SAN FRANCISCO — KALW(FM) is the oldest noncommercial FM station west of the Mississippi — and was the first FM station to hit the San Francisco airwaves in 1941.
We’re a mixed-format NPR member station that serves the core of the Bay Area, though at 1,900 watts, we don’t have the terrestrial power to reach the edges of the nation’s No. 5 market.
The inability to reach a significant percentage of what Arbitron would assume is our audience has made streaming media a priority for KALW. That’s true for many broadcasters, and extends beyond the desktop and laptop to mobile devices — especially in markets where most listeners carry smartphones. Making a commitment to streaming high-quality audio content, both online and to mobile devices, has paid off for our station.
KALW launched its online stream several years ago with a much larger content delivery network. We switched to StreamGuys based on recommendations from public radio colleagues who shared positive experiences.
The company has since delivered a diverse streaming media platform that has been instrumental in growing our online audience, regionally and beyond. This includes financial support from new members across the country.
KALW prides itself in being local and global, mixing in popular locally produced programs like “Your Call,” “Crosscurrents” and “99% Invisible” (a unique show about design that’s been downloaded more than 2 million times on iTunes) with programming from the BBC, CBC and other international broadcasters. Strategically, it made sense to enhance our online platform, ensuring that more listeners can receive our diverse and innovative programming.
In addition to our live streams, StreamGuys also helped us build our “Local Music Player” for on-demand Flash streaming. Visitors can choose from 16 musically-oriented programs (including “Bluegrass Signal,” “Africa Mix,” “Music From Other Minds” and more) to access the most recent broadcast for each show. The shows are immediately uploaded to StreamGuys’ cloud-based streaming architecture after the terrestrial broadcast and archived for on-demand play.
StreamGuys has also helped diversify our live streams, launching new MP3 and Windows Media services for multiplatform delivery. Listeners can access the streams on our website and a variety of mobile devices.iPhone (as well as iPad/iPod Touch) users can listen via the free Public Radio Player application available in the iTunes App Store. Android and BlackBerry users can access the stream via the free TuneIn mobile app.
Our online audience has increased more than tenfold since migrating to the StreamGuys platform. Today, our MP3 stream boasts between 10,000 and 12,000 unique listeners each week — up from 600 weekly listeners with our previous CDN. The on-demand Flash player continues to generate interest, with hundreds of weekly listeners. Meanwhile, StreamGuys remains flexible in pricing, building new and economical streaming packages when applicable to meet our evolving needs.
Listeners from Atlanta, Salt Lake City and Princeton, N.J., were among those who became members during our most recent membership drive. In addition to saying that they valued KALW’s programming, many commented that KALW’s online audio quality was superior to their local stations. This is a real testament to the importance of a robust and consistent streaming presence.
There is also strategic value in directing listeners to online radio for continuity. Many of our local listeners can receive our over-the-air signal at home but not at the office, or vice versa. The ability to offer our local programs on-demand allows listeners to quickly pick up where they left off.
Online streams also provide true audience measurement in comparison to the sampling methods of measuring terrestrial listeners. StreamGuys offers two tools to analyze audience numbers and trends. SGMon provides the most immediate value for KALW, with clear data that outline visitor numbers over any period of time. We often use this tool to study listening trends, and to connect how or why certain programs may hold or lose an audience from the previous program.
The second tool, SG Reports, provides richer data and statistics that identify unique IP addresses, geographic locations, listener devices and other statistics that offer a deeper view into audience patterns. We are still learning to use this tool to better effect, but both products offer the option to build custom reports. It is very powerful to look at a particular hour or show over a period of time, and learn from those results.
Technical support has also been exceptional, far exceeding the attentiveness of our previous CDN. StreamGuys is always quick to respond and help troubleshoot, even when attribute a streaming problem to an in-house network issue.
Last week, we had a network connection problem with our T1 line, and StreamGuys responded immediately to provide direction and walk us through the necessary fixes. They later followed up with reports to help us diagnose what happened. I was impressed that rather than say “it wasn’t our fault” and focus only on their contractual obligation, they worked to make sure the stream as a whole was more stable. Our approach to technology is to be at the middle of the curve. We are a smaller station with a modest marketing budget, and cannot always be on the leading edge. But it’s our responsibility to go where the listeners are in the digital space. StreamGuys has been instrumental in keeping costs manageable for us as we explore new ways to deliver our programming beyond the antenna.
For information, contact Jonathan Speaker at StreamGuys in California at (707) 667-9479 or visit www.streamguys.com.
Radio World User Reports are unpaid testimonials; they are intended to allow equipment users to explain why they chose a particular product. Radio World Product Evaluations, by comparison, are paid articles written by a contributing reviewer, usually an engineer.