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SOA turns on the radio

Innovative Chicago radio station uses service-oriented architecture (SOA), Ajax, and open source technologies to build an audio version of a Web 2.0 social network.

Listeners can hear the convergence of service-oriented architecture (SOA), Ajax and open source on Chicago Public Radio's Web site. Developed in two months by Optaros Inc., a professional service firm that specializes in assembling composite applications development based on SOA, Ajax and the use of open source components, Vocalo is a sort of YouTube for audiofiles in Chicago area with some MySpace-like social networking.

It's content from our users that has been uploaded to our Web site.
Wendy Turner
General ManagerChicago Public Radio

"What we play is user generated content," said Wendy Turner, general manager of Chicago Public Radio, explaining that while there are DJs, there are no shows in the traditional radio sense. "There's no syndicated content from other broadcast sources. It's 100 percent local. It's content from our users that has been uploaded to our Web site. It's audio content that's been created by our user community."

Listening to Vocalo via the Web, you hear DJs playing a collage of interviews with people on the street, music from local artists, discussions of rapid transit, improvisational radio comedy, and high school students talking about gang violence in their neighborhoods. The audio segments run three-to-six minutes so listeners have little time to get bored.

"We wanted to develop a Website that was a vibrant content sharing community so we could take the most compelling pieces and broadcast it," Turner said.

To manage all the audio content coming in from PCs and even cell phones, Optaros deployed Drupal, a free and open source modular content management system (CMS) written in PHP.

Turner does not claim the Vocalo site is developing innovative technology. She said it is producing cutting edge radio programming using the open source technology and relying on developers from consultant firms to extend it.

"It's an innovative broadcast concept," she said. "But we're not innovating any of the technology tools. We're just taking the best, most powerful things that are out there and using them to create this community and a really compelling broadcast. We're very fortunate that there are so many great tools out there."

In terms of extensions of Drupal, the one innovation the radio station did develop was an application that allows members of the Vocalo community to use their cell phones to call a special number and record up to 10 minutes of audio that can then be posted on their Vocalo blogs, Turner said.

This is important, she explained, because the station is dedicated to lowering any barriers members might face in getting their audio content on the Web. Vocalo holds workshops to help users learn how to use $5 Radio Shack microphones attached to their PC to create audio content, Turner said.

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Vocalo is a spin off from Chicago Public Radio's WBEZ station, which broadcasts the National Public Radio news and talk shows. When Chicago Public Radio acquired a little 7,000-watt station in a small Indiana town outside the Windy City, executives began to look for a way to serve city residents, who may not find the NPR format their cup of tea.

The idea hatched in the past year was to create a radio community for potential listeners in Chicago's African American, Hispanic and ethnic communities.

Right now the site pretty much is the radio station because at 7,000 watts the broadcast portion barely gets out of its Indiana neighborhood. But Turner said the FCC has granted Chicago Public Radio permission to boost its signal to 50,000 watts, which will reach an estimated 2.2 million potential listeners in the city. At that point, Vocalo will move from a pilot to a major radio presence in Chicago.

In preparation for that launch next spring, developers are working on what Turner terms Vocalo 2.0.

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