Web Streaming: From Good to Great

Dear Christian Radio,

Like those who have been in the broadcasting industry a long time, I can remember back to when web streaming your radio station started to become popular.  Now the year is 2016 and there have been incredible improvements to web streaming that propel the listener experience to one that can be better than your terrestrial over the air signal. Let’s explore a few practical examples of how this can be accomplished—dealing with technology isn’t always easy, but easy never changed the world.

Think about it, we can listen to our favorite radio stations on a computer–how cool is that! It’s been many years since broadcasters first realized that their listeners were going to digital platforms like web streaming to listen to their favorite radio stations.  Fast forward to today, and you’ll discover that web streaming technology has improved greatly.  So, have you re-evaluated your web streaming…have you been making improvements along the way?  If you haven’t, you’re being left behind.

In the beginning, the most common approach to web streaming was to dedicate an off-the-shelf computer—probably the junkiest one at your station—and add an inexpensive sound card with an 1/8” input along with software that encoded your web stream at a whopping 16-32kbps MP3…a true masterpiece.  If that’s what you are still relying on today, we suggest making some improvements.

To maximize the web streaming experience for your listeners, consider the following:

  • Improve the audio going to your stream – Are you providing the best quality audio going to your web streaming encoder software/hardware?  Bringing audio from a clean feed on the console, an output of a distribution amplifier, or a processed output from your broadcast console can dramatically improve the audio quality.
  • Add or replace your audio encoder – Your audio encoder itself is the software or hardware that digitizes your station audio for distribution.  This can be software on a computer or an all-in-one hardware solution.  Both are valid approaches if done properly.  Examples of software encoders include: Altacast (formally Edcast); examples of hardware encoders include: Barix Instreamer/Extreamers and the Telos Zipstream.

     †  Use a professional sound card if you’re using a computer with a software encoder.  These are the sound cards sold by broadcasting supply companies from such names as M-audio, Digigram, Audioscience, & Lynx to name a few. The sound card should have a balanced +4db input, which means that it is a broadcast-quality, not consumer quality, sound card.  If you have a hardware encoder, the manufacturer of this device has already built in a high quality sound card for you.

     †  Ensure you have processed audio going out to your listener.  The same leveling and sound enhancement you’re providing your listeners on a terrestrial signal can be replicated on a digital platform for your web stream. There is standalone software such as Claesson Edward’s Breakaway and the Omnia OmniaSST. Likewise, the Orban Optimod-PC 1101e combines a broadcast-quality sound card and processing software together.

     †  Encode and distribute your audio with a high-quality codec. High Efficiency AAC (HE-AACv2 or AAC+) has become the defacto standard for providing good, high-quality audio while being efficient on the bandwidth limitations of your customers’ listening devices.  Consider broadcasting at a bandwidth level of 64kbps or higher to guarantee the best listener experience.

     †  Encode artist, title and album art information alongside your audio.  In today’s user-centric world, your listener wants a graphical experience, too.  Now, it is easier than ever to provide all of this information through your web stream player. Your broadcast automation company and streaming company can help you make this happen.

  • Implement these practical steps – It’s your responsibility to ensure the listener’s experience is the best it can be.  While technology can certainly improve the experience, it’s up to you to stay involved and aware of what your listeners hears.

     †  Perform a walkthrough of your listener experience each day.  Certainly, you check your terrestrial signal each morning and throughout the day.  Do the same with your web stream.

     †  Consider investing in monitoring equipment for your web stream.  There are hardware solutions such as the Inovonics 610, Inovonics Simon, or Broadcast Tools Streaming Sentinel 4 that will monitor your web stream and notify you of an outage.

Will you make the hard decision to take these steps to implement improvements to your listener’s experience by upgrading your web stream?  If you do, they will pay off for your radio station by providing a better product to your end-users.  Web streaming is easy, but doing it well is hard.

Dear Christian Radio –

  1. Take the first step and perform a “walk through” of your station’s web stream experience.  Ask yourself, “Does it meet or surpass the experience our listeners have on our terrestrial signal?”
  2. Do the hard things and invest in a high-quality web stream experience for your listeners.



David Hodges
Director of Engineering
Positive Alternative Radio

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