Last Updated: Sunday, 9 December 2007, 00:28 GMT
Radio has picture perfect future
Spencer Kelly
By Spencer Kelly
Click presenter

Digital radio means more stations have the ability to broadcast extra information alongside the audio. But some experts are looking at providing some pretty controversial extra radio content - pictures.

Kaiser Chiefs
Radio 1 is among the stations experimenting with visual radio

It has been said that radio is superior to television because the pictures are better. Not everyone agrees.

"Young audiences do expect different things from audiences that have grown up with that sharp divide between television and radio," explained Andy Parfitt, controller of BBC Radio 1.

"If you get hold of any of these hi-tech converged devices they all have a small, very high quality, colour screen.

"That means that audiences come to expect to see as well as hear their favourite audio and radio brands to the extent that if you're using the device and there's nothing on the screen, it can feel and look like it's broken."

The 'right' pictures

As a station for the UK's fashion conscious, up-to-the-minute, MySpace-ing youth, Radio 1 is already trying to fulfil its audience's visual expectations by providing pictures for the digital TV screen, even filming the concerts they broadcast.

Iain Meadows, presenter at Original 106 FM
A DJ at work. Not the most interesting visual experience

They and other broadcasters are trying find the right pictures to accompany the sound, anything from comedian Russell Brand's rants to a YouTube camera during his radio show to information like the station logo and track data.

For commercial broadcasters they now have the opportunity to show adverts on the screen with click-throughs to the advertisers' websites.

But can this exclude people who do not have screens?

"Glanceability is the phrase the tech-heads use. In other words it can't be content that you must look at in order to get the picture," said Mr Parfitt.

"The content we're looking at streaming alongside the radio broadcast are these glanceable nuggets of visual information that enhance your enjoyment of the radio station and give you information that is perhaps too inefficient to be delivered by the radio station, like the 10 tracks that are on the album. You couldn't do that easily, it would be boring for most listeners.

"So you can give away more information and make it a richer experience."

It is certainly not just a case of putting a camera up in the studio so you can see what the presenter is up to, which, at many music stations, might not be very much.

Is this working or is it tuned into the radio?
Some mobile phones can receive enhanced radio stations

"Essentially radio is quite boring," said Iain Meadows, presenter at Original 106 FM. "All you're doing is just pressing buttons, fiddling with bits of paper, maybe occasionally surfing the net to see what's going on in the world.

"Aside from that there's really not much going on. If you had a camera looking at you all the time I think inevitably you would be self conscious, you wouldn't be able to perform.

"It's like walking around your home naked; you need to think you're safe in that environment and you can do what you've got to do"

Enhanced experience

But some factual content may well be enhanced by images. Imagine listening to a news story and being able to see the key pics.

The BBC Sport website already supplements its radio commentary with extra info - live score cards and match stats to glance at whenever you want. Something easily extended to a radio screen.

Sometimes when people are talking about what they might do, they are in danger of inventing television
Roger Mosey, director, BBC Sport.

But interviewers beware - sometimes the presence of a camera can change the way your guests behave.

"If you put a camera in it changes the dynamic of those interviews," explained Roger Mosey, director of BBC Sport.

"Politicians give different interviews when a camera's there because they know that their visual appearance matters on television sometimes more than the words they're saying.

"Radio's the other way around. On radio the meaning of what you say, the actual words, count for 100%."

This sort of "visual radio" is still pretty much at the experimental stage, and so right now anything is possible. But it may be that the smaller ideas that win out.

Nokia has its own mobile-led project called Visual Radio, which offers an enhanced service for radio stations delivered over a cell network. Only a limited number of stations have signed up for it so far.

Many experts agree that something as simple as an electronic programme guide would really enhance the radio experience. Being able to see what is on now and what is coming up.

And lets not forget that if it's pictures we want, there are already plenty of places to get them.

"Sometimes when people are talking about what they might do, they are in danger of inventing television," said Mr Mosey.

"Radio still needs to concentrate on what its core values are, but it can add to them, make them bigger and more exciting and more expansive."

How will radio change in future?
28 Sep 07 |  Entertainment
Future looking 'rosy' for radio
11 Sep 05 |  Technology
Mobiles get set for visual radio
21 Jan 05 |  Technology


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