When we got to week three of everybody working from home, we realised a quiz per week for our team’s social hour was not only a lot of effort, but also going to get somewhat repetitive.
Anyone can organise the Friday social, so three of us (Alice, Keran and Edd) decided to put on a phoney local radio show. We would play music, take requests, run listener competitions, have interviews, and of course there would be ads and jingles.
We have run two radio shows so far and they turned out to be extremely fun. This blog post is about what we did and how we did it, in case you want to try it with your team.
We set some ground rules
To make sure the show was inclusive and fun, we decided that:
- Mostly, we should play music (about 10 songs per hour)
- The music should be “bangers only” — tracks that most people will have heard, and no sad songs. You can see our Spotify playlists for both shows here on Spotify: show one, show two.
- No swearing — we mostly managed this but the CPO may have said the phrase “shit disco” when we interviewed him. We really wanted a kid-friendly show so that people who were doing childcare could listen with their children. This did involve sourcing radio edits of anything we wanted to play, and it completely ruled out the work of Lizzo, which is filthy, and for which there are no radio edits on Spotify.
- No virus talk. The joke here is that this radio station isn’t here because we’re all in lockdown — it’s here because local radio stations exist and wouldn’t it be funny if we had one that was just for our team at the Financial Times.
- No work talk. Boring!
Interacting with our (many) listeners
We wanted this social to be one where people could passively listen without having to say or do anything. Not everyone loves quizzes or massive group chats and we wanted to foster a sense of community and togetherness without everyone having to be in a video call.
That said, many people did get involved in the Slack channel, which was where we got the most useful feedback about what we were doing.
People posted a lot of GIF reactions to the tracks they liked, and some people talked some smack about the S Club 7.
We ran some listener polls — the one about scrunching vs folding your toilet paper is still sending shockwaves through the team.
And we had listener art contests. One to draw the best picture of the CPO’s dog, and one to do a self portrait.
Interviews with our new hires
Keran, as the coolest and most fun amongst us, organised and ran interviews with some new people who had joined since lockdown started.
We thought it would be fun to interview our new hires because with the lockdown, this would be one of the few (and most entertaining) ways for all of us to get to know them. If we weren’t in lockdown, we’d probably go out for lunch as a group or head to the pub after their first Friday.
We sent a Slack message to each new hire asking them if they wanted to take part in the segment. To help them feel more comfortable, we gave them the questions beforehand. This gave them the chance to think about their answers, and make some notes. It also helped us avoid any awkward dead air. We asked for some rough answers to our questions so we could come up with conversation starters (aka banter) to make the segment more than just a Q&A. Once all that was done, all they had to do was show up and have fun.
When coming up with questions, we wanted the answers to provide conversation starters not just in the segment but in their day to day work life. Our favourite question was having the new hire pick between different lunch spots near our office because we’re definitely having a belated “welcome to the FT” lunch.
At the end of every segment, we encouraged our listeners to reach out to the new hires on Slack, and maybe even chat about something they learned through the interview!
All local radio stations have jingles and ads so we did too
Part of the fun of this project was trying to recreate the energy of local ads supported radio stations. To do this we made jingles and we asked other teams at the FT to make us some adverts for their tools and projects.
There are lots of ways to make these, we used music from Youtube Audio Library for music and sound effects, Apple’s Voice Over to say the words, and Garageband to duck the music at the right point.
Would you like to hear a jingle? Of course you would!
We also asked colleagues in other departments to make cheesy ads for their products. These were also extremely funny — thank you to Rhys Evans in the Operations and Reliability team for indulging us in our silly idea.
Our tech set up was a bit complicated but with some iteration we got it pretty good
First thing to know is that in order to do this we had to have one person (Edd) whose only job was piping audio from one place to another. Because of the concentration required to know what bit of audio to cue up, turn up, or mute, there was no possibility of Edd being able to talk at all during the show.
Now, onto the science bit…
In order to let our colleagues hear the radio show we wanted to use something they’d all be familiar with and be able to use without installing any extra software. Google Meet streams seemed like the obvious solution. We use Google Meet for all of our meetings, and are all familiar with Google Meet streams as they are used for meetings for more than 250 people.
The big challenge was trying to work out how to get the audio working correctly for the stream. The two requirements that made it more challenging than just piping a Spotify client into a stream enabled Meet call were:
- The presenters wanted to be able to talk to each other during the music (to make sure everyone knew what was going on and who was talking when the music stopped)
- The presenters wanted to be able to hear the music and jingles so they knew when they could start talking again
In our first run-throughs of this we tried using the live stream as a way for the presenters to hear the music. Unfortunately there is a 10–30 second delay on the stream which made it impossible to use for monitoring. Other solutions had the music going to the presenters but Edd being unable to speak to the other presenters, or us trying to use a separate call to talk to each other during the music.
After many iterations, and after learning from our first show which our listeners said sounded like we were “broadcasting underwater”, the final routing diagram to broadcast the audio stream looked this:
Here we have two audio sources — A Google Meet with the presenters, and Djay Pro which itself is mixing a bunch of different audio inputs (Spotify, audio files for jingles, ads and music-beds)
The Djay Pro audio goes to two places — into the Presenters Only Google Meet, and to a mixer.
The Google Meet audio just goes to the mixer.
The mixer is then used to combine the presenter chatter and the songs / jingles / whatever.
This was achieved using hardware that Edd already had around for other musical endeavours. To let Djay Pro send its audio into the presenters we used Blackhole as a virtual loopback interface and set that as the “microphone”. This let the presenters hear the music as it was going out over the stream. A midi-controller was also used to control Djay Pro to fade and cue songs, it has an integrated sound card that provided the second audio out for the laptop.
To get the audio into the “stream” Google Meet for our colleagues to listen along we used Chrome to cast a tab which was playing the audio coming in from the Mixer. Edd also disabled the video in the presenters Google Meet to ensure there was enough bandwidth to stream the audio at high quality.
With this setup we were able to have the presenters be able to talk to each other during the music to get ready for the end of the track. It also meant there was only one person who needed to worry about volume levels or muting people at the right time. Our guests also only had to worry about joining the call at the right time and we could take care of everything else.
Will we be doing this again?
We certainly would if Edd, who has all the kit and all the know-how, hadn’t now left the FT for a new job 😭. We would encourage other people to try it though — it was extremely fun and once we’d figured out the tech, very easy to repeat. And, if you want to replace Edd as the engineering team in Customer Products Radio please get in touch.