Air Play

Boulder in summer is a place where anything might happen. On a Sunday afternoon, the walk down Walnut Street to-wards KGNU is quintessentially Boulder: absentminded, open-minded, and queerly expectant.

The public radio station's basement studios, on the contrary, are buzz-ing with activity. It's five minutes to airtime for the cast and crew of "Actual Passion," KGNU's award-winning radio soap opera. Coffees are downed, microphones checked, and in the production room a mouse pointer hovers above the Play button on the screen of a NeXT computer.

"Actual Passion" is one of many KGNU projects in which the NeXT has supplanted the razor blade as a sound-editing tool. Utilizing Metaresearch's SoundWorks on a NeXTsta-tion with a 2GB hard drive, the station's volunteer staff has found that the NeXT affords the instant integration and absolute ease-of-use that are key to live broadcasts.

"A one-to-two-minute sound compilation or news brief might take two hours to prepare using traditional methods," explains Davide Andrea, a longtime volunteer who donated the NeXTstation to KGNU last year. "On the NeXT it takes 45 minutes, and we're able to achieve a level of detail we wouldn't have even attempted before."

This is not to say that SoundWorks is ideal. "We have over 200 volunteers, of which maybe five percent are computer-literate," he explains. "With SoundWorks, if you want to edit a sound you are playing, you have to open another window and use a different set of controls. This is not user-friendly." KGNU needed a program that was simple to use yet more sophisticated than SoundWorks. So Andrea and a team of 11 volunteer programmers have taken advantage of the NeXTSTEP development tools and begun work on a custom editing program called RadioPlay.

But writing software, even on the NeXT, can be a painfully slow process when development time is entirely donated. "It's a rotating cycle of unemployment," says Joe Pezzillo, director of "Actual Passion."

Despite these difficulties, the RadioPlay development project has been quite successful. "Every time there's a volunteer turnover I have to run a little Developer Camp," says Andrea, who attended NeXT's Developer Camp himself last year. "I've got it so that in the equivalent of about 12 hours, these people are programming on the NeXT."

While KGNU could have met production goals on the Macintosh using Digidesign's Pro Tools, the Mac system was priced $10,000 over the NeXT. Even then, however, Pro Tools couldn't meet the ease-of-use standards. "The NeXT is to the Mac what the Mac is to the IBM in terms of user interface," says Andrea.

That this kind of hands-on innovation is a daily reality in community radio may come as a surprise. But then, this is Boulder. This is Colorado. And this is NeXT.

by Leann Coulter