A Trip on the Night Riviera

In late May 2011 I went to the Isles of Scilly to do some work for Radio Scilly based on the main island of St Marys. This involved getting a ferry from Penzance at 0915 in the morning. This early start meant either an overnight in a hotel in Penzance or an overnight sleeper from London. I choose the sleeper and thought I would do a blog post about my experiences on the service.

History
A small bit of History. The route has been called the Night Riviera since 1983 and it is one of only two overnight sleeper services. The other one is the Caledonian Sleeper which goes to Scotland and offers two different destinations. There has been an overnight sleeper service from London to Cornwall since 1877. More history and info from this wikipedia page.

My experience
The train departs from London Paddington and goes to Penzance. It leaves Paddington at 23:45 (23:50 on a Sunday night – it doesn’t run at all on Saturday nights). You can get on the train at Paddington from 22:30 to settle down.

Departure Board of Night Riviera

I love the report to the Sleeper Car Attendents

Your ticket allows you access to the First Class lounge at the station although I did find this a pretty sad place to hang out in and would not recommend it. I would suggest you pop in if you need the loo and you can also pick up complimentary water and have a hot drink if you want to – there may be some papers but doubt it at the time of heading in there as it will have been used all day. I went in and grabbed some water and went to the loo but was soon out and heading for my coach D.

Pendennis Castle Engine for Sleeper Train

I found my berth in Coach D and awaited the sleeping car attendent (believe her name was louise). We were due in to Penzance at 0800 and she asked me what I would like for breakfast and what time I would like to be woken and then left me to it. You can leave your berth and the door locks behind you if you wanted to go into the lounge car for a hot drink or something stronger. Hot drinks are included in the ticket price. The berth can hold two people in bunk beds but mine was just for one and the top bunk was folded away. If you book I would suggest booking through the First Great Western website rather than trainline.com as I think FGW guarantee single occupancy and so you don’t have to share.

Cabin on Cornwall Sleeper
My berth consisted of my bed on the left hand side with two pillows and sheet/blanket combo, somewhere to hang my coat and put my suitcase, a wash basin (on the right in the picture underneath and pull up counter) with running hot and cold water, towels and toiletry kit which includes a razor, flannel, soap, eye mask and ear plugs and toothbrush/toothpaste. It also had in berth television which you can see at the middle top of the picture. The TV was like airline tv and you could choose programmes from a variety of genres. You could buy some headphones or use your own which you connected to the wall unit by your head. There was a remote control on a chain to change volume etc. There is a black out blind behind the basin which did a great job of darkening the room. I was probably asleep by the time we left Paddington and must say I slept much better that I thought I would do and didn’t need the ear plugs or eye mask at all. Louise woke me at 0700 with breakfast.It was a great experience eating my breakfast with the blind up and Cornwall going past my window whilst laying in bed. It arrived on time at 0800 into Penzance after calling at many stations in Cornwall and got off the train feeling pretty fresh and slightly amazed that I was actually in Cornwall and I hadn’t just driven for hours on end.

Penzance Station

Sun rising at Penzance Station

 

The return journey was not much different in terms of experience. It departs Penzance at 2115 so had time to find my berth and sit in the lounge car and enjoy a drink as the sun was setting in Cornwall. The only issue being it arrives into London Paddington at 0543 the next morning but you can stay on the train until 0700. You do get use of the showers at Paddington if you want also. I didn’t sleep quite so well this way as I think it was slightly noisier as we got closer to London. The cost of this journey was £90 each way but you can if you book far in advance get all inclusive tickets from £49 each way single berth. This may seem expensive but an overnight stay in a hotel in Penzance and or London if you are heading in the other direction will not be much cheaper once you add either petrol or a daytime train ticket. ConclusionI would recommend this as a great experience to have and if you need to be in Cornwall early in the morning for something it is the best way to travel. I did a small recording on the train which you can hear here – Hope you have found this post interesting/useful – M
September 2013 UPDATE: The waiting room has apparently been done up in Paddington and if you head to the right when you go in the door you go to the older part of the lounge not the modern soulless area. There is a great video and more details at this site –http://www.seat61.com/Cornwall-sleeper.htm. 

Am about to go on it again in September 2013 and will report back any new findings.

Quick Overview of Marantz PMD620

A very quick overview of the PMD620. Useful if you have already setup the profiles and you are just wanting to go out and record.

