This is an issue that has been around at Subcity since the dawn of time but we've never applied a technical solution to it. Myself and gav have been discussing some solutions and problems and would like everyone to chip in. Here is a summary of our chat.Current situation
When there is not a show scheduled to be in the studio, the website switches to brb
(the new name for most wanted) which doesn't have a listen player or listen link. Previously it did have a link.
For listeners not going via our website at the time - including those who have the stream m3u saved locally, people who were listening to the previous show live, those on hardware internet radios, those with a link to the stream... - they will hear whatever the person in the studio has left on. Over recent years this has been party shuffle with a collection of music (which has never really been maintained or curated or branded).
When there is a show scheduled but they don't turn up, the website acts as normal playing out whatever has been left on but labelling it as the show. Shows are encouraged to skip any episodes they are going to miss but they type of shows who generally don't turn up are not the type to do this. This is fairly common with only 70-80% of episodes actually ending up happening (based on playlist submission rates).Problems
The problems this creates for the station is one of listener experience and quality of output.
1. The website should not label content as one thing if it is another.
2. The listener should not be presented with silence when they expect content, it makes it seem like the stream is broken.
3. The quality of any party shuffle is always going to be poor and a poor fit for the surrounding shows in the schedule.Solutions1. The website should not label content as one thing if it is another.
We need some method of determining if a show has turned up that doesn't rely on the absentee shows telling us. Our options for this are essentially either make every show sign-in in some way to the studio or try and detect when no-one has turned up.
A sign-in based system would involve either making it so that you had to name the episode/submit news otherwise brb would show or building some button onto the website backend or in real life in the booth. This has issues because our shows are idiots and our website backend isn't amazing.
A detection based system would probably be based on a silence detector whereby we would ask presenters to play silence if noone is on after them and the website would switch after detecting x amount of silence. The issues with this option are that it doesn't catch those who clicked listen or visited the show's page before the silence (which would normally be 1 or 2 songs after the hour as presenters tend to hang on a wee bit to see if the next show turn up). The other issue is it doesn't prevent a show running on into another show's time being labelled as the other show.2. The listener should not be presented with silence when they expect content, it makes it seem like the stream is broken.
Despite asking people to put on party shuffle and the like we still find the stream with long periods of dead air. Classic examples include the stream being included in the party shuffle resulting in a silent feedback loop and someone putting on a playlist of 10 tunes without looping it.
Our options to solve this with a technical solution are basically get a hardware silence detector or get a software one.Software solution
Gavin and I have looked into a software solution but it looks impossible to do nicely. Basically it is very difficult to move listeners from one stream to another and then back again so we would need to have two audio inputs to the computer and switch to the aux input if the main input went quiet and back again if signal restored. This poses problems for how we record the stream and how we do listen again. Big headache inducing problems. I found this writeup
of a tech at insanity in london making a software solution but they also seem to have a hardware detector according to their wiki so fuck knows if it worked.Hardware solution
This is a standard bit of kit at all big radio stations and there are a few out there. Some examples include:Sonifex RB-SD1
ideal at £350Alice Guard Dog
overkill at £710Alice TXM-1
ideal at £459
We could try and make one ourselves with less features I guess.3. The quality of any party shuffle is always going to be poor and a poor fit for the surrounding shows in the schedule.
The only technical type solution we could make for this would be some sort of system that automatically played out essential listening episodes into the sustainer system and ideally matched them to what was scheduled around it or whatever. I think this is more of an audio imaging human problem to deal with though...