The Skype’s The Limit

Any radio producer will be familiar with the newsroom conversation when it comes to inviting contributors on air. Inevitably, the question will be asked : “Can you come into the studio?”

Seasoned guests know the form. An interview just tends to work better if it’s face to face. And the perception is that the audience gets more out of the experience if they can clearly hear what is being said. Above all, the producer gets a glowing feeling inside – that the content will be “in quality”.

The trouble is, quality audio doesn’t always equate to interesting content.

In recent years, there’s been a tendency for radio and TV stations to opt for interviews over Skype (or other internet video apps). The perception is that it’s a cheap halfway house between dragging a guest into a studio or speaking to them over a crackly phone line. I have to say, in my experience the results can be mixed.

The biggest problem is the quality of the microphone, and where it is positioned in relation to the guest. A standard “in ear” headphone/mic combo (standard with most mobile phones) can work perfectly well, until the wires brush against clothing or anything else. A headset with a built in mic can improve the output. But another issue comes with the fact that most people’s homes are not equipped with studio standard soundproofing. The end result is a guest who sounds as if they’re in the bathroom.

Put simply, Skype is not always the attractive option it first seems. So I was surprised to find a phone in show on Al Jazeera which was almost entirely made up of it.


The Stream hosts a daily discussion with global guests making their contributions by Internet video. It’s an interesting concept. Obviously the main contributors are pre booked, but the show evolves by inviting anyone to join in online. Some make it on air in person, others – like the traditional phone in – have their comments read out by the presenter.

There’s probably a lot more production behind the scenes to make it work – but work it does. Maybe it helped that the edition I viewed was a debate on whether African radio stations should play all African music. But it made me wonder if the concept could be adapted to the radio?

It would firstly require a different way of thinking. And a certain amount of engineering. Most broadcast desks typically contain two on air phone lines and just one incoming Skype line. Other “outside sources” could be adapted to accommodate more, but then there’s the challenge of convincing listeners to use their smart phone technology to get involved.

Essentially, it’s no different from the traditional “round table” discussion. Only the table is made up of multiple tablets. It’s an attractive idea – and it may well be that it’s already happening. What it can’t do, of course, is guarantee to make the content interesting.

Thankfully, that still involves human input.

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