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February 1, 2022

Tech Rap: My Broken (i)Heart




Here in MA, WBZ-AM 1030 consistently ranks in the top of the Boston radio market Arbitron ratings. I listen to this 24/7 news station on my way into work every weekday morning as I have for the last 20+ years. They are the radio station to turn to for news. I vividly remember hearing a report on WBZ-AM in my car on 9/11 about the World Trade Center attack. WBZ is the oldest radio station in New England and one of the oldest stations the USA, having been licensed over 100 years ago. With its 50,000 watts of transmitting power, its signal stretches into CT, NY, NJ, and even parts of Canada at night. I also used to listen to WBZ via Internet radio on my Como Audio music system until something happened 4 years ago.

Don’t Call Me Shirley

In November of 2017, iHeartMedia, the country’s biggest broadcaster, bought Boston’s WBZ-AM along with several other radio stations in our market. Suddenly, I was no longer able to tune my favorite news station on my Como Audio system. Surely, I was doing something wrong. It turns out I wasn’t doing anything wrong, and don’t call me Shirley. I opened a ticket with our Internet radio station aggregator to inquire what the problem was. Their response: There was no problem. iHeartMedia doesn’t share any of their 860 station streams with 3rd party Internet station aggregators, so once iHeartMedia took ownership of WBZ-AM, the stream had to be removed. 

Image from iHeart’s Facebook page.



It’s Business

Mid-last year, iHeart had a slight change of heart, in a manner of speaking. They teamed up with TuneIn to add most of their iHeart stations to the TuneIn app. That’s fine for TuneIn users, but what about the throngs of Internet radio users who want to get iHeart stations on their Internet radios without streaming from an app? It was inconceivable to me that iHeart wouldn’t want millions of Internet radio listeners from around the world (iHeart app access is limited to the United States, Canada, Mexico, Australia, and New Zealand, though it’s unclear if TuneIn imposes the same geographic restrictions) listening to their stations. Yet there was a method to their madness. The free iHeart app gives the media giant a platform for adverts and an opportunity to try to upgrade their captive audience to a premium account. Indeed, almost immediately after I downloaded the iHeart app I got a pop-up message inviting me to a free trial of their premium service. In other words, its business, not personal. 

Now please don’t get me wrong. iHeart has every right to have their own dedicated app and to try to make money off of it. Many radio stations have their own app and/or website allowing you to listen to their station. The difference is, most of those stations also make their streams available to Internet radio station aggregators allowing people the ability to listen on their Internet radios without having to stream via Bluetooth from an app or a website. 

The Silence Is Deafening

To get their side for this article, I emailed iHeart asking them why they refuse to share their stations with other aggregator directories. I received an almost immediate reply thanking me for my feedback. That was it. I responded asking them again to please answer my question. The person responding said they were in Customer Support and wasn’t involved in Programming, so they couldn’t answer, but they would pass it on. Gee, thanks. I never heard anything more. Of course, I already knew the answer. iHeart wants to drive radio listeners to their own app, not to Internet radios. I just wanted to hear them say it. 

Finger Pointing

Occasionally we get emails from customers unaware of this backstory who are content to assign the blame of missing iHeart stations squarely on Como Audio. The truth of the matter is, our data base originally included all of those stations prior to them becoming iHeart stations. Once they became iHeart-owned stations, their streams had to be removed per iHeart. I’m not aware of any product like ours that has iHeart radio stations integrated with their main Internet station directory. 

The iHeart Radio app.



50 Million Listeners Can’t Be Wrong

As a rabid listener of Internet radio, someone who blogs about Internet radio on his own website, and has his own Internet radio station, believe me when I tell you I understand the frustration of not being able to tune these stations on my Como Audio Musica. I used to encourage customers to contact iHeart directly and express their disappointment. However, with over 50 million downloads of their app, I highly doubt iHeart will start making their streams available to Internet radio station aggregators any time soon regardless of how many people complain. Put bluntly, Internet radios need iHeart more than iHeart needs Internet radios. That said, I’m going to share with you a few work arounds you might not be aware of. 

WBZ AM radio playing on my Amico after adding its URL in “Personal Streams”. Photo by Peter Skiera.



