The end is the beginning…

•Sunday 27th June 2010 • Leave a Comment

I’d like to think that the title sums up what is a new chapter for this blog. It’s been a while since my last post, and for good reason.

Basically this blog is moving – it’s taken a lot of head scratching and inevitably the assistance of Tim from n7studios but I’ve finally managed to import this blog to my new website.

As result, this is my last post to this page. I won’t be publishing any more posts here, nor checking any new comments left.

There’s a marathon week ahead – several topics I’ve been working on have led to a weeks worth of posts, so starting tomorrow will be the first of 5 posts I’m titling “The State of the Nation”.

No it’s not a reference to the new Government (though it may crop up in passing)… and most will be about radio.

I’ll be posting the first one tomorrow over at my new website, iandevl.in. I’m looking forward to reading your comments.

Also, if you currently link to this page, please update your bookmarks/links to iandevl.in.

I’ll see you on the other side.

…and it’s goodbye from me

•Wednesday 31st March 2010 • Leave a Comment

It’s It’s an odd feeling typing these words but following the conclusion of the  Student Radio Conference later today, I’ll be bringing 7 years of direct involvement in student radio to a close.

It was a tough call and one not taken lightly, but looking at the future from the wrong side of my 20s has provided a different perspective on where I should be heading over the next few years. I won’t bother going through the reasons – there’s far far too many and most won’t be of interest.

It’s been a very weird journey – I joined Burn FM in Birmingham mainly by chance, making a very impulsive decision to go on a mate’s Sunday afternoon show (having been out the previous night until 3am and feeling rough after waking  up in I’ve no idea where). But that first time in a radio studio, seeing a “big box with slidey things that play music” (i.e. a broadcast mixer) convinced me that radio was something I should have a go at doing – even if most of that first show was spent holding my head as being drunk turned into a hangover!

That was nearly 7 years ago, during which I’ve been a Head Engineer, Head of Imaging/Production, Station Manager at Burn and an SRA Regional, Exec and Admin officer. And student radio remains just as awesome now as it was then – a quick listen to the 2008 awards entries more than proved that (even if the week spent ripping 100 odd CDs and scanning over 500 A4 pages for the judges of the 2008 Student Radio Awards battered me somewhat…)

Seriously, check out stations that aren’t your own – it’s not like there’s a lack of choice! And there may be a good idea or five to pinch…

It’s been great seeing the SRA improve too – my first event being the now mythical l 2005 Student Radio Awards night (aka the one where Greg James won). They’ve simply grown beyond recognition over the last 5 years – something very few people get the chance to see. It’s a privilege to have had that opportunity (even if at the expense of a failed degree and a 2:2).

Beyond the awards, it’s been fascinating seeing both my old station, Burn FM, and the Student Radio Association change in so many ways over a longer period of time than most people get the change to see. Both have made huge steps forward over the years, even though my station did manage a step back thanks to the university not taking too kindly to this particular story making the headlines.

So what’s changed for the SRA and student radio? I’ll limit myself to 3 points, otherwise this list would become very long!

1) The conference – in Southampton many of the sessions had current students talking about why their station was so good and won several awards at the 2005 Student Radio Awards – not exactly the best in terms of the speakers, even if the beer was cheap and easy to squeeze a pint or two between every session. Now, we have Andy Parfitt speaking this year and Ashley Tabor last… along with a firm commitment  from Andrew Harrison of the RadioCentre to support student radio stations in having access to FM spectrum, should the proposed digital upgrade take place in 2015. It’s been getting better and better.

Even so, kudos is well deserved for Surge (Southampton), URY (York), URB (Bath), LSRFM.com (Leeds) and Fly (Nottingham) – good times!

2) Affordability/Value for money – The membership fee has remained static since at least 2005. But beyond the conference and awards, the SRA didn’t offer as much as it could have done. It now offers much more, particularly as of 2008/9 with the new brand, the Chart, I Love Student Radio… not to mention successful integration of Facebook and Twitter – a search for #sracon proves that.

