(click thumbnail)The SRSWowcast Internet Radio Audio Processor From SRS Labs The Internet offers almost limitless opportunities to present listeners with enhanced information and entertainment. One broadcaster recently described the possibility of Internet radio as "turbo-charged" radio.
Radio online offers some exciting opportunities to enhance listeners’ experience by supplying pictures, graphics and text while music or commercials are playing.
Internet studies find that the addition of visual information to an Internet radio experience is important.
"Anything that can help make the process more compelling for the consumer and makes Webcasting distinct from other choices will help," said Arbitron’s Vice President of Webcast Services Bill Rose.
"That’s exactly what song title, artist album and the interactive element provide the user."
RCS, known to radio for its Selector music scheduling system, markets RCS RadioShow, a product that adds title and artist information to a station’s Web site and facilitates ad replacement.
RadioShow also features a "buy it now" option, to allow the listener to buy the CD of the song currently playing.
"Stations needed a way to put more than just pictures of the DJs on their Web sites," said Tom Zarecki, who handles RCS marketing and public relations. "We developed a product that stations could use to look unique and have a player presence on their Internet sites."
Flinn Broadcasting Corp.’s WMPS(FM) in Memphis, Tenn., uses RCS RadioShow to add visual information to its audio stream.
"It does its job," said Station Engineer Alan Smith. "We use it to add song title and artist information." The station also presents the previous 12 songs played.
RCS RadioShow helped WMPS to create its alternative-formatted Internet site and player to reflect a "pig" theme used by the station.
RCS offers a version of RadioShow for a station that is not streaming buts want to give "now playing" on-air information on its Web site.
RadioShow pricing varies depending on the options and levels of service a radio broadcaster or Webcaster chooses.
Even before the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists action late year turned Net radio upside down, the ability to target ads to individual Internet radio listeners has been the brass ring of streaming radio.
Now that radio commercials that feature AFTRA talent and are streamed online mean triple rates for performer fees, ad-replacement technology has gone from an option to a necessity for some managers.
There are two types of ad-insertion systems: server-side and client-side. In the former, the ad is replaced in the stream before it is sent to the listener. In a client-side system, the ads are sent to the listener’s computer prior to the break and inserted at the appropriate time by the listener’s PC.
HiWire’s ad-insertion technology is a client-side system, which incorporates a customized player that listeners download. Through an opt-in data-collection system, HiWire collects basic information about listeners, including location, so that targeted ads can be sent to selected listeners during breaks.
The ad-replacement service is available to stations through a revenue-sharing program. HiWire maintains an ad sales staff to sell replacement inventory.
In June 2001, HiWire signed an agreement with Clear Channel Worldwide to handle ad-replacement for Clear Channel’s radio properties in the top 50 U.S. markets. Brian Parsons, Clear Channel Radio Interactive’s director of technology, said the task was daunting.
"HiWire has been quick in fulfilling our needs and ramping up our stations. This wasn’t an easy challenge. Their performance in keeping pace with our crunched timeline has been impressive and puts us on track with our revenue goals for the first part of 2002."
Web audio, like terrestrial radio, benefits from audio manipulation. Processing of streamed audio produces louder, clearer and more consistent audio and can reduce the bits necessary to stream, resulting in lower bandwidth expenses.
Octiv Inc. offers two models of audio processing software: the OctiMax StreamSolo, with one-input, one-output capability, and the OctiMax StreamPro, which offers one-input/four-outputs.
Octiv says many stations prefer the StreamPro version so they can process and send audio for high- and low-bitrate audio to both the Real and WindowsMedia encoders.
After processing, Octiv’s virtual audio cable routing system directs the audio signal to the appropriate encoder.
HiWire uses the Octiv system. Interfacing between the Octiv system and its ad-insertion system is key, said HiWire’s President and CEO Steve Goldberg.
"Managing the complexities of audio ad replacement and delivery – for example, stream quality and volume consistency and terrestrial spot lengths – is critical. Octiv has been a strong partner in this regard," Goldberg said.
The OctiMax StreamPro is priced at $1,099, the StreamSolo at $599.
SRSWowcast Technologies markets the Wowcaster Internet Radio Audio Processor. It incorporates audio enhancement technologies from SRS Labs to improve the quality of compressed mono or stereo audio streamed over the Internet.
"I like it," said Steve Wolf, owner and operator of Internet-only radio station WOLF(FM) in Nashville, Tenn. "I like what it does to the sound. It enhances it and boost the highs."
Wolf has done some testing of the Wowcaster and finds it similar to a parametric equalizer.
"It does improve the sound quality," Wolf said.
Where the SRS Labs’ Wowcaster can be used to reduce the bitrate necessary to stream at a given level of quality, Wolf has chosen to go the sound enhancement route instead.
"My purpose is to enhance the sound at the bitrate we’re using," he said.
The rack-mounted Wowcaster sells for $995 and is available in software format for $1,195.
What tools have helped your station take better advantage of the Internet? Tell us via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.