In early 2007, the "IBS Student Radio Network by Backbone," or IBS SRN, was launched.
Using Backbone Networks Corp.'s high-speed networks and servers, the Intercollegiate Broadcasting System was able to create a 24/7 Web-based network for its 1,000 high school and college radio members.
The cost to participate was nominal: $750 per student station, which included a $75 setup fee and three months of Backbone hosting at $225/month. Once signed up, the student station simply connected its Mac-based content to Backbone via a standard broadband connection.
IBS SRN member stations held a multi-venue network broadcast in the fall featuring live music captured by IBS stations and fed into the IBS SRN for all to share. In return, each station received up to 250 hours' of programming storage on Backbone's servers, allowing the stations to share content and thus, for the first time, be able to run 24/7 using automation.
Radio World reported on the venture earlier and recently checked in on its progress.
"What started out as a simple partnership to offer schools an inexpensive and reliable way to stream their signal has really mushroomed," said IBS Chairman Len Mailloux.
"IBS SRN started with a handful of stations and within a few months, the people at Apple iTunes decided to get involved and created a College Radio category on the iTunes site that features IBS/Backbone Student Radio Network Stations." He estimated its current roster at "over two dozen stations ... and several more in the process of joining. We're still small but growing."
Getting a spot on iTunes "has increased our world reach exponentially," Mailloux said.
"As an example, I'm the founding general manager of All Independent Radio at The New England Institute of Art in Boston. In our first six weeks on the iTunes site, the station had recorded hits from over 90 countries. Last week alone, AI Radio had over 5,000 listeners worldwide."
Power of the network
Being able to share programming is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the benefits enjoyed by IBS SRN member stations. In the old-fashioned broadcasting sense of the word, they are now connected to the same network, letting them work together on multi-station national broadcasts in real time.
An example of this power occurred in September when IBS SRN member stations held IBS-Palooza, a multi-venue network broadcast featuring live music captured by IBS stations around the country and fed into the IBS SRN for all to share. During IBS-Palooza, the show could be heard on each participating station's Web site, the IBS' online "WIBS" and Apple's iTunes Radio, College Radio category.
"The IBS-Palooza idea really came from the folks at Backbone," Mailloux said. "We've been talking about ways to create a cooperative working relationship between affiliates and they came up with the idea of a live music weekend. We had a couple of conference calls to get acquainted with each other, and thanks to George Capalbo's engineering abilities at Backbone, it all went very well."
If all goes to plan, IBS-Palooza will become an annual event.
"This was the first real 'project' for the new IBS/Backbone Student Radio Network but we've already started talking about some other special programming in the months ahead," Mailloux said. "We've floated the idea of a Halloween special and are considering another IBS-Palooza event in late winter or spring."
It may seem presumptuous to call the IBS/Backbone alliance a quantum leap in U.S. student broadcasting, but that is how the IBS chairman sees this venture.
"Being on this network gives student broadcasters access to a world audience that was not possible before and makes them part of something much bigger," he said. "It also gives us all a chance to learn from each other.
"In good schools, the students are taught well. In great schools, everyone teaches each other. I'd like to see that happen with the IBS/Backbone Student Radio Network and in academic broadcasting in general."
In terms of the IBS SRN's next steps, "I'd like to triple the publicity both inside and outside the network and IBS, and I'd like to see the schools work even more closely together in future.
"One idea is to have the participating affiliates cut promos for each other promoting the event and inviting listeners to tune in. I'd love to have a promo from Goucher College or Oklahoma State running on All Independent Radio in Boston. It would make the whole effort more cohesive and give the students a chance to branch out a bit with their work."
When this whole project was proposed, some wondered if student broadcasters and a commercial broadband carrier could actually achieve the lofty goals embodied by the IBS SRN. Looking back on that doubt and what has happened since then, "I think the biggest lesson learned is that we can actually do this," said Mailloux. "We can bring academic broadcasters together from around the country in a common effort. It sounded great in theory and now it's reassuring to know that it works."