Check your speakers really are smart

Radio Tomorrow with James Cridland


I’m swearing at my smart speakers a little this week.
I’ve a few Google speakers in the house, including a Google Home Hub – the one with a little screen on it. It’s great as a radio from my point of view, since it has a decent-ish speaker on it (better for voice than music, though). It’s good for radio, since it has a good big screen that contains a logo and the station’s name – to aid recall if anyone asks me what station I’m listening to.
I also have an Amazon Alexa, which at the moment is on my desk for testing things but is normally outside.
I use these devices to listen to the radio, as well as to other things. It’s normally a simple job. “Listen to XXXXXX” normally works. Sometimes you have to ask it for “XXXXX on TuneIn” to give it a nudge that it’s a radio station.
“LIsten to ABC Radio Brisbane”, I ask it, and it dutifully tunes in.
“Listen to BBC Radio 2”, and it works just the same.
“Listen to 4ZZZ” however… not a chance.
4ZZZ is one of my local community radio stations. It plays a decent mix of music, has a wide variety of programmes, a decent local news service in the morning, and – all in all – is a lovely listen. When I can get the speakers to play it.
4ZZZ is pronounced “4 triple-zed” here in Australia, and that’s the incantation I’d like to give the speaker. It fails.
“4-zed-zed-zed” would be the most obvious next step. That doesn’t work either.
“4-zee-zee-zee” *does* work on the Google smart speakers. “OK,” the smooth-sounding australian Google voice says. “Tuning into 4-zed-zed-zed on TuneIn”. So it doesn’t understand 4-zed-zed-zed but says it as confirmation. OK.
And I still don’t understand how to do it with the Amazon Echo. I’ve asked Amazon support about it, since 4ZZZ is listed in TuneIn, and they responded agreeing it’s a problem and they’ve escalated it to a senior engineer. A month later, it looks as if it might work, though it responds “Playing 4Z” which isn’t, quite, right.
If you work for a radio station, pop down to your local electrical store and check how easy it is to get your station on a smart speaker using the default listen experience (without installing any ‘skills’). It might surprise you.


About The Author

James Cridland, the radio futurologist, is a conference speaker, writer and consultant. He runs the media information website and helps organise the yearly Next Radio conference. He also publishes, a daily briefing on podcasting and on-demand, and writes a weekly international radio trends newsletter, at