Every Problem Has a Solution

Before you contact a grief counselor over these missing stations, let’s examine some solutions. One option is to contact the iHeart station and ask them for the station’s shoutcast URL that you can cut and paste into “Personal Streams” in our portal which you would then access in your Como Music system’s menu under “My Added Stations”. You can then tune the station and save it to a preset or place it in your My Favorites list. For example, the playback URL for WBZ-AM is: http://stream.revma.ihrhls.com/zc7729 If you don’t know how to register on the portal and save a station URL, see my Tech Rap article here

“…with over 50 million downloads of their app, I highly doubt iHeart will start making their streams available to station aggregators any time soon.”

Click to play the iHeart station, then right click in the same area and select “View Page Source”.



If the station gives you the incorrect URL, or you prefer to see if the URL is available in the station’s player page, here’s what to do: Using your computer, go to the iHeart station’s website and play the station from their website. Right click in the area where it shows the playback control. Select “View Page Source” from the dropdown menu. See the above screen shot example for WBZ-AM.

Select the menu in the upper right corner, then select “Find in page”.



In the upper right of your browser page, click on the menu icon (3 stacked lines). Depending on which browser you use (I use Firefox), your menu icon might be in a different location. Select “Find in page…” from the dropdown menu. At the bottom of the page in the left corner will be a search bar. Type in the word “shout” and the word “shout” will automatically be highlighted on the page. Several words after that should be the station URL to cut and paste (don’t include “shoutcast_stream:” or the quotation marks) into your Personal Stream. As I said, in the case of WBZ-AM, the streaming URL looks like this: http://stream.revma.ihrhls.com/zc7729  See the screen shot below. 

Find the iHeart station’s shoutcast streaming URL amongst all the text and cut and paste it into the portal’s “Personal Stream” option.



This shoutcast URL solution doesn’t support radio station logos and may or may not show song/artist metadata on your Como Audio model, but it gets the job done.

Option 2

The above process isn’t as complicated as it might seem, but if you require a simpler solution, you can stream the iHeart station from the iHeart or TuneIn app to your Como Audio system via Bluetooth. Granted, this isn’t as convenient as accessing the station from a preset or My Favorites, and it might not sound quite as good as the streaming URL, but it’s an option nonetheless. 

Option 3

The other fairly easy option is to connect your Alexa device (assuming you’re an Amazon Prime member) to your Como Audio model via either Bluetooth or an audio cable connected to the Aux input. Then ask Alexa to play the iHeart station you wish to listen to and the station will play through your Como system. Again, not as convenient as a preset but it works. 

Option 4

A longer-term solution to the problem is if iHeart ends up selling off some of their 860 stations. Those station URLs would then be eligible to be included again in in Internet radio aggregator databases. In March of 2018, iHeartMedia filed for bankruptcy. In January of 2021, according to The Washington Post, hundreds of iHeart radio station DJs across the country were laid off. Still, I wouldn’t hold your breath for this solution.

Option 5

Internet radio station aggregators could use iHeart’s API to custom-build a section separate from their main directories just for iHeart stations only. The problem with this is it’s very costly and time consuming to develop and the listener would have to select that source to access an iHeart station rather than selecting the station from the main directory as they would to hear the other tens of thousands of non-iHeart stations. 

Image from iHeart’s Facebook page.



Valentine’s Day is this month, so I thought a Tech Rap article involving a heart would be apropos. It’s a cute tie in, but for me, it’s a serious topic. At Como Audio, we love Internet radio. It’s by far the most popular feature of our models. Our station aggregator adds new stations on a daily basis and the database currently includes over 61,000 free radio stations. We would like nothing more than to see iHeartMedia’s stations included in the overall station directory, but that isn’t likely to happen until, like the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz, iHeart gets a heart.


Trivia: In addition to their US stations, iHeart’s portfolio also includes radio stations in Canada, Mexico, Australia, and New Zealand.

Como Audio General Manager Peter Skiera lives in southern MA, worked in radio broadcasting throughout New England, and also worked for Cambridge SoundWorks, B&W Loudspeakers, and Tivoli Audio for 15 years before joining Como Audio as V.P. of Product Development. In addition to Tech Rap, Peter also writes for his own music-related blog, www.RecommendedStations.com. If you have any comments about or suggestions for a Tech Rap topic, Peter can be reached directly at pskiera@comoaudio.com.


Links:

iHeart

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