Visually augmented audio – is it our future?

Radio Tomorrow with James Cridland


Something called BBC Notes was posted on the BBC’s Research and Development blog the other week. It’s a web app “that shows text, images, and links, to enhance the listening experience during live events, live broadcasts, and on demand”.

There are quite a lot of these types of thing appearing. Entale is a podcast app which is trying to do the same – when you listen to, say, Serial then you see the places they’re talking about, and maps, and links to discover more and all of that kind of thing. (It does very well in podcasts about beauty products, I’m told, where you can click stuff to buy).

At Podcast Movement I saw the Adori platform, which does the same kind of thing. It has a nice backend, allowing quick and easy addition of this data into a podcast, and some secret sauce in terms of how it adds the data into the audio file. Secret enough for them not to tell me, anyway.

It isn’t, of course, the first time this has been thought of. Fifteen years ago, I was playing with Nokia Visual Radio, which aimed to add visual augmentation to live radio. I found some screengrabs of it, if you want to take a peek.

There’s also DAB Slideshow, a method of adding an image to broadcasts, used by many different radio stations across the world (here’s a few examples).




There’s a few issues, I think, with all these types of services.

First – is it a rich enough experience? Does it add to the user’s enjoyment of the audio? Would it hold their attention, or offer interesting glanceable content?

Second – is it easy to produce quick visuals at scale, and ideally automated? If it is, does it fulfil the first requirement – that it’s good enough? If I’m broadcasting something about the town of Ilminster in Somerset, is it acceptable to just link to the Wikipedia article about Ilminster; and does anyone find that useful anyway?

…and third – does this give enough value to fundamentally change the user’s experience with audio content? If the benefit of audio is that you can enjoy it while you’re driving, or walking the dog, or writing another column for a website – isn’t this a benefit we should be making the most of, and not diluting with visuals?

Some people are doing this really well – Radio 538 in the Netherlands plays music videos and has a full TV-like experience that doesn’t appear to get in the way of the audio. But when it’s static images that demand interaction, that seems less exciting to me.

Perhaps we should play to our strengths, otherwise – in this most rarest of cases – video might kill the radio star.


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