Your Guide to Radio Streaming Services
Are you setting up a radio station for the first time? Or have you been broadcasting online for a while?
Wonderful! This guide will teach you the ins and outs of radio streaming services.
You’ll see the full path audio takes from your studio to the listener’s computer, smart speaker, or phone.
By the end, you’ll have the know-how to select the best stream hosting service.
Let’s get to it:
What is radio hosting and how does it work?
Radio hosting is a service that will allow you to broadcast audio on the internet.
And a radio streaming provider is an organization that provides the services and technologies needed by the radio to be listened to on the internet.
Web radios are hosted on computers called servers.
If someone wants to listen to your radio, all they need is to type in your radio station’s Public Stream URL in their web browser.
The listener’s browser will then connect to your server.
In case you’re hosting your radio on a Shoutcast server, the listener might see a page similar to this:
The listener can play your stream using the player.
And where does the radio server get music to play?
“From your studio.”
Think of a radio server like an FM transmitter station sitting on a hill. Audio travels from the studio to the transmitter (server) to the listener.
In the studio, you might have microphones, computers, CD players and other inputs hooked up to a mixer.
The mixer then sends the audio to a streaming computer or device.
On the streaming computer, you will have an encoder program running.
An example of an encoder is BUTT:
When you create your radio server with your host, you'll get a server address and password.
E.g., the address could be 10135.cloudrad.io.
You will input this server address into the encoder as shown here.
BUTT will then capture sound from your computer, encode it, and send it to your server.
Encoding simply means converting audio into a particular format or codec at a specified bitrate.
For instance, you can configure BUTT to encode all the audio it captures to Mp3 format at a bitrate of 128 Kbps.
Features you should expect from radio streaming services
Next, I’ll tell you about some of the basic features you will need to broadcast online.
But first, let me introduce you to John, who wants to create a web radio station that will play music by underground artists from his city.
He has installed BUTT, and a free radio broadcasting software to handle the playback.
He plans to the same computer for his classwork. So he hopes that there is a way he can broadcast without keeping his computer on….
So what services could Darwin need from an Icecast, Shoutcast or Steamcast radio host?
A radio server consists of the radio server software and the physical hardware (computer) located in a data center.
Servers require high expertise to manage, connection to specialized high-speed networks, and the hosting provider has to pay to maintain them.
Remember, when a listener wants to listen to your radio, the information has to pass from your server to the streaming provider, then through some other networks, via several internet exchange points.
So, it’s important to have your server near your target market, which will minimize the number of “hops.”
While server proximity is essential, the hosting provider needs to have servers running on good hardware and networks.
At CloudRadio, we have deployed servers to strategic locations around the world, for instance, Singapore suited for listeners in Asia, Sydney suited for listeners in Australia, and you can see more locations here.
Our distributed server network helps eliminate latency issues.
We have thrown a new term here, “latency.”
Okay, what’s latency?
You might have encountered a frustrating delay when you request a website, and it takes several seconds for it to display.
Latency refers to the amount of time it takes for a request to travel to the server and information back to you.
For instance, if you're streaming from a radio server in Asia, and you're in North America, packets of information have to travel to and from your location to the server location.
It may take more time for information to make the round trip to Asia compared to streaming from a radio server located in North America.
High latency will cause buffering in a radio stream. When your radio player buffers, it stops playing audio, as it waits to receive enough audio to resume playback.
Radio Server Software
Without a radio server software, the server computer will not know what to do…
Some radio hosting providers have developed their proprietary streaming technology.
However, most hosts, including us, offer one of the following popular media server software:
- 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 – Developed to have the capabilities of both Icecast and Shoutcast. Though, it’s not as popular as the latter two.
So, which one should you choose?
Check out our comparison of Shoutcast, Icecast, and Steamcast.
Remember John; his need to broadcast music without keeping his computer on…
Some radio streaming services allow you to create Auto DJ servers.
