Editor's Note: As technology
breaks down geographic boundaries, competitive marketing is increasingly used
for education programs. This article describes an evocative format used by Dr.
Grubbs at University of Illiois, Springfield, for promoting educational programs
through simulation of a talk radio program.
Talk Radio LIS: A Case Study
Keywords: CD Audio, Cool
Edit Pro, Multi-track Recording, Radio, RealMedia,
Recruiting, Scripting, Windows Media Encoder
This paper examines the concept and implementation of Talk
Radio LIS, a simulated radio program used as a recruiting tool for the Liberal
Studies Online program at the University of
Illinois at Springfield. This study examines the steps necessary to create
such a program. Discussion centers on finding voice talent for the production,
effective integration of program elements, working in a multi-track digital
audio environment, and making the program available on the Internet using one
of several encoding schemes. Suggestions for future, more elaborate, projects
based on these concepts are also included.
Creating and maintaining an effective online classroom is
a formidable task. But what happens when the goal is to promote an entire online
This paper presents a case study of Talk
Radio LIS, a simulated radio program designed to enhance recruitment
for the Liberal Studies Online program at
the University of Illinois at Springfield.
LIS Online was the first undergraduate completion degree program to be offered
entirely online in the University of Illinois system.
The degree program went "live" in Fall 1999. Prior
to going online, the program created an attractive web site to enhance recruitment
efforts. As the program grew, this site also became a resource for students,
faculty, and our educational partners statewide and across the nation.
2.1 Simulated Radio
The concept for Talk Radio LIS is pretty straightforward.
The goal was to create a streaming audio file to be linked to the LIS program
web page that sounded like a call-in radio program. A target length of fifteen
minutes was chosen in order to allow enough time to answer a significant number
of questions without losing the listener's attention.
In retrospect, some listeners and reviewers have likened
Talk Radio LIS to a radio infomercial - a label that is appropriate since
the program "sells" the LIS Online Program.
2.2 Script Preparation
In the case of an actual talk radio program, there is little
or no scripting involved. The primary content of the program is interactive
and isn't known until callers contact the show to ask questions or express opinions.
The host responds and serves as a moderator for the discussion. Commercials,
news, jingles, and other programming elements round out the show and give it
a true professional broadcast sound.
The challenge with this project was to capture this same
spirit in a scripted production so that it could be produced in an efficient
manner. Rather than relying on the ad-lib, the words for both the callers and
host alike needed to be created before the recording process began.
The scripting process began by creating a series of questions
for callers to ask. The LIS program had previously created an FAQ
(Droegkamp, 1999) that served as the basis for this list of questions. The host's
response was written to respond to each question, but in a manner designed to
Once the script for the host and callers was created, additional
materials were written that serve as interstitials - things like station promotions,
newscasts, drop-ins (jingles) and other program
Finally, music was selected for several portions of the program.
Royalty free "buy out" music was
used in order to comply with copyright law.
2.2.1 Repetition of Basic Information
A basic principle of marketing and, to a lesser extent, education,
is to make sure that the most important information gets repeated frequently
without "over selling" the product. In the case of Talk Radio LIS,
the most critical information included the toll-free information number, the
program's e-mail address, and the URL for the LIS program web site. The method
for including these items was varied in order to keep the information fresh.
2.3 Analog Production
2.3.1 Recruiting Voice Talent
The author provided the voice for the talk show host. The
next challenge was to locate a group of people to recreate the role of callers
to the talk show. Several possibilities were considered including: use of LIS
faculty and staff, recruiting both current and former LIS students, and the
use of an outside talent pool.
The most realistic approach would be to use current and former
students in the program. The difficulty in an online program is that students
are located throughout the state and, indeed, the country. Because their roles
were as telephone callers, it seemed possible that this plan might work - using
a coupling device to record students directly off the telephone. Unfortunately,
trying to coordinate such an effort turned out to be a nightmare. It was also
difficult to schedule on campus faculty and staff, though that remained a viable
In the end, I opted for using an outside talent pool. I've
worked with these individuals on other projects and they were all willing to
donate a small amount of time for this venture. It took less than five minutes
for each individual recording session. The sessions were done "on location"
for the convenience of the talent donating their services.
