Auckland radio station 95bFM has radically overhauled its internet audio presence, giving it far better sound quality and allowing many more simultaneous listeners.
The station's live feed has long been popular with both expatriate New Zealanders and foreign listeners, but until now has been hampered by the fact that it used an elderly version of the Real server provided free by Ihug, which suffered from relatively poor sound quality and a limited number of ports.
The new platform devised by Ihug is based on the open-source MP3 streaming server Icecast, which offers much better sound quality and support for 100 concurrent listeners. The feed is delivered from a box owned by bFM and housed in Auckland by Ihug.
Ihug's senior network engineer David Robb says the company is now working on a multicast solution "which will scale the number of users we can have listening to the stream by quite a lot, without putting any additional load on the server."
The station's sales and marketing manager Aaron Carson says the station has been aware for some time that its existing service had fallen behind the times he is delighted "to have it all finally sorted".
"We see bFM as not just a radio station, and this is the beginning of a better platform to entertain people in other ways."
The launch of the new streaming service will trigger a greater emphasis on the station's recently revamped website. The original bFM site was developed on a casual basis by Matt Buchanan and won the PC World Web Design Award two years ago.
Buchanan's move to WebMedia early this year led to a contract between the developer and the station for the site to be redesigned, with the addition of a number of database features based on the open source server-side scripting language PHP, including a "b-mail" version of its popular Auckland entertainment guide, which goes out to subscribers every week.
"We wanted to hold the big push to get people to check out the new website until the audio streaming was up and running," says Carson. "We'll now look at pushing the b-mail side of it a bit more. We'll be starting a second tier of b-mail, which will be more industry focused, so we can talk to people on more of a business level about what's going on at bFM.
"The main thing about b-mail is that there's never any advertising involved in it – it's always information. That's what we tried to do with the site as well. No site that I've seen seems to do that the way that we are – making it information-based rather than trying to sell to people. We think that's the right way to do it."
He says the station has some revenue-raising plans for its internet presence, but they won't be rolled out until next year.
The station, whose sole shareholder is the Auckland University Students Association, bought the Research International radio ratings for the first time in nearly a decade recently, and created a stir in the broadcast industry by rating 4.1% overall in the competitive Auckland market and 8.4% in the 18-34 demographic. It also beat all other commercial stations on time spent listening, with its audience declaring that they listened to the station for an average 14.4 hours daily.
Carson says the ratings result has fostered a new perception of the station in the media and advertising industries, and "a big station profile campaign in the New Year, which will involve some viral-type marketing" will aim to drive home that perception.