Using a Macintosh in a Radio Station

Chris “Doc” Tarr, Director of Engineering for Entercom in Milwaukee and Madison, WI, wrote an article for RBR today about using Macs in radio stations.

As a business technology consultant for radio stations, I strongly endorse Chris's statement.

The Mac is a terrific computer for a radio station. It is simple for even the most technophobic account exec to use and because it comes pre-installed with a ton of useful software, there's a lot you can do with it out of the box.

For example, with the extremely powerful (and included as part of the OS!) iMovie video editing software, even a neophyte can produce compelling video presentations for your sales department or your website. GarageBand, the Mac's audio editing system, provides many of the features of a much more sophisticated package like ProTools. Thousands of bands have produced professional recordings using GarageBand, right on the Mac. It even has features for creating podcasts - including building the RSS feeds and so on. Very powerful stuff.

For an extra $79, you can get Apple's iWork, a suite of three applications that include a word processor (Pages), spreadsheet (Numbers) and presentation program (Keynote). In many ways, these applications are even more powerful than MS Office - and they are certainly easier to use. There's no doubt that Keynote blows away Powerpoint as a presentation tool. Plus - you can create your presentation in Keynote and then export a perfectly compatible Powerpoint version for your less capable colleagues.

Plus, with the free OpenOffice package for OSX, you can have the complete functionality of Microsoft Office on the Mac without the cost!

I have run a virtual machine on my Mac with copies of Tapscan, Maximi$er, PD Advantage, AudioVAULT and various music scheduling packages - and they worked without a hitch. Of course, the vendors get a little "hinky" when you run on unapproved hardware, but with the right relationship with these folks, you can get them to understand.

Imagine being able to create a Tapscan report and then use it seamlessly in a powerful Mac-based presentation package to create a compelling story for a prospect. Of course, as these applications go more to the web (as Max and Tapscan are starting to now), you will be using the web browser and not a built-in application; but the principle still applies. Even more so, because the Mac will let you dress up those dull-looking web reports with some truly persuasive graphic elements - in a snap.

Back in the day, before Maximi$er, I used a Mac to suck in AID runs (remember those?) and automagically transpose them into compelling graphical presentations for my sales team. Even 20 years ago, it was a very useful tool in a radio station.

Another advantage to using a Mac on the business side of a radio station is, quite frankly, the "cool factor." Many radio station clients are Mac users themselves - ad agencies in particular have been one of the strongest vertical markets for Macintosh for decades. If you walk into a presentation to a group including a creative director, media director and account manager and you plug in your Mac for a Keynote presentation, you will gain immediate "inside" cred. It might be that extra edge that gets you the deal.

Today, the Mac will give you an edge over the competition.

Want to know more? Please leave a comment here.

Music Scheduling and the State of Radio

Computer-based music scheduling programs have been around for over 30 years. I know, because my first Program Director and I collaborated on a very rudimentary one for the Apple II back in the late '70s. Soon, there were quite a few commercially available systems available, including the venerable Selector.

Today, I was researching some new opportunities and I read an article on Jeff Pollack's site by Pat Welsh about stations moving from DOS versions of music scheduling systems to windows-based versions. This article was posted on December 23, 2008 Huh?
When you look at how many things have changed in radio over the past few years, it’s stunning to realize that one of the most important tasks, music scheduling, has changed so little. Many stations, especially in the U.S., still use legacy DOS-based programs (elsewhere around the world, especially in markets where music scheduling has only recently been introduced, stations are more likely to use Windows based systems).

But things have started to change in this area, too. Many stations have converted or are converting to new, Windows-based releases of various music scheduling systems. Besides the new interface and the ability to do things like changing the color scheme, doing copy and paste, customizing screens and other Windows type functions, under the hood there’s a lot more going on.

Of course, it's absolutely true. For various reasons, many (most?) established US stations have not upgraded their music scheduling tools to even 1990s' technology. I won't get into the reasons here, except to say that it's partly an unintended consequence of consolidation.

This has put established radio stations at a decided disadvantage over the years. It's a creeping problem; if you don't upgrade your software today, you save money today. However, you also suffer the consequences of an inferior product on the air. This is not immediately apparent, but over the years the problem becomes more and more audible to your listeners - if not to you. And - by the way - this isn't a case for "DOS" over "Windows" (I can't believe that I am writing that in 2009) as much as it is a case for providing the best, most effective tools for your team. As a radio software guy, I can tell you with no equivocation that relying on an old platform (even if it's updated frequently) for more than 7 years or so will cripple your ability to accomplish what is really possible with the tools at hand. This kind of inertia also creates a disincentive for your software provider to collaborate with you and their other customers to create new, cutting edge, improvements for your software. If you are not constantly pushing them to innovate by staying current with their their latest software update, the vendor will have little if no reason to provide a new version - especially when there is one extremely dominant provider.

What's the result? Well - stations cannot take advantage of the incredible power of current technology in providing music scheduling capabilities. For example, with today's technologies, I see a music scheduling product that takes into account "on the fly" research from social networking sites, iTunes, Amazon, Pandora and so on while providing a user interface that is based on User Centered Design principles rather than the baggage of the past.

And - why on earth does a music scheduling system need to be an application that is installed on your PC? This is the perfect application for a web-based, hosted solution that is built using a powerful back-end technology running on multiple redundant servers. Imagine if your music scheduling program had a feature as powerful as Amazon's recommendation engine - a feature that could take the input of tens of millions of listeners and provide guidance for scheduling your music? This isn't possible on a traditional "PC-based" platform, but would be absolutely possible on a using AJAX and LAMP in a web-based environment. Want off-line capability in case of an internet outage? No problem - technologies today allow offline use of web apps - check out Google Gears.

This same logic holds true for other software tools in your station, such as automation. Many stations are running on automation systems (reliably, I must say) from the last century while vendors have released systems that are ready for the challenges of the 21st. Yes, the music still gets played, but your station can sound so much better with a contemporary automation platform!

Check to see if your current vendor has a contemporary tool available to you. Ask hard questions about the platform, its compatibility with your current system and its future product roadmap. If they don't have a contemporary system or you aren't satisfied with their answers, then switch vendors!

Don't procrastinate on this - your new competitors are using the latest and greatest technologies to compete with you.

In order to compete in the media environment of the second decade of the 21st century, you needs the tools tomorrow. Get rid of your old, dusty programming software systems and invest in those that will bring you immediate benefit today.