Rather than record from the telephone, the decision was made
to record in person using a high quality microphone and a simple portable cassette
recorder. The result was a reasonably full-fidelity recording using simple equipment.
This decision ended up providing several benefits.
It was a simple matter to apply a narrow band filter to make
the voices sound like they were on the telephone. Additionally, the voice talent
was asked to record other program elements that would be used during the production
to give it a professional sound. These elements need to be full-fidelity - something
that would not be possible with a recording made over the telephone.
2.3.2 Gathering Realistic Program Elements (Jingles)
One of the elements of the final product that gives the production a realistic
and professional broadcast sound is the inclusion of commercially produced radio
jingles. The author owns the rights to use several jingle packages originally
created by the PAMS Jingle Company of Dallas,
Texas. These are generic cuts (without call letters) but in the same style as
those used by such radio giants as WLS,
2.3.3 Local production of programming elements (use of effects)
There are really a number of smaller productions within the
main production. While the commercial jingles went a long way in creating the
desired sound, since they were generic, additional programming elements were
needed that were specific to Talk Radio LIS.
Using the voice talent available, simple teasers, station
breaks, call in invitations, and other elements were recoded as described earlier.
They were turned into production elements for the show by combining voices and
applying effects using digital, multi-track recording techniques.
2.4 Digital Production
Digital production was accomplished using the author's Windows
OS PC based recording studio. The equipment includes a modest personal computer
system (a 500 Mhz Dell with appropriate sound card), several professional grade
microphones, and analog mixers.
2.4.1 Number of individual elements
With each portion of the fifteen minute being recreated,
the final product consisted of well over one hundred individual elements. Some
of these were combined into sub-productions so that the entire element could
be handled as a single WAV file. For example, there is a montage of student
comments that was treated as a sub-production and then incorporated into the
final mix. One of the many advantages to digital, multi-track, recording is
that timing can be adjusted as needed without affecting the original sound file.
Elements can be timed and manipulated as needed in order to create the desired
2.4.2 Multi-track environment
Cool Edit Pro was
employed as the production software. The multi-track environment of the program
provided virtually unlimited flexibility in the manipulation of individual audio
elements. A wide range of filters and effects are available within the program.
Among the ones used to produce programming elements were: flanging, chorusing,
reverberation, and a number of different filters.
Multi-track recording in any form takes a level of expertise
that must be learned and practiced over time. Cool Edit Pro makes the learning
curve relatively easy, but a project like this one is not a good one for someone
just learning the program's features.
2.5 File Creation/Preparation
To ensure the best quality master and archival copy, the
final mix down of the program was created as a 44KHz WAV file (CD quality).
Cool Edit includes several features to ensure that a final mix is normalized
and as distortion free as possible.
2.5.1 RealMedia versus Windows Media and other formats
Unfortunately, streaming, CD quality audio is not a format
that will work with typical dial-up connection speeds. A decision had to be
made concerning the final form the streaming version of this program would take.
The choices included: RealMedia,
Media, MP3, Liquid Audio, and
several other lesser-known compression schemes. While there are a number of
internet radio stations providing MP3 streams, the relative quality versus bandwidth
requirements are no better than other, more common, formats.
Extensive testing for earlier projects has led this author
to conclude that the overall sound quality of the Windows Media format is slightly
better than that provided by a RealMedia stream of similar bandwidth. Each compression
scheme creates its own "artifacts" - unwanted sounds. The final decision
to create a RealMedia stream was based on several factors. The de facto standard
at UIS for streaming media is the Real format. Since there was no significant
advantage in using a different format, it seemed logical to stick with the RealMedia
format (Real, 2002).
2.6 Network Streaming
With the selection of the RealMedia format, a final decision
was made with regard to two related but different streaming methods. In order
to stream RealMedia files with all features enabled, the content file must be
served by a PC running RealServer. This allows implementation of "SureStream"
- a technique that allows the server to stream the same file at several different
The downside is that access to the RealServer is controlled
by an administrator, requiring files to be submitted manually. Without running
a separate server, there's no way around that.
Since the early days of the format, Real has also supported
a protocol known as HTTP streaming. As long as a web server has the proper MIME
type enabled, anyone can stream RealMedia files using this distribution method.
