The impact of Qualcomm shutting down its Reciva internet radio aggregation platform earlier this year continues to reverberate through the internet radio manufacturing industry. The loss of this platform means Reciva-enabled internet radios can no longer connect to audio streams on the web — rendering them effectively useless.
Sangean Electronics is one of the manufacturers left stranded by the Reciva shutdown.
“The official date was April 30, 2021,” Sangean Marketing Director Andrew Wu said. “The response we got [from Qualcomm] was, ‘We have decided to withdraw this discretionary service, for business reasons. We wish you well in finding alternative solutions’.”
“It’s not the first internet radio platform to shut down,” said Wu. “But it is the first time for a supplier to not offer any viable solutions.”
“The shutdown was difficult on both the brands and customers who used Reciva-based devices,” said Greg Fadul, CEO and cofounder of Grace Digital, another internet radio manufacturer. “For Grace Digital, it’s been very difficult. We are a family-run business and we were partners and friends with the Reciva team. However, over the years Reciva was sold twice and the companies that acquired them decided that they would no longer support the legacy servers.”
Why did Reciva shut down?
Qualcomm has not responded to Radio World’s requests for interviews about the Reciva shutdown. However, internet radio manufacturers who supported this platform have offered several reasons for its demise.
First is the complexity and cost of running the Reciva platform. “Back in 2003 the processors in internet radios were extremely slow and had little memory, so Reciva’s strategy was for its servers to perform the heavy lifting with the radio only performing the basic streaming function,” said Fadul. “Their server system was not simply an internet radio station aggregator, but a high-end global array of dozens of servers located in key cities around the world. The server network provided radio authentication, managed log-ins for premium services, and various settings and configurations for the radios, among many other functions.”
Fast-forward 18 years and quality internet radios perform all those functions on the radio itself without the costs of an intermediary array of servers.
To make matters worse, “there was no path to upgrade due to the age of the code and its incompatibility with new hardware,” said Bob Crane, president of radio equipment firm C. Crane. “In addition, there are no longer people who fundamentally understand the ins and outs of this proprietary code and programming. The original software was also burdensome and slower than new chips.”
Despite this, Crane said he believes the driving force behind Qualcomm’s Reciva shutdown was the cost of maintaining its global server system. With manufacturers having moved to newer and more self-contained internet radio-tuning systems, Qualcomm had to cover this cost without receiving any revenue to pay for it.
“The Reciva problem happened in part because there was no recurring income for the founders,” said Crane. “This is why every software developer on the planet — think Adobe, Microsoft, and Oracle — has switched primarily to subscription-based purchases because there has to be some way to fund ongoing maintenance and future development.”
As reported by Radio World in March 2021 (“Reciva Internet Radio Platform Shutting Down“), internet radio manufacturers are doing their best to assist Reciva-stranded listeners.
At C. Crane, “we accelerated our new CC WiFi 3 internet radio into production as quickly as possible based on Skytune.net,” said Crane. “We also developed a program to take care of our Reciva-based CC WiFi owners, offering them a graduated discount that took into consideration how recently they’d purchased their older sets. We tried to offer a reasonable solution with proof of purchase and a cutoff date so we could take care of as many people as possible.”
“Since Grace Digital did not own the Reciva radio software — we only licensed the code, which means we could not change the radio software – there was unfortunately nothing we could do to save the old Reciva-based radios,” Fadul said. Fortunately, his company had launched its own self-maintained aggregation platform in 2018 to support its new generation of internet receivers.
“To help our dedicated customers with the transition to our new platform, Grace Digital offers discounts to purchase new radios,” said Fadul. “The vast majority of people understand the situation and realize the shutdown was out of our control.”
Over at Sangean, “we contacted the responsible parties to work on possible solutions, but we weren’t given any options that would allow our Reciva devices to continue working,” said Wu. “Therefore, we took the responsibility and offered our newer internet radio devices to our customers at a loss. It’s a very unfortunate situation and it is our desire to ensure all our customers are pleased, but that’s just not always the case. However, the majority took our offer and were satisfied with our response.”
Reality of business today
At first glance, the logical conclusion to be drawn from the Reciva shutdown is never to purchase a device that relies on third-party servers to function.
The problem with this conclusion is that it ignores the fundamental nature and ubiquity of third-party server solutions on the internet. “Any platform that uses a server is at risk of going down or being shut down,” said Fadul. “Basically anything such as YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, Facebook, your cell phone, and even plain old POTS lines use servers/databases.”
But this is just the tip of the iceberg: “All software platforms are probably at risk when you think about the countless updates and the ‘required’ new equipment purchases we all probably made over the last 15 years,” said Crane. “I am guessing that even Alexa may have a meltdown for the original units at the 15-year mark if you observe the software and hardware upgrades Amazon has issued so far. And even Sirius is looking at sunsetting one of their older platforms,” as reported by thedesk.net on September 21, 2021.
The business reality of “limited lifespans” even applies to broadcast radio. For instance, although AM radio remains viable in North America, the U.K. government’s just-released Digital Radio and Audio Review says that national AM (a.k.a. medium-wave) services should be closed down, due to the AM audience declining to 3% of all radio listening there.
Given this reality, the best internet radio manufacturers can do — and are doing — to protect listeners is to make their latest models multi-platform capable.
For instance, Grace Digital allows users to save and display up to 100 presets on their latest internet radios. “The radio presets do not relay on our servers to play,” said Fadul, “so even if we had a short or long server outage it would not affect your ability to play those 100 stations. It would also not affect your ability to play SiriusXM, Pandora, Bluetooth, or Chromecast.”
“It took us years to develop and optimize the software, but we learned from the Reciva shutdown and put all the software in place to make sure that we do not have this issue again,” he added. “Live and learn.”
As for the Reciva shutdown threatening the very existence of internet radio as a viable consumer technology? Bob Crane isn’t worried. Although he acknowledges that smart speakers “dwarf the sales of internet radios, it would be unwise to underestimate the dedication of radio listeners who have a preference to the way they listen,” he said.
“With smart speakers you give part of your private life up to a large company for marketing. Internet radios made by us and others don’t track you at all. It is more of a personal experience well-suited for a person who thoroughly enjoys and relies on radio,” Crane said.
This is why C. Crane, Grace Digital, and Sangean plan to keep developing and selling internet radios — Grace Digital has two models planned for release in 2022 — despite the risk of future Reciva-like platform shutdowns. “Standalone internet radios offer the convenience and simplicity of enjoying various radio streaming services,” said Wu. “They are not only viable, but trending.”