Susquehanna Radio Streams On - Radio World

Susquehanna Radio Streams On

Dan Halyburton is senior vice president/general manager, group operations at Susquehanna Radio Corp. in Dallas. He began his radio career in 1970, as a production director and air personality at Mission Broadcasting’s WWOK(AM) in Miami.
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Susquehanna Server Farm Is LoadedSusquehanna Radio Corp. plans to move all of its radio station Web sites to a new server farm in York, Pa.

Steve Witt is a client partner with Susquehanna Technologies, a Susquehanna Radio sister company that provides radio stations Web development and content delivery capabilities, as well as custom-built e-commerce options. He is in charge of the new server farm build-out.

According to Witt, there will be many benefits to Susquehanna once all of its stations are hosted on a common platform.

"We will be launching a set of Web-based tools that each individual station/market can use on their Web sites. The core of this functionality is an SQL 2000 database of listener information," Witt said.

Improvements for the online listeners include improved download times.

Below, Witt explains the function and type of the equipment installed on the server farm. The farm uses the Windows 2000 operating system.

Cache Server – This server improves the download times for end users. This is achieved as this server stores frequently accessed components such as GIFs or JPGs in memory so that they can be served to the end user more quickly than from a Web server.

Cache server hardware – Four Compaq Proliant DL360 servers, two Pentium III 1-GHz processors, 512 MB RAM and two 18.2GB drives, mirrored.

Web servers 1,2,3 and 4 – These servers will work as a cluster to serve Web pages to end-users. Each of these servers will contain identical content provided to them by the staging server. A hardware "switch" will use load balancing to direct traffic to the appropriate Web server.

Web Servers’ Hardware – Four Compaq Proliant DL360 Servers, two Pentium III 1-GHz processors, 512 MB RAM and two 18.2GB drives, mirrored.

SQL Server 1 and 2 – These servers contain all the databases for the system as well as the individual databases used by the individual station sites. SQL1 functions as the "live" server, while SQL2 acts as a mirrored copy that will be used as a "hot-swappable" backup.

Database Servers’ Hardware – Two Compaq Proliant 5500R servers, four Pentium III XEON 500-MHz processors with one GB RAM, five 18.2 GB 7200 RMP drives – two mirrored, three RAID "5" configuration.

Streaming File Server – This server is essentially a file server for storing audio files that can either be downloaded or streamed using Microsoft streaming server technology.

Streaming File Server Hardware – One Compaq Proliant DL360 server, two Pentium III 1-GHz processors, 512 MB RAM, two 18.2GB drives, mirrored.

"Admin" Server – This server will contain the Web pages that are necessary to run the administrative portion of the system. This server will also contain the reporting engines used to report against the data located on SQL2.

Admin Server Hardware – One Compaq Proliant DL360 server, two Pentium III 1-GHz processors, 512 MB RAM, two 18.2GB drives, mirrored.

Mass E-Mail Server – This server contains the group’s mass e-mail product and will have the capability to send mass e-mails to listeners in the database.

Mass E-Mail Server Hardware – One Compaq Proliant DL360 server, two Pentium III 1-GHz processors, 512 MB RAM and two 18.2GB drives, mirrored.

WebTrends Server – This server will run WebTrends Enterprise Edition for reporting on-site traffic for Web sites hosted on the server farm.

WebTrends Server Hardware – One Compaq Proliant DL360 server, two Pentium III 1-GHz processors, 512 MB RAM and two 18.2GB drives, mirrored.

Staging Web and Staging SQL Server

These machines will act as the "staging" environment where both the stations’ Webmasters and SusQTech will test content and code prior to moving it into production. Each Web site has either FrontPage or FTP access to the Staging Web server, as well as the ability to replicate content from staging to a "live" format.

Staging Servers’ Hardware – One Compaq Proliant DL360 server, two Pentium III 1-GHz processors, 512 MB RAM, two 18.2GB drives, mirrored.Dan Halyburton is senior vice president/general manager, group operations at Susquehanna Radio Corp. in Dallas. He began his radio career in 1970, as a production director and air personality at Mission Broadcasting’s WWOK(AM) in Miami.

