Stream of Consciousness

Online Audiocasts Rock Radio’s World

StrokeFrom Web browsing to blogs to instant messaging, the Internet has drastically altered the way we communicate. Now another wave of the electronic revolution, audiocasting, is changing the face of radio—and giving UAB new ways to reach audiences on and off campus.

In its most basic form, audiocasting—also known as “podcasting” because of its link with Apple’s iPod digital music player—means distributing a regularly updated audio program over the Internet via a blog or Web page. Many audiocasts use RSS (real simple syndication) “feeds” to send new programs directly to subscribers. Readily available software and hardware allow individuals to record and distribute their own radio shows—with no restrictions on length or content.

In practice, this means that you can now find audiocasts on almost any topic, from grammar tips to cricket highlights. “Instead of producing something that’s general, you can cater to a specific audience,” says UAB Web Communications specialist Jeff Keeton.

But even though anyone with a computer can post an audio file, the process of creating a true audiocast is much more involved. “A lot of people misunderstand audiocasting,” Keeton adds. “There’s a lot of production work involved. As with a radio show, there’s planning and editing. And you have to build an audience and a schedule.”

Employing audiocasts for education has already taken hold at universities nationwide, including UAB. “There are lots of possibilities,” Keeton says. Making lectures and presentations available online—and even creating audiocasts of field trips—will expand UAB programs by making them more accessible to students, he notes.

Terry Gunnell, who directs external communications for the UAB School of Public Health, says audiocasts are also a great way to promote distance learning for students in rural Alabama, and the school has already made lectures available on its Web site. For more general audiences, the school is converting stories from its magazine into audiocasts; monthly programs highlighting important public health topics are also in the works.

Audiocasting is still evolving,” Gunnell says. “There’s freedom to try new things. If we don’t take advantage of this opportunity, then we’re going to be really behind in the game.”

UAB’s public radio station WBHM has created audiocasts of its arts program Tapestry for more than a year. Program director Michael Krall says the feedback has been positive. But though he hopes that more of the station’s programs will go online, he doesn’t think that audiocasts spell the end of traditional radio.

“Podcasting does eliminate the need for appointment radio and opens up a window to other programs you might not have heard otherwise,” he notes. “But you still need a computer to make it work and, compared to traditional radio, that can be a substantial investment. Podcasts, however, do provide a wake-up call for traditional broadcasters to deliver significant programming to their audience.”

Technology buff and UAB senior communication studies student Daniel Walters has been experimenting with audiocasting for the last two years. “It gives me great experience in editing,” he says. Walters recently started working with UAB’s media relations department as a student consultant, assisting the staff in editing interviews into polished audio and uploading them to the Internet to promote UAB news and events. And though UAB is just beginning to explore all of the ways to incorporate audiocasting into campus life, Walters views it as something that’s here to stay. “It’s fun, it’s interesting, and people love it,” he says.

— Danielle McClure

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