3) The awards – mainly in that the entry process is now online, rather than requiring CDs and relying on Royal Mail – something I’ll take partial credit for, as it was clear that posting CDs wasn’t going to work following the massive increase in numbers (300 in 2005 has become 500 in 2008 and 2009). But the change of venue to the Indigo has also made a big difference. It’s substantially larger than the New Connaught Rooms (which had a max capacity of 600) and allows the SRA to offer cheaper tickets without food (and can hold something like 1,500 people if required).

It’s been a mind-blowing 7 years (or a quarter of my life) , initially being behind the microphone, latterly representing it – and it remains a best way to make some awesome, unique content (12 hour outside broadcasts come to mind) whilst providing opportunities to go further into the radio industry and offering the industry with a cracking one-stop shop for talent.

I went to uni not knowing that Birmingham had a student radio station, let alone that student radio was widespread across the UK – and fully expecting to be spending most of my uni life pushing for  a career of looking through telescopes and doing astrophysicsy black hole creation, rather than talking into a microphone and stripping out servers, rebuilding edit suites as outside broadcast studios and pushing for a career in radio. I made the right choice.

Thanks to everyone who I’ve met, especially those of you who has been brilliant to work with. There’s too many people to list but Mark, Sarah, Matt, Kate and Tim deserve a special mention for being awesome to work with on the 2008/9 exec. The rest of you know who you are! (btw Mark’s published his thoughts on leaving student radio last week – have a look here).

Feel free to play the Temper Trap’s Sweet Disposition – it’s the one song that sums up my thoughts perfectly. It’s tough to be leaving, but I do so knowing that student radio and the SRA are stronger and more important than ever – and I’m pleased I had the opportunity to have done my bit.

I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.

But I thought it best to end by going back to the beginning, of how chance meetings and connections at my hall in uni lead me down a 7 year path down the road of student radio – and the start of my involvement with the SRA 5 years ago, which started with the now mythical 2005 Student Radio Awards night (aka the one where Greg James won).

In-car DAB radio… awesomeness defined, but can it be a bit cheaper please?

•Wednesday 6th January 2010 • Leave a Comment

As someone who has an unhealthy interest in radio I’ve spent many years being told by the radio industry that I should buy a DAB digital radio (first by Matt Deegan at the 2007 Student Radio Conference in York). Over the last twelve months I’ve invested heavily in devices that support the platform and following a Pure Evoke Flow given to me in Christmas 2008, I’ve arguably gone further than most in the radio industry by buying an in-Car DAB head unit.

Specifically, I bought the JVC KD-R801 – a Swiss army knife of in-car radio head units. Along with DAB, it offers FM/MW/LW, Bluetooth (including A2DP music streaming and handsfree calling), an auxiliary input and even a USB socket. It also happens to play CDs, arguably the least useful addition for me (though as a bonus it manages mp3/wma CDs)… it even comes with a remote in the box!

Buying the head unit on its own isn’t a problem – the cheapest price I’ve found is £140… but there’s a significant catch.

The standard unit doesn’t immediately support DAB – there’s the small matter of the necessary DAB tuner not being supplied in the box. It’s a separate tuner which will cost an additional £120. And you’ll need a DAB aerial – add another £35… and finally you’ll probably need a harness to convert the electrical connections provided in your car to the necessary jack that’ll fit the unit (£10-£20)… along with fitting costs if you want it installed.

I took what was undoubtedly the most expensive option, though I did buy over the counter rather than online price included the head unit, DAB tuner and aerial. I also needed a harness and took the lazy option and paid for installation, which took an hour for the guys trained to do the job – goodness knows how long I’d have needed to fit it (and I know I wouldn’t have done it as neatly).

Here’s the big catch… it’s cost me £410.

Was it worth it? Absolutely. It’s nothing short of stunning.

I had it fitted in Birmingham on Saturday and spent Sunday travelling back to South Wales via London – nearly 300 miles and 4 hours. And my experiences so far are so good that it’s put many of my doubts about DAB radio permanently to rest.

Firstly, I’ve found that the DAB radio is, in terms of audio quality/fidelity, equal or better than FM on most stations – I listened to Radio 1, BRMB, Kerrang, Capital, Galaxy, BBC Berkshire and Kiss 101, all of which sounded as good as or better on DAB than on FM. Only dabbl seemed to be lacking in treble and bass – though that could be down to it playing live music rather than a poor bitrate (and it’s not available on FM).

