Talk radio live from the loft: great results for no cost

By James Cridland for
Posted 30 September 2014, 6.34am edt

Colin Kelly, supplied

Colin Kelly is a man with a mouth and a loft.

In Colin's case, his mouth has been well trained at a number of Scottish radio stations and TV channels, including the BBC's Commonwealth Games pop-up earlier this year; and his loft contains a few pieces of audio equipment. From this loft, Colin's been broadcasting live talkback radio: the radio that he grew up with, and the radio that he and others believe has a strong future.

During the runup to the Scottish referendum, Colin hosted a live online 30-minute programme every night, called "Live from the loft". It's cost him virtually no money; and it's had surprising results.

"I was staggered with the results I got," he tells pointing at statistics showing 51 countries tuning into his Referendum Night broadcast alone. And he did it without spending anything, either. Here's how.

The tech

Colin's loft studio is shown above - it's portable kit that he uses in media training out of the studio, so he needed it to be relatively simple to deconstruct. You'll see a Peavy USB8 mixing console and a Blue Yeti microphone in there, and two computers - the MacBook Air handling the output, while the Dell ran incoming phone calls via Skype and social media monitoring via Hootsuite. There's more details on Colin's blog.

Telephone calls were handled using SkypeIn - Skype's ability to have a local telephone number attached to an account. Streaming was done using Wirecast, a free download, and connected to Colin's YouTube channel. If you've not already spotted it, YouTube does free, scalable, live streaming for anyone with a YouTube account.

"I didn't stream video," he adds. "I simply output the audio and a holding slide that I'd made up in Keynote on my Mac which displayed the telephone number, the programme title, and so on. I wanted it to be as close as possible to radio, but simply on the YouTube platform."

The broadcasts

On the run-up to the referendum, Colin broadcast nightly half-hour programmes, promoted on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. Colin took calls via Skype and used HootSuite to monitor various aspects of the referendum campaign. He embedded the broadcast on his website.

Encouraged by the positive feedback, he decided to do a special, all-night, programme on the night of the referendum: from 9.30pm on the Thursday night until 5.30am on the Friday morning. This was a bit of a juggling act, since he was also a special correspondent with Australia's ABC radio, as well as the UK's LBC - both needing him to talk over his ISDN line from his proper home studio.

His live results show, moving his studio from the loft to the kitchen, was exhausting, he says. "I had to whisper into the microphone to avoid waking the family!" But how did it do?

The results

"I was absolutely staggered with the results I got," he tells us. "The Twitter feedback, calls and messages from people around the world were amazing. Clearly, they were on YouTube and stumbling onto my content, and although many were on and off having sampled it for a few seconds or a few minutes, from the overall stats I can see a fair number stuck with it."

For the Referendum results night, Colin had over 700 listening requests, and streamed a total of over 105 hours. This included 21 hours to Canada (90 requests), and 35 hours to the US (243 requests). In total, viewers from 51 countries tuned in.

Stats provided by YouTube show a peak concurrent audience of 19, and an average session duration of 8'43". While these figures don't look large to people used to RAJAR's weekly audience figures, they actually compare very well to "proper" radio stations' online audience, particularly overnight. The YouTube stats also reveal that listeners in Canada, Japan and Finland tuned-in longest.

What big radio can learn

"I'm not for a minute suggesting that this is THE FUTURE," Colin says, "or that it will replace any other platform: but if you look at the sheer numbers of people spending half their lives on YouTube seeking out content, there's got to be benefits for radio putting itself on there. I wonder if YouTube prioritises ongoing live events in its search results, too - was I being placed higher on the list because I was currently on-air?"

Marketing was limited to a few social media accounts, but visibility in YouTube's search results appears to be great marketing by itself. YouTube streaming is free, and seemingly limitless. These figures show that there's an audience for audio on these platforms; and that the time-difference between the UK and North America, particularly, is a benefit that's worth bearing in mind. Listeners overseas have no concept of established UK radio brands, which levels the playing field further.

Perhaps the biggest learning here is the democratisation of content that the internet offers. In the last twenty-five years, we've moved from a time where you needed big studios and expensive equipment, telephone balancing units and complex transmission chains, to nothing more than a computer and some free software. The only thing that doesn't level the playing field entirely is the requirement for some talent behind the microphone.

Colin plans to continue broadcasting live from the loft: with weekly phone-in and discussion programmes. And he considers his referendum activity as "a successful test".

"If this is what I can achieve... what could a big station do?" he adds. Indeed.

James Cridland — James runs, and is a radio futurologist: a consultant, writer and public speaker who concentrates on the effect that new platforms and technology are having on the radio business. He also publishes a free daily newsletter about podcasting, Podnews, and a weekly radio trends newsletter.

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