Radio freedom

Commercial director Amy Allais: "I"™m connected again."Image credit: Ross Garrett for SL Magazine
Date:30 November 2008 Tags:, , , ,

Audio tailored to your tastes, when and where you want it: podcasting puts you in the programme manager’s seat

It’s not the sharp styling and nifty controls of her new Nokia N78 that have Amy Allais all worked up. The clincher: Wi-Fi, and how it’s added a new dimension to one of her favourite things, podcasting. (For the record, she does like the new phone’s styling.)

Where it’s happening is where you’ll find Allais. For instance, sitting across from a wedge of quiche at le Petit Tart in Cape Town’s fashionable de Waterkant area – as she was during this interview. Restored Cape Malay houses, red-brick office blocks and a blend of bustle and relaxation are the perfect environment for artistic types like this award-winning director of commercials. Hotter than several Suns right now and newly installed at Ola! Films, she boasts an honours list that includes the VUKAs and finalist positions at Cannes.

She lists podcasts as one of her sources of inspiration, allowing her to be in tune with international and local trends before they hit the mainstream airwaves. Allais readily admits she’ll listen to podcasts whenever she can – for relaxation, inspiration and insight.

Podcasts strike a chord with the creative person within her. “What I like about them is that they’re created by people who are passionate.” And who exactly are they? “People with a voice, literally. People are drawn to different media. Somebody might be drawn to podcasting because he didn’t have the inclination to type something out and put it in a blog.” Podcasting – a combination of iPod and broadcast – is online audio content delivered by “podcatching” software like an RSS feed to your computer or compatible standalone device, such as the new cellphones with multimedia and Web features. That’s the essential difference compared with simple audio downloads: podcasts are delivered. Like the RSS feed, podcatching software automatically updates the podcast list. You then play the audio programme on your desktop or transfer it to a portable player.

Radio stations, blog sites and popular bands are using podcasts to get their opinions and music out there. It’s been called radio on demand, and can be listened to on basically any device capable of playing digital media, from iPods to MP3 players and cellphones.

What is special about Podcasts that separates it from radio? Simple: control. “You choose it,” says Allais. “It is not catering to the mass market.

“I like to be in control. It is like what PVR does for your TV. You can listen to it at your leisure.”

The beauty of the podcast is that, as with radio or portable music players, it can be listened to while you’re doing something else. “While I am making dinner or working in the garden,” says Allais. “Or while waiting at Home Affairs!” But, with radio, you’re at the programmers’ mercy. And it’s not just the timing of radio broadcasts that make them unsuitable for podcasters’ tastes.

“Sadly, local radio has taken a dive. Now, on podcasts, I listen to lots of radio programmes; mainly National Public Radio (www.npr.org). And I listen to programmes about all sorts of things.”

There’s a lot more to podcasts than entertainment value. “You will get manuals – you name it.” She turned her grandfather, an ophthalmologist, on to podcasting because he could pick up interesting medical programmes.

And it’s for everybody. “You can find something to meet whatever your needs are.”

There is a downside to all of this, particularly in South Africa. “Like all the good things in life, podcasting requires broadband.”

A self-confessed “gadget freak”, Allais says that her new phone’s W-Fi feature is a big advantage. “For downloads, it’s much better than GPRS.” When she is within range of a wireless zone, she can download podcasts directly to her phone for later listening. Previously, she would first have to download to her PC via broadband, and then sync the podcasts to her iPod.

Just as she does with her iPod, she uses Apple’s iTunes software for syncing and uploading to her phone. “One of the great things about podcasting, besides the convenience, is the range. There is more stuff than I can keep up with.” A lot of it is traditional radio. “I listen to NPR Books, for instance.”

One of her favourites is “Fresh Air”, the hour-long NPR show in which celebrities from politicians to musicians are interviewed. “There is also an amazing show called ‘This American Life’, and a show hosted by Robert Krulwich that covers various science topics, but in a more entertaining, thought-provoking way than usual.”

Not restricted at all by the conventional, Allais notes a distinct liking for a weekly show from the Big Apple, “Gay pimpin” hosted by Jonny McGovern.

South African podcasts are available for every conceivable taste. There’s current affairs, for example (www.africangroove.com), horror (www.Something Wicked.co.za), comedy (www.toastfantastic.com) and even vocabulary (www.justvocabulary.com).

“The amazing thing about podcasting is that it’s available to literally anybody who has a computer and a bit of bandwidth.”

Ironically, it was actually radio that turned Amy on to the world of podcasting. Late at night, when local stations closed down at the end of regular programming, they would switch over to the World Radio Network. For anybody with an insomniac tendency like Allais, it was a revelation. Yet something puzzled her.

“At the end, they used to say, ‘we also have a podcast’.” Curious about what this could all be about, she began trawling the Web.

Here she picks up the lament again: “You know, radio has lost its focus. Broadcasting doesn’t have to be dumbed down and watered down.”

Given that there’s a huge amount of material already out there, and more being added with every passing moment, sorting out the dross can be difficult. “It is the same as blogging,” she admits. “You can get some palooka going on. There is a process of natural selection, though.”

Where, for Amy Allais, radio has somehow lost its way, podcasting has become a worthy substitute. “For a while, five or six years ago, I felt like I was in a cultural desert. Now I feel a bit more connected.”

Podcasting

What you’ll need to receive podcasts l Hardware (download). High-speed Internet connection, PC (optional) with soundcard and speaker.

* Hardware (replay) MP3 player/iPod

* Software (podcatching). ITunes, FeedDemon, iPodder (open source)

* Software (replay). Windows Media Player, iTunes or similar.

* Resources. www.podcasting-tools.com; www.podcastalley.com; www.podcast bunker.com; www.podcastingnews.com; www.podcast.co.za

* Remember, bandwidth is king; without high-speed Internet access, you’re a non-starter. Expect podcasts to range from about 25 to 100-plus MB in size.

* PC with sound card and microphone or similar arrangement

* Multimedia/recording software such as
Audacity

* High-speed Internet connection Once you’ve recorded your programme, save it as an MP3 file. Upload it to your blog or Web site. If you’re unsure about how to create an RSS feed, software such as iPodder walks you through the process.

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