There’s some cracking features – I love that it can recognise that a station may be broadcasting on both FM and DAB, and switch on the fly to the stronger signal (as it did with Kiss 101).

I shoud add that this test is based on one head-unit, in a 2001 model Mazda 323 using the standard factory-fitted speakers using my ears… but I really could not hear DAB being any worse than FM quality and in most cases was significantly better (I had previously thought that DAB was slightly inferior, but have since realised that FM on my Panasonic Hi-Fi is better than FM on my Evoke Flow… and DAB/FM on the Evoke Flow sound the same).

I only have two concerns…

1) Simplicity… not in terms of use (it took about 10 minutes to find everything) but more specically the limitations, at least with my car radio, particularly compared to my Evoke Flow.

The Evoke Flow can be tuned in a similar manner to a Digital TV Freeview Box… tell it to automatically add all available stations and it adds all of them to the channel list, regardless of frequency/multiplex they are broadcast from – any available DAB station can be chosen simply by spinning the dial. My new car radio is far more limited in that it can only actively tune into one specific multiplex.

I’ll quickly outline multiplexes in this paragraph to be certain I’m making the point correctly (feel free to skip this paragraph if you wish). I’ll use the example of  MXR Severn Estuary, which uses frequency block 12C (12 have been allocated by OFCOM – 10, 11 & 12, each having 4 blocks A-D). On FM, Kiss 101 is broadcast on 101MHz. With DAB, Kiss 101 is broadcast on block 12C at a frequency of 227.360 MHz – along with Real Radio South Wales, Choice, Heart, The Arrow, Jazz FM, LBC, UBC UK and UBC Inspirational.

Here’s the issue – my new in-car radio tunes by DAB multiplex… so for example, I can use the up/down buttons on teh head-unit to switch to any of the stations listed in the previous paragraph. But I don’t get the full list of available stations, as would be listed in the station list on my Evoke Flow – I have to switch to a different DAB channel to access other stations (using Kiss/Radio 1 as an example, with FM I simply go to 99.5 from 101 – with DAB, I have to retune from block 12C to 12B, then find Radio 1 from the available stations).

It sounds like a very pathetic point – and one most people reading this blog will, I’m sure, be very dismissive of. But trust me, it could cause big problems for the average consumer of DAB radio.

Since July last year I’ve been working full time as a service engineer – basically if your TV breaks, I’m tasked with driving out and either fixing if possible or collecting it for the fully qualified engineers to take it apart and repair it. Most of what I’ve seen in the last six months are items that are usually not repairable in the home (e.g. LCD screen failure, DVD lasers breaking etc.) but I have seen some problems that are simple misunderstandings (like assuming a letter/number combination on a homecinema system with hard disk is an error code, rather than the recording quality and available time remaining), finding a DVD player that doesn’t receive analogue TV… because the aerial cable hasn’t been connected, or having a poor picture on a brand new TV… without considering that the 5 year old cable box might be the problem. They’re very simple things to spot but can easily be overlooked – and it’s not necessarily older people who are doing that….

…which is my concern for in-car DAB radio. I can see someone trying to get Radio 1, only to be offered 9 stations on a single multiplex and thinking that their radio is broken, or that the DAB platform is inherently a failure because of it.

2) My other concern is one that most people will have… Cost. Clearly a £129 premium on having DAB is not going to be a mass-market option… indeed, I’d have happily fitted the JVC radio I bought myself if it wasn’t for having to install a separate aerial for DAB. It certainly works well but prices simply have to fall, and very quickly (within the next twelve months) if the scheduled 2015 target date for the digital upgrade is to be realistically met.

Saying that, some perspective is required. The model I bought is very high-end (not quite the highest of the high end that JVC make, but I’m only losing out on playing CDs with AAC files… hardly a major loss for someone who converts all iTunes purchases to mp3 files). I’ll highlight two significantly cheaper options that, while lacking features or not being fully integrated, do at least make it easier to access DAB on the road.