Radio Presenters: Tools for reading stuff from the web on air

So with the ability to surf the web whilst on air in most studios I thought I would share some web-tools you can use which may make reading text from website easier to do whilst on air. Now of course plenty of people will say “well you should edit the text and make it more radio friendly” but sometimes you either can’t be bothered or you run out of time.

So the first tool is called ‘Readability’ and is available here. You setup readability on the site and then create a bookmark for it (it works with safari and firefox, maybe IE) then go to the site you want to read from and when on that site click on your ‘Readability’ bookmark. It takes whichever website you are on at the time and strips out all the distractions such as ads and flash banners and gives you the main text in an easy to read layout.

The second tool is called ‘Autoscroll’ and is available here. Now after you have sent your webpage through Readability. Create a bookmark from the Autoscroll site and click on it and this will start automatically scrolling the webpage for you – just like autocue on the tv. You can control the speed of the scroll etc with the number keys.

It is worth giving them a go and see how you get on. I have found them very useful – Matt

Audioboo.fm – useful tool for your radio station or podcast

Ever since the ‘Radio At The Edge’ conference held by the Radio Academy I have been keeping an eye on Audioboo. Audioboo has been described as ‘blogging without typing’ and it enables you to upload a maximum of 5 minutes of audio and include a title, tag it and add a photo if you want. They announced at the conference some of their future plans and it seems things are starting to be added to the site now. Here are some of my highlights and potential thoughts on how you could use it if you run a radio station or podcast.

Mobile Apps
There has been an iPhone app for quite some time and they now have an Android app available which allows you to record and publish a ‘boo’ from wherever you are if you have either type of phone. I can see this being of use for Travel problems, snow reports, on the scene news reports as you can add the location you are in at the time of recording. On the iPhone app you can see ‘Nearby Boos’ which may be useful for a local radio station.

Browser Based Recording or Upload
To begin with the iPhone app was the only way of getting recordings into audioboo but they have now added the ability to record straight from the browser. It seems to work only with Safari or Firefox but may work on IE. If you have a built in mic you can use this or plug one in. There is also the ability to upload a piece of pre-edited material (again to a maximum of 5 minutes). For their PRO users they are allowing the ability for them to embed the recorder in their own websites. Whether this then uploads to the main username of the account or each user needs to login separately I don’t know. I can imagine the time where on a station/podcast website users will be able to hit record and send in some feedback/song request in good quality and easily.

Tags
Each ‘boo’ can be assigned with ‘tags’. You can then search on these tags and when you click on them there is the ability to make a ‘podcast’ of all ‘boos’ tagged with the word(s) which will automatically download in iTunes. You could also add the feed to a feed reader just change the URL from itpc://audioboo.fm/tag/essex.atom to http://audioboo.fm/tag/essex.atom if you want to see all ‘boos’ tagged with the word essex in this example. Just ask your listenners to tag their boos with a set, and quite specific, word e.g. ‘radioquiet’ and set up a feed of that tag and whenever anyone records boo and tags it it will automatically download or be flagged to you for moderating and playing out.

Extra Bits
There is the ability to send any boos through to twitter or facebook automatically to ensure your boos get out to a wider audience and am sure it won’t be long before you can embed a boo player in your website/facebook page. There is also an option to phone in a boo at http://phoneboo.audioboo.fm/ but this method seems to lose quite a few of the benefit outlined above.

Conclusion
Keep a look on the site for new and improved bits to come. I am audioboo.fm/mattwade by the way!

Matt

Using WordPress to produce iPhone optimised website

I volunteer at Hospital Radio Chelmsford as I have since 1991 and recently they have released a new website and Facebook Fan Page to improve their online presence.

This lead me onto helping them to create an iPhone oprtimised website to run in conjunction with the main site. I knew that the facility existed in wordpress to automatically format the page into a readable experience on the iPhone so I thought I would write up how I did it so if anyone else wishes to do it they can.

As with anything run by volunteers the idea is to reduce effort/time to a minimum so the webmaster did not want it to increase his workload. The main site already produced a couple of different RSS feeds and so this was key to automating the process.

I installed a wordpress installation into the /iphone/ directory on the website which was going to be the url and from there it was down to the plugins. Firstly the plugin I used which formats the site for iPhone is called ‘WPtouch iPhone Theme’ and then to import the RSS feeds and process them as Posts I used a plugin called ‘FeedWordPress’.

Both of these plugins once installed are easy to configure to your needs. The FeedWordPress allows you to set a category for each RSS feed you import and it will automatically poll the RSS feeds every hour for changes so the webmaster needs do nothing except update the main site.

