Saturday, August 28, 2010

Jim on Camera

Jim Cutler's voice must be familiar to anyone who listens to Leo Laporte's network, but also recalls Media Network in the 1990's. Jim did all the fun-parody trailers on the show. There was also the time when our recording session with him was broadcast on the Astra satellite without us knowing - until a listener sent us a CD of the session a couple of months later.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Review Fotomagico - Making Still Sequences in Moments

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I must confess my software discovery of the month is the new version of Fotomagico 3.5. My records show that I have looked at previous versions, before I realised its Mac only and rejected it. Now that I have switched all my video production from PC to Mac, I have been re-assessing what I required as a basic set. I soon discovered that I needed Final Cut Pro and that time spent with Final Cut Express and iMovie was both a waste of time as well as frustrating.
Now a similar thing is happening when it comes to the production of slideshows. I use slideshows both as a warming up/countdown to keynotes – as well as for trailers to articles I have written. Stills have the ability to create mystique that is totally different to video. Besides, I have 15,000 photos that I have never printed on paper, yet want to share. Correction, I want to share them with music, as a performance or a narrative. I always felt the Photo CD failed because it had no soundtrack.

Radio with Pictures

I am also going to experiment with illustrating some radio shows, now that screens are starting to appear on some of the digital radios in the UK. I have a situation where I have done a radio documentary about a visit to Radio Prague 20 years ago. I have been back several times to Czech radio and taken pictures to show what’s changed. I found that by adding a slideshow to the audio I gave an enhanced experience, with the captions adding text without disturbing the original narration. You can’t do this quickly without the sort of cross media timeline that Fotomagico provides. Still experimenting, but the sharp pictures make the audio into a theatre experience.

Getting it done fast – building a workflow

Originally I thought iPhoto was the simple solution to making a slide show for a backdrop for a conference and awards ceremony. It worked, sort of, but the music didn’t synchronise and I was forced to use standard fades and cross-overs. I played with Apple Keynote, which was great until the sequence got out of step with the music. I was fiddling with the order as the audience was taking their seats. Been there once. Believe me, never again.

So a month ago it was time to look for something else – and that’s when Fotomagico popped up with its version 3.5. I have to say immediately that there are two versions, home and professional. The price difference is significant  25,00 Euro for the home version in Europe, 140 Euro for the Pro. You can compare the two versions on this page. But I have to say the features on the Pro version turn it into very professional cross-media editor and that was the version I am reviewing here.

I need the multiple (3) audio tracks for different language versions. There’s a teleprompter and voiceover function on the Pro, and I like to be able to break the presentation into chapters. But the home version has a lot of features too and there seems to be no difference in the quality for rendering to most platforms. Some options, like the standalone player, only work with the Pro Version. That said, this is a reasonable price for something that saves so much time which-ever version you choose. People in the US are luckier because the prices are slightly cheaper, 29 and 149 dollars respectively. But that's the case with most software.

What I do in a live situation

When I am live on stage, I simply switch to the live presentation format which means there is no waiting for rendering. I slot in a few photos I have taken of the audience coming into the theatre, drop them into pre-planned parts of the sequence, and off it goes. The impact of seeing photos a few minutes old already folded into a professional presentation adds a surprise element which works every time. I couldn’t do it as easily in other programs without worrying about messing things up. I am using JPEGs for this. You can experiment with RAW files but frankly there is not much point for projection. It just slows things down if you have a lot of transitions.

The program warns there will be quite large loss of quality if you export the slides to YouTube, a DVD, to an iPhone, AppleTv or an iPad. But if you’re using a HD-TV or want to share the slides with PC users you will have to put up with some loss in fidelity. But don’t forget the screen size on the iPhone is smaller and frankly I wasn’t too worried. It looked fine. The Pro version allows you to export to a special stand-alone player that does retain the original quality. The presentation will then play on other Macs but not on the PC platform.

Ease of use

Fotomagico is very intuitive, as its name implies. I played with it for a while, watched the demo and then read the manual to see what tips and tricks I’d missed. I like the fact that you have a lot of the 3D effects you get in Keynote, but these are much easier to combine with titles and sync to the music or narration. I found I could use the program without having to have others open – Fotomagico dips into iTunes, Garageband, iPhoto, folders without you having to have the respective programs open. The only point I would like to see in a future version is the ability to sort or filter some of the iTunes folders from within Fotomagico. So I prepare my soundtracks into to special playlist in iTunes and then open that folder in Fotomagico. You can preview tracks in a little player in Fotomagico though.

You can produce a stills sequence much faster in Fotomagico than fiddling around with the motion control in Final Cut Pro. Basically you make the sequence in Fotomagico and this is rendered dynamically into FCP. You really notice the speed saving when you make a mistake (let’s say a spelling mistake in a title) and the fix only takes a matter of seconds. Note that these links allow quick export of the video only. You lay the audio track in Final Cut Pro.


