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WAMU-88.5 Makes Radio Accessible with enCaption

Imagine a world where the deaf and hard of hearing can tune into radio news shows and understand everything that is being said!  NPR Member Station WAMU-88.5, in Washington, DC, now provides live captioning of its local news and talk shows, as well as its nationally syndicated “1A” radio show. Since radio has no video screen, the captions display and scroll on the station’s website in near real-time.

By offering live local radio captioning, WAMU is broadening its market reach by making its programming accessible to the deaf or hard of hearing, including those associated with Gallaudet University—a world-renowned Washington, DC-based university that serves deaf and hard of hearing students.

In fact, Gallaudet played a key role in inspiring WAMU to recognize the needs of this underserved community. A few years ago, when a Gallaudet graduate announced his candidacy for a local Washington, DC office, he wanted to be featured on the popular, long-running show, “The Politics Hour with Kojo Nnamdi”. This live radio talk show is regarded by many to be an important stop for anyone running for local political office in the Greater Washington, DC, Maryland, and Virginia area.

At that time, WAMU, which is owned by American University, didn’t have the means to provide captions of the spoken word so that the candidate’s core audience, deaf and hard of hearing people, would be able to hear the radio interview firsthand. For this one special event, WAMU hired a live captioning firm to provide and stream captions in real-time as an end-to-end solution.

Following this successful endeavor, WAMU’s technical team, led by Senior Director of Technology Rob Bertrand, began looking into how live radio captioning could be automated for high-volume captioning in-house and set up to stream via their website, WAMU.org.

With some research, including a call to NPR, the team was referred to ENCO, maker of the enCaption automated real-time speech to text system that is widely used for TV captioning.

“So today,” Bertrand says, “Here on WAMU, we are presenting complete captions of our live audio streams using enCaption. And our plan is to use enCaption to generate transcripts of our live and archival programming. enCaption is extremely accurate, stable, and reliable.”

In our next blog, we’ll take a closer look at the radio captioning workflow that WAMU implemented with the help of ENCO and its automated, AI-driven speech-to-text engine enCaption. Watch a video recording of a November 4, 2021 webinar delivered by ENCO’s Media Solutions Account Manager Bill Bennett and WAMU’s Rob Bertrand discussing this breakthrough solution that is “Making Radio Accessible with Captions.”

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