Posts Tagged ‘KCBS’

Using the Tech

January 6, 2010

Things keep shrinking and becoming more user friendly; such is the way of modern technology. Even so, we still think in terms of rooms full of equipment when we think about radio stations. While this is true to an extent, the production tools have been becoming more and more akin to what is available to most people on their home computers.

I recently ran across and article in The Santa Barbara Independent by Colin Marshall that addresses this nicely. While the column in question is about a collegiate radio station, and the article has a distinct anti-commercial bias, there is still great food-for-thought for anyone in the radio industry.

Mr. Marshall writes about KCSB radio, a station that is mobilizing modern technology to enhance their operation significantly. Chief engineer Bryan Brown states that it is not what technology the station has that is important, but rather how that tech is used. This is certainly a truism in the social media world, so I am inclined to agree with him.

Here are a few examples from the article:

The station’s live transmissions of the Dalai Lama’s April 2009 UCSB lectures, for instance, were pulled off with little more than a laptop, an inexpensive mixer, and an Internet connection. Smart use of the Internet has enabled KCSB to perform beyond its ostensible means in other ways as well, taking full advantage of the infrastructure offered by its university location. The free voice over internet protocol (VOIP) application Skype, for instance, allows No Alibis producer Elizabeth Robinson to near-seamlessly co-host with her associate in Paris. And with the aid of a lowly $800 desktop computer, KCSB streams live around the clock to the entire world.

Personally I love seeing Skype used this way. I’ve used it for years as a communication and teaching tool, and seeing it leveraged this way is fantastic. Any other attempt to do this would incur a huge cost in long distance fees while also being a much clunkier process. As to the rest, it is simply amazing what one can do with a laptop these days.

That is really the other point shown here. With the widespread use of computers, we have achieved a much more tech-savvy and tech-friendly populace, and personal software is rapidly closing on the professional stuff when it comes to quality.

“Radio, in general, is not an expensive medium,” said Brown. “What you need to transmit radio nowadays, you probably have in your house! Whereas radio station technology, KCSB’s included, used to be quite complicated and unintuitive to the outsider, it’s now almost the same audio and computer equipment to which new programmers will have already grown accustomed. “It used to be so in-your-face,” Brown remembered, “with all that tape-splicing, carts, and vinyl. Now the goal is to make the technology practically invisible.”

And that is really the trick. As the technology fades from visibility, people will begin to focus more on what can be done rather than worrying about a steep learning curve on new tools. As we enter 2010, I think it would behoove stations out there to give this piece a read and share their thoughts. There are both cost efficiency and productivity angles to embracing the tech this way, and the cost of adoption usually ranges from free to minimal.

What kind of tech does your station use to enhance its capabilities?

Image: ghindo / CC BY 2.0


KCBS: Celebrating a Century On The Air

June 12, 2009

100yearsIn these days of iTunes, streaming radio, and mp3 players, one can often lose sight of the past. Not so at KCBS Radio in the San Francisco Bay Area, the site of the very first radio broadcast made on June 11, 1909.

Charles “Doc” Herrold made that first broadcast from San Fernando and South First streets, where the Knight Ridder building is now located. A century later , KCBS, the descendant of Herrold’s station, has its South Bay bureau there. On Thursday, anchors Stan Bunger and Rebecca Corral broadcast live from the nearby Circle of Palms over the lunchtime hour to celebrate the anniversary. Mike Adams, the associate dean of humanities at San Jose State University as well as author of a book on Herrold, was joined by Mayor Chuck Reed and Jim True, Herrold’s grandson, for the broadcast.

They have a wonderful audiovisual retrospective online right now as well. It includes a beautifully clear interview with Sybil S. True, Doc Herrold’s wife, about his life and legacy in radio as well a large variety of archived period audio and photos.

The station’s centennial page on their website has sections for photos, headlines, audio and other archived materials pertinent to the celebration, and in addition has the capabilities for user provided content to increase the variety of offerings.

Doc Herrold was a pioneer, the unsung Father of Broadcast and originator of scheduled programming. The station he started which would one day become KCBS originally announced itself simply as “This is San Jose calling…” Now, a century later, we see the reach of broadcast extending into the digital realm both over the air and on the Internet. Today listening options far exceed anything imagined by Herrold and his students. Today we should cast our thoughts backwards to the way it all began!

  • For much more on the “Doc” Herrold story and the early days of KCBS, go to
  • For a detailed history of KQW and KCBS, go to the Bay Area Radio Museum
  • For the 1945 radio recreation of the origin of the first broadcasts, starring Jack Webb as “Doc” Herrold, and for audio of Gordon Greb’s 1959 interviews with a Herrold student and Herrold’s wife, click here.

