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    ARIA Popular Classical Music


Taking Shape

todayMarch 7, 2024 72

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It is tremendously exciting to see the music streaming starting to become a reality.  A bit like how building a home takes a long time with prep work and framing, but then all of a sudden the walls go up, siding and roof on, and it starts to seem like a real home, we’re in that exciting phase too, where we’re starting to see the return on our elaborate foundation work and preparations.

Of course the next part – akin to carpets, painting, appliances, etc – is still to come, but we’re already starting to add some of those finishing touches.  We now have some brief interstitial elements between each piece of music and some “top of the hour” identification announcements that is lifting the overall listening experience from just plain nonstop music to almost a presented program.  We even have an AI generated weather report each hour.  Give it a listen and see what you think!

On an unscheduled/unpromised basis, but commonly for several hours each weekday morning (8am – 11am US central time, sometimes starting earlier, sometimes ending later) we’re now hosting the music we play, with a live announcer introducing and talking about the music you hear.  We will formalize this and add more hours with hosting as time and resource allows – should we mention our desperate need for volunteers (and donations)!

Another great step forward is being added to the core group of functions and services Amazon includes on every Alexa speaker.  Just simply say “Alexa, play ARIA Radio” to any Alexa speaker, and there we are!  Please see our explanatory article that tells you about some of the other wonderful things you can do with ARIA on Alexa speakers.

We have also improved the information that is displayed for each music track that is played.  That is another of the gratuitous frustrations we wrestle with – our playout software, while in use all over the world, panics upon seeing anything other than ordinary English characters.  Give it accent marks, or letters from other alphabets, and it seems to just randomly insert bizarre characters instead of the actual letters.  Short-sightedness on the part of the programmers blinded them to the possibility of non-English words.  <sigh>

We had an interesting experience in February.  We’re being obsessive at ensuring the best quality sound, and identified a few pieces that had distortion in them when playing.  The distortion was not on the original recordings that we loaded into the system, so where was it?  After a lengthy process of no-one accepting any blame and suggesting anyone/everyone else was at fault, we eventually got the suppliers of the “play-out” software to confess that, yes, it was something in their software that was introducing the distortion, but they didn’t know what.

We use that same software for three regular FM popular music radio stations, and wondered if this was a problem inherent in their software, everywhere, rather than uniquely applying with ARIA.  We pointed out to them that it was only with “clean pure” classical music recordings, where distortion was shunned, rather than with popular recordings where distortion is often welcomed as part of the sound of the tune, that distortion is obvious, and they conceded that perhaps all instances of their software, everywhere in the world, was introducing distortion into the sound.  But only we noticed it!

At least the developers were open and honest about this.  Which was unlike an experience with another developer.  We reported a bug to them and they tried the “no-one else has ever reported this type of problem before, it must be something at your end”.  At first we had no choice to accept their statement, then one of us realized – we’d reported the identical bug to them a few months ago, on another of our stations, and at that time they said “yes, several other people have reported this as well, we’re looking in to it”.  Hmmmm…….

We have expanded the selection of music that we regularly play.  A month ago it was 700 pieces.  Now we’re over 1,000.  That still leaves about 50,000 more pieces of music in our library but not yet added to any playlists!  Sure, much of that will never become regularly played, but some of it will, and we’re growing the ability for you to discover new music you like with our broadening selection of great tunes.

The effect of increasing this number of regularly playing pieces of music, on the casual listener, is probably not too substantial.  But if you listen every waking hour of every day, there’ll be greater spacing between how often each piece repeats.  In theory, on average, each piece will now repeat about once every four days.  And now if we say that you listen, on average, perhaps three hours a day, that means you should hear each piece about once a month.  That’s certainly not too often, is it!

Believe it or not, we actually “need” to have this type of number of pieces, so we can set in place various rules about what types of music should play in what sequences and segues.  The more we try to fine-tune and finesse the music you hear, the more pieces we need to ensure there is always one piece available that fits all the several dozen different programming rules we have set.  Our programming software already tests over 100,000 different combinations of each songs for each hour in a quest to get the best mix and combination.

As you might notice, we’re experimenting with website design.  That’s a bottomless hole which one can descend down as deep as one wishes, and never reach the bottom, and at present our main focus is improving the sound of the music, not the appearance of the website!

Back to the Drawing Board?  Almost.

My frustration with our music selection software finally boiled over in February.

My experience with this software is another confirmation of something I’ve noticed over many decades of working with computer software.  The more advanced and specialized (and expensive!) the software, the less likely it is to have a “user-friendly” and easy-to-use design.  This was most vividly illustrated with airline computer reservation systems (with one system, the code for “please issue the ticket” was “HB:”, and the code for “work out what the price of this ticket should be” was “HHPR”.)

The software we’d been using for ARIA’s music programming was developed several decades ago, and sadly shows its age, and is in desperate need of a total rewrite of its interface to make use of modern features of Windows, and the larger screens we all have (remember when a “large” screen was 15″ in diagonal and had a resolution of something like 800×600 pixels; now you might have a 40″ or 50″ screen with 3840×2160 pixel resolution – nine times more screen area, and 18 times more pixels).  It also dates back to a time when disk space was expensive and limited.  Now of course, we can buy 10TB disks for a couple of hundred dollars and there’s nothing cheaper or more plentiful than disk space – so why still have 50 character limitations on the names of things?  Or codes for different styles of music limited to only one character!

We hope the new software, which we will convert to this month, will be better.

As we get closer to an official launch of this service, our interest in hearing from you and learning what you like, dislike, want, and don’t want, becomes stronger.  Please do pass on any comments you might have to help us give you the best possible listening experience.

Written by: David Rowell

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