Thirty years later, through similar jobs around the country, he now has responsibility for Susquehanna’s Internet radio operations, oversight of the company’s technical staff and oversees program directors group-wide.

Susquehanna has 29 stations with 21 brands – several of the stations carry simulcast content. All 21 brands have Web sites and stream their content online.

Unlike most broadcasters, Susquehanna was undeterred by the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists move last April that caused many broadcasters to pull their streams, at least for some time period.

The company engineered an in-house solution within hours of the news that AFTRA had warned advertisers that they would be charged triple rates for streamed commercials.

The fix allowed stations to slide music or promotion segments into the spots that featured AFTRA actors. The homemade ad-insertion solution worked well enough, but recently Susquehanna signed Yahoo Radio to provide ad-insertion services, which it found superior following a beta test at several of its stations. Yahoo Radio also is the company’s streaming service provider.

Susquehanna is committed to Internet radio. The company is launching a new server farm in York, Pa., that will house the infrastructure its stations need to stream and increase their e-commerce opportunities (see sidebar).

Halyburton spoke to Radio World reporter Lisa Osborn about Susquehanna’s Internet radio strategy and philosophy.

RW: Describe your organization’s overall philosophy regarding the Internet.

Halyburton: Our station Web sites are revenue and branding extensions of their local efforts. Our job is to obviously maximize the brand and maximize the revenues.

Fortunately, our efforts to update and manage the sites started a long time ago and our cost of entry was low because of that. They were easily integrated into the day-to-day activities of our radio stations. They haven’t cost very much and they’ve provided a lot of opportunity.

RW: How does your approach to the Net relate to your on-air philosophy – is it an extension of your radio product, or a separate venture entirely?

Halyburton: Very, very local in the approach to everything we do. It’s an extension (but) that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its own unique opportunities.

Those operations could be standalone. It’s really for the stations to decide what to do with their sites.

ecause we started so early, we didn’t pay a high cost of entry. We got very, very favorable deals on our streaming originally with Broadcast.com – we were their first broadcast customer. So the contract with Yahoo has continued. (Ed. Note: Yahoo acquired Broadcast.com’s assets when the company folded in early 2001.)

On the database side, Susquehanna has been in the database business since 1981, building unique lists of our listeners in our different markets. As a result of that we’ve amassed a significant number of these listeners into these databases at a very low cost.

We look at the Web department like promotions. Probably nobody could tell you how much the promotions department makes. But we know one thing: If we didn’t have promotions, it would cost us in the revenue department.

We know that promotions provide significant revenue opportunity; that’s exactly the way the Web was approached at our stations.

RW: It sounds like your databases are a valuable asset to your company.

Halyburton: At a time when all radio stations are cutting back, we now have all these e-mail databases so we can continue to stay in contact with our most important listeners and hopefully maintain their listening habits. That’s an ongoing benefit.

We sell advertising inside the e-mail, which we send out every week or two. We use the database in all sorts of ways with our ongoing sales efforts.

RW: What are the current obstacles to your organization meeting your goals? What are your biggest concerns?

Halyburton: Our goals are realistic in terms of what we expect out of our interactive efforts. Our core business is selling radio advertising.

Our efforts as a company have grown in a way that I call very organic. Our stations have grown organically with lots of leadership from the company.

We’ve spent the last couple years sorting through a lot of technology. There’s a shift in my company – what we’re really trying to figure out now is not so much the technology, but how will we make money. What are the new revenue opportunities?

And you have to balance your efforts with your core business and core customers.

The challenge of 2002 will be how to reach beyond our core customers and what will the opportunities be in the interactive areas.

Nobody’s questioned (the Internet’s) abilities to work for its advertisers. But when the dot-com thing went up so high and then took a dump, it raised questions about its credibility.

RW: Who staffs your Net operations?

