WXYC 89.3 FM
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
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Date: Wed, 2 Nov 1994 02:10:21 -0500
From: Michael Shoffner <email@example.com>
The Golden Days of (Internet) Radio
The Internet isn't just for email anymore. This statement is becoming increasingly true as the technology involved progresses and more resources are devoted to developing Net-based end-user applications. The Internet is ideal for wide-area transport of all sorts of data, especially when these data originate at a central source (server) and are distributed to many users (clients) on demand.
In this light, it makes sense that a radio station would be a natural candidate for Internet simulcast, much as many stations already rebroadcast over more conventional media such as cable systems and the like. To begin broadcasting, a given station would simply digitize its real-time broadcast signal and make that available on the Internet by means of a piece of software known as a "reflector." The only things required of a prospective listener anywhere in the world would be a computer, the proper sound-enabling hardware for that computer, software designed to connect to the reflector, and an Internet connection.
Recognition of the above truths and their implications led to a collaborative project between UNC's student radio-station, WXYC, and UNC's SunSITE. The goal of this project is to rebroadcast WXYC on Internet 24-hours-a-day via SunSITE. This project is still in its testing phase, although WXYC has actually already been up more than once for varying periods of time, so we know that underlying process works. What follows is a brief overview of some of the issues involved in setting up the first, as far as we know, standard-format 24-hour real-time Internet radio rebroadcast in the world.
The technology involved in setting up the real-time broadcast is simple. On the server side, a machine runs the reflector software, which is a type of server daemon. The reflector machine must be on the Internet, preferably on a high-speed line such as a T1. The reflector is fed the digitized real-time broadcast from an analog-to-digital converter. In this case, we are using a MacIntosh to generate the feed to the reflector. The Mac ideally gets its signal directly off of the station mixing board in the control room, but in our case we are using a $2 yard sale radio that belongs to my sister. You do what you have to when you're on a budget.
The client side is even simpler. To connect, the prospective listener needs access to a MacIntosh on the Internet. (S)he then downloads the CU-SeeME software free of charge from sunsite.unc.edu via anonymous FTP, sets the reflector to the appropriate IP address, and runs it. Music of varying sound quality emanates from the Mac, as if by magic, straight from the control room of the much-acclaimed WXYC. The sound quality at this time is unfortunately quite low (mono at best), but as the technology and our resources develop, the sound quality will improve accordingly.
Legalities and the Phalanx of Attorneys
The most interesting aspect of the WXYC rebroadcast, and the one that will be remembered when the smoke clears, is the legal issue. Since WXYC broadcasts copyrighted material, we have ASCAP/BMI licenses. ASCAP and BMI are the two copyright clearinghouses in the United States; their function is to calculate, collect, and distribute royalties generated by the use of copyrighted musical works. ASCAP and BMI levy yearly licensing fees on behalf of the individual musical artist (or copyright owner when different from the artist), whom they then pay based on an estimation of the total amount of airplay and public performance that the artist's work has received.
As soon as it became apparent that the technology was at least theoretically at the ready and at our disposal, the key issue became whether or not WXYC and SunSITE could legally rebroadcast copyrighted music. At this juncture, Jay Huber and Jeff Robins, along with a smattering of other attorneys associated with the station, hit law libraries and the offices of area copyright attorneys with a vengeance. What they found from examining Federal copyright law is that WXYC and SunSITE are well within the law in implementing Internet rebroadcasting. The details of this research would fill another article (and probably will very soon), but suffice it to say that the law in this case indicates that a rebroadcaster is not required to deal with the copyright issues at all, and is in fact considered a transparent extension of the primary broadcaster in terms of royalty assessment. What this means is that as long as WXYC pays the proper royalties, everything is A-OK. And we do.
The Blow-By-Blow In Painful Detail
The actual process of getting all of this together was an exercise in patience and hard work on the part of a lot of people from both organizations. We happened upon the idea because I was asking David McConville of SunSITE if it would be possible to get our real-time broadcast as a point-and-click feature on our web page. He proceeded to tell me about Carl Malamud's Internet Multicasting Service and the plans to rebroadcast his talk radio over M-BONE, a high-quality virtual network that runs over Internet. He then suggested that we try something similar. I indicated that I would get to work on it. We both were unsure of the legal issues and the exact way in which the technology would shape up, although we expected much less trouble from the latter.
David and I did some informal legal research. I presented our case to Jame, Nate, and Tim, upper-level station Management. Jame, station Manager, insisted on more proof on the legal issues. I then approached Jay and Jeff for help on the legal end. They both did loads of work, and Pretty Darn Quick at that, to demonstrate that we were in the clear. The High-Ups gave me the green light. I gave the go-codes to SunSITE.
Then the problems began. In order to get some necessary reflector features, we needed the source code for the latest version. We got the code and Chris, a SunSITE system administrator, got to work on fixing bugs and compiling the source under Solaris. However, this turned out to be a MAJOR undertaking. Finally, a newer version came out with some bug fixes. By this time we had gotten John, another SunSITE sysadmin, in on the process and he put the finishing touches on the whole thing.
Paul Jones, the Head Honcho of SunSITE, gave the final approval on the process after doing some preliminary testing and talking to the UNC Network Gods. So now (Nov. 1) David is ironing out some configuration issues and some final network testing. Hopefully we are only a short stretch from the finish line. We're keeping our fingers crossed.
Refer to WXYC's web page (URL = http://sunsite.unc.edu/wxyc/ ) for up-to-the-minute details on how to connect, as well as other fascinating junk.
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