Next Monday, we're making big changes for the better

This blog post announces a significant new chapter for Mushroom FM, taking us in a direction we’ve not travelled before. It may be considered a radical new direction, so I’d like to take some time to explain to our loyal mushroom crowd what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and why we think that you’ll be glad we’re doing it.

If you’re ancient, like me, you’ll remember that back in the late 1990s, the arrival of Shoutcast technology made Internet streaming much easier for the masses. Soon after the release of Shoutcast and starting my first Internet radio station, my dream was to start one that was staffed by blind people. It seemed to me that the Internet was offering us opportunities to connect and engage with one another in exciting new ways. I had issues finding the bandwidth in those early days to make the dream come true, but then the American Council of the Blind invited me to set up such a venture under their umbrella.

We’ll speed the history lesson way up, and fast-forward to 2010, when Mushroom FM was formed unexpectedly. It evolved along similar lines to earlier projects I’ve managed, largely, I suppose, because it was familiar.

There are now numerous Internet radio stations staffed by capable, talented blind volunteers, and this gives me an enormous sense of pride. There is plenty of choice for listeners and broadcasters alike.

When we pulled off the seemingly impossible and relaunched Mushroom FM last year, I wasn’t interested in seeing how many live hours of programming we could accumulate quickly. Now, we decide whether to add people to the team based on two sets of values. The first is whether the person auditioning for us shares our vision of producing high-quality, engaging entertainment.

But there is a second set of values that we treat with equal importance. We think very carefully about how someone might fit in to our team of volunteers. Can they communicate clearly and respectfully? Are they supportive of our team mates? Will they offer ideas and discuss options constructively?

Good broadcasters are fairly easy to find. And if you’re receiving the big pay cheque, you’re probably more inclined to tolerate any difficult behaviour. However, when you’re volunteering, it’s got to be fun. You have to feel an affinity with your team mates, that you’re doing something that bonds you together, and look forward to doing it. So while we could have brought on many more people, for one reason or another we consciously have not.

One of the challenges with the blind radio model I pioneered all those years ago is that it relies on a significantly larger group of people to offer the same amount of content than does your local terrestrial radio station. A terrestrial station may be able to get by with as few as half a dozen broadcasters who do their shows at the same time each week. It would be a very dedicated volunteer indeed who committed to hosting a show for two, three or four hours at the same time every week day. Most volunteer Internet radio hosts only feel able to commit to a maximum of a couple of shows a week. Some of them have busy day jobs or are seeking work actively, and all of them have lives outside this one particular voluntary project. So it is tempting to accept people who don’t cut the mustard, just to fill the immense amount of air-time.

The problem is that if stations are putting out content that sounds lacklustre, people tune in once or twice, then they never tune in again.

So what’s the answer? Well, since all the way back in 2010, Mushroom FM has operated a service called the Can, which serves up recently canned mushrooms. When we’re not live, we’ve been replaying shows that were live recently.

The only trouble is, when we’re more selective about who we agree to have join us, there’s less live content to play. That can get repetitive for listeners. And obviously, all of us want you to listen to Mushroom FM very frequently.

A couple of months ago, our management team, Brian Hartgen, Gordon Luke and I, began work on an ambitious and exciting new way of allowing our fun guys to do more radio, so that there’s much more fresh content for you to hear, while respecting that all of our team are busy people. We’re going to be launching this new chapter on 13 June at 6 PM Eastern.

At the heart of this new era is a hearty, capable beast of a computer we’ve affectionately nicknamed The Mushroom Pot. The Mushroom Pot cooks up a wide variety of mushroom fare, with each hour devoted to a particular theme. Some of them are as you would expect. When the Mushroom Pot is in control and it’s 5 AM or PM Eastern, it will play the 50s at 5. For 6, the 60s at 6. For 7, the 70s at 7, and for 8, the 80s at 8. Hits from the 90’s through to today are on the Mushroom Pot’s menu, as are love songs, country, and the occasional novelty fest. Sometimes, it will even cook up a mushroom stew, and serve a wide variety of songs from all of those genres in a single hour, just to mix things up a bit.

As from next Monday, the kind of fare the Mushroom Pot will serve will be promoted on our Schedule page and via the usual social media channels, so if you like a particular genre, you can find out when it’s on and give us a listen. You’ll see the name of the music genre, a brief description, and the scheduled time.

The music you will hear in our Mushroom genres is not the staple diet of many radio stations. You’ll hear the hits and the songs you may have forgotten. You’ve often praised us for thinking outside the box and playing songs that you’ve not heard for a long time. That thought and planning can be found in the Mushroom Pot too.

Sometimes, the Mushroom Pot will do its cooking by itself, since it’s a clever pot with one of those timer things on it. But we’re also using a technology very common on radio these days called voice tracking. You probably don’t realise it, but the vast majority of the radio shows you here these days are voice tracked. Voice tracking means that one of the fun guys can continue to bring you interesting, engaging voice breaks between the songs, but they’re able to record them in advance. Since they don’t have to sit and hear the music, it means they can produce a great show in a short time. It’s a win win. You have more great content to listen to, and the fun guys can all produce many more hours of content without it eating too much into their precious time.

If you’ve seen us in action when it comes to our special events, you know that we take the little details very seriously. This new era has taken hundreds of hours of careful planning and configuring, and while there may be one or two issues when it first goes live as there can be with any new technology, we promise you we’ll be delivering radio that sounds really good in a classic Mushroom FM way, and there’ll now be much more of it. Less repetition means you can listen much longer, and we hope very much that you will.

All of your favourite Mushroom FM shows will continue at the same time. Unless a fun guy is indisposed, the shows you know and love will continue to be what we call interactive shows. Interactive shows are those where the fun guy is present in real time and available to interact with you via Twitter and email. All interactive shows will be called such on the schedule, so you know on which shows you can expect a timely response.

Even when a show is not an interactive one, we still encourage you to use the MushroomFM hashtag. We’ve built up an amazing community who write with and track the hashtag, so even if a fun guy can’t respond right away, you can still share your thoughts on what you’re hearing with fellow listeners, and continue the never ending Mushroom FM conversation.

Since we’ll be able to bring you much more fresh content, each interactive show will now only be replayed once. We’ve endeavoured to schedule the replays to run at a time that takes account of the live air-time being the middle of the night in certain time zones, and thus difficult to hear live.

If you enjoy a show that you’ve been catching on one of our many replays, we hope very much that you’ll try and catch an interactive show when it is live. It’s so much more fun to be a part of the conversation, and we fun guys appreciate the interaction a lot as well. It gives us a lift.

This change represents a significant investment in every respect: money, time, energy and thought. But we’re confident that with more fun guy entertainment than ever before, you’re going to love it.

We’re excited and proud to be going into this new era with you. Thank you for your ongoing support and for making it such fun to be a fun guy.