It works. I’m hooked and can recommend both the software and support service. But don’t take my word for it. Experiment with the trial version by requesting a temporary licence from

Monday, August 16, 2010

Experimenting with the Podcasts

Have no fear. I no intention of copying all the vintage radio shows into this blog. They are quite happy where they are over on Libsyn. But in the last couple of days, this site offers the possibility to embed podcasts elsewhere, in the same way Vimeo does. So here''s an experiment. Does the embedded material below sound OK with you?

This programme examines the boarding of Radio New York International , which broadcast from a radio ship anchored in international waters just off Jones Beach, Long Island New York in 1987 and 1988. I seem to recall that the authorities said one of the reasons for the boarding was that it is illegal to broadcast from a ship. Except that the Voice of America did exactly that off the coast of Greece in the 1950's. The "
Courier 410" was fitted out with 150 kW diesel generators by RCA and transmitters designed to put a shortwave signal out via a tethered balloon. The good old Interwebs has plenty of photos here and here. - nothing like that when we made the programme on August 30th 1987!

From 7th September 1952 till May 1964 the USCGC Courier broadcast Voice of America programs in 16 languages to Communist bloc countries in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, transmitting these programs 10 hours each day. During these tense years, USCGC Courier, operating as a sea station, was constantly alert to crisis, with the ability to move to a "hot spot” and begin broadcasting in a matter of hours. They had two Collins 207B 35 kW short-wave transmitters on board coupled to the folded Discone antennas, up front at starboard a higher frequency MW antenna and at port a lower frequency MW antenna. They also had an RCA MW transmitter with 150 kW. output. Originally it was planned to have six additional ships but due to the high cost, only the Courier was put into service. According to the German offshore radio site, "the ship was not allowed to broadcast on the high seas and was only permitted to operate within the territorial waters of a country when granted permission. The local population viewed the ship and its crew with mixed emotions. Rhodes was under Italian domain from 1812 to the end of WW2 and now they were back under the Greek Flag and Queen Fredrica. After a period of adjustment, the Americans were generally accepted into the Greek community.
For the first year or so the main antenna was carried aloft by a barrage balloon. The ballon was 69 x 35 feet in size and held 150.000 cubic feet of helium. It was held by means of a winch-operated line to float 900 feet in the air to support the medium-wave antennas. The ballooon was lost a couple of times, and it ended up in Turkey. Then a VOA engineer, Ivan Boor, designed an inverted delta antenna that fitted between the masts. There was a slight loss in signal output but being free of the balloon problems proved to be well worth the loss. A receiving site was constructed on the highest point of Monti Smith, a hill south of the city of Rhodes. A VHF link was set up to send the program material sent from Washington DC on tape and via SSB link down to the ship. Many innovative antennas were designed and implemented to thwart Russian jamming and natural phenomena such as selective fading. There was a very large impedance matching device under the flight deck.
Oh, and the rest of the programme reports on the launch of Music Television into Europe. Enjoy.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

All Our Yesterdays...

Used a lot of Alan Parsons music for Media Network jingles. The lyrics are rather relevant to international broadcasting at the moment. Wonder if they know?

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Radio Caroline Remembered - Again

After a mini season on Forces Radio and Germany, August seems to be the month when we looked at off-shore radio. I've found an episode on Radio New York International, which is coming up. But this edition was crafted together with a big contribution from Nic Newman, at that time working for Radio Netherlands before going on to do great things at the BBC's Interactive Departments. He went out to the ship on one of the boats - pretty brave since we had some pretty dreadful storms in the summer of 1985. The show also looked at communications with the Space Shuttle and there are tuning tips from Arthur Cushen, Victor Goonetilleke and Sarath Weerakoon. I know that off-shore radio editions seem to score as some of the highest in the download figures, so let's see what this one does. Enjoy.

Angola revisited

It has gone rather quiet media wise in Angola, though since this programme was made the country has had to do a lot to recover from decades of civil war. Oil money is flowing again - but Angola remains low in the country list of press freedom. In 1999, a colleague in the Portuguese dept of Radio Netherlands left to do extensive training in the region and we interviewed him for the Media Network programme on his return. It was a chance to dip into the Richard Ginbey collection of rare African radio recordings. Between 1998-2000, we did a lot of Safaris on the programme and I've found it fascinating to revisit these shows after just over a decade. What amazes me is how international broadcasting has virtual stood still since 2000, stuck in a time warp with nothing but future plans. The Ango;s ahow is here in MP3 or search iTunes for Media Network Vintage Vault.

Link is here

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Kaz Matsuda NHK & BBC, RIP

Sad to discover (rather belately) that Kaz Matsuda has passed away in Tokyo in June from a heart tumour. I knew him as a producer of a media show on NHK Radio Japan (DX Corner) and he was very kind to me when I first visited Tokyo in 1985. He then went to Radio Australia on an exchange scheme, before going back to Tokyo in 2001 to start a bureau that provided Japanese translations to BBC World TV. The BBC later bought the company and made Kaz their Managing Director of BBC World News in Japan. He is survived by his wife and son. He understood more than many in NHK about creative international broadcasting and went on to be highly regarded within the BBC for maintaining editorial standards. No wonder 400 attended a memorial service in Tokyo last month. He was someone who really understood how to communicate across borders and across cultures.