Voice of America adds webcasts to broadcasts

Voice of America adds webcasts to broadcasts

BY SUSAN M. MENKE | GCN STAFF

The Voice of America now webcasts some programs in streaming MP3 media in addition to its traditional shortwave, television and AM/FM radio broadcasts.

'Our Web site had 550,000 hits in February,' VOA media chief Tish King said. 'Not all were downloads of full programs, but we're finding that MP3 files are particularly valuable.'

The independent agency has 91 million shortwave listeners abroad who are 'looking for reliable news and information,' King said. Shortwave radio has been the mainstay because it can cover large, remote areas and is difficult for unfriendly governments to block.

In urban areas abroad, she said, local radio and TV stations can download the MP3 webcast files from the Web at www.voanews.com to use in their own broadcasts.

All this news fits

The Voice of America is one of the world's largest news organizations, producing 200 hours of programming per day in 53 languages. It has 1,100 employees and a fiscal 2001 budget of $131 million.

'News is the bulk of our job,' King said. That includes U.S., regional and international news. Other programming focuses on art, culture, business, health, science and sports.

Features on Americana and interactive programs for nonnative English speakers are popular, King said. The 'Special English' programs use a reduced English vocabulary pronounced slowly. Two of the most in-demand Special English news programs are for Farsi and Amharic speakers. Farsi is spoken in Iran; Amharic is a language of some eastern African nations.

The Voice of America uses the distributed caching network of Akamai Technologies Inc. of Cambridge, Mass., to make its programming available globally.

'We don't have the bandwidth or the resources to host this much content for streaming,' King said.

When a user types in the Voice of America's uniform resource locator, the agency's Domain Name System software resolves the URL to Akamai's EdgeSuite service, which in turn hands off the query to the caching server closest to the user. Content can be streamed over dial-up or broadband connections, said Akamai federal sales manager Chris Carlston.

From without and within

The company's 10,000 servers use about 700 Internet providers' networks to withstand cyberattacks and rolling blackouts such as California is experiencing. The servers all run a modified Linux kernel.

The Census Bureau and Government Printing Office also use Akamai's facilities to cache replicated content and graphics. They control their own content, Carlston said.

To view streaming-media webcasts, an end user must have a player program installed, such as Apple QuickTime, RealPlayer from RealNetworks Inc. of Seattle or Windows Media Player. The agency Web site does not have to install or license any special hardware or software, Carlston said.

The cost of the EdgeSuite service ranges from 'a few thousand to tens of thousands of dollars a month,' he said, depending on the services used.

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