And during uneventful years, the territory probably
would have a little money left over that would be set aside for
emergencies, he reasons.

The chief strength of the web-based interface is that it eliminates much
of the costly staff and equipment that is conventionally required to run a
radio station.

And it allows a radio show to be hosted from anywhere. That's how Tagish
residents are able to listen to Estonian pop music played by a
Toronto-based DJ.

The system's weakness is that it's not really designed to allow radio
hosts to banter live on-air.

A recent meeting with EMO officials in Tagish went "really good and really
bad," said Hopkins.

Bad because computers misbehaved. Good because the software worked in the
end anyhow, broadcasting over Tagish's radio a pre-recorded message every
several minutes.

Lest an actual emergency recording frighten residents, Hopkins instead
played a seven-second soundbyte of a grizzly bear growl.

Hopkins began dabbling with radio in the late 1990s when he started his
own five-watt, "under-regulated" (read: pirate) radio station, which at
the time re-broadcast a classic-rock station from Vancouver.

The station received its federal licence in 2003, and continues to air a
healthy dose of classic rock (Hopkins has a tattoo of his favourite band,
Electric Light Orchestra, etched on his arm) along with a mishmash of
other material, including the rantings of 9-11 conspiracy theorists.

Hopkins works during the day as a techie with the Carcross Tagish First
Nation. When he comes home, it's not unusual for him to find an assortment
of electronic junk dropped off at his steps by Tagish residents who know
he hoards the stuff.

He didn't build the program himself, and professes that he couldn't code
his way "out of a wet paper bag." Instead, over the past decade he netted
various government grants that allowed him to hire a programmer.

He's no stranger to outlandish sales pitches. He's tried, at various
points, to flog salmon, maple syrup and cosmetics to the Chinese during
his travels overseas.

The cosmetics proved to be a bust. They ended up melting in the heat.

He hopes his radio software will perform better, but Hopkins is
philosophical about the possibility it may not.

"If I make money, great," he said. "If not, I just spent my life doing
something I enjoy."

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