CARS: Broadcast Radio Talk Sept 2013

Report on CARS Club Night: Friday 13th September 2013, by Pete M0PSX

Thanks to the Chelmsford Amateur Radio Society for inviting me to talk about my other radio passion: Broadcast Radio

My radio background

Back in the early 80s, I was bitten by the radio bug after hearing the launch of a radio station down the road to me… Essex Radio. Within 18 months of the station launching in September 1981, I’d managed to get myself into the studio as a guest on the Saturday morning kids show presented by local radio personality Tim “Timbo” Lloyd.

I quickly joined the local hospital radio station to gain some experience, and a few years later, was doing various part-time jobs with Essex Radio in the evening and at weekends. This led to a full-time job in 1989 when the “oldies” station Breeze AM launched. Since those early days, I’ve worked at several radio stations, including Spectrum Radio, Ten 17, Essex FM, Oasis FM and regional station Vibe FM

Pete, in Essex Radio Studio 1, in 1986
Pete, in Essex Radio Studio 1, in 1986

Although I’m no longer in the industry, I lecture in radio at South Essex College and present an award-winning online technology radio show. Back in 2010, whilst researching a piece on Marconi’s history, I met CARS at Oaklands Museum, where I interviewed CARS Chairman John Bowen on the early days of Marconi. This led to discussion of amateur radio, and me signing up on a CARS Foundation course – I’ve very grateful to John, Colin, John, David and Myra for steering me in the direction of amateur radio, which those who know me, will know how passionate I am about the hobby. If you’re interested, you can find my interview with John Bowen from 2010 here: History of Radio (Interview)

Pete M0PSX, presenting at CARS September 2013
Pete M0PSX, presenting at CARS September 2013

Behind The Scenes

The theme of my talk to CARS in September was a look behind the scenes of today’s radio industry. After outlining the different types of radio stations out there today, I looked back at the last 30 years of radio and how the studio equipment has changed. When I started my radio journey, vinyl, cartridges and open-reel tape were king, and much of my working life was in a basement studio in Clifftown Road editing tape with a razor blade. These days, it’s all digital, and the following photos give you an idea of how things have changed:

Essex Radio Studio Desk circa 1985
Essex Radio Studio Desk circa 1985
Essex FM Studio in Chelmsford 2005
Essex FM Studio in Chelmsford 2005

Moving on from the studio technology, I then gave a quick demo of a radio station’s playout system – 15,000 songs on a drive smaller than a single 1980s cartridge tape – Thanks to Mark M0IEO for the un-broadcastable request!

Next, I looked at the transmission system with a tour of the Baker’s Wood, Chelmsford transmitter site, followed by a look at outside broadcasts, and some of the tricks of the trade regarding audience research.

As a mid-talk break, I showed a few short video clips, including a look at the early days of Essex Radio. The full-length version of the Essex Radio feature from the 1980s can be found here on YouTube:

I also touched on RDS, the Radio Data System, and the way that the service can alert motorists to travel news. The pioneering system of switching the RDS TA Flag on using three short DTMF tones was developed by the Essex Radio Engineering team: Don G4OWQ, Vince G8YPK and Glen G7BJQ.

RDS - TA Traffic Flag in action
RDS – TA Traffic Flag in action

Radio’s Future

I moved on to discuss radio’s future, and the planned “FM Switchoff”, which is tentatively set for between 2017 and 2022. Discussion moved to DAB and the various problems with this newish digital platform, including the poor audio quality (reduced bitrate), coverage issues, high cost of radios, low battery life, the high cost to broadcasters, and the risk of a migration to DAB+. I also touched on the DRM (Digital Radio Mondiale) system, which offers Fm broadcast quality on HF.

Wrapping up

It’s always fun to play some of radio’s funnier moments, and I played a couple of classics – Charlotte Green on Radio 4 getting the giggles, DLT’s famous “Baton” breakdown, and a poor presenter stumbling because he was listening with a one second delay in his headphones. If you want to hear some of these clips again,plus other bloopers, check out the excellent website Radio Fail – When Radio Goes Wrong

At the end of the presentation, I passed on four of radio’s top secrets… I’m sorry, but if you weren’t there… you’ll never know!

Thanks

Thanks to all at CARS for listening to “Broadcast Radio – Behind The Scenes”… and thanks too for the audience participation and the questions. Radio, in all its forms, is something that I’m very passionate about, and it’s great to have the opportunity to share some of my enthusiasm.

Thanks, and happy listening

Pete M0SPX

Pete, making the team in the 1990s in the Essex FM OB van
Pete, making the team in the 1990s in the Essex FM OB van

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2 Comments

  1. Avatar Graham 18 September 2013 Reply
    • Pete M0PSX Pete M0PSXAuthor 19 September 2013 Reply

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