American University news/talk WAMU Washington, DC (88.5) aims to serve the deaf and hard-of-hearing audience by implementing a captioning system to provide live, automated transcripts of station broadcasts through its website. The station says a substantial population of deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals reside in the Washington area, including about 1,500 students at Gallaudet University.

WAMU says the inspiration for the captioning project came when a deaf political candidate seeking office in Washington requested to appear on the “Kojo Nnamdi Show” and wanted the result to be accessible to all of his constituents. “At that moment, it stood out to us that we hadn’t been serving that important part of the population before and that there was demand for bringing our content to this audience,” Rob Bertrand, WAMU Senior Director of Technology said in a release.

For the interview with the political candidate, WAMU used a service provider with live human transcription and live sign language interpretation, but recognized that a different approach would be needed if it were to be used on an ongoing basis. “The timing of the content can be unpredictable, which means we can’t schedule a transcriptionist or sign language interpreter,” Bertrand explained. “We realized there was now technology that would allow us to automate the process. Automated closed captioning has existed for television for some time. What if we could take the equipment used to generate captions for TV, and instead use it for radio to bring captions to our website?”

The station says it chose ENCO’s enCaption4 system and WAMU’s web development team “came up with a way to present the captions it creates on our website,” Bertrand continued. The system ingests the same on-air signal path being routed to WAMU’s transmitter and online streaming encoders, enabling live, 24/7 captioning of all of WAMU’s on-air content. The captions created by enCaption4 are then fed to the station’s website, where they are displayed in a dedicated transcription page.

The pilot project resulted in approximately 150 people routinely watching the station captions for around 30 minutes per day, but will likely increase as the station begins to actively promote the feature. “Our results already show deep engagement, and that this service is meaningful to a segment of our region’s population that was not previously being served by our content,” Bertrand commented. “We are proud that we can now reach this important segment of the population that radio, as an audio medium, has been historically unable to reach.”