Thursday, February 18, 2010

Automatic Radio

Is DAB a sort of a sense palindrome? Its name spelt backwards gives you an idea of what you can encounter. From DAB to BAD to Worse.

DAB has been marketed as the be all and end all. RTÉ and BBC have gone for it and I got a DAB radio for Christmas.

Signal quality is frightening. Silences are silent. You think the signal has gone. For as long as I have listened to radio there is always a suggestion of a hum or a hiss which reassures you that the damn thing hasn't broken down. But DAB. The silences bring you up short. You think you've lost the signal. Digital is something else.

RTÉ's Radio 1 Extra is interesting. This gives you a rerun of earlier programmes and if you have missed the originals it can be a great catch up.

However I got a shock the other night when I tried to listen to a rerun of Miriam O'Callaghan's interview with Michael D Higgins and his missus. This and earlier experiences led to me writing to RTÉ in the following (perhaps over nostalgic terms).

I refer to the rebroadcast of the Miriam O'Callaghan programme with Michael D and his wife on DAB Radio 1 Extra at 9pm on 25/1/10.

I have spent a very frustrating hour trying to listen to this programme.

At the beginning it went OK. Then the sound track started speeding up to be followed by long gaps, then more speeding up and so on.

There was no announcement about difficulties at the RTÉ level and I am convinced that my DAB radio, however good it may be, could not possibly have produced these strange effects.

This programme would have been a disgrace in the age of analogue valve radio. I have been associated with Radio Éireann indirectly since the late 1950s and I am sure that any of the staff of those days would have been cringing at what went out on air.

Before commenting on this abomination on my blog I would like to give you the opportunity to set me straight on what exactly was going on. I listened to Joe Duffy immediately before the Miriam programme and John Bowman after it and there were no problems with either of these transmissions.

Let me tell you what it sounded like. The programme was incompetently recorded. Nobody listened to it before transmission. The output did not pass through any continuity suite. It sounded like the techies were trying to correct it as it went out, though this may be a charitable assumption on my part.

This was an absolute disgrace and an insult to anybody who had any respect for radio.

It reminded me of those telephone calls when you are told that "your call is important to us" and are then promptly relegated to some crap computer programme for processing.

I have been a radio person all my life and this is the worst I have ever heard from any radio station. No apology during or after.

What sort of people have you become?

I would mention in passing that my impression of output being handed over to computers is strengthened by the way you regularly cut off your foreign collaborators in mid sentence. Is there no timing arrangement with them regarding syndication of their programmes. They announce a programme item, which I often look forward to, and the programme is terminated before the item is reached. This is really treating your audience as crap.

Newstalk is not on DAB, but their programming and public service broadcasting is fast rivalling and outstripping yours. All very strange.

I have contained myself above in the interest of receiving a reply from you which I hope I get before I erupt in cyberspace.

Yours in anticipation (as we used to say, incorrectly),

Pól Ó Duibhir

The reply I got confirmed my worst fears.

"Regarding the repeat of the Miriam Meets programme on the Digital Radio Station Radio 1 Extra, the programme was indeed affected when it was re-broadcast.

This is an automated play-out service which is dependant (sic) entirely on the technology that is provided to broadcast the programmes. Because of the nature of the service, there is no one there to provide back-up.

Like most digital catch-up services Radio 1 Extra is not like an ordinary radio station with personnel. The programmes that are scheduled to go out are checked first and then loaded into a computer playlist which plays the programmes out like a jukebox.

In this instance it is believed it was a network error."

So now you know. There is nobody there. Only the jukebox.

And the particular instance I was complaining about was "believed to be a network error". At least they admitted it happened. But they must surely know what happened.

The big question is: now that they know the valve is overheating will they replace it? Or, in digital terms, will they redesign the system to get rid of its most annoying automated features?

My mother had a mangle in the back yard, but that's another story entirely.


Dáithaí C said...

You obviously miss your cat's whiskers!

hanoverquay said...

Where did you get the vacuum tube pic?

Póló said...

@Dáithaí C

Did build a crystal set but it never worked. Bloody cats.


Googled it.

Night all.

Póló said...

The RTÉ reply does not deal at all with my comments on their international collaborators, which, of course, refers to the DAB RTÉ CHOICE channel.

This particular "station" is the nearest thing to total chaos you ever heard. If it was Air Traffic Control or Connolly Central we would have planes and trains running into each other by the hour.

And this is progress. It is clearly a case of systems before service.

The listener (consumer/customer) is irrelevant. Reminds me of remarks made about some hospitals: they'd work fine if they didn't have to deal with patients. Indeed, many of them would take a long time to notice if all the patients disappeared.

Note also the tone of the reply. This is an automatic service so FO!

Unfortunately I can no longer throw myself off the third floor of the GPO. The Montrose Radio Centre lacks oommff.

Póló said...

They must have heard me coming.

RTÉ DAB Radio CHOICE have now taken to going suddenly off air. And is there silence? Not on your Nanny. The sort of hiss we got when the telly went on the blink.

Is there no end to what these people get up to?

Póló said...

Re: the previous comment

I sent the following to the CHOICE team via

Just to let you know that RTÉ DAB Radio CHOICE has now taken to periodically and unpredictably going off air, to be replaced by the loud hiss of yore.

You might let them know, seeing as how they are an inanimate jukebox.

This is the reply I got:

Got your mail about the hiss on our digital radio service RTE Choice. The service is dependent on a number of technologies being in place for transmission in a complicated series of junctions including feeds from international radio providers and automatic players playing out our archived material. The hiss came as a result of one of these junctions – a device which automatically records live radio from abroad – going down. It took us a while to find the cause and eventually we had to replace the device altogether.

I apologise for the loss in transmission. It is most frustrating, not only for you but for ourselves as well.

Clearly the one thing you can't automate is the continuity suite.

Bring back the continuity announcers. PLEASE.

Póló said...

Just to balance the comments with something positive for a change.

CHOICE brought me a BBC World Service radio programme this morning on the funerals of people found dead in Amsterdam, who have no ascertainable friends or family.

A fitting and touching farewell has evolved under the stewardship of Ger Frits, who is employed by the local authority to organise the funeral.

This is very much the human face of local government.

Entitled The Lonely funeral it is well worth a listen, preferably in the quiet and the dark.

Anonymous said...

Who'd a thunk it? Humans not completely obsolete after all.

Póló said...

You just won't believe this. Guess what they've done now?

I am in the habit of listening to three RTÉ DAB Stations: Radio 1 - which is what it sounds like; Radio 1 Extra - which allows them to split the signal and broadcast catchup during the evenings and nights; and CHOICE which is a collage of international stations like the BBC World Service, Deutsche Welle, Vatican Radio, and sometimes RTÉ itself.

Well, they now seem to have amalgamated the last two above into one channel, Radio 1 Extra, which seriously cuts down my choice. And, in the last few days, I even heard the same programme going out on all three channels.

What a load of cheapskate shite and me after investing in my DAB Radio.

Mind you, I had heard a rumour a good while back that RTÉ not only wanted rid of this troublesome (how much trouble?) multichannel stuff, but they wanted rid of DAB altogether.

It's beginning to look like it.