RTL 102.5: When innovation and success go hand in hand

RTL 102.5 building

RTL 102.5, one of the most listened radios in Italy, has recently celebrated its 40th anniversary. Of course, the station has faced many technological changes throughout its history, and Stefano Petroni, “Radiovisione Manager”, is the best person to tell us about them. With the collaboration of his colleague Eugenio La Teana, Research and Development Manager, Mr. Petroni gives us every insight about the present and the future of the radio station.

Interview by Sergio Julián

What have been the technological changes that have defined the station in the last 15-20 years?

The first great change goes back to more than ten years ago when ‘Radiovisione’ was born. RTL 102.5 has been the first radio station to deliver all its contents in simulcast on audio and video reaching a whole new audience that contributed in the following years to validate even more RTL 102.5 as the most listened radio in Italy. Not to forget is the huge commitment for developing DAB as RTL 102.5 has been one of the pioneering companies in adopting this platform. In the last three years RTL 102.5 added two more radios to its network: Radio Zeta, that only plays Italian music, and Radiofreccia that plays International rock music.

Radio technology is constantly changing. What are the trends that you identify that will define the future of radio broadcast?

The future of radio broadcasting is more and more tied to the development of the Internet that is heavily going to turn upside down the dynamics of the traditional media. The paradigm of fruition of the media is changing and so is doing the interaction of it and even the model for the collection of audience data is going to get a new definition.

Control room at RTL 102.5 visual radio studio

Could you describe us how the RTL 102.5 studios network is distributed?

RTL 102.5 has its headquarters in a building right on the outskirts of Milan which is the core of the radio, then we have another branch based in an historical building in Prati neighborhood – in the heart of Rome – which hosts a smaller recreation of RTL 102.5 studios, studios to broadcast Radiozeta and Radiofreccia, a newsroom and more offices.

In 2004, RTL 102.5 renewed its headquarters, building what is known as the first tailor-made radio station in Europe. Could you describe us these studios?

Yes, our headquarter is not a building in which we set our studios or offices but it is made in service of the radio and all the main area is built in a way you can easily and quickly reach the studio wherever you are since we broadcast live 24 h 7 days a week. In the main block on the first floor you can find the newsroom with 12 workstations, – used by journalists, press agents, producers and Social Media collaborators – editorial, music and advertising managers offices, meeting rooms and two ‘Radiovisione’ studios: RTL 102.5 and Radiofreccia. RTL 102.5 studios measure about 150 square metres and are equipped with 8 PTZ Cameras, 3 sliders for moving cameras, 6 video projectors for the scenic design. Radiofreccia studios are 80 square meters big and have 4 PTZ cameras, 1 video projector for the scenic design and 22 moving headlights for light FX.  In another area on the same floor you can find eating facilities, commercial and marketing offices and on two connected blocks you have all the administration offices and the technology, research/development, web programming, design and video making sections and of course, warehouses. On the lower floor you can find Radio Zeta studios that is 80 square metres and equipped with 4 PTZ cameras and one 10 square metres big led wall for the scenery, a recording studio in which an artist should rehearsal or record an album, and a couple more smaller studios we use to record anything we should need, like our commercials or even clients’ ones in case they don’t have yet their own.

Have you done any renovation of RTL 102.5 studio recently? What have been the implementations?

One of the most important tech innovations of the recent years is for sure the adoption of a new audio system ‘Over IP’. RTL 102.5 has been the first important Italian network to implement this technology reconsidering all the infrastructure of signals transportation and distribution. I think that IP technology is the future and will be the most used standard.

 Another remarkable innovation has been the development of automations that allow the remote control of the radio – we use it in particular for Radiofreccia and Radio Zeta – without the assistance of technicians and operators.

Control, panels and boards at RTL 102.5 visual radio studio

TRENDS AND TECHNOLOGY

RTL 102.5 has trusted in radio convergence. Actually, you are broadcasting via web, app, dmb and dab+. What difficulties does this imply?

The main difficulties are related to being constantly up to date keeping on investing in technologies and standards that often change in a very short time.

RTL 102.5 uses FM as well as DAB+. When did you do the transformation to digital radio? What were the difficulties of the process?

As said before, RTL 102.5 has been one of the trailblazers in the DAB technology in Italy and the main difficulties are connected in entering a market that here is not well known nor supported yet and only recently is moving a bit forward so resources investments  have been on a very long term.

Which equipment has a standard RTL 102.5 studio?

Every studio in RTL 102.5 is equipped to deliver an audio/video production so, in addition to all the typical equipment you can find in a radio studio (mixer, microphones, codec, hybrids) there video cameras, studio lights, video mixer, control monitors and so on.

Multiviewer and sound boards at RTL 102.5 studios

There is a major change in the way listeners enjoy radio. They want to watch the live transmission of a radio program! Are you using currently PTZ cameras? Are we heading to a paradigm in which each radio program is video broadcasted?

In all our studios we use IP controlled Panasonic PTZ cameras. Our channels are all simultaneously in audio and video.

Audio-On-Demand is a reality. How does RTL 102.5 adapt to this new reality in which the OTT’s media services are so important?

Eugenio La Teana (Research and Development Manager): One of the competitive advantages of radio is to be live, and our group has always invested in having no program recorded within its own schedule, day or night. Being live means being alive. It is however true that the new generations are accustomed to an average consumption that is no longer linked to a linear flow. The rise of Netflix and the evolution of decoders of premium channels, such as Sky, is clean cut. Our strategic approach is based on two modes of publication of content on demand:  the classic publication of concerts, interviews and audio columns that can be accessed through the website, applications on smartphones and Hbbtv applications. In addition, an innovative one in which within the linear flow of the radio, nothing is thrown away. Through the speech to text technologies integrated with semantic analysis engines, a platform is being implemented that will allow users to find, share, discovery and comment on all the contents that he has listened to on the radio right after the  program started.

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