Now that most radio personalities have been forced to work from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many are turning to video streaming tools as a way to engage with their audiences. There are, of course, dozens if not hundreds of software solutions out there, so finding the one that best suits your station's particular needs is often a matter of trial and error. If you're looking for some guidance, here are some suggested starting points.
If you want to…
1. Host a staff meeting.
Zoom has seen rapid growth since the start of the pandemic, and it's easy to understand why. It makes it incredibly easy to host online meetings with multiple people and offers a robust set of features, but its stability even with the increased volume due to the current crisis has been its biggest selling point. A free account allows unlimited one-on-one video calls, but meetings of three or more people are limited to 40 minutes.
Zoom offers a lot on interesting features, such as allowing moderators to see when participants have navigated away from the Zoom window on their screen or allowing participants to customize their backgrounds. Easy integration with other apps, especially calendar programs like Google Calendar, iCal, and Microsoft Outlook, also makes it attractive.
Cons: Since the start of the pandemic, Zoom's security has been called into question, even resulting in an FBI warning. Beware.
2. Broadcast multiple co-hosts from different locations.
Zoom is a frontrunner here, too. The key is that if you are recording a radio broadcast to be published as a video after the fact, you want it to look good in addition to sounding good. Not all video conferencing software accomplishes this because, let's face it, meetings don't necessarily have to have aesthetic appeal. But with the ability to create virtual backgrounds, Zoom enables you to hide the clutter of the bedroom that you're broadcasting from.
Cons: While Zoom does allow you to stream live to social networks like Facebook and YouTube, that is not its primary purpose; there may be a lag, and the setup can be difficult. At the end of the day, this is a tool designed for a closed group of people to interact with each other, like a morning show cast together in a studio. If you are looking for a service that is designed to enable you to interact with the audience at large in real time, skip to #4.
3. Conduct a remote audio interview.
Sometimes, when broadcasters are working remotely, their primary concern is audio quality. When you're conducting an interview with somebody who is in a different location and audio quality is the most important factor, you want software than can record a “double ender.” What normally make guest's phone call recordings sound so bad on the air is that you're not capturing their audio until after it's been sent down the phone line. However, if you can record each person on their own end and then sync those two recordings up, the quality will be much better. There are a number of apps out there that use this “double ender” recording technique. Podcasters have been using them for years; now it's radio's turn.
A good place to start is with Squadcast, which make it simple to set up a recording session and share it with guests who may not be technically inclined.
Note: Squadcast is designed for recording audio that will be go through post-production; it's not meant for livestreaming.
4. Engage with a large audience in real time.
While broadcasting has always been a one-way medium, social media has given rise to two-way communication, in which audience members can talk back to broadcasters and they can respond in real time. This usually involves the broadcasters streaming live while viewers can react with text comments or emojis. If you're looking for real-time interaction, you'll want to go with a social media service: Facebook Live, YouTube Live, or Instagram Live. Each has its individual quirks, but the biggest difference is that Facebook and YouTube can be integrated with third-party programs that enable you to elevate the production values.
Try using Be Live with Facebook or YouTube; you can use it to add video intros, backgrounds, logos, titles, and more. It's the closest you'll get to a more expensive software solution like vMix without breaking the bank.
Cons: You can't natively record with Be Live if you're also streaming live, so you'll have to find a workaround.
5. Host a small watch party.
Sometimes, you want to engage in an online activity with a small number of audience members. For example, you might want to host a viewing party of Tiger King on Netflix, in which you and your fellow DJs offer running audio commentary and other audience members can make text comments. To do this, you'll need a special app. Most of these apps are basically virtual chat rooms which allow you to share a section of your computer screen — in this case, a browser tab in which you stream the show on the video service of your choice. This way, everybody is watching the same thing at the same time, and there can be running commentary.
Kosmi is a free service that allows you to do this with any streaming service, and even works with other games like Texas Holdem or NES Games.
Cons: This service only works with a browser, such as Google Chrome, so you have to be on a computer. If your living room is set up to watch using a Roku, Firestick, Apple TV, or other non-PC device, you can't do it.
These, of course, are not the only options out there. I've seen on-air personalities utilizing everything from Discord to Twitch to engage with their audiences. What is working for you? Leave a note in the comments.