The first is the Pure Highway – which can be purchased for £60. It’s easy enough to set up though this video suggests it’s not fantastic at receiving every station (the BBC article on the rest of the page about DAB vs pirate radio is a fascinating read in its own right).

The other option is to, as I’ve done, replace your car-radio head-unit. I’ll happily link to this entry-level JVC model, which, if it’s anything like mine, should be phenomenal. It also betters mine by having the DAB tuner is built in (and a DAB aerial is included in the price). It’s £170, though add £45 if you want it fitted (it’s from the company who installed my own and I can’t recommend them enough).

To be honest, I’m surprised by just how good in-car DAB radio has been so far – whilst not perfect and arguably in need of refinement it’s very good and more than usable (a price drop wouldn’t hurt though). And based on the audio fidelity I’ve heard I can’t reasonably argue that the UK should hold out for DAB+ – it may be better but I’m very much in agreement with Tony Moretta (and his views on 3g/wimax).

It’s certainly a worthwhile purchase for me. Having  just clocked 15,000 miles in my car since I bought it a year ago nearly to the day… I can comfortably say that the next year will, at least in terms of in-car entertainment, going to be far more fun.

Ahem….

•Tuesday 5th January 2010 • Leave a Comment

Yes, it’s been a while….

Having said I’d blog more, I’ve done the exact opposite and nearly eleven months later, I’m back from the blogging wilderness.

So, I’m flipping this blog in the hope I’ll type more – I’ll predominantly be blogging on radio in the UK and have changed the title of this blog to reflect that. I’ll start by publishing a post about in-car DAB radio later…

Two years on…

•Thursday 26th February 2009 • Leave a Comment

…from when I started this blog.

Since then, I’ve finished my degree and am still happily involved in the world of student radio… resulting in the creation of my sister WordPress blog for my work for the Student Radio Association.

So what’s there to say? Perhaps the details of my biggest ever shopping spree (£218 in 20 minutes at Cabot Circus? My new car?

Perhaps not: they’re not the most relevant subjects to blog about… but I have no intention of stopping anytime soon so there’ll be more in the near future.

The new Ikea discount policy

•Friday 23rd January 2009 • Leave a Comment

I went to Ikea in Cardiff on Wednseday and spotted this incredible discount:

I’d love to know who came up with this new credit crunch “friendly” discount policy!

I can’t get no (Facebook) satisfaction

•Wednesday 22nd October 2008 • Leave a Comment

I normally ignore all sponsored polls in the Facebook newsfeed and never see any adverts thanks to my browser add blocker, but this one was too interesting to ignore.  The question:

“How satisfied are you with the new Facebook redesign?”

The results:

 Fits in with the number of people who have signed up to Facebook groups demanding the return of the old version.

While I don’t particularly dislike the redesign, there are a few options I’d like to see changed:

  1. Status updates: they are automatically posted at a significantly larger font size.  You can alter the size of the font but you can’t change the default setting, unlike every other item that appears in the newsfeed,
  2. Wall: it’s no longer possible to only view messages from people via the wall, something that really needs to return
  3. Inability to minimise “applications” (they should be called widgets): I couldn’t care less about the majority of widgets people add to their profiles and the old design allowed me to minimise the majority so I could only see what I wanted to: that is no longer possible
  4. Tabs: it’s more time consuming to get access to the info I want as loading profile pages defaults to te “wall” tab…. why can’t everyone have the option to choose a different default page to load?  The info tab is far more useful.

I’ve already raised these points with Facebook though chances are they’ll be ignored: a generic reply doesn’t really give me much confidence, though I wouldn’t be surprised if there aren’t enough people to reply.  And it hasn’t cost me anything to use Facebook.

It’s certainly quieter than I’d expect it to be: possibly as most of my friends have now graduated and have better uses of their time.  However I don’t see myself abandoning Facebook soon: it’s too useful to communicate to the wider student radio community to ignore.

UPDATE: in the hour since I saw the poll results, it’s changed to 30%, 23%, 23%, 11%, 10% (from extremely dissatisfied to very satisfied).  Clearly relatively few people have taken the poll so I’ll update again once the numbers have settled down.