The "Evolution" of Radio Automation
THE DINO DAYS
In the late 1950s, when dinosaurs still roamed the earth, the first few great automated beasts crawled onto the radio landscape. These large, dumb, balky creatures were as likely to collapse under their own weight as to amble smoothly along.
Early radio automation systems evolved very little in the first two decades of their existence. They consisted of an array of big reel-to-reel tape decks and cartridge machines, sequenced using thumb dials or toggle switches, and triggered using metal foil markers stuck to the recording tape, or with recorded "subaudible tones" at the ends of songs. Early tape-based automation systems were fun to watch, with all their blinking lights and wagging VU meters, but they were also frighteningly expensive, a pain to maintain, noisy, and large enough to cover an entire wall.
In the 1970s, radio automation's Cretaceous Period, automation behemoths were still every bit as cumbersome, but were gaining a bit more intelligence. Primitive little computers, accessed by a keypad or other simple input device, took the place of toggle switches and thumb dials. Commercials were still keyed-in by hand, one at a time. Automation was gaining acceptance in the radio industry as a way to cost-effectively "automate the FM" while station staff handled air duties on the AM station.
Then came the great asteroid. In the early 1980s, the Federal Communications Commission relaxed its licensing requirements, and new stations began popping up everywhere, each of them dispatching "account representatives" into the community to graze. Where once, great leafy green advertising dollars sustained full radio announcing staffs at a limited number of stations, now the advertising landscape was increasingly trodden and bare due to overgrazing. Many stations were left with little choice but to lay-off air staffers and rely on automation. The need was great, and the timing was right, for a new, "evolved breed" of radio automation products.
The early 80s emergence of the "personal computer" greatly improved the brain side of the creature, without doing much to improve its body. DOS-based PCs controlled sequencing and activity, but audio playback was still encumbered by physical tape media, with all its inherent problems and cost. Some dubious crossbreeds that attempted to interface computers with other audio playback devices like cassettes and VHS tape decks crawled onto dry land during that period, but quickly went extinct. The ultimate creature was yet to be born.
In the late 1980s, some brave pioneers were experimenting with the idea of containing an entire radio automation system within a computer and playing some or all of a station's programming directly off the hard drive using digital audio files. No more hissy, troublesome tape: a great notion! But in an era when a 16 megahertz computer was considered a "screamer," and the average hard drive contained about 80 megabytes of storage capacity, it was miles from being practical. Ten more years were to transpire before PCs had enough brains, memory, and braun to realistically run a complete radio station directly from the hard drive. But when we reached that threshold, I believe the "Golden Age" of radio automation began.
THE GOLDEN AGE
Since 2000, computers have increased in speed by a factor of more than ten. Hard drive capacity has gone off the charts. Drives big enough to store the contents of a dozen radio stations cost half as much as you would have spent in the mid-80s for a drive that had room for two or three songs. And while you could easily have spent $70,000 for a clunky, stumble-footed monster during the "Dino Era," today a little over a thousand will buy you a system (with hardware) that has infinitely-greater capabilities, storage, speed, and audio fidelity. Imagine. An over fifty-fold reduction in cost, and an inestimable increase in quality and features.
These days, every radio station needs to be equipped with some degree of radio automation capability. Even a fully-staffed station needs its capabilities sometimes, if only as a way of playing back their program log's contents between spoken segments and providing random-access to audio tracks. Hard drive based audio also allows DJs to instantly find any song in the station's music library during request shows, an enormous time-saver over the dreaded "flip-flip-flip" method long associated with request-finding.
WHAT SETS THE TUNETRACKER SYSTEM APART
Many of the most-capable systems available today maintain a pricing philosophy based on prehistoric theories about what radio automation ought to cost. Maybe it's because they’ve been around ever since the "Dino Era." You can tell which ones they are, because they don't even list their prices on their web sites.
TuneTracker System has taken a different tack. Our system was born at the start of the "Golden Age" of radio automation. We load our systems with advanced capabilities, price them affordably, and post the prices prominently. We're proud of what we've been able to accomplish: the creation of a modern, fully-capable, super-stable radio automation system at a price every radio station can afford.
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