The FezGuys
Netcasting in Hipboots
(for Bottom Feeders at the Dawn of Internet Radio)
[ No. 20 - June 1998 ]

Most standard, for-profit radio programming sucks. You switch to Web radio. You hear interesting, eclectic music. You have hundreds of stations to choose from, corporate to creative. You can hear any program as many times as you like. You can make requests, send praises or hurl curses. Or you can switch the URL. It's available in a car stereo, too.

Online Radio Resources

BRS Web Radio's List of Online Stations: <>

Yahoo's Guide to Internet Radio Broadcasting: <>; search for "Internet Broadcasting: Radio"

Internet Radio is available to all who are online. Scroll through your bookmarks and choose your content, live or archived. Or make some of your own (properly licensed, of course, or they will come and get you). All you need is an encoder, a server and a domain. *Poof* - you're a station. In theory it's pretty simple.

Why would a studio or an independent musician want to broadcast music on the Web (aka "netcasting" or "webcasting")? Don't you have anything better to do? What kind of person creates a streaming-audio Internet webcast for a potential audience of one-hundred million souls but accepts that their musical message is probably a solitary one? Who cares? That's not the point. The point is that there's a history-making window open here, and you've got a shot at getting some attention. In our pointed audacity, we're gonna give you some pointers on how to get started.

You remember that issue of Popular Mechanics? The one with the cover painting of a boy in a crewcut crouched over a microphone in the middle of the night? Wires lead from his homebuilt shortwave radio transmitter up to an antennae on the roof. Little jagged black lines denote his lonely signal snaking up through the sky and bouncing off the Heavyside Layer. Thousands of miles away someone else is listening. Remember the romance of radio before multinational conglomerates controlled the airwaves? Now we have netcasting. Here's how to reach out (without paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for a license) in the age of silicon.

To get started, we're going to ask you some quasi-rhetorical questions. We'll explain the relevance and how your answer may change the way you jump onto the bit-waves.

Question #1: How many people do you want to reach, and how many do you expect to reach at the same time?

NAB Tradeshow - Las Vegas, NV (April 4 - 9)

Several years ago the National Assocation of Broadcasters (NAB) gave President Ronald Reagan an award for something. Before he was a minute into his acceptance speech a geek jumped onstage and grabbed the delicate lead-crystal sculpture out of his hands, smashing it to smithereens on the edge of the podium while shouting something about the hypocrisy of stuff. Broadcasting - thy name is controversy. Several months ago (April 7th, 1998 to be exact) in noontime, high desert sunshine, thirty demonstrators, spaced at equal intervals, held up an eighty-foot banner protesting an FCC crackdown on pirate radio. A young man with a megaphone barked pointed phrases at the swiftly-moving passersby. Earnest young men and women handed out flyers saying: "Rush is Wrong!", in large type, protesting the naming of the notorious radio personality to the NAB Hall of Fame. Grassroots politics were once again at the gate. Except for the video camera operators and pleasantly-dressed security, hardly anyone stopped to listen. The endless stream of dressed-for-success people in large neon-colored nametags were headed into the maw of the Las Vegas Convention Center to attend the National Association of Broadcaster's 75th anniversary tradeshow. It was a giant stewpot containing 100,000 people from all over the world, hundreds of practical seminars and self-absorbed hype sessions, and 1,200 exhibits of the latest and greatest broadcast technologies, some working, some promised. Many lapels sported buttons saying: "Vaporware Alert," to point out the wilder fancies of marketing geniuses built on coffee-break musings of engineering co-workers.

Inside one of the endless halls the Web-related exhibitors crouched together in an Internet Ghetto. The FezGuys, improbably invited to be talkshow hosts on an Internet radio webcast, did a familiar schtick. Wearing Southpark attire and hurling (mostly) harmless mouse pads at the conventioneers, we interviewed helpless corporate employees. Our signal streamed out onto the Web and was monitored on speakers mounted near our heads, causing occasional feedback. Our guests ran the gamut from the friendly - like the charming satellite guy participating in his first Internet radio experience - to the extremely odd - like the guy demonstrating a Barney doll with a chip in its head. The doll is supposed to sit next to your kids while they watch TV, receiving infared wireless signals from the Barney program on the screen that cause the polyester fuzzy purple blob with the big grin to answer questions and move around. We weren't able to determine what that had to do with Internet radio. Then there was the fellow who sat himself down in front of a microphone and just started talking. It didn't seem to matter to him that the mic wasn't on. He was ready to join the party. But we hadn't invited him. He was dragged around back by the blackshirts manning the booth. We think he may have actually ended up purchasing something. Tradeshows can be hell.