Halyburton: Typical of a radio station, you have a lot of people wearing several hats. We try to provide certain group tools to help them get the job done. And we build tools we believe our stations need to do a better job (with their Web sites).

RW: Aside from your own, what companies or broadcasters do you think are doing the best job at succeeding with the Net in our business?

Halyburton: I think you’d have to say, "How do you define success?" There are elements of success here and there, but it’s hard to point to one company to say they’ve got it all knocked out.

You might define success as having really great sites … that attract listeners. There are others that provide great selling tools. I don’t think I know enough about anyone else’s selling operations to judge.

First Media Works has done a great job working with stations in offering strategic and tactical selling ideas.

RW: How successful are radio organizations at making money on the Web, in your view? Why?

Halyburton: "Fair." If you were to grade the industry, I’d give it a C or C-minus. But it’s not unlike how one would grade the industry on NTR (non-traditional revenue) overall. The industry as a whole hasn’t done too well, but there are a couple of bright spots.

RW: What impact do you think the Copyright Office Arbitration Panel decision will have on your business? How are you going to handle the new fees? Will you have to pay retroactively?

Halyburton: The streaming industry and streaming music on the Internet is very much in the infancy stages. We have to have a reasonable outcome that will allow the industry to grow. If there isn’t, it could damage the part of the business that’s already in stress.

Susquehanna is in a good place in that its agreements with its providers have us covered nicely.

It looks like we will have to pay something. But if the number is very big, radio stations will end up shutting their doors on their streaming products – especially when faced with the cost of bandwidth and the even more difficult AFTRA issues that came up last year.

All this is even further exacerbated by the state of the ad market today.

RW: What do you think has to happen to make the Internet profitable for radio? Is streaming ever going to be a part of a successful radio strategy?

Halyburton: It’s head-down-tough flogging through the mud … . It’s got to be stations continuing to say, "Here’s an opportunity. Now I have to get out there and know that there’s some money on the table somewhere. I can use these interactive assets to help my customers build their business."

You have to work smart at it and hard at it.

RW: Do you think "side channels" – or alternative, special purpose online stations – are a brand-builder or a brand-buster?

Halyburton: We think they’re brand-builders. We’ve had side channels for quite awhile – in San Francisco, Atlanta and a more user-definable side channel in Dallas for quite a while.

We conducted a test with Binary Broadcasting, they are no longer around ... . It works something like the Xact radio player – we like Xact and what that player can do. During the holidays, KRBE(FM) in Houston had a Christmas side channel, as KFOG(FM) in San Francisco.

KFOG was one of the earliest stations that we’ve had with a specialty feature called "10@10," 10 songs at 10 a.m. This is a feature that highlights music of all formats and culture from a particular year.

RW: Do you advertise or push your Web sites on air? Do you do contests, promotions? Can the Web help you to increase participation? Or is it a bust?

Halyburton: There’s a lot of focus on live announcements that send people to the Web site and give people a good reason to visit the site.

RW: Do you/did you stream professional sports? If so, how do the MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL deals affect your ability to deliver the games you broadcast to your online listeners?

Halyburton: Not really, there may be some college games here and there but we don’t have any professional sports that are streaming.

We did stream the San Francisco Giant games on KFOG.com until the 2001 season. (Ed. Note: Major League Baseball then launched its own online subscription-based service.)

RW: Do you think Net radio can be ad-based or is a subscription model one that you think could work?

Halyburton: It’s more ad-based. There may be some real niche specialty stuff that could be subscription-based.

I’m favorable on what AOL, Yahoo and Real Networks have done in trying to sell content. They’ve zeroed in on some of the most valuable things like professional and college sports.

It’s a great thing and it’s going to take the really big guys to do it.

RW: What do you think of Premiere’s efforts to charge a monthly subscription fee for some of its on-air content – Rush Limbaugh, Dr. Laura, etc.?

Halyburton: It’s interesting. Again, if you have Rush Limbaugh you could see that a highly popular host could attract paid subscribers.

