Fighting Sioux Radio Network Cuts Costs With IP Distribution

To stay current with University of North Dakota football and hockey teams, fans in North Dakota and Minnesota tune into the Fighting Sioux Radio Network, a network of 12 stations across the two states. To distribute all of that content, the network’s broadcast-engineering team implemented an IP distribution system, using high-speed broadband connections to cut costs to 25% of that required for satellite distribution.

“I knew they were looking for a way to manage the distribution themselves,” says Jeremy Eisenzimmer, IT director and engineering lead for the network. “They were sending their broadcasts to Midwest Information Systems out of Fargo, and, because it was still satellite-based, some of the stations couldn’t afford the gear necessary to distribute the content. They wanted to figure out another way to streamline their workflow.”

Eisenzimmer chose an IP distribution system based on the Barix Exstreamer 1000 professional encoding and decoding device. At Lake Region RadioWorks, where Eisenzimmer also serves as IT director, the privately run stations have used Barix Exstreamer kits for four years and never questioned their reliability. Given the pure reliability of the Barix system, Eisenzimmer chose that setup for the Fighting Sioux Radio Network.

For a distribution partner, Eisenzimmer did some research and found California-based StreamGuys, a content-delivery network that offers streaming-server support to distribute the network across 12 states. With both support pieces in place, Eisenzimmer envisioned a new workflow for the network.

“The main flagship station, KQHT in Grand Forks, ND, sends us a direct feed from their program board,” Eisenzimmer says. “Their signal feeds into a Barix Exstreamer 1000, which can be programmed to work as a streaming client to send the audio out and also programmed in reverse to encode the audio. The audio is programmed to connect to the server. Then, all 12 affiliate boxes connect to that server, decode the stream, and the audio comes in as a source on their board.”

The multiplexed stream is picked up by StreamGuys for distribution to the 12 affiliates, and each affiliate has its own Exstreamer 1000 to decode the audio and data for local broadcasts.

Two additional Exstreamer 1000 devices at the flagship station provide redundancy and confidence monitoring to ensure the program streams are live and streaming at good quality. The devices use Barix Real-Time Protocol (RTP) to distribute high-quality audio at very low latency, which is critical for live sports broadcasting on the radio. With built-in closures and relays, the devices also allow unmanned affiliate stations to broadcast the games without issue.

“The reason we went with the 1000 is, we wanted the automation behind it,” Eisenzimmer explains. “We wanted to make this as easy as can be for the affiliates, and that includes having the capability of running unattended. [Exstreamer 1000s] come with four relay closures, so the guy who’s running the game at the flagship station hits a button, and that goes down the line to all the affiliate machines. Whenever they take a commercial break, he hits a button, and it triggers an ad set on all of the affiliate machines. It’s basically pure automation.”

The Exstreamer 1000 costs about $1,000 per box, but Eisenzimmer says an Exstreamer 500 is on the way that will offer many of the same benefits at a lower price point. The StreamGuys service is about $500 per month, but that is about one-quarter the price of satellite time, he points out.

“Receivers can be up to $3,000 each, and that’s not counting purchasing the airtime it would require to distribute via satellite,” he says. “If you look at the cost side of things, it makes a lot of sense.”

Eisenzimmer hopes to add more affiliates as word about the network increases and can do so simply by adding a Barix device at each station and notifying StreamGuys of the new program-distribution sites.