Skip to main content

Remember the Essence: Transcription and Making Community Radio Accessible

By August 26, 2015August 9th, 2019Digital Strategy

In this era of digital strategy for public media, it’s all about the latest and greatest. For a lot of public media, specifically community radio, it is intimidating to get in on the trends. Fortunately some things never go out of style.

It’s true podcasting, apps and streaming are all having their moment in the sun, or their second moment in a few cases. But their learning curve, data demands and hardware needs make them all out of reach for a lot of people. And even for the most connected audiences, the basic need for information is far more powerful than any invite-only tool, dazzling push notification or GitHub repository.

In this respect, getting the essence down is far more important than what you may be doing with WhatsApp this week. It really is about the audience.

A lot of community radio functions with a startup culture and may not know it. With some to little resources, devoted teams working lots of hours, and a magical product — local radio — on their side, it’s easy for these organizations to get into a very conservative, bunker mentality and focus on scarcity. However, one can also put technology and a little ingenuity to work in service of objectives. Radio, as old as it is, has built-in advantages to supplement.

You probably heard somewhere that everyone thinks radio is dying. They said the same about the printed word. But when you boil your work down to that aforementioned essence, and combine innovation, the outlook is quite bright.

Take online engagement as a perfect example. The sheer volume of audio online is astounding. Not only is there radio and its sundry on-demand offerings, but there are podcasts, streaming audio, TuneIn options and more. Plenty of non-commercial radio stations, large and small, post old broadcasts. And surely there’s a loyal audience somewhere who wants to hear last week’s guest. But the audience is limited. Stations are all looking for a leg up; new searches mean new audiences and, for non-commercial radio, new members.

Some radio stations bravely wade into the waters of transcription, to give the audience a reference, even an inducement, to listen again.

Just as Ello was to once kill Facebook and push notifications were to kick email to the dustbin, so text has proven itself to be the Ronda Rousey of technology. Many worthy contenders have been said to shake the dominance of the printed word, but they all got the metaphorical armbar for good reason. We all love the meme, but people still can’t get an education from a GIF. Listeners especially want to know more about what they heard. As a result, numerous radio programs do quick transcripts to make programs more searchable and accessible. The cool white-label player is great. Love the little icons by the share buttons. But what brings people in is getting them to follow who said what, and when.

Community radio oddly missed this opportunity. We all grumble about scarce resources. But this is more than a matter of resources. It’s about being competitive in a media world that is more than happy to take away your listener (and potential donor), looking for something they heard on your station, with something possibly similar, but then offering them ‘related’ stories that involve those animated GIFs and cute ducklings on Youtube. It’s lost revenue, but also ceding people you worked hard to win over. Why do that?

One thing we’ve experimented with at my radio station is putting out copy for programs we broadcast. There are various transcription tools and services to help us and you. Transcription tools and services have obvious benefits. A website like Wreally allows you to upload your own MP3 audio, listen, transcribe and repeat. Its interface is simple; no bells and whistles to distract the easily distracted and thus focus on the task at hand. In about an hour, Wreally helped me transcribe a few stories. If you tend to believe that human curation touch is best, Wreally takes a bit longer, but it is time well spent when you get exactly the outcome you want.

On a different front, Pop Up Archive is a fascinating resource. Relied on by many public media outlets, it does fast machine transcripts that are very solid for subscribers. Pop Up Archive even offers a free option, but its website seems to acknowledge these transcripts aren’t nearly as servicable. After Emily Saltz at Pop Up Archive let me check it out, I uploaded about an hour of audio. In less than five minutes, I had a very good transcript that would have otherwise taken me quite some time.

As a productivity nerd, my brain of course ponders efficiencies. Whether Pop Up Archive is an option for you depends on your level of investment. For some, paying a few dollars each month is worth the results and time saved recruiting volunteers or assigning such to overtaxed staff. For others, it’s not doable yet, but worth consideration.

(I nor KPFT are Pop Up Archive clients, by the way.)

For community radio, technology has the potential of being a great equalizer. Yet even with such understanding, the basics still matter. As stations look to be competitive, we must focus not only on our core competencies, but also how we deliver the services people seek and deserve.


Leave a Reply