Interview with NIHL Radio spokesperson Oz Phillips by Paul & Lucy for "Best Kept Secrets" show on 103.2 Preston FM
Briefly to start, Oz, what exactly IS NIHL Radio?
Well to put it simply it is an initiative that has been put together by myself and a gentleman called Stewart Cunliffe with the aim of providing teams and their fans with their own radio stations to broadcast games and interviews for the benefit of everyone.
For the benefit of people who don’t know much about British ice hockey, where does the NIHL sit in the overall structure?
It is, on paper, the third tier of ice hockey in this country. Whilst the Elite League benefits from Sky Sports coverage and professional contracts and the Premier League enjoys reasonably sized teams in large catchment areas such as Manchester or Milton Keynes, the National League is viewed as a development league and consists of a combination of strong teams from smaller towns and “junior” teams representing teams from the leagues above.
This project initially started through broadcasting Blackburn Hawks games. How did it progress to this set-up?
At the start of this season, a few people connected with Blackburn Hawks and the HawksF5 Supporters Group looked at the feasibility of broadcasting away games and came across a relatively straight forward service called Shoutcast. Whilst this was easily setup and working, it had many shortcomings so Stewart started looking at other options that addressed the minor teething difficulties and came across the Icecast platform which, among other things, allows multiple radio stations to broadcast from the same server. In the meantime a couple of teams from the Moralee Conference approached us for advice on setting up their own stations and it made sense to offer them a working system rather than having them struggle through the same issues.
And which teams have you already got on board for NIHL Radio for next season?
Confirmed teams are Blackburn Hawks, Whitley Warriors and Billingham Stars from the Moralee Conference and Widnes Wild and Deeside Dragons from the Laidler Conference. Other teams have approached us already about the possibility of joining the initiative but they have yet to officially confirm their involvement.
Is NIHL Radio therefore a Blackburn Hawks project?
No, it isn’t. NIHL Radio is a completely independent setup to any of the teams; whilst the background behind this project comes from initial work with Blackburn Hawks and the HawksF5 Supporters Group, the only real link now is that myself and Stewart Cunliffe are Hawks fans. In fact, at the last Supporters Group meeting, they were asked if they would like to join NIHL Radio or stay as an individual radio entity and they opted to be part of this fantastic initiative as they could see the benefits of being a part of it.
And you are looking for more teams to get involved – what would they need to do and what does it cost?
Of course we want more teams involved, the more the merrier! The only point that we have consistently made to the teams already involved is that if two teams have radio then the away team get priority, this means that theoretically there is room for every team to join and still be guaranteed to broadcast half of their own games, but most of the teams that have presently joined have already expressed their preference for only broadcasting away games for reasons such as their radio personnel have other commitments at home games.
The service we are offering is completely free to any team that wishes to join. Ignoring the time and effort that has gone into setting up the infrastructure, server rental fees alone could make setting up a radio station prohibitive to smaller teams so the fact that we can offer this service for no fee is perhaps the major single benefit of joining.
There are north and south divisions in the NIHL, aren’t there? Does this offer apply to apply to all NIHL clubs in all divisions?
Yes indeed it does. In fact, one of the teams who have approached us but haven’t yet committed currently play in South 1. Our level of ice hockey has some of the most passionate and dedicated fans in the country and yet the level of media coverage, whilst admirable, is severely lacking. This initiative was started for the benefit of hockey as a whole, not just the odd team. The only real reason that the teams currently signed up are from the north is because of, say, my personal links with rival teams or because they were more aware of the project and approached us before this was rolled out.
For somebody like me who doesn’t understand much about computers, what equipment – and what sort of software and so on - would you actually need for this to work?
Well with equipment it’s all down to what kind of setup you want really. For instance when the broadcasting of Hawks games started the equipment included a large widescreen laptop with a small mixer, two professional microphones and a couple of pairs of headphones. Now it operates from a 10” notebook running Windows XP with a USB microphone and an internet dongle! As for software it runs on Mixxx which is a free-to-use broadcasting program that is amazingly simple to use. We understood that not everyone is a wizz when it comes to computers and so it is geared towards being as straightforward as possible. Once a laptop is setup, either in person or remotely, it is simply a case of opening Mixxx and clicking on live broadcast.
And while the matches are on, you can choose which game you want to listen to?
Indeed you can. This isn’t one dedicated radio station but rather a collection of individual stations. Every team will have their own station and identity with the main link to that station being on their own websites and supporters pages. The aim of NIHL Radio is to promote them all as one entity by regularly posting dates and times of games and what station is covering them and by providing a central website at NIHLRadio.com so that fans can find them all much easier. For instance, Blackburn Hawks games are broadcast through HawksF5.com but not many people are aware of that website. If someone knew that they could visit NIHLRadio.com and click Blackburn then already they are getting more exposure than before.
And when there aren’t any matches being covered what will be on NIHL Radio the rest of the time?
This is another area where operating as a group is beneficial. Whenever any team isn’t broadcasting, their station just automatically puts out the NIHL Radio feed which is a collection of player interviews and other generated media from the teams involved and from other sources such as freelance journalists. Stewart Cunliffe has done an excellent job in setting up a system whereby teams and other contributors can visit a website, upload whatever they want to play and then that automatically enters the NIHL Radio feed.
What games have you got lined up for broadcast so far?
Well we are definitely broadcasting all of the games from the Moralee playoff weekend as well as both games from the All-Star weekend in Deeside. Not only do we hope that these games will showcase the service but we will also use them as an opportunity to meet with the confirmed teams and get their systems up and running so that they are ready for the start of next season.
And what do people have to do in order to be able listen in?
They can use everything and anything. Each radio station itself is merely a web address and it plays through the internet browser on your computer or tablet or your phone - be it Android, Windows, Apple or Blackberry. We are also looking at developing an app over the summer to make it even easier for people to listen.
So if other NIHL clubs want to get involved in NIHL Radio where can they find out more?
If any teams are interested in joining then they can email myself at email@example.com and I can explain the service in greater detail and provide them with all of the information that they require.