In addition, the team combed through legal literature as they prepared to launch the internet station. No radio station had ever broadcasted music through the internet, so WXYC had little knowledge of the legality of streaming copyrighted music to a listener base that could surpass the confines of their FM station area.
To other organizations, the task seemed impossible. From across the world, Jones received hate mail, claiming that streaming-based radio would destroy the internet as they knew it.
WXYC utilized a software generated by Cornell University to record the audio from the WXYC studio and compress it into a form that could be digitized and run through a server. Jones said even with hundreds of connections, the service did not take up much bandwidth.
Bill Burton, chairperson of the board of directors of Student Educational Broadcasting Inc., the nonprofit that holds the license for the station, was also involved in the simulcast.
“At the time it was kind of a novelty,” Burton said.
The challenge the station faced was generating enough momentum behind a platform to which most listeners did not have access. Soon after the internet release, though, Burton began receiving calls and song requests from countries across the world.
“Almost everyone listened to us on the radio,” he said. “Over the last 23 years, that’s entirely changed. That’s a tremendous cultural change that hardly anyone talks about.”
Today, 150 UNC students and alumni perform on-air DJ shifts and administrative jobs, broadcasting 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. In addition to encompassing 900 square miles on FM, the station’s broadcasting is available for online streaming.
In the future, Jones predicts a decline in the influence of radio in the music industry. In its place, he said, are popular streaming stations that provide individual music selections, services such as Pandora and Spotify. Satellite radio has also revolutionized listening, as satellite stations need not rely on local service, but instead can serve their listeners across the country. In addition, the rise of the podcast has added a media form that is often produced alongside radio stations by a shared company.
Burton, however, characterized the modern music-listening trends as limiting, saying that not listening to the radio shields listeners from finding music they did not already like.
“They live in a little bubble of the song they like and the song that is like the songs they like,” he said. “Bubbles are what we are against and what we try to overcome.”
Burton praised how WXYC has maintained the human element of radio broadcasting. Since the internet launch, he said WXYC has not significantly changed their operations.
“What we do, and what we’ve done for 40 years, is incredibly interesting because it requires a great deal of creativity and knowledge and curating by the individual person who is on the air,” Burton said. “What they know and how they put things together and make connections between different kinds of music to create an interesting program, that is art.”