There’s been a rash of ‘Treasure Hunt’ style game shows across BBC Local Radio in England. From Norfolk to Leicester, Sheffield to Manchester, radio cars have criss-crossed counties and listeners have solved clues. And I should know. When running Radio Manchester, ‘Manhunt’ ran for a very successful four years. I was even the driver for the first year or so!

Is that a 30ft hydraulic aerial or are you just pleased to see me?

Is that a 30ft hydraulic aerial or are you just pleased to see me?

The hardy old BBC Local Radio radio car was the perfect vehicle for such an enterprise. A relic of the analogue era, it came with a powerful RF link, an extendable mast, a back up built-in phone and separate technical power supply. Getting a reliable signal into receivers at City Tower or Winter Hill and onto the air was pretty simple, even with the mast down, and the phone was there as a standby, all routed from the same radio-mic/wireless cue box.

Spin forward a couple of years, and I’m outside the BBC and running 2ZY. When BBC Radio Wales was on the look out for summer sports replacement shows from indies, I thought the scavenger hunt format would work – and got commissioned. ‘Clueless’ was born. That was the easy bit. Then we had to work out how make it – with no radio car, in a country of challenging topography and sometimes patchy comms.

Four weeks into a five week series, and I’m pleased to say Clueless is a hit with the audience – that’s if all the calls are anything to go with – and the budget technical solution we came up with – essentially a solid radio car for well under £1k – has held up beyond expectations.

 

Caryl Parry Jones and Alex Winters present Clueless on BBC Radio Wales

Caryl Parry Jones and Alex Winters present Clueless on BBC Radio . Wales

The first decision was to use Luci Live Lite – a bargain at £17! – on my existing iPhone. Much cheaper than a sat phone, and with CODECs already set-up in Cardiff to receive it.

But we didn’t want to restrict ourselves to locations with wifi or rock solid 3G – partly due to the nature of the show. We can easily end up in the wrong (non-recce’d) location if listeners offer flawed solutions to the clues. Wary too of the kind of latency you can get on one-bar 3G or heavily utilised public wifi, we needed something more reliable.

A half-remembered briefing from Geoff Woolf when I was still in the BBC, a few emails back and forth to the brilliant Nick Garnett, and the usual helpful advice from former Radio Manchester engineer Andy Langhorn led me to this. Hello WiBE.

I'm a WiBE

I’m a WiBE

WiBE is a wireless broadband extender from Deltenna. Follow the link for the nerdy stuff, but put simply, you stick a 3G SIM in it – we use a data card from Three – and a clever rotating receiver inside the drum detects any 3G mast within range and selects the link offering the best data. It then spits out a bespoke WiFi cloud around itself for about 100m. Once plugged into its battery unit, the WiBE usually takes about 30 seconds to come up.

So with this in our car (a regular Toyota Auris from City Car Club) we had a hub around which reporter Alex can orbit for up to 100m (with the Luci Live iPhone strapped to his arm).

We used a Luci accessory, the MIKI cable to provide a quality mic/headphone connection into the iPhone – and hired a MP1004 reporter-phone from Glensound to provide a solid 2G back-up back to base. This is also how Alex hears cue, avoiding any latency on the Luci return path.

John Ryan recce-ing a Clueless location at Wakestock

John Ryan recce-ing a Clueless location at Wakestock

The big surprise has been just how solid the WiBE connection has been even in transit. Our supplier’s FAQ says, not unreasonably, that the WiBE will ‘not provide any performance improvement in a moving vehicle’. We’ve found that to be pessimistic. Sometimes we’ve even been able to get a Luci Live link back to Cardiff on the WiBE-improved 3G when our 2G back up has failed.

And rather than leaving the WiBE fired up in the car as planned, I’ve gaffer-ed it to its battery pack and dashed after Alex en route to the clue so the WiFi cloud moves with him!

So much for a radio car. All the kit we need to get Clueless on air fits in one of those plastic storage boxes from Rymans.

Clueless is a 2ZY Production for BBC Radio Wales.

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