EDIT: A small correction via Stan Bunger at the station (Promoted from the comments)- “Though we chose June 11, 2009 to mark the Centennial of Herrold’s first broadcasting station, we don’t know the actual date of his initial experimental transmission, nor are we sure of when he began regularly-scheduled programming (although researchers like Mike Adams from San Jose State University are certain it was in 1909).”

Image courtesy of KCBS

Radio Retrospective: The First Station

October 27, 2008

Radio was the very first broadcast medium, one rooted in the works of Michael Farraday back in the early 1800s. The fact that radio is still the primary way that most people discover new music is astounding and a testament to its continuing utility. The fact that millions of dollars are spent on radio ads during the current campaign, even in new markets like Hispanic stations, speaks to its continued relevance. Now as my colleague Doug Zanger likes to tell me, I can be pretty old school for a technologist. This is going to be one of those posts where that shines though.

I am sure that a crew of radio people can easily toss out names and info about the early days of the medium. Names like Marconi, Tesla, Bose and possibly even Popov or Rutherford. Today, however, I would like to cast our view back in time to the early 1900s and the little known father of broadcasting.

Via Wikipedia:

In April 1909 Charles David Herrold, an electronics instructor in San Jose, California constructed a broadcasting station. It used spark gap technology, but modulated the carrier frequency with the human voice, and later music. The station “San Jose Calling” (there were no call letters), continued to eventually become today’s KCBS in San Francisco. Herrold, the son of a Santa Clara Valley farmer, coined the terms “narrowcasting” and “broadcasting”, respectively to identify transmissions destined for a single receiver such as that on board a ship, and those transmissions destined for a general audience. (The term “broadcasting” had been used in farming to define the tossing of seed in all directions.) Charles Herrold did not claim to be the first to transmit the human voice, but he claimed to be the first to conduct “broadcasting”.

KCBS then is the leading contender for the title of the oldest radio station in the world. In the early days, it operated under a number of different call signs including  FN, SJN, 6XF, and 6XE. The FN call sign was an artifact of the medium’s narrowcast radio-telephone roots, being an inverted abbreviation of “National Fone.” Prior to that a simple “San Jose calling” greeted listeners.

Read more about the history of radio on Wikipedia. It’s always good to take a moment and get back to your roots! Stay tuned, more news coming soon! If the story of the first radio station appeals to you, you can find the KCBS story here.

Photo courtesy of dobroides, used under ts Creative Commons license

iPhone Again: A Cutting Edge Radio Revolution

July 18, 2008

The iPhone once again rears its sleek little head now that the craziness following the 3G’s release seems to have abated. Despite the iPocalypse on its release, the newest of the Apple family is already making waves. As with the Internet, those waves are based more on the applications it runs than the hardware itself.

Technology consultant for CBS Larry Magrid gives us a terrific review of the three main iPhone radio applications including a podcast recording of listening to New York- and Jamaica-based stations on it while driving around Silicon Valley.

With San Jose Mercury News technology reporter Troy Wolverton at the wheel, I plugged the iPhone into the auxiliary jack of his car radio while we drove around the San Jose, Calif. area listening to WCBS Newsradio from New York, a radio station from Kingston, Jamaica and a customized channel through Pandora.

Even at 66 miles an hour on U.S. Highway 101, the sound was better than what you’d expect from a clear FM signal. I also tuned into my local KCBS news station where the sound quality was definitely better than the station’s terrestrial AM signal.

As is frequently the case, and as I stated at the outset, it is usually the applications that are of primary importance in cases like this. Having already determined the sound quality the cost and efficiency of the programs is the next thing t look at:

There are at least three “live radio” software applications available, not only for the new iPhone, but for the older iPhone and the iPod Touch that have been updated with Apple’s new 2.0 software (free for iPhone users and $10 for iPod Touch users). Two of the programs: AOL Radio and Pandora are free while Tuner costs $4.99.

AOL Radio “Powered by CBS Radio” allows you to listen to more than 150 CBS music, news, talk and sports stations across the United States, as well as customized stations created specifically for online listening. By default, it uses the iPhone or iPod Touch’s location awareness capabilities to play stations in your area, but you can also use it for out-of-town stations.

Pandora doesn’t carry broadcast stations but allows users to create their own music programming by selecting their favorite artists or genres. It’s a very creative concept that can result in programming that is highly customized yet, unlike listening to your own MP3 files, still gives you the serendipity of not knowing which song will come next.

The other program, called Tuner, lets you select from thousands of Internet stations around world or type in the URL of any station that may not be included in its rather exhaustive list.

Now we seem to be heading towards those massive evolutionary leaps I have been predicting for a while now. One of radio’s biggest strengths has always been ubiquity of access to its content. In the age of the iPhone it would seem that reach is magnified.

Phto courtesy of spcoon, used under its Creative Commons license