Overheard at the Sun booth: a representative describing the functionality of Real Networks' Realsystem 5.0 beta for the Sparc with the phrase: "If it worked properly it wouldn't be any fun."

The entrenched traditional broadcast community is up in arms about Internet "radio." Deny it, legislate it, co-opt it, it's not going to go away. The Ghetto is growing. Maybe now we can get some interesting programming.

Info: Truly efficient "broadcasting" technology on the Internet ("multicasting"), has made leaps and bounds in popularity and support recently, but has yet to be deployed widely across the Internet. So, for now, the more users you wish to hear you simultaneously, the more Internet connectivity your server must have. That means more server hardware and maybe a software license or two. These resources can quickly add up to equal the mortgage on your house. Start small. Look into companies that specialize in providing a simple, all-in-one solution. AudioNet and RealNetworks have a proven track record. Smaller home-grown programmers might want to network with local geek companies in their community. You might just find a sponsor. There are people out there who think like you do! The choice of your netcast technology should also address what your potential listener is using to acquire audio streaming. Real Networks' RealPlayer has the largest share of the player market right now, though Netshow (which supports a variety of different codecs like MP3 and Voxware) is a contender with the release of v3.0. The Netshow server also comes for free with WindowsNT. Of course, that means your server has to run WindowsNT.

Question #2: Where is your programming coming from?

Info: If you are an existing radio station, your content is already swirling through the local airwaves. You may be able to partner with local companies that have Internet connectivity, maybe an ISP. Sit a computer on their network to send your signal to the appropriate server(s) in exchange for letting them place a promotional banner on your website, or audio ads in your broadcast. If you are an individual at home or a small studio, you will need to netcast directly from there.

Question #3: Where are you encoding your signal from?

Info: A live encoding computer converts your analog signal into ones and zeros and sends it to a streaming audio server which redistributes that signal to your listeners. Arrange for this encoding machine (often a Pentium running Windows) to reside in your home or office. Give it a cute name and suitable Internet connectivity for netcasting. ISDN throughput, at the least, is preferable though you may be able to squeak by with a 56k modem. If you are on a shared network be sure to dedicate enough bandwidth to your broadcast so any other employees/users reading don't degrade the quality of your signal.

Question #4: Where are you sending it for redistribution?

Info: A streaming audio server is required to send each individual listener a copy of your broadcast. It's the spokes and wheel analogy. You can have your server onsite but you'll need a lot of connectivity (a T1 or greater) and the startup cost is hefty. You can lease a computer offsite; paying a monthly fee to use an existing system. It's great if you already have your own server computer because the number of co-location providers has grown dramatically over the past few years. Co-location is placing your computer on someone else's network (i.e.: putting a computer on a rack in their machine room) and leasing Internet connectivity on a monthly basis. They have more bandwidth than you could possibly use. You'll need passwords and filenames to stream data from your live encoder to your server. The server is your gateway to your Internet listeners.

Question #5: What is your content?

Info: If you own the publishing rights to the content, no worries - you can start webcasting right away. If your content includes material owned by other publishers you'll want to arrange for permission to broadcast that material onto the Internet. Whether you have ASCAP/BMI/SESAC licenses (as well as other feeds such as AP, UPI or Rueters) or not, you should check with those organizations to find out what licensing costs may be involved. ASCAP and BMI have Internet licensing forms on their web sites, and some news feeds are giving away (for free!) Internet broadcast rights in an effort to develop the market.

These five questions might help get your brain in the right space to take your content online. Letting people know you're tossing out those jagged black lines of transmission into the aether is crucial. Advertise and promote! Research different companies who provide these services. Talk to other people who are already multicasting. Post queries on the FezGuys' Threaded Discussion Area. Good Luck!

We do the hokey pokey when you get involved in the online community. Visit us at: <>.



About the authors:

Jon Luini is a working technophile, a musician (bass player/singer) with full-blown facility and extensive experience on the Web and no free time. He is a co-founder of IUMA and MediaCast, co-creator of Addicted To Noise, and runs an Internet and music consulting and technology company, Chime Interactive (formerly Evolve Internet Solutions). <>

Allen Whitman is a working musician (bass player/singer/producer) with a keen, real-world interest in the practical use of the Web. Music credits include: The Mermen, "Brine-The Antisurf Soundtrack, biL, Deep Field South, Doormouse, Delectric and Drizzoletto. He has written for the San Francisco Examiner, Wired, EQ, Revolution, Yahoo Internet Life, Prosound News, Surround Professional, Replication News and others. <>

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