Making Internet radio local

Decisionmark, Capitol hit the road to keep stations streaming on the Web

This week, Decisionmark President and CEO Jack Perry is beginning a road show that he hopes will do for Internet audio streaming what he did for direct-to-home satellite four years ago: solve a problem. Air-to-Web, a new service from Decisionmark, is designed to give radio stations a local presence on the Internet—and only a local presence.

"This is an opportunity to bring radio broadcasters to the Web in a viable way as opposed to just taking signals and making them available on a global basis," says Perry. "If we bring back radio to the Internet and give it a localness, we think the recording industry will embrace that."

Perry won't be alone on the road. Sam Matheny, vice president and general manager of Capitol Broadcasting's DTVPlus, will represent WRAL(FM) Raleigh, N.C., which is pilot-testing the system.

"We have to trust what the recording industry has said up to this point," says Matheny. "And what they've said is they need a Webcasting system that is not just wide open to the world."

Matheny says his goal is to convince the industry that this product will allow stations like WRAL to reach their own market via the Internet. "We don't think we're pulling a large audience from outside markets so we'd like to be able to service our local market."

Nearly all commercial radio stations have fallen silent on the Internet—literally. Royalties set up under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act requiring payments of 0.07 cents per song per listener would result in fees higher than typical fees paid to songwriters and publishers.

The Air-to-Web technology essentially works by taking a potential listener's street address and then searching the skies to generate a list of the broadcast stations (both TV and radio) that can be received with an antenna. When a potential listener tries to access a station's Web site, the system asks for his or her street address, determines its latitude and longitude, and calculates the exact dBu for each station that can be received there. After validating the address as within the station's service area, the system e-mails the listener an ID that is then used to access the stream.

WRAL built the frontend scripts and Web pages through which the listener sends information to the backend server system that does the validation. "From the testing we've done here," Matheny says, "it's a matter of seconds before verification is complete."

He believes everyone agrees that local radio stations have a valuable relationship with the recording industry. "We're not trying to do anything but serve our local markets like we always have, and we hope there is no objection to doing that."