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March 1, 1998

R.I. native starts Web-based
radio station at Babson College

By Timothy C. Barmann

Babson College's new radio station is up and running, but you can't hear it on the radio.

That's because it's being broadcast through the Internet rather than over the airwaves.

The students behind the effort believe theirs is the first Web-based college radio station in the country.

Babson College Radio, as it is called, is the brainchild of Adam M. Berger, a 1997 honors graduate of North Smithfield High School, and general manager of the station.

Berger, now a freshman at Babson, said he approached student government leaders with the idea of starting a campus radio station last fall.

He knew what he was talking about. He had worked at WNRI in Woonsocket for four years in mostly behind-the-scenes jobs, including computerizing the station's billing system.

He wrote a 150-page proposal to start a radio station at the Wellesley, Mass., business school. He won over the student leaders and also the administration, which agreed to give $48,000 to get the station off the ground.

Berger's boss at WNRI, Roger Bouchard, agreed to donate equipment worth from $20,000 to $25,000, Berger said. With that, the station was well on its way.

Berger said choosing the Web as the primary medium for broadcasting came partly out of necessity. The college newspaper commissioned a radio frequency test in the Wellseley area and found that there was simply no available frequency -- they were already taken by other radio stations.

The Web seemed to be the perfect solution. Nearly all of Babson's 1,600 undergraduate students live on campus, and the campus dormitories are wired to the Internet. And the school wouldn't have to apply for an FCC license to broadcast over the Web.

Technically, the station is not entirely Web-based. It does have a tiny radio transmitter that broadcasts a 1/10 of a watt signal to a few buildings on campus.

The school remodeled four rooms in the basement of a campus building that were vacated by the campus newspaper, which moved to new offices. Berger and one of his partners, Jacob Walker, bought 200compact discs in about two hours.

There was a last-minute hitch. A key piece of furniture that was to serve as the central desk to hold equipment, computers and microphones, didn't arrive until 19 hours before air-time.

Berger and a team of students worked all night to put it together and assemble all the equipment. Several runs were made for pizza and doughnuts. Catnaps were taken.

Finally, at noon on Feb. 17, it all came together. The student newspaper, the Babson Free Press, chronicled the station's first moments.

First there was a countdown by Walker. "10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1." Then he said, "This ain't what Marconi had in mind."

Things have gone pretty smoothly in the week and a half the station has been on the air, Berger said.

The station plays a wide range of music, including songs by The Squirrel Nut Zippers, ChumbaWumba, and even Benny Goodman.

There is a downside to broadcasting over the Web. The sound quality for those listening through a modem connection still falls short of an FM radio broadcast.

And the audience is limited. Only 100 listeners at a time can tune in to hear the signal. Already, the station has reached that limit a few times, Berger said. The limit is set by the license the school purchased from RealNetworks, the company that makes the audio broadcast software. Such licenses typically cost schools about $5,000, according to RealNetworks.

Berger said the station will watch how much traffic the site gets and decide whether it needs to upgrade.

There are clearly advantages, however. The station is reaching well beyond what a conventional radio station could. Berger said that they already had listeners tuning in from Jerusalem, France, England, Spain and Bahrain. About 60 percent of its listeners are off-campus, he said.

The station has generated so much interest that more than 125 people have volunteered to help. There's a music librarian, a programming manager, and about 100 disc jockeys. Berger himself steps up to the microphone from 10 a.m. to noon on Fridays.

To keep the station running, Berger said he thinks the school will have to chip in $15,000 to $20,000 a year if the station can get a "significant chunk of advertising." They have one sponsor so far, Domino's Pizza.

Berger credits a lot his knowledge in radio to his work with Bouchard at WNRI.

"From the first day I got there, I pushed his buttons and tried to do more than I should have," Berger said. "It paid off."

To listen to Babson College Radio, you will need a sound card and an Internet connection, and free software available from RealNetworks at http://www.real.com/. The station's Web site is at http://radio.babson.edu.

Timothy C. Barmann is a Journal-Bulletin staff writer. His column runs every other Sunday on the Computers and Technology page. Send him comments via e-mail at tim@cybertalk.com or U.S. mail, c/o the Journal-Bulletin, 75 Fountain St., Providence, R.I. 02902.