Sunday, August 26, 2012

Dial a News Bulletin - is it working I wonder?

So what happens if you're a radio station broadcasting to a country and your local FM relays get yanked for political reasons or because you can't afford the carriage fees. You respond by offering a news bulletin service via the phone. Everyone has a phone right? True. There are more phones than radios out there. But what doesn't work is putting radio on the phone. Mali1 is a case in point.

Screen capture of the Mali 1 site

It's a phone service set up by the French for Africa service of US government broadcaster Voice of America because it can't get an FM signal into Mali at the moment. They tell people to go to the website where they can stream or download the news bulletin. That means you need a phone with web access to find it.

To be fair, they have recently changed the website to make it much easier to navigate on a small screen than a couple of weeks back. I don't understand why they tell people to listen to Mali 1 at 1530 UTC. They mean the bulletin is refreshed at 1530 daily. Mali is on UTC, so I'd just say Mali time.

My beef is with the audio. Listeners are paying for the call in some way (either bandwidth or time) so why bother to put a jingle in the bulletin? And the correspondents reports from Mali by mobile phone need to be revoiced. Once they have been compressed again down to such a small bandwidth they are often unintelligible. And I'd normalise the audio file, rather like putting Optimod on an FM signal. The examples I listened to were difficult to understand under my ideal listening conditions,  let alone in troubled Mali.

This kind of service is clearly a medium of last resort. So how does that explain Radio France Internationale's phone service in the USA? I'm sure that nobody needs to call that number to pay to hear someone reading news over the phone. Reminds me of Dial-a-Disc in the UK in the 1960's. You dialled 160 and a song would play repeatedly. Was more useful later when the music was replaced with cricket scores.

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