From there it was just a matter of making a front page which would be the static page on the site you would see when first visiting the site and getting hold of any missing icons I needed. I bit of searching around found me the html I needed to get the site to operate the SMS messages and the Calling function from the site which automatically makes the iPhone go into the SMS app or the Phone app.

All this work can be seen at the site which is www.hrc.org.uk/iphone. It doesn’t look pretty if viewing in the normal web browser but on the iPhone or Android phone it formats correcly but feel free to copy the html if you want.

Hope you find this of interest – Matt

Myriad Tutorials online

The project I have been working on over the last few months with my friends at Psquared is now online.

These are tutorial ‘how-to’ videos on their application. You can find them here and they will also be uploaded in time to my webpage here.

From the start of 2010 I hope to begin tutorials on Autotrack, their music scheduling system.

Hope you find them useful for your station.

Radio at the Edge Write-up

This is the writeup I did for the Beeb on the Event I attended.

I attended this event for the second year in a row and it is now in it’s third year. The idea is ‘What’s Next Now’ and it looks at the future of Radio. There were sessions covering Mobile Phone applications for listening to radio and participating in it, whether if starting up a digital only station you should rip up the traditional radio rule book, visualising radio with ‘glance-able’ content, whether Spotify is a friend or foe, whether to build, buy or go open source for websites and an international radio consultant talked about his experiences working in community radio in Africa. To finish Tony Blackburn was interviewed by Richard Bacon.

There is a write up of the events of the day here: – http://bit.ly/7SGQ1 along with some excellent video ‘factoids’ which are well worth watching. There is some audio on the Radio Academy website www.radioacademy.org. Some bits and pieces that I found interesting were:- Jazz FM has launched an iPhone app and so far received 78,000 downloads and since August 160,000 people have tuned in via a mobile application.

Spodtronic (http://bit.ly/4CvHlJ) spoke to us about their phone applications and showed one stations use of their app and the GPS chips in phones to tell the station where traffic jams were plus speed cameras! These apps are not only on iPhone but Blackberry, Android and most importantly Nokia which accounts for a huge number of listeners. Their apps also allow for two way votes and competition entry. Mark Rock, the CEO of Audioboo (http://bit.ly/47hBKd), spoke about the service which has been described at ‘Twitter without Typing’ It is an iPhone application which allows you to record up to 5 minutes of audio and it is automatically posted to the website or someone can subscribe to your ‘boos’ in itunes or via an RSS reader. The quality is very good and has been used on air to report news events. More importantly in the future there will be the ability to embed the application on a website using Java and allow visitors to record using either their in built mic / external mic or already saved piece of audio to your stations account enabling ‘good quality’ audio from your listeners or a good quality news reports. They do not allow editing of the audio – they say it helps with the ‘authenticity’. They currently have 32,000 users and 77,000 pieces of audio are uploaded each day.

Listenners habits – Instead of talking about ‘share’ for audience figures it seems the new term is ‘Share of Ear’ which deals with how much of your ‘brand’ is listened to throughout the day. Listenners want more interaction, more control and more portability. Chris Kimber from BBC Audio and Music Interactive spoke about the Simon Mayo visualisation experiment which went well but it was quite labour intensive. The important part I felt was it did allow for more texts to be shared with the audience than could be read out on air by the presenter.

Radio with Pictures – this was an extension of the previous years talk about radioDNS (http://bit.ly/2mGz6I) Colin Crawford from PURE talked about their new radio (http://bit.ly/2BRpUZ) Pure Sensia which uses the technology.

Jonathan Marks spoke about radio in Africa and mentioned a couple of phrases I found interesting. “New Ideas are easy … getting rid of the old ones are hard” and moving from “Shouting to Sharing” for radio. He also mentioned Telecoms Sans Frontieres (http://www.tsfi.org/en) which is along the lines of the ‘Medicins’ but whenever there is an incident they come along and get the telecoms and radio up asap to enable proper communication in such an event.

Finally… the interview with Tony Blackburn was interesting. Tony Blackburn makes a small video 10 minutes before he goes on air on the variety of stations he works for (4 at the moment) saying what is coming up on the show and Tweets them on his twitter feed. It also acts as a reminder to his audience to tune in. Richard Bacon who interviewed him has over 1 million follows which he says is down to ‘an administrative error’!

Radio at the Edge Conference

Tomorrow I am off to the Radio at the Edge conference in London which is being put on by the Radio Academy.

I went last year and was impressed with the setup and discussions which took place and so am intrigued as to how this years will go. I shall report back.

www.radioacademy.org