I’ve recently been rather taken with the idea of engagement. But I’m talking about real engagement: my idea is rather more about doing than listening.
For two years, I have been producing a science podcast. Just general, pretty basic science, presented in a measured but chatty format. I’ve had moderate success with this, and have a small but stable audience. My listeners are aged from 7 to 90 years, and this dictates certain choices when it comes to content and presentation.
Last year, I had the idea that I wanted my audience to participate in generating the episodes. I felt that rather than me just telling science to them, they should be telling everyone their own views on the concepts discussed, or at the very least asking their own questions.
Initially, this was a great success. People from around the world recorded their thoughts on various science news items and concepts, which we duly broadcast as a valued portion of the show. We were able to moderate this content during the live recording of the show, negating the risk of incorrect factual information being broadcast without notice.
However, this was an initiative that we were unable to sustain with our modest audience. This level of participation requires a sizeable pool of people willing to participate, and we exhausted our audience within a few months.
But the idea of self-generated audio content stuck with me. A sort of radio 2.0. I realized that asking people to contribute to my own podcast was a very limited opportunity. And not everyone would have something to say about the topic of the day, or the confidence to say it. So I decided to start a global online community radio station.
Not a small undertaking, by any means. I had to learn about all the requirements of online radio – live streaming, bandwidth, monthly allowances, hosting, a user interface… The list was seemingly endless. But I got the business end all set-up, and developed a front-end website to promote the content and ideals of the station.
My initial aims were that the station could be heard anywhere in the world, and that anyone could create and broadcast their own show. In between scheduled shows, we would play music, so that the station would be broadcasting twenty-four hours a day. We would also have a two-pronged schedule, so that programmes would be repeated in at least two time zones, allowing listeners in different parts of the world to listen at their own ‘peak’ time.
Broadcasting around the world was not really compatible with having licensed music on the station. Even if I could afford the fees, I would need different licenses in each country where the broadcast was heard. Not really a practical solution. So we decided to go with unsigned, new music. I was a little wary of this at first, but it turns out that there are a lot of very talented people, making great music and allowing it to be broadcasted using a creative commons license. In return for adding music to our playlist, we ensure that the title, artist and cover art show on our live streaming page each time the tracks are played, and we also have a dedicated musician page for each artist, with links to their own websites, social media and music sites. And the music we feature has generated no end of positive feedback.
Now, in terms of encouraging engagement and participation, it’s mostly about the shows. We encourage anyone, anywhere in the world, with any level of experience, to create and broadcast shows. The shows can be on any topic and can be any length from 2 minutes to 2 hours. And we guarantee to broadcast everything that is submitted – as long as it does not breach anyone else’s copyright and it is audible. We have some information on the site to help first-timers with the recording and production of their shows and advice on how to get the best out of basic equipment.
Our main aim is to encourage participation in the creation of radio. We want the station to provide a non-judgemental arena for anyone to have a go, and get creating. And so far it is working. We’ve been broadcasting for just over two months, we’re still in our infancy.
So far, we’ve had a great response, with shows coming in from the UK, America, France and Italy. We’ve had individual one-off shows, and some series’ running for over 50 episodes. We’ve broadcast well over 200 individual episodes of content generated by our community and attracted listeners from the USA, UK, France, Sweden, Mexico, Philippines and Italy, with our average listener tuning in for at least 40 minutes.
This really is a community station with a difference – we’re not a community of listeners, we’re a community of do-ers, broadcasters in our own right.
For more information about the radio station check out www.BungalowRadio.com.