Automating the Radio News

Radio Today, last week, covered community radio station East Devon Radio (and it’s DAB-only spin-off DevonAir Gold) launching ‘AI’ news bulletins.

They’re using some software from created by Stefan de Groot, someone who’s been a radio producer and web developer.

The way it works is that you choose some news ‘sources’ – either RSS feeds, or your own written work – it then crunches them down to radio scripts. You can then edit this and train the system to understand what you like. There’s then an approval queue to ‘sign off’ what it’s done.

You then create a voice, either trained on your own people, or use one of theirs, build the structure of the bulletin, including adding any audio production. It then can automatically upload bulletins to your playout system.

The Station Manager for both stations, Andy Green says: “As a small station, we are unable to afford a full-time journalist, nor rely on a single volunteer to produce voiced bulletins. The advantage of using the RadioNewsAI system is that our team can produce and edit local stories from anywhere, and load the text to the online system, with the AI software generating the audio.”

As you can expect, internet radio commentators are not happy – “The so so sorry state of the way radio is going”, “the start of a slippery slope” and “Radio is destroying its unique selling point and reason for being”.

Hopping on their Listen Again service for their Drivetime show, it looks like they run a Sky News national bulletin at the top of the hour, and then run their AI local news after. Here’s how it sounded last Friday:

Now, obviously it’s not perfect. The Times/Sunday Times mention and the end pause before refill is perhaps noticeable, but otherwise I thought, as a new piece of tech, it sounded pretty good. I Imagine the first story came from this text.

Technology isn’t good or bad, it’s how it used and what benefits it delivers. The economics for this, and many community stations, as Andy mentions, means that it’s difficult to deliver local news in a traditional way. The choice would normally be not to do any at all. Is it better having something rather than nothing? I think so, though it depends what safeguards you put in place.

The danger is that there isn’t any oversight, and the system processes the feeds, creates the bulletin and publishes it without anyone looking at it.

To me, the potential benefit is that it reinvents the work flow. For many local stations a human does the equivalent of re-writing the news, and then they’re anchored in a studio to do a bulletin every hour. Today, doing fresh reporting or getting ‘cuts’ can be difficult. Having a system that reads the similar sources and generates short stories could free people up to do fresh journalism. They, or a colleague, could do the edit to make it flow better. Maybe a Slack channel pops up the script and someone confirms it.

I’m also interested in ways you could use it to do a better job. Maybe your radio station broadcasts to different areas and the system could target more localised stories (along with weather and travel) to be sent to different parts of your area? Perhaps you could expand the number of bulletins you do across the day, maybe it means what’s in the bulletin changes more often?

On the other hand, a company could use the work flow to remove lots of journalists and have a central person ‘approve’ bulletin elements. Though that’s a human problem rather than a technical one. How the tool is used is far more important than merely deciding whether it should exist or not.

I’m interested in how we use AI to enhance what we do. I’d sooner be using it to help me grow audience and make more money, rather than just use it to save it.

This isn’t the first use of AI by a radio station. Keri Jones runs Alfred, an all-speech community radio station in Shaftesbury. I asked him to talk me through how he uses it.

Here’s how it is used in just one story – about a local geocache group. I went out with them. That’s important. There’s human contact here. I edited the audio on a text-based AI editor, removed filler words, elongated a syllable with AI for a smoother edit, and used AI to quieten the background noise of a tractor. I transcribed the entire piece for a website article. AI provided me with shorter versions for different platform teasers and created hashtags. For my cue, AI wrote me a sentence summarising geocaching. I got it to create different cue versions for interest, altering focus and changing tense for later broadcast.

A voice clone of mine can get listeners’ lost pets or travel alerts on air remotely when I’m sitting in a Parish Council meeting and I’ve seen a listener’s Facebook message. Otherwise, that just wouldn’t air. But the buck stops here. It is not a replacement for people, human sensibility and knowledge. AI can create your 25+ hour day. But needs to be considered as your worst-ever work experience, whose content you must continually check.

For legal, stylistic and credibility reasons, I’d be terrified to listen if ‘let loose’ on-air reading RSS feeds. And I cannot foresee a day when I would want that. Because if it’s reading what’s already on the web, it’s not my unique content and, without that, I don’t see how I’d be adding value or how my service would remain relevant and survive.

At the Radio Festival last week, Daniel Anstandig from Futuri talked about RadioGPT -a suite of software that adds AI to radio stations, particularly AI presenters.

I wouldn’t want to replace my Fun Kids presenters with AI (they’ll be pleased to hear!) The reason their shows work on our main station is their unique content and what’s in their heads. But, at the same time we have presenter-less spin-off stations – things like Fun Kids Soundtracks. We wouldn’t put a human on there, but would it be better to add something using AI. It could be a presenter, or we could create a voice that’s maybe a helpful owl to back announce songs! Using the technology creatively opens up lots of options.

Much of our main station is pre-recorded, so a late birthday shout-out wouldn’t normally be able to be included. Wouldn’t it be better if we, like Keri, could easily add that in? Wouldn’t that enhance our presenters’ show rather than take anything away?

AI isn’t going anywhere. Radio faces new challenges from new media types, our aim should be to use AI well to supplement our existing broadcasts and make it even better for our listeners.


  • Speaking of the Radio Festival, I was honoured to receive a Fellowship from the Radio Academy last week. It was lovely to receive some recognition from my peers and weird to a hear a kind of eulogy when you’re still alive!
  • There’s a really packed Media Podcast this week. Joining me was TV writer Scott Bryan and Private Eye journalist Adam Macqueen. We were talking The Telegraph sale, BBC local radio changes, Clarkson on Amazon and more. I also spoke to PR supremos David Yelland and Simon Lewis about public relations today, the press and their new show It Hits The Fan on BBC Sounds. Take a listen, or watch on YouTube.