An Auto DJ is a program deployed on a server that allows the user to upload music, create playlists, schedule items, and play them back.
So John can host live shows from his studio, and have the Auto DJ play music autonomously when he is using his computer for school.
We have an awesome Auto DJ that's really simple to use.
You can learn more about it here.
You will need a way to manage your Shoutcast, Icecast or Steamcast server.
Some hosting providers have their in-house stream management console.
Other radio streaming services may use open source or commercial control panels made by other companies such as Centovacast, Sourcefabric Airtime, Ever Cast, among others.
With many years of radio hosting experience, we saw it fit to create a console that’s intuitive, easy to learn, and equipped with all the features you’d need as an online broadcaster.
Some of features you'll find in our console include:
- Radio Player
You’ll need a radio player for your website. That way, web visitors can listen to your radio.
Our radio player is built on HTML 5, which makes it compatible across all browsers and devices.
It pulls and displays album art to match the song you’re playing.
Since you don’t have to set the art manually, you'll save time and make your radio website more professional.
In addition, it’s HTTPS enabled, and you can embed it on an SSL secure website.
- Advanced statistics
You’ll need advanced statistics to understand your audience and how you’re radio is fairing on the web.
Statistics include Total Listen Hours, Listeners for the Hour and more.
You’ll find these statistics in the control panel.
And on our platform, you get to see the number of current listeners in a world map, and the cities they are listening from.
Radio streams encounter several problems from time to time.
For instance, your encoder may have trouble encoding and sending information to the server.
Broadcasting dead air is every broadcaster's nightmare.
So it’s vital to get monitoring for your radio stream.
While you may monitor sound in your studio with your headsets or monitoring speakers, chances are, you’re not listening to your radio stream throughout.
Some hosting providers may charge you for this service. But we give you free radio monitoring whether you host your radio with us or not.
Here’s where things get interesting!
Your car needs gasoline to run. But your web radio needs bandwidth.
And once you get a hang on how it works, you will be set to choose a radio hosting platform with confidence.
Now, think of a pipe. This virtual pipe is connected to the internet. Instead of water, see packets of data flowing both ways.
If you have a big pipe, more data can pass through at any given time.
If you have a super fast internet connection, your pipe (bandwidth) is also big.
Bandwidth is the speed at which data can be transmitted along a digital stream.
Now...bandwidth in radio hosting
If you host your radio with a third-party streaming service, bandwidth takes on a different meaning.
It refers to the amount of data that listeners will collectively use in a given duration, say one month.
For every second the listener spends on your stream they are using bandwidth.
To get a clear picture, if a listener listens to your stream that’s broadcasting at 128 Kbps for one hour, they will use about 56 Mb of data.
Let's see an example of a hosting plan:
1 TB plan (1024 GB)
X monthly fee
Fancy some mathematics?
Suppose you're streaming at 128 Kbps, and a listener listens for one hour using 56 Mb of data.
So if we divide 1,024,000 Mb by 56 Mb, we get roughly 18,000 hours.
18,000 listen hours can translate to 1000 people listening to your radio for 18 hours each in a given month.
On a limited bandwidth plan, you might constantly worry about your data running out.
Luckily, you can get unlimited bandwidth at CloudRadio.
A little something about radio directories
We have talked about having a radio player on your website so that people can tune in as they view your radio’s website pages.
However, there are other ways people use to listen to online radios stations.
Radio directories are popularly used to discover online radio streams.
Basically, a directory shares your radio’s stream URL to their web visitors, who can play your radio using the directory’s web player or through media player listen links.
Some directories even have mobile apps.
An example of a popular directory is StationZilla, where you can find & listen to thousands of radio stations.
Once you have a radio up and running on the web, get on many directories as you can to increase your exposure.
Need Help with Your Hosting
It's quite easy to broadcast on the web.
On our platform, you’ll get all the support you need.
So, get in touch with us for the best radio streaming services.
We’re here to help.