Friday, June 13, 2008

Automation and radio

One of Manovich's five principles of new media, automation, allows human intentionality to be removed from the creative process. According to Manovich "the creative energy of the author goes into the selection and sequencing of elements rather than the original design" (130).

When human intentionality is removed from the creative process, in many cases it raises questions about authenticity. It also made me think about what scenarios it may be inappropriate for a computer to replace human activities.

Working at a radio station I have learned the ins and outs of broadcasting, and how the engineering staff programs radio content 24/7, when most of the staff works normal business hours.

Many of the programs are recorded, stored in a playlist by a computer, and aired as if they were live. Even during the live programs, automation allows the DJs to go on air for a couple of minutes, press a button that will play a set of 3-4 songs, leave the studio and then come back when the songs are over. I find that this is damaging to the creative process of the DJs. If they were actually in the booth loading in the CDs or cueing up the records, and listening to the songs, they might be inspired to share some interesting information about the music with the listening audience. After all, that is the reason that they are DJs in the first place. They are expected to be music lovers, experts, and critics. However, in actuality, a computer is choosing the music and playing the music.

Another issue is that there is not always a human being around to make sure that the computers are working properly. There have been instances when the station has been knocked off the air in the middle of the night with no one around to fix the problem.

Automation makes operating a radio station much easier and costs a lot less than employing 24/7 staff. In fact, automation can allow for hours and hours of radio content without a Disc Jockey. However, I really hope that radio stations continue to employ music loving people who have valuable information about music that they can share with thousands of people. I think taking the human element out of broadcasting would drastically change the experience of listening to the radio, and it definitely be a negative change.


Anonymous said...

I believe in the radio-DJ realm of communication, automation is constructed by the commercial market. Pressing a button to play pre-recorded airings with a start and finish- to accommodate the timed sequence of commercials and music.

You said it right in your piece…”Automation makes operating a radio station much easier and costs a lot less than employing 24/7 staff.”

Cost efficiency, and market friendly. In this sense it is a shame because in fact, it does constrain the DJ, radio organization, and even the musician’s creativity opportunities.

What concerns me about the automation process in commercial radio is that it may just disappear completely one day to personalized technology that allows the individual to construct a play list of their favorite artist and avoid radio all together. And I’m all for it if radio organizations keep up with the same commercial constraints.

Lance Strate said...

You make me nostalgic for the heyday of the disc jockey, which started in the fifties, but really took off in the sixties, and especially the seventies with FM radio. In a sense, radio became more programmed even before the technology took over, by following market research instead of DJ tastes, and setting up playlists that the DJ had to follow, a more invisible result of technology. But however you punctuate it, it is a loss--my musical tastes were certainly influenced by DJs such as Pete Fornatale, Dennis Elsas, Meg Griffen, Vin Scelsa, and the late, and much missed Nightbird, Alison Steele.