"Bob Radio" gearing toward a launch sometime this year...

Projects help keep your mind from being bogged down with the multiple irritating distractions (of which I also have way more than my share this year).  I have an opinion about most things controversial but if I shared them here, this blog would be bogged down with negativity.  That’s not my nature and it’s not what these commentaries are all about either. 

One of my projects finally begun this year has been building “Bob Radio.”  I’m not referring to physical construction, but rather an assembly of resources that I have from both the recent and distant past.

An entire radio station can be produced and hosted on a single computer.  For example, those commercials you see for “Doug FM” – they’re nothing more than a computer running broadcast software. The software is cheaper than filling a studio with people… or even having a studio.  In these desperate economical times, it helps the bottom line.  It does NOT help radio in my opinion, and it certainly does nothing for the creative talent who once occupied a studio where that computer sits.  The whole philosophy of letting accountants manage a radio station, in fact, led to what my life is all about today.

The first phase of my “on-air” career ended long ago when I was replaced by an out-of-town talk show host.  Then at another station, I was replaced by satellite-fed programming.  It’s a common tale, but I was NOT done with radio.  Far from it.  

I evolved into a techie person, which I always was to a degree anyway.

Starting out originally, I was going to be on the air, no matter what it took.  So if someone wasn’t going to hire me, I’d build it myself!  Literally that is what I did and that is how I started right after high school.  It was the “Bob School of Broadcast Arts,” where I taught myself everything…. And I do mean EVERYTHING.
My “teachers” were simply listening to guys like Dick Purtan then on WXYZ, Bill Bailey and China Jones on the original WDRQ, and Gary Burbank and Ted Richards on CKLW. Even “Foodey” Rome on WGPR was a huge influence.       

A friend and I would spent hours making tapes “broadcasting” into a little 2-tube Lafayette Radio “broadcaster” that covered the backyard.  The U.S. government, however, frowns on individuals doing such things on traditional FM or AM bands without a license.  Today, that doesn’t make much difference because the listeners are actually gradually moving away from traditional radio and hooking up with computers, podcasts and live streaming.

It took a long time before “Internet radio” could be taken seriously.  Basically technology and the world had to catch up.  At the same time, traditional radio stations slowly degraded their program quality in the interest of the bottom line.  Many of the truly talented creative types who were in radio in years past gradually became too expensive.  Very few people that I worked for or with when I was still on the air full time are still in radio of any form. 



Radio “as we know it” is far from dead today!  But it is on life support.

In the meantime, if you can’t beat ‘em, obviously, we can always “join ‘em.”

But how to start?    Well, I still have a huge carted library of music that I built myself back in the 1980s and ‘90s, plus hundreds (or maybe thousands) of CD’s.  They just need to be loaded to a hard drive. 

To a degree, I already put Motor City Casino’s “Radio Bar” on the Internet.  I can tell you from personal experience it’s MUCH easier than putting an AM or FM station on the air (I’ve done that for other people too… legally!).  

When I first arrived at Specs Howard, my first mission was to load the first library of one of the schools stations’ – WSHS -- into a new Enco Digital Audio Delivery system.  600 songs later, we had a radio station that was fully hard drive-based and I even did 99% of the work myself back then.  So I have that behind me as well.

But the reality is anybody can do it:  That is put an internet radio station “on the air” from their basement. But it will SOUND like a “basement” station without the type of background only “real” radio can give.  Maybe that explains part of the success of “Doug FM” – which is nothing more than a giant Ipod that mixes commercials with songs.

I am an audio fanatic and always have been.  Pulling out old carts that I had painstakingly recorded a full 20 years in the past was an experience.  Many of the carts I had even loaded the tape myself, replaced pads and parts, etc.  How can ANALOG TAPE possibly sound good recorded in an obsolete format and be expected to sound good transferred to a digital system?    Well, it sounds great!

Painstakingly cleaning the heads of my equipment every few songs, using the same equipment I still had (that was used for recording), the sound, for the most part, was astonishing.  I wouldn’t say I have a “laboratory grade” situation, but many of those songs which may have only existed on a 45 rpm vinyl record are now part of the future

“Bob Radio.”    And by the way, it’s NOT going to be called “Bob Radio.”

Remember too, I’m NOT just a techie.  I’m a programming guy, too.

While doing some research for a separate project, I stumbled on the website and the internet radio station of a fellow Radio Guide writer, Cornelius Gould.  

Through Mr. Gould’s series of Radio Guide articles about audio processing, I learned more about processing for radio and its history than I had accumulated in a lifetime.

www.radio-guide.com

The real key to processing, however, is LISTENING.  There are many different approaches one can take to getting a Great Air Sound.  Corny had also figured out how to achieve that over his internet operation.

Hear it for yourself:  www.legatocafe.net/

In the 1970s, it was Ed Buterbaugh and the CKLW-AM “sound.” It didn’t matter how he did it:  Whether it was a couple of finely tweaked Gregg Labs boxes, no one in the Detroit market could touch their sound back then.  Tapes that I recorded back then today reveal that their air sound even TODAY would qualify as the best on AM.  People just don’t pay as much attention to air sound today.  Engineers simply don’t have time because today they’re taking care of eight rather than 1-2 stations.  They may actually be happy when one of their stations becomes a stand-alone computer:  No more light bulbs to replace on that tired old studio console!

As far as sound, today, there’s a few legendary audio names we could mention.  Mr. Orban of “Optimod” fame and Frank Foti as well are two obvious ones, but Cornelius Gould is right up there as well. These guys actually make it easy today to achieve CKLW’s air sound of the past.  That is, if only someone in engineering would or could take the time to listen.

For me, I need a model from which I can build.  I have all the programming elements already in my mind.  I just need to get the proverbial “Technical Ducks” in a row. 

Even if people say “Hey, your Radio Bar stream sounds pretty good from the casino.”  Well, it’s not good enough for me!  Maybe it could never be good enough because there were so many things out of my control at that facility.  

Judge for yourself.  You’ll hear Specs grads “doing their thing” in somewhat of a club atmosphere surrounded by games of chance. It's a cool thing, nonetheless:

www.motorcitycasino.com/MediaPlayer.aspx

As for “Bob Radio”  (again, I’m not going to call it that!), it’s a few months away from launch, but it is one of my current pet projects, one of which will help preserve my sanity during an insane time!

You’ll hear about it here.
 -Bob

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