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
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.
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
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
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?
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
Where are you encoding your signal from?
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 alt.fetish.radio don't degrade the quality of
Where are you sending it for redistribution?
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.
What is your content?
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: <www.fezguys.com>.