Are you setting up an online radio station? Need tips on how to find a radio streaming service?
Today, we'll teach you the ins and outs of radio streaming services.
- See the full path audio takes from your studio to the listener’s device
- Know how radio streaming services work
- Acquire the know-how to select the best stream hosting service
Let’s get started.
What is radio hosting?
Radio hosting is a service that provides radio broadcasters with online streaming servers.
The streaming server acts as an intermediary between your listeners and broadcast source, e.g., a studio computer.
The radio hosting platform may also provide additional services and technologies such as web stream players that facilitate online radio listening.
How does the streaming radio server receive content to broadcast?
There are several sources for audio content, including:
- Rebroadcasting an external webstream
- A cloud-based radio automation software
- Integrated web-based Auto DJ
- Physical radio studio
To understand this better...
For an FM station, the FM transmitter that's sitting on a hill or mounted on a mast transmits FM signals after receiving the audio signal from the studio through cables.
With internet radio stations, the audio stream travels through the internet to the streaming server for distribution (as illustrated by the schema above).
Services Provided by Online Radio Hosts
Well, let's go over the services, tools, and resources that the radio host should provide.
You can use these factors to analyze hosting services.
1. Radio Server - For Stream Distribution
Radio streaming services host radio servers for their clients at data centers. They have to sign up for dedicated servers and install custom software to manage & allocate resources to the hosted radios.
If you're familiar with web hosting, it's a similar process. The radio host acquires network resources in bulk and distributes them to clients.
As a client, it's paramount to choose a radio host with access to a fast network.
The host should provide servers located near your target listeners.
Data packets on the internet travel through hardware and cables. They have to hop between routers, servers, and exchange points.
Reducing the distance and number of “hops”) results in a faster connection. Additionally, the radio host should be using modern servers equipped with fast SSD drives and ultrafast processors.
At CloudRadio, we deploy servers to strategic locations. We choose the best hardware and data centers that provide premium bandwidth with good peering and low latency.
Have you ever experienced a delay when loading a website? Did you wonder why it took so long, yet you were using a fast connection.
Well, you had a brush with latency. It's the time delay experienced in sending requests to and receiving responses from the server.
High-latency results in buffering radio streams. Buffering players halt playback to receive enough data.
In the age of fast internet, buffering issues may cause you to lose listeners.
2. Radio Server Software - e.g. Icecast or Shoutcast
Without an operating system, your computer would be useless.
The server can't operate without a radio server software. Most radio streaming providers give customers access to these server-side streaming programs:
- Icecast – It’s a free software managed by the Xiph open source community and distributed under the General Public License.
- Shoutcast – It’s a proprietary software originally developed by Nullsoft.
- Steamcast – It was developed to have the capabilities of Icecast and Shoutcast. Though, it’s not as popular as the latter two.
Some radio hosting providers have proprietary streaming technology.
The battle between Icecast and Shoutcast...
Which server-side program is better?
Well, all the popular options perform their functions really well with minor deviations between them.
At CloudRadio, we have offered all alternatives for a number of years now. But with recent changes, we're now recommending Icecast for its stability, open-source status, and awesome features.
Check out our comparison of Shoutcast, Icecast, and Steamcast.
In the image above, you can see the panel users see when tuning in to your station if you're using a Shoutcast server.
3. Auto DJ - For Broadcast Automation
Do you want to broadcast music without a physical broadcast source like a studio?
Radio streaming services like CloudrRadio provide access to online Auto DJ platforms. You can access auto dj functionality through the user control panel provided by your streaming host.
Think of the Auto DJ as a program deployed on the broadcast server. It can store uploaded music tracks.
Advanced features may be available such as the capability to create and schedule playlists.
Random play is usually enabled by default, which allows the system to play upload files randomly.
The auto DJ system can also allow broadcasters to stream audio from their studios.
It can step in and play uploaded media when the broadcast source is unexpectedly disconnected. It ensures that your station never goes offline during power outages, system upgrades, etc. We have a new auto DJ. Learn about its features.
4. Console or Control Panel - To Manage Radio Server
The console provides an avenue to manage your Shoutcast, Icecast, or Steamcast server.
There are various options when it comes to control panels, for instance, the leading industry control panel is the Centova Cast that's used across radio streaming services.
Other options include Sourcefabric Airtime, Ever Cast, etc.
Does CloudRadio use Cento Vast or comparable management consoles? No, we have developed a simpler and more intuitive control panel for our users.
It's borne out of our many years of radio hosting experience. It's easy to learn with all the features needed as an online broadcaster.
5. Radio Player - For Listeners to Tune In
Most radio streaming services also provide a stream radio player.
It's embedded on your website, providing a way for web listeners to easily tune-in.
Our radio player is built on HTML 5, making it compatible across all browsers and devices.
Users receive a player that pulls and displays the appropriate album art for current song. Our player does this automatically without the need for manual updates.
It's popular with broadcasters! They love it because it makes their websites more professional and adds to the enjoyment of the listener.
The player is HTTPS enabled and works with later versions of Google Chrome. It doesn't trigger security alters on SSL secure websites.
It's also essential for the radio streaming service to provide advanced statistics.
For instance, want to know how many people are currently listening? Stats should reveal the number of listeners, Total Listen Hours, Listeners for the Hour, and more.
These statistics are displayed in the control panel.
On our platform, you can even see the location of listeners on a dynamic world map.
6. Stream Monitoring - For Detecting Streaming Issues
Radio streams are plagued by several problems from time-to-time. The encoder may keep disconnecting from the streaming server, creating buffering issues.
The playout system may abruptly stop playing audio causing dead air, which is every broadcaster's nightmare.
The data center that hosts your radio server may have network issues.
Therefore, ensure that the radio streaming service provides monitoring.
While you may monitor the audio using headsets or monitoring speakers, chances are, you’re not listening to your radio stream throughout.
Streaming monitoring may be a paid add-on. Fortunately, at CloudRadio, users access free radio monitoring.
7. Bandwidth - Data Used During Streaming
Things get interesting when we examine how radio streaming services allocate bandwidth!
Your car needs gasoline to run. Gasoline is a finite resource. Similarly, radio servers need to be connected to the internet to send and receive data.
If a radio streaming service hosts its users on dedicated servers with limited bandwidth, they will restrict the data radio stations hosted on their platform can use.
It's better to host your radio on a hosting platform that provides unlimited bandwidth such as CloudRadio.
What happens if you host your station on a platform with limited bandwidth?
Let's say you encounter a radio hosting plan with the following features: | Listeners | Unlimited | |--|--| | Streaming quality| 128 Kbps | | Bandwidth | 1 TB plan (1024 GB) | | Listening hours| ~20,000 hours | |Price | X monthly fee|
Let's do some quick math...
One listener will use 56 MB of data to listen to a stream broadcasting at 128 Kbps for one hour.
The listensing hours can be derived by dividing 1,024,000 Mb by 56 Mb, translating about 18,000 hours.
It means that 1000 people can listen to your radio for 18 hours in total before you exhaust your bandwidth.
Broadcasters on limited bandwidth plans constantly worry about exceeding their limits. They have to pay for the extra usage.
We've covered all the things that you should consider when selecting a radio hosting platform. To recap, they include:
- Access to the Auto DJ
- Free radio monitoring
- Radio player (HTML5 with album art)
- Streaming technology used, preferably Icecast
- Control panel - Look for features and ease of use
- Radio server and network - check if they provide multiple locations
- Bandwidth - It should be unlimited and premium
Start your internet radio with us
We offer an excellent hosting option with a fully customizable price. Get started easily.