indie radio.

The History of RadioXY

The seeds were planted by the early 90's. I was addicted to radio, and dreamed of starting my own station. At the time (pre-Internet era for me:), I knew nothing of broadcasting on FM. But what kind of transmitters can anyone find? Yep, CB. But did I go to Radio Shack and get some cheapo transmitter off the shelf? Hell no! I went to some guy in the burbs who had mile-high grass growing in his yard - and a zillion wierd antennae sticking out from his roof! Walking into his house, I found radio equipment everywhere, stacked up on the floor. You had to walk between it all to get from room to room. He took me to his main room, where he had a 15-foot workbench with a permanent control board mounted to it. He let me play with his equipment for a bit, broadcasting on the shortwave bands. Cool to try, but chatting is not really my thing.

At last, we make the deal. Something like $100 gets me a 100-watt CB console. Note: the legal maximum is (was) 1 watt... He, uh, had this one tuned up. :) I make a stop at Radio Shack and pick up a 6-foot whip antenna. I get my Dad to help me mount it on the roof. It sticks out like crazy in our quite suburban neighbourhood... hehe. My friend goes and gets a smaller CB unit so he can listen to my broadcasts.

I went on the air for the first time, with a 2-hour Top 40 program that evening. I did regular twice-weekly 2-hour programs for a while, til finally calling it quits when we sold the house and I had to take down the antenna. The year was 1990.

The year is now 1995. After 2 full years of utter void in Vancouver, without a modern rock station on FM, the birth of Internet radio is taking place. The first two alternative stations come on the air - 91.1 KLSU Baton Rouge and 94.5 KDGE Dallas. KLSU was really great, unfortunately their broadcast was provided by soley for the college sports - and soon we lost the KLSU broadcast forever. They still don't have it back!

KLSU and KDGE were the first modern rock stations on the net, but they weren't the first listenable stations. 89.3 KUGS Bellingham was the very first (along with some station back east). They played, (and continue to play) a great college rock format. Definately the best college rock station I've ever heard. I was lucky enough to be able to pick them up on FM at the time, too! On the Internet, this was just before the era of Real Audio ... they used CU See Me to broadcast!! It was so revolutionary.... listening to music on your computer! Damn! And since they were using videoconferencing software, they had a video component too (even back then), so they showed a live view of their fishtank. In 1995, this was jaw dropping!

The other pioneer that year was Radio HK... another gonner. They played cool independant music. (There was no major label music of any kind on the net yet!) I forget which technology they used - it wasn't Realaudio. Something like Internet Wave or XING Streamworks. Or... maybe not. Don't remember. Who cares. My point is that internet radio was starting to take off, and I was very interested indeed in this new medium. A few years earlier, I had dreamed that someday I could have a computer store 1000 songs and auto-DJ from them for personal use. Now, the compression technologies offered by these new startups (particularly RealAudio) made this possibility a reality! And, even better the Internet could be used to share this music with a worldwide audience. And all without having to mess with big ugly transmitters, the FCC (or CRTC), etc.

My first internet station went on the air with a 14.4 Realaudio 1.0 stream. Boy, the quality was crappy. But people listened anyway, heh. It's amazing what a little conditioning does to you. :) My goal on Chaos Radio in 1995 was to promote local and other cool indie music, alongside well-known major-label hits. I made a 45 minute on-demand program consisting of about half current FM alternative hits and half indie rock. It was cool.

I had the Realaudio server running on my machine. It was simple to add more stations, so I stuck a top 40/modern station on there too, and called it The Globe. I also recorded some local radio shows and put them on the web site too. This was all on-demand, but quite revolutionary for the time. I considered expanding formats beyond my own preferences, and creating in effect an entire radio dial of music (including adult contemporary, etc). I never got around to it. A year later, NetRadio and The DJ (later renamed Spinner) come on the air, stealing my idea. ;)

Around this time I purchase my first FM transmitter kit. Not the Ramsey FM-10A, but one with similar specs. I painstakingly assembled about half of it (having never used a soldering iron before, I probably burned out some of the capictors :). I never completed this project.

In the next couple of years, I sporadically ran some live streams, and sometimes simulcasted our local eclectic college station (CiTR). Mid 1997 comes, and I am forced to move out of res, and leave my direct connection behind. Down goes my web site. Goodbye streaming audio. This was still a little before DSL and Cable modems came out.

I spend much of 1998 (indeed, much time when I was supposed to be working :) trying to figure out a way to run a Real Audio station live with a 33.6 dialup connection at home and a firewall at work. I never got anything going, but I did stick some on-demand files up on Geocities. I even did a single video show, Chaos TV, with my new cam. :)

1999. Shoutcast bursts onto the scene, with MP3 streaming. I scoff at the low-bandwidth streams, and note that they cut out a lot even on high-speed connections. (?) I just moved into my new Vancouver apartment, and have a fresh ADSL connection. My plan is to set up a Realvideo station, showing the view out my 19th floor window while I play the radio station in the background. For usual procrastination reasons, this never gets done... Also the problem of my needing the soundcard to use for other purposes (including encoding the songs in the first place) kind of gets in the way... Another deterant was the $850 required just say hello (BMI,ASCAP,SEASAC). :-( On top of that, RIAA would not disclose their fee, which could be anything, and once you start broadcasting you'd be required to retroactively pay them whatever fee they come up with. What if they decided $10,000 was fair?? Clearly, it was not worth the risk for the hobby netcaster.

In the early fall of 1999, I purchase my first full-blown FM transmitter (see my FM page for more about it), but suffice to say it came pre-assembled. :-> I also got a genuine SOCAN license for FM broadcasting in Canada. I began broadcasting 24/7 on FM. At first I piped the output straight from Mini-Disc, always careful to have the radio program going. Then I slacked, and finally ended up just pumping the output from my PC through the transmitter. At first, I was broadcasting my own mixes, except when I was using the computer, but eventually I just ended up simulcasting cool Internet stations like 97X.

By late 1999, Live365 and myplay began offering an incredible, first of its kind, deal: they will pay the license fees for you! About time somebody thought of this. And what's more, you can use their bandwidth to broadcast! Great! Now I just needed $1000 for that dedicated computer to encode my stream 24/7. I was prepared to do this, but wanted to wait until I got a job (heh). Aha, but Live365 offers a mechanism where you can upload files and they simulate the live stream for you, much the way rvslta, g2slta, and shout work. Great!! This put me in the shoutcast directory.

Then, at last I went out and got a second, dedicated computer system for my station. It was to house both the web server and the live audio encoder. I got a bottom-of-the-line computer brand new, which was more than enough for my needs (Celeron 366 w/ 32M). It only cost $600 (CDN)!

This is how Radio XY operates today. The mp3 and ra files are copied over to my server machine, which encodes them live. The stream is bounced off the Live 365 server, to make it legal (so that they have to pay the fees).

And as for my FM broadcast, it's alive and well. Now that I have a dedicated server, I pipe the output from that computer straight into my FM transmitter. So now I have a live, full time, FM and internet radio station. It's a fair amount of work to keep up, but it's worth it if you're enjoying what you hear, and maybe discovered a new band or two. :-)

(This part is a little out of date. And things are about to change again. But for the worse, I'm afraid. Stay tuned...)

--Over 6 years out of date... an update is coming soon! :D                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

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