Realistic-sounding speech

Just over a year ago Google presented WaveNet, a new deep neural network for generating raw audio waveforms that is capable of producing better and more realistic-sounding speech than existing techniques. It’s gotten a LOT better and is now capable of producing natural sounding human voices.

Google is using it for Google Assistant but hard for an old radio guy like me not to imagine this tech replacing radio announcers (are there still radio announcers?)

Radio stations no longer required to have local studios

Was fortunate to work in radio before “consolidation.” Even small towns might have two or three radio stations, each with different owners and management. After the rules changed, it soon became common for one company to own/operate ALL radio stations and automation (some software on a computer back in the 80s) made it possible to get rid of lots of on-air staff. But to call yourself a “Hooterville radio station,” you had to have a studio in Hooterville. No longer, it seems.

“Stations will still be required to keep a toll-free or local number staffed during normal business hours.”

Where a town once had a radio station with a tower and a transmitter and some DJs and maybe a news guy or two… now has an answering service.

“Because of the rule change, Newsmax Media CEO Christopher Ruddy predicted that “local news production could be moved to places such as New York and Washington as the big networks buy up local stations.”

Truth be told, that’s been happening for a long time. Some of that blood is on my hands but it’s an old story and too long to share. Let’s just say we stretched the definition of “local” to the breaking point. Glad I didn’t miss local radio when it was still local.

Before magnetic recording tape

I’m not sure I’ve shared this photo of my old man. I’m blessed with a lot of great pics. It’s clear from this one how much he enjoys what he’s doing. Note the disc on the turntable in the foreground: just one track cut into the center of the disc. Probably a commercial. You can see more of these to the right of the control board. This is before magnetic tape and they “cut” these discs in the adjacent studio. If you fucked up while cutting, you put a piece of cellophane tape over that track and cut another one. I can’t even imagine trying find and cue these while doing a live shift. But the alternative was reading everything live. That would get old fast, for the announcer and the listener. Must have been an exciting time.

“Texas Ed” Pinner (WSLM)

I have a lot of photos of radio folk but this might be my favorite. “Texas Ed” Pinner, WSLM, Salem, IN. There’s all this ancient tech jammed into every corner. Reel-to-reel deck; Fidelipac carts; CD players (alas, I don’t see any turntables) and propped up in front of the controls… almost too small to see… an early iPod. Texas Slip is playing the hits from his iPod. Sigh. (Photo by Mike Cady)

Radio: There will be no more new music formats

Mark Ramsey says the last successful new radio format was the Variety Hits format, “Jack.” I barely remember that format (now 15 years old). Mr. Ramsey says there as been no new youth-based format on the radio fail in generations… and there never will be “but because the tastes are so fractured among millennials that there is no popular thread of music that isn’t already absorbed sufficiently well by an existing format.”

I’m not sure who would care about this theory besides someone who programs a radio station. He offers some insight into who listens to which formats and why but it all seems a bit… academic to me. Like reflecting on Mayan culture.

People still listening to radio. Even for news.

“91% of Americans ages 12 and older had listened to traditional AM/FM radio in the week before they were surveyed in 2015, according to Nielsen Media Research. […] In research asking about how people are learning about the U.S. presidential election, 44% of adults said they learned about it from radio in the past week. Radio outpaced both national (23%) and local (29%) print newspapers, although it trailed local TV news (57%) and cable TV news (54%).”

Pew Research State of the News Media 2016