There is a lot of confusion over the differences between Internet Radio, Streaming, and Podcasting. Let’s take a few minutes to clear it up.

Internet Radio is everything a “regular” radio station is… except that it’s not heard over the air. An internet radio station is heard by logging in to the station’s website, or using their specific “app” on your smartphone.

The station plays continuously. The programs are usually scheduled for a specific time of day. If you want to hear that program, you need to log in at the appropriate time, or you will miss it.

So, the equipment needs are similar to traditional radio. Here are some of the things you will need:
– A microphone and headphone for each voice that will be on the program.
– A mixer or broadcast console to manage all the audio sources.
– A way to play pre-recorded program material (CD player, computer hard drive, etc)
Automation software to keep the station running during the unattended (overnight) hours.
– Interface gear to allow callers to participate in live shows.
Audio processing to keep the sound level consistent and bright.
– While an Internet Radio Station doesn’t have a “transmitter”, the program will be sent to a hosting service that will manage distribution to the listeners. You will need an encoder/codec to convert the audio into an internet-compatible format, then send it to the hosting service.

Streaming refers to the method of delivery. If an event that is presented to the listener at the same time it is happening, it’s being streamed. A traditional radio station may send a simultaneous copy of the program to the internet… that’s their “stream”. The Internet Radio station that was discussed earlier is also “streaming.”

The other method of delivery is to pre-record the program, then upload it to a server, where listeners can find the file and download it to their own device for playback at a more convenient time. This is Podcasting.

Podcasting has the advantage that, because you aren’t being heard “live”, you can fix any mistakes in the program before you release the file to be downloaded.

Of course, the editing process takes time. Some people spend hours correcting every little breath and tick. This is also where some users will apply equalization and compression to the audio, then convert it to mp3 format so it can be uploaded to the server. Most computer-based audio editing software includes EQ and compression capabilities. All of these operations add more time to the process before you can release the program to the listeners.

Amateur podcasters usually go for the “edit later” method, because of the lower cost. When podcasting becomes a daily routine (rather than a hobby), most users will adopt the “radio station” method. Radio stations have dedicated compressors, equalizers, and other processors mounted in the equipment racks. These devices are continuously doing their job, so the audio is completely “conditioned” as the program is being performed. By the time you turn off the microphone, there’s not much left to do except turn off the lights and go home. The up-front investment in equipment pays off by eliminating most of the editing tasks.

Then there’s video to consider… I’ll save that for another day.

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