Although there are a lot of stations you can get these hosts on, it’s probably going to be a small number of people they attract.

Having said that, I applaud their efforts – for putting value on the content. But the obstacle is going to be that the people like Rush Limbaugh are on a lot of radio stations. I think they’ll pick up some subscribers but it will be hard to charge for things like that.

RW: How do you get around the AFTRA commercial demands? Do you use ad insertion? Whose? Or did you devise your own system?

Halyburton: We’ve beta tested Yahoo’s ad insertion. Many of the Susquehanna stations are rolling out and will be rolling out the Yahoo ad-insertion technology.

Right now we block the whole stopset. Some stations have insertion capabilities at the local level and can put in spots. Most of the stations are just blocking the entire stopset.

RW: Who is your streaming partner?

Halyburton: Yahoo, and we’re talking to them about renewing our contract.

RW: What will be the relationship among FM radio, satellite radio and Internet radio in five years? In 30 years? Will Net radio overtake traditional radio?

Halyburton: These technologies will find their place as all other technologies have. I don’t think one supplants the other or will put them out of business, just like FM didn’t put AM out of business.

And there will be more new technologies coming along, too.

As for satellite radio, the reception of the satellite broadcast (rollout) was good – but the quality isn’t as clear as what we’ve been hearing about. It did not sound as technically pleasing as we thought it would be.

RW: How do you cope with high bandwidth costs? Is there a way to save on these costs?

Halyburton: That hasn’t been an issue for us because of our relationships. There are some peer-to-peer technologies coming out that are streaming radio simulcasts. That looks interesting.

The questions is, can the streaming companies make a living long enough to survive all this?

RW: Do you stream in Windows or Real formats or both?

Halyburton: Yahoo supports both.

RW: How do you sell your Web site? Do you have your salespeople offer it with the terra radio, or do you have a separate Net radio sales team?

Halyburton: We do some of everything – we’ve given away some, but we’ve also sold and established a clear value for the Internet and streaming.

We’re figuring it out as we go. A couple of our stations have dedicated sellers but most of them it’s just an integrated selling effort with traditional sales. And Arbitron is to be commended for their research. It’s helped our stations a lot to sell advertisers.

RW: Describe the technical facilities that you use regarding the Web. How is your programming created, by whom, where, with what equipment?

Halyburton: The content is created at the local level. There’s a central server farm that’s being rolled out in York, Pa. (see sidebar). All the sites will operate on those servers. This is a team effort between Susquehanna Media IT group and our sister companies BlazeNet and Susquehanna Technologies.

RW: What brand of encoder do you have? How much money did you have to invest to begin to stream?

Halyburton: When it comes to streaming, Yahoo handles that. There’s a Yahoo encoder at each of our stations that streams. It’s included as part of the deal. Our database and Web site servers are in York.

I can’t say exactly how much money we’re spending, but it’s enough to get the job done right – nothing more.

RW: Do you have other content-provider or technology partners?

Halyburton: We bought a company called BlazeNet, which provides Web connectivity. We also purchased Judds Online, which is now called Susquehanna Technologies.

This firm builds Web sites and databases for companies. They’ve done Web sites for Martha Stewart, Reba McEntire, Maryland Public Television and the United States Air Force – some pretty high-profile sites.

ST is also converting our databases into Web-based, state-of-the-art databases. Parts of that are rolling out now and will roll out aggressively through the first quarter of 2002.

It will also provide more tools and different technologies to all the stations. This has been a very valuable relationship.

We were also investors in RadioWave (a streaming and interactive services provider). They hung in for a long time and did a good job compared to a lot of other folks. When they went away, we didn’t see any significant impact on our company.

We lost some Web interactivity that had been there before and we’re working on how we might replace some of that.

Related

Bring Back Sanity to Streaming

Radio World Editor Paul McLane wrote in the May 9 issue about stations pulling their Internet streams. He wrote, "The hasty action by radio groups that yanked their streamed programming recently strikes me as short-sighted."