Radio on a Bike

Posted: June 30th, 2012 | Author: Barry | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

On June 29th, 99 and I did our entire show from the seats of our bikes while meandering Boulder’s bike paths. This was the last day of Boulder’s Bike to Work Week and the last day of KGNU’s Summer Pledge Drive.

This show was inspired by something similar that was done by WFMU a while back. While they did it using a long custom-built trailer, we decided we wanted to do it with no trailer, using as much off-the-shelf tech as possible.

Our route took us on a 2 1/2 hour loop around Boulder. Along the way, we stopped to chat with reps from Community Cycles and Boulder BCycle. We also chatted with our Friday co-host, Joe King, and met some KGNU listeners.

Here are the technical details:

For the music, I pre-recorded our sets to mp3’s. We typically use DJay on a MacBook in the studio to do our shows, so decided to use this again. Our laptop was in the studio, running DJay. We had thought about using the iPad version of DJay and taking the iPad with us, but the limitations of iOS’s audio engine prevented us from being able to stream the audio from the iPad back to the studio. Solid connectivity would also be a big issue. Unfortunately, this conclusion was reached only after several months of research. Instead, we used our iPad to connect to the laptop in the studio using PocketCloud Remote Desktop. This allowed us to load and fire the prerecorded tracks from the iPad we had mounted to our handlebars. Thanks to our friend Eric Freese for the spark for this idea. This piece worked like a charm.

iPad on the handlebars

Voice was a bit more interesting. The iPad only allows one audio app at a time┬áto use its audio engine, so we knew we couldn’t run our voices through the iPad. The next best choice was our iPhones. First, we bought a cable to allow us to plug a standard xlr microphone into the iPhone’s audio out. This cable also had a splitter allowing us to plug in headphones.

To get the audio back to the studio, we experimented with a regular phone call and with Skype. We did some extensive testing with Skype and found that it sounded best when the iPhone is connected to the personal hotspot from the iPad, which was connected to the internet via 4G LTE. Next best audio quality was plain old cell phone, and worst was using the iPhone’s standard 3G and Skype. We tested the first choice at all the places along the route we were planning to stop and it sounded great, with pretty solid connectivity. But would it work on game day? No.

When we got out on the road, some obscure little demon prevented us from a) connecting the iPhone to the iPad’s personal hotspot and b) calling out on Skype. The question of the day was “WTF?” Very frustrating. We ended up relying on the crappy sounding, but very solid plain old cell phone for our voices.

The other major snafu was that, because I made the mistake of keeping Pocket Cloud connected continuously, it very quickly drained my monthly data allowance with Verizon. I upped the plan by another 10Gb in mid-ride, but burned through that within another 30-40 minutes. From there, Verizon didn’t seem to want to let me add more, so the last half hour or so was done by having John Schaefer, KGNU’s music director, fire our tracks directly on our laptop back in the studio. Lesson learned: disconnect when not in use. Also, before we do something like this again, we’re going to research a replacement for Skype.

Also, thanks to a suggestion by WFMU’s Ken Freedman, we put a small set of speakers on 99’s handlebars, which played the audio from our web stream using her iPhone. This allowed us and anyone within a few feet to hear the live stream.

iPhone inside the handlebar speakers

All-in-all, it was a lot of fun. Was it amazing and compelling radio? Who cares? Mainly it opened our eyes to the possibility of doing our shows from almost anywhere.

Here’s the show.

Leaving the studio

Chatting with Rich Points of Community Cycles

The Community Cycles crew

With Elizabeth Train from Boulder BCycle

With Joe King and Steve Priem on the Pearl Street Mall

Reading back the set list from Scott Carpenter Park

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