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23

May

FRL Brings Francophone Vibe to DAB

From Paris to London, and beyond.

The crackling voice of De Gaulle and the famous call of “Ici Londres” are sounds that are engraved into radio history.

70 years on, Pascal Grierson, station manager of French Radio London (FRL) has founded the French language station to serve the 400,000 French people now living in London. For Grierson there is a secondary mission: to persuade millions of Francophiles that modern France produces world-class music. “We’ve moved on since Edith Piaf took to the mic and we want people to discover 21st century French culture.”

Targeting a large and motivated audience in London, FRL was able to source funding and attract advertising support from the likes of Club Med and Citijet. In the summer of 2010, FRL was given the green light. 3 months later, the concept became reality as the radio station started broadcasting.

FRL worked feverishly with its technical partners at Arqiva, Sharpstream, P Squared and UBC Media to get on air. It took only 12 weeks of technical design, license application, commercial planning and team training for FRL to become London’s first dedicated French language terrestrial broadcast station.

In these times of austerity and with commercial radio in such a state of flux, establishing the station economically and quickly was critical. Specifying a state-of-the-art, fully networked broadcast infrastructure was out of the question.

Like all successful entrepreneurs, Grierson invests where he needs and co-operates where he can. Following this approach, FRL set up home in the offices of the service supplier UBC Media, whose existing infrastructure of studios and business facilities provided the support that the new station required. Into this space FRL installed equipment selected, above all, for its flexibility, robustness and cost-effectiveness.

The backbone of the station is P Squared’s Myriad system that controls the scheduling and playout. Myriad sits on top of a 2TB raid storage device and gives the station the ability to automate its output as much as it requires. John Moreland, Head of Engineering explains: “Out of the box the system has been rock solid. It’s delivered us the functionality and flexibility we needed.”

Live programming is currently limited to the daily breakfast show. As the station establishes itself in the market, further peak time live programmes will be added to the schedule. Until then the radio relies on recorded programmes, even if, in the case of the regular news bulletins, they are compiled in Adobe Audition and uploaded just minutes before playout.

Transmitted by Arqiva on the London II DAB digital radio multiplex FRL has a potential terrestrial audience of over 11 million people.

It is very early days but already the radio has signs of success. FRL has the a number of analysis tools at its fingertips. A combination of web hits, Facebook feedback and streaming statistics is already giving real-time quantitative and qualitative assessment of the station’s success. 13,000 daily web sessions tells one tale. 1,474 Facebook friends tell another: the station’s social media fans come from throughout the French diaspora – West Africa, USA, UK… even France.

But monitoring its streaming service gives the fullest picture and FRL’s partner Sharpstream supplies real-time audience tracking. The PR drive that accompanied the launch resulted in 12,000 online listeners on its first day. With the station past its launch phase, it is now building a loyal audience, one that is far broader than the DAB transmitters alone allow for. FRL is streaming to audiences from as far afield as Canada, USA, Russia, China, French Polynesia & Australia.

“Our London listeners are our base but what has really come as a surprise is how we have engaged with French ex-pat communities globally.” Explains Grierson.

The statistics have also given FRL confidence that its programming is reaching the right audiences. Average daily stream duration has increased by 38% in its second week for online listeners. This kind of real-time feedback allows radio producers to fine-tune output and match audience needs. Grierson comments:

“Streaming gives our UK listeners options and opens us up to audiences beyond the DAB footprint. The success of this service also gives us excellent commercial opportunities for the future. Streaming was always a part of the plan but it works so effortlessly that it’s easy to forget that we are broadcasting internationally. The stream is indistinguishable from the DAB signal and is highly dependable. It’s an indispensable part of our service.”

FRL uses UK specialist Sharpstream to deliver streaming to up-to 500 concurrent users. Alan Brown, MD of Sharpstream, comments that “we have a background in radio broadcasting so we know that 100% uptime and quality encoding is a minimum requirement, not an aspiration.”

The last French broadcast from London was seven decades ago. The world of de Gaulle and Churchill are history and today there is no greater evidence of radio’s progress than the ability to set up a new international radio station in the space of 12 weeks. Vive la revolution.



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