Clear Channel to exit satellite delivery of programming

Radio World is the industry trade publication for radio, mostly read by radio engineers and station owners and managers. They report that Clear Channel is shutting down satellite distribution services to third parties (probably with the longer term objective to stop using it internally)

Satellite was a game changer in the 1960s and beyond, allowing network programming distribution of live events without needing a complex and fragile network of leased phone lines.

Computers and the Internet make all of that technology obsolete. The only real problem is syncing an Internet stream to your show clock, but Internet access is now reliable down to a fraction of a second, less than the round trip to a satellite in geosynchronous orbit.

ABC and Dial Global were the big players in this business – now both owned by Cumulus. Clear Channel (IHeart) exiting this business leaves independent distributors with an unpleasant choice – force their affiliates into the arms of Cumulus or to set up Internet distribution, which is something they should have started 10 years ago.

The saddest thing I’ve seen is a comment on this story, probably by an engineer. He thinks this isn’t feasible because the Internet doesn’t have the bandwidth to support 200 people using the same stream. It could be sarcasm, but I strongly suspect it is ignorance. Clear Channel runs from huge data centers connected to huge fiber optic connections – they are not hanging off a $1000 a month T1 phone line like radio station’s used to do – it’s not the 1990s any more.

This entry was posted in Radio Biz. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Clear Channel to exit satellite delivery of programming

  1. Parrott says:

    Cumu-lost still frequently runs two PSA’s at the same time on their local station.
    WJJJ Christiansburg had a real receptionist, Program manager, ads people and news guy with WJJJ on the side of the van. ‘Rooster’ Kanode in the morning back in the 60’s and 70’s. He didn’t play that wild rock & roll. That started at 8am Rooster was weather & Farm and some bluegrass and Johnny Horton. I had no interest listening to rooster, but my old man did five days a week before going to work.

    They tore that tower down late 90’s before 2000. There was a putt -putt golf there on the property below the tower. I think it paid the bills in the 90’s. Took my wife there before she was my wife. I use to hit the golf balls off the back side of the satellite receiver dish, LOL . Its all gone now. Cumulost sold the land to VDOT for a fancy road interchange.
    yeah, radio sux. I listen to Chris Plante now. beck lost it.
    Have a good one

  2. Art Stone says:

    A few months ago, the riskiest put a payload into orbit without disclosing what it is.

    Some speculation is that it may be a device to “kill satellites”. Clear channel does not own a satellite – they just rent space on one from Hughes electronics or whatever they call themselves now. It may be the satellite is reaching the end of it’s life work otherwise the owner wants to repurpose it.

  3. Thanks for the links, Art — I geek out on that kind of stuff! You make a good point about the reliability of VoIP. Broadcast-quality audio shouldn’t be that much harder to maintain all the way to the end of the line.

  4. Art Stone says:

    Here was the state of IP delivery of live syndicated programming from the same publication from 2009 (5 years ago)

    Folks like Triton Digital surely have off the shelf solutions to this or could create one quickly. After all, they are owned by the same PE firm that owns Townsquare

  5. Art Stone says:

    In a brief search, the only radio operator I can find using this service is TeleSouth, a radio company in Mississippi with a state wide network of news/talk stations

    They probably concluded this was easier to do than set up microwave connections or phone lines. It shouldn’t be a heroic effort to move away from the satellite.

  6. Art Stone says:

    Here is what is going away:

    The tough part is probably not the reliability, but the signaling done within programming to fire off automation like commercial breaks that are not “hard breaks”. What stations have today is technology that handles all of that automatically. It’s very old technology, but it works (some of the time).

    Those who have tested streams a lot know there are lots of issues with streams running two commercials at the same time, firing off commercials in the middle of a program, etc… although those problems are increasingly rare as radio stations have learned to not try to do that stuff themselves

  7. In terms of audio technology, is it now a given that end-to-end, IP-based data transmission is as 24/7-reliable as a satellite feed?

    • And of course I’m talking about “live” broadcasting, not file saving for later use.

    • Art Stone says:

      I think the answer to that is a pretty clear “Yes”, especially if the programming source is housed in a facility with multiple Tier 1 connections.

      Think about this for a moment – folks like Comcast have been selling “phone service” for years now. Behind the scenes, it is using Voice over IP (VoIP) and not the phone system (except the last mile if you’re calling someone with that old fashioned phone you plug into the wall). You expect when you pick up the phone and dial 911 that it will work. The FCC is getting pushier about this lately that TimeWarnerComcast needs a Level of Service (LoS) close to that of AT&T. That’s quite a challenge, but it is the requirement to be a phone provider.

      The modern radio transmitters have all this built in – the program schedule software *in the transmitter* is told…. from this time to this time, use this URL to get the stream – if it doesn’t connect, use this second URL, then this third…. if all else fails, play this filler from the USB drive. You really don’t need a studio at all now to run a radio station (other than to keep the FCC happy)

      For the audio quality of radio, there isn’t even a need to use a land line if your satellite dish is at the transmitter and there is no internet access available – as long as there is wireless access (ie LTE) at the site.

      “Top of the Hour” news is on its last legs. Music syndication is now done with playlists and songs stored on computer hard drives, not using satellite.

      Multitask technology is stable and getting better. If we were talking about HD video over wireless, that’s still bleeding edge – but not a 64 kb/sec audio stream

      The real threat here is not ending satellite, but that car “radios” get smart enough to hear Glenn Beck and TheBlaze news at the top of the hour without needing the local radio station at all.

Leave a Reply