PROVIDENCE, R.I. — It may be a relative latecomer to the Rhode Island radio scene (“only” since 1998), but Rhode Island Public Radio has a long history of using web media as an important augmentation of our smaller FM signals.
For many years, we only had an AM signal. In 2011, we moved to FM but on signals so small it took three just to cover part of the smallest state in the U.S.A. In mid-2017, we added a full-market FM, but by then the pattern was set: We rely on and encourage our listeners to also “tune in” via webcasts, smartphone apps … and now Amazon’s “Alexa” devices: the Echo, Echo Dot and more.
Alexa is a new realm, and one that’s still relatively small. But thanks to StreamGuys, it was relatively inexpensive and not too difficult to get in on the ground floor and provide a robust service within the Alexa architecture. In addition to easy access to our live stream, our listeners can use Alexa’s Flash Briefing for immediate access to our 16 hourly newscasts each weekday (5 a.m. to 6 p.m.), or access several of other local features: “This I Believe: New England,” “Political Roundtable,” “Bill Gales’ Theater Reviews” and more.
It’s quite simple for the listener with an Alexa device. Download the free Skill, configure it in the Alexa app, and with one spoken sentence — “Alexa, what’s the news?” — you can hear the most recent local newscast from RIPR. Or say “Alexa, tell Rhode Island Public Radio to play ‘Scott MacKay’s Commentary’” and hear Scotty’s popular weekly take on news and politics in the Ocean State.
StreamGuys, a content delivery network and streaming provider, previously had been the host for both our main and backup live webcast (we have a redundant encoder that StreamGuys will automatically switch to if needed), and we have been very happy with them on that front for several years. We typically see peak simultaneous listenership around 400–500 streams every morning, and StreamGuys has unfailingly provided good overall service. When the odd problem did crop up, their SGalerts system does a nice job tracking it and alerting us … and then they’ll handle fixing it with grace and speed.
When StreamGuys approached us about adding an Amazon Skill, we found the price very competitive. And virtually all of the needed audio podcast infrastructure was already in place. Best of all, my podcast file management system was already set to be 100 percent automated! But a deciding factor was that Alexa Skills of 2017 are like web domains of 1999: Get yours before someone else does.
We did run into some issues with reliably pulling the podcast audio from our third-party website/podcast CMS, but StreamGuys really committed themselves to finding a solution, despite the CMS not being a StreamGuys product. They worked extensively with me, our CMS host and even other users on the same CMS. Eventually, they offered to cache the files on their server as an intermediate step. We accepted, and so far, it’s working pretty well.
My hope is that we’re getting our listeners used to consuming our radio content in a way that actually doesn’t involve a radio at all … thus broadening our presence to reach the listeners wherever they happen to be. And StreamGuys has been a real handy part of reaching that goal.
For information, contact StreamGuys in California at 707-667-9479 or visit www.streamguys.com.