RadioDNS - making your radio more intelligent
Nick Piggott writes with me:
There's a change happening to your radio. It's getting more connected to the rest of the world.
That FM radio in your mobile phone could, if it wanted to, connect to the internet to discover more about what it's listening to. The DAB radio in that wifi radio you have at home can similarly connect to the web to get lots of information about the current broadcast. And listening to radio on your MP3 player could interact with the internet when it docks to your PC. In short, there are a lot of radio sets hidden within connected devices.
However, just because your radio also has an internet connection within it, that doesn't instantly mean that it can find more information about what it's listening to. Listening to Heart 100.7, a commercial radio station in Birmingham, doesn't tell your radio where to look for more, and certainly nothing as to whether it supports particular things your radio does. Indeed, your radio doesn't even know that it's owned by Global Radio. Listening to BBC Radio Humberside similarly doesn't tell your radio where to try on the internet, nor Absolute Radio in London, P4 in Oslo, KCRW in Santa Monica, etc.
One way to achieve this is to broadcast some additional metadata, telling your radio a web address of where to look, and what functions this broadcaster supports. Which sounds a grand idea, until you realise that there are tens of thousands of FM radio transmitters across Europe which would need to be reconfigured, and hundreds of DAB multiplexes, hundreds of HD Radio broadcasts in the US, and that's before you start on the "fun" of establishing a new technical standard for all of this stuff on all the platforms that are out there. It would take years. And we haven't got years.
That's where RadioDNS comes in. Put simply, it uses information that is already broadcast to create a kind 'unique ID', which, by using standard DNS technology on the internet, can point your radio quickly and simply to the broadcaster - and from there, to advertise to the radio what this broadcaster supports.
What might you do with it? RadioDNS can support things like RadioVIS, a way of adding visuals to radio. RadioEPG, an electronic programme guide. RadioTAG is a really interesting technology, not unlike Radio Pop, allowing you to 'tag' bits of the radio you find interesting. Whether it's your favourite song, an interesting news story, or just something the presenter said that you thought was amusing. It's then up to the broadcaster to keep those tags, to let you interact further when you've the time.
If some of that looks familiar - some of those are already established DAB technologies, which if you've the access to broadcast data, work just fine over broadcast technologies. But while RadioDNS works on DAB, it also works on FM, HD Radio, a radio technology called DRM, and the internet. In fact, almost any way that we broadcast radio (except for AM, though there's a fix for that, too). In short, it works wherever radio does. And since it doesn't need any changes to the transmission chain, it's a simple technology that's cheap to implement.
Global Radio (the commercial radio company that owns 95.8 Capital FM and GWR in Bristol for example, the BBC, Channel 4, and many international broadcasters and receiver manufacturers have been working on this technology for the past few months. And, while there's nothing out there quite yet which supports these technologies, receiver manufacturers have already announced their support for it, and some prototypes will appear on software devices soon.
If you're a developer, or just interested, v0.6 of the specifications are now available at http://radiodns.org/docs. And particularly if you're a developer for a radio group, we'd be interested to hear from you.
Nick Piggott is Head of Creative Technologies for Global Radio.
James Cridland is Head of Future Media & Technology for BBC Audio & Music Interactive.