Johns Hopkins Gazette: May 8, 1995

'On the Air'
JHMI Taps an Associated Press News Director To Put 
Health NewsFeed Back On Radio

By Mike Field

     Health NewsFeed, the award-winning radio news service that
distributes 60-second stories about Hopkins medicine to radio
stations across the country, has returned after a two-year

     Originally broadcast in 1988 and continuing through 1993,
the five-times-weekly series of minute-long programs highlights
the latest developments and advances in health care and medical
science at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions.

     The revitalized series will follow a format similar to that
of the original programs, which in 1991 received a William Harvey
Award for Medical Reporting and a New York Radio Festival Award
for excellence. Targeted at general audiences with a
"news-you-can-use" emphasis, the segments will eschew complicated
medical jargon and instead concentrate on delivering strong
stories, relevant topics and clear reporting.

     "The goal of Health NewsFeed is to enhance and maintain
Hopkins' reputation for teaching, research and patient care by
getting our experts on the air every day and explaining our
science in ways everyone can understand," said Health NewsFeed
director Jack Sheehan, a former Associated Press Radio Network
anchor and reporter. 

     Sheehan came to the Medical Institutions in February after
two decades in the broadcast news industry. He is charged with
returning Health NewsFeed, stopped because of budget cuts, to the
airwaves in an expanded version. Johns Hopkins creates and
distributes the programs at no charge, making them available to
any radio station that wishes to use them. 

     The stations in turn are free to sell advertising spots to
"sponsor" the programs, effectively making them a potential
revenue-generating source for the stations.

     Sheehan said he hopes to produce more programs and
distribute them more widely at a fraction of the previous per
program cost. The secret, he said, lies in the new digital
technology that has recently become available.

     "The key to the success of the new Health NewsFeed is doing
everything digitally," Sheehan said. "Essentially the words
coming out of the researcher's mouth will be the last analog
component. Everything that follows will be digital."

     Advances in personal computer technology make it possible to
record, play back, edit and mix full-fidelity stereo sound on an
ordinary personal computer. 

     Using two off-the-shelf computers, some microphones,
headsets and a commercially available software program, Sheehan
has constructed a fully digital sound recording "studio" within a
regular office cubicle at the Office of Communications and Public
Affairs in East Baltimore. Unlike a traditional recording studio,
which needs elaborate soundproofing and banks of expensive
reel-to-reel tape recorders, the new studio required only a
modest investment to create digitally "clean" recordings clear
enough to satisfy any radio program manager. 

     "Sound recording quality is a limiting factor in
distribution," Sheehan said. "If the program doesn't sound
razor-sharp, full fidelity, crisp and clear, the stations won't
use it." Previously, recordings were made and mixed in an
old-style studio in the Office of Communications and Public
Affairs, then beamed via satellite to stations around the

     "A new digital telephone system, using a technology called
Switched 56, now allows us to transmit full fidelity sound over
ordinary telephone lines," Sheehan said. "Since the process is
fully digital, there is none of the signal degradation or
electrical noise found on ordinary phone lines. The audio coming
across will literally have CD player quality." 

     Health NewsFeed will also operate a toll-free telephone
number that will allow radio stations to call in at any time and
download the pre-recorded programs at their convenience.
Previously, they were distributed once a week at a specific time
through a satellite link. If a program manager forgot--or was
unable--to retrieve the satellite broadcast, the program was then
unavailable for the week, except by low-quality phone feed.

     The new programs should be available at 1-800-MED-RADIO
starting May 15, the tentatively scheduled launch date for the
new series. 

     Any individual with a modem-equipped personal computer and
an audio card will be able to download and play back the programs
on his or her own computer. Sheehan encourages comments and
suggestions from throughout the university. 

     "There is no story related to Hopkins health sciences that I
will not consider doing," he said. "I want to hear from anybody
and everybody. As long as we can find a way of making the science
understandable, then we will consider it. We want to explore
scientific advances, new trends, interesting ideas, current
controversies--anything that will allow us to tap into the
wellspring of Hopkins science and expertise. Health NewsFeed
needs to be every bit as interesting and diverse as Hopkins
medicine itself."

     Health NewsFeed also will operate its own computer bulletin
board, offering news releases, scripts, cut sheets and other
current material for journalists or anyone with an interest in
medical news. The sound files containing weekly Health News-Feed
programming also will be stored and available on this machine. 

      In a separate venture, daily 90-second pieces, covering
many of the same stories, will be prepared and distributed to the
New York-based Bloomberg Business Radio network, using the
Switched 56 technology. In addition to regular play on the
network's 30 stations, the programs will be available online to
the more than 30,000 financial managers currently subscribing to
the Bloomberg--a financial service that includes a special
computer system carrying stock quotations, market analysis, news
and related features.

     Despite radio's insatiable demand for fresh programming and
new stories, Sheehan isn't worried about running out of ideas. "I
knew about Hopkins before coming here, of course, but it wasn't
until I arrived that I realized how cutting-edge the work being
done here is," he said. "It's like going to Disneyland for the
first time. Every single day I see something new. My job will be
to tell the rest of the world about it."

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