With the advent of broadband internet, creating your own church or ministry 24-hour Internet Radio Station is a breeze. Internet radio is one of the simplest types of online media service to use. It’s cheap, and offers ministry media opportunities that cannot be found elsewhere, beating out the traditional AM/FM ministry kind in several departments.
Although there’s already a huge amount of media material out there, there are still opportunities for houses of worship to develop new cutting-edge radio ministry websites. While the traditional radio gives listeners access to perhaps a half dozen local stations, a computer with a sound card, speakers, and an Internet connection can give listeners an inside look into your church or ministry.
If you’re thinking of setting up your own Internet radio station, here is an overview of how to do it, including the technical and legal angles.
Programming Format and Ideas
The first thing to decide is what your 24-hour ministry radio station will be about. Feel free to let your imagination run wild here. Your station isn’t bound by commercial radio limitations and can be about anything. This is the most difficult part in creating a radio station – you could create a “sermon-teaching station”, but it may not be what your parishioners, partners or others want to hear. The best thing to do is create something that reflects your church or ministry vision and mission purpose. If your church or ministry has a particular mandate set forth by your Pastor or leader, why not make that the focal point of the radio broadcast?
It is more convenient for listeners to tune into your church or ministry radio station than for them to search through the conventional way of radio. They don’t have to select the type of programming or worry about objectionable material. Your church or ministry takes care of all this. What’s more, they are only exposed to the material you want them to hear. They never know what’s going to be played next. This keeps things interesting. Add the tremendous new variety and functionality that Internet radio provides, and new possibilities open up.
Taking advantage of these possibilities requires some action on your part, like some new programming strategies. Let’s consider the fact that your listeners now have access to hundreds of internet radio stations online. Such a wealth of religious stations invites greater exploration, and requires a greater taste for adventure if you are to claim those listeners that are out there. Another important point is that your radio station is likely to be better if you have more than one type of format (i.e. sermons, worship music, children’s, teens and young adult programming, promos and commercials). This creates more opportunities for listeners to be engaged with your programming and continue to come back to listen and tell others.
When you’ve decided on the format of the show, discuss with your Pastor, leaders and staff what kind of direction you want to go. Decide if the show is going to be music driven, sermon, teaching, or a combination of all, Christian talk, and so on. With these initial discussions out of the way, you’re now in a position to start preparing your audio for broadcast streaming and feel comfortable with your 24-hour radio ministry.
Streaming Radio – the Technical Side
Simple, Easy and Inexpensive
There are several ways to deliver audio over the Internet. The easiest and most cost effective way is simply to produce audio files for the encoder software to push the content to the Internet. Compressed formats such as .MP3 and .WMA are the most popular, but you need to have a good broadband Internet connection at your location. This is critical to a successful internet radio broadcast.
There are several Internet radio broadcast software applications on the market but I prefer the SHOUTcast software (.MP3 only) for encoding and broadcasting. Once you have all of your produced audio files inserted in the SHOUTcast playlist, your broadcast will go out through your local broadband area connection and you will then put a web-link on your church or ministry website. When listeners click on the web-link, they will begin to pull the audio broadcast from your location. Keep in mind; inadequate amounts of bandwidth at your location will greatly impede listeners’ experience.
Complex, Advanced and Better
A more multifaceted way to deliver audio or video over the Internet is called streaming. The content isn’t stored on the user’s computer, only played. Streaming media makes it possible to deliver a continuous broadcast over the Internet, and is the basis of an Internet “radio station”.
The streaming model has several advantages over the broadcast push model (see above). First, it allows for programming of any length, or even a live broadcast. Second, it makes piracy easier to control, since users only listen to a piece of material, rather than storing it on their hard drives. Third, it’s simpler for users.
The technical centerpiece of an Internet radio station is a piece of software called a streaming media server. There are three main players in the streaming media game these days: RealNetworks, Adobe and Microsoft. All three offer both streaming servers and streaming media clients with their own native media formats.
Streaming media works through a triad of software packages- the encoder, the server and the player. The encoder converts audio or (video) content into a streaming format; the media server makes the content available over the Internet, and the player (on the end user’s machine) retrieves the content.
Each of the big three streaming media makers makes a set of these three components. The encoder and server work together, however, if you have (for example) the Windows Streaming Media Server, you must use their Windows Media Encoder
Pre-recorded material is prepared for streaming using the encoder, then simply stored on the server. For a live radio broadcast, however, the encoder must work together with the server in real time. An audio feed runs through a mixer/EQ/compressor limiter then to the sound card of a computer running the encoder software at the broadcast location. This should be a dedicated machine. From there the stream is uploaded to the streaming media server, which may of course be at a different location and a web-link is placed on your ministry’s website for listeners.
If you’re serious about live broadcasting, you’ll probably want a dedicated server account. If you choose this option you will need a Streaming Media Service Provider or a CDN (Content Delivery Network) to stream your content to the world and service charges will apply.
The Legal Consequences
If you are broadcasting only original material, or material that you have the rights to, then you can skip this section. But if you plan to use copyrighted material such as songs and special programming, you need to know about how performance rights work. Yes, you can use just about any recorded material out there, as long as you pay the proper fees to the proper folks. Fees for songwriters and publishers are collected by three performing rights organizations: ASCAP, BMI and SESAC. These fees are administered by the RIAA.
For churches and ministries there is CCLI (Christian Copyright Licensing International) to provide churches with simple, affordable solutions to complex copyright issues. CCLI helps churches maintain their integrity and avoid costly lawsuits, while also giving churches the freedom to worship expressively and spontaneously.