In order to allow LIS program faculty and staff to control the file, this is
the method selected for distribution.
This allows for the file to be accessed "on demand"
as long as the listener has a recent version of RealPlayer.
2.7 Audio CD Distribution
An audio CD master was also created so that CDs could be
created for circumstances where the intended audience is more likely to listen
if provided with a standard audio CD. Normal CD mastering techniques were used.
Once completed, Talk Radio LIS was previewed for the
LIS program faculty and staff. Based on their recommendations, the final product
was incorporated into the LIS program web page. The program was also reviewed
by the UIS Provost and received his praise as well.
Listening with a critical ear, I do feel that the recreated
call-in questions might have been performed to sound a bit more natural. Perhaps
some additional give and take between the "host" and the "caller"
would add to the realism of the recreation.
4.0 Summary and Recommendations
Duplicating this type of project for any sort of promotional
purpose should be well within the range of most educational institutions. There
is a great deal of room for creativity. For campuses with a broadcasting curriculum,
getting the students in those programs involved could add to the production.
4.1 Full-time Radio Station
An idea under consideration by the author is the creation
of a full-time, automated, radio station so that the program content for Talk
Radio LIS is more dynamic. Software to automate program elements is readily
available at modest cost.
For a full-time operation, a great deal more programming
is required. The easiest way to fill the time is with music. Unfortunately,
without resorting to a library consisting entirely of royalty-free music that
can be a relatively expensive proposition. The
Digital Millennium Copyright Act (U.S. Copyright Office, 1998) is still
being interpreted in regards to Internet radio stations.
4.1.1 The Sesame Street Model
The format of such a station would be based on what has been
referred to as the "Sesame Street Model." Sesame
Street, as originally conceived, used a basic principle that ended up
working very well. A typical commercial television program designed for a 30
minute time slot actually only contains 22 minutes of program. The other eight
minutes are commercials. Sesame Street provided 22 minutes of entertainment
(though, arguably, educational entertainment) and eight minutes of "commercials"
- but in this case, the commercials were alphabet and number drills and, later,
vocabulary and other language skills.
As envisioned, a full-time LIS Radio station would provide
a similar amount of entertainment per hour with the commercials related to information
on the LIS Online program.
This paper has presented a case study of Talk Radio LIS
at the University of Illinois at Springfield. It makes the case for the value
of a simulated radio program as a recruiting tool for online programs. A review
of the necessary steps for creating such a program, including: finding voice
talent for the production, effective integration of program elements, working
in a multi-track digital audio environment, and making the program available
on the Internet using one of several encoding schemes were discussed. Suggestions
for future, more elaborate, projects based on these concepts were also presented.
Droegkamp, J. (1999). LIS Student Handbook. University of
Illinois at Springfield, Springfield, IL.
Real. (2002). Real System Authoring Kit. Retrieved February
20, 2002 from the World Wide Web: http://www.realnetworks.com/resources/smil/downloads/authkit/index.html
U.S. Copyright Office (1998). The Digital Millennium Copyright
Act of 1998. Retrieved from the World Wide Web: http://www.loc.gov/copyright/legislation/dmca.pdf
About the Author
Jim Grubbs, Assistant Professor of Individual
Option, University of Illinois at Springfield,
holds a Ph.D. in Communication and Culture from Indiana
University. He is also a former Faculty Associate in the Office
of Technology Enhanced Learning at UIS.
Jim was one of the first online instructors at the University
of Illinois at Springfield and has taught online continuously since 1997. His
background includes extensive work in the broadcasting industry and as a telecommunications/network
engineer with Ameritech.
He has developed online courses using traditional web pages,
WebBoard, and Blackboard
courseware. Jim specializes in finding work-arounds for limitations in commercial
courseware. He is well versed in Windows, Macintosh, and UNIX operating systems.
Jim is the recipient of multiple grants for online development from OTEL and
the Liberal Studies Online program at UIS.
In addition to his academic work, Jim, along with his brother
Jon Grubbs, consult with both commercial and not for profit clients, especially
those wishing to incorporate streaming technologies as a part of their web presence.
My thanks to the faculty and staff of the Individual Option,
Liberal Studies, and Communication programs at UIS who have contributed to my
growth as a scholar and educator in innumerable ways.