Why do radio stations change the format overnight

Numerous WLAN radios were "castrated" overnight

As reported, numerous WLAN radios were switched to a new database provider almost overnight. Devices from many manufacturers such as Clint, Como Audio, Hama, Sangean and TechniSat, to name just a few examples, are affected. The problems actually started much earlier, as owners of affected Internet radio receivers had to find out again and again.

Especially on weekends and public holidays there were frequent access problems to the web radio programs. It made no difference whether the user wanted to access their own favorites or a program from the generally available database. Sometimes it took a long time to find the desired stream and then to play it back. Many WLAN radios were temporarily muted
Photo: teltarif.de

Hours of failure on May 1st

In some cases the radio reception did not work at all and the presumed radio listener had to wait until the obvious overload problems with the server were resolved. That was usually the case within a few minutes. Every now and then, there were also failures that lasted for hours - the last time on May 1st.

The affected devices have one thing in common: The chipsets come from Frontier Silicon, which also provides the web radio portal, through which users have previously been able to manage their favorites and add their own streams. The database that Frontier Silicon had accessed to provide the catalog of web radio programs and podcasts came from vTuner.

vTuner has neglected its portal for years

vTuner is one of the pioneers when it comes to web radio databases. However, the provider has hardly developed the portal further in recent years. The website is not even HTTPS encrypted, and recording new radio stations sometimes took a long time. Frontier Silicon also blamed the database provider for the hours of service failure on May 1st. This could not guarantee "the provision of services after the end of the week from May 6th".

Frontier Silicon acted and switched all affected WLAN radios to the database of another service provider, Airable. This happened at very short notice and even from circles of the WLAN radio manufacturers it was learned that they had not been informed in advance. The changeover took place on the night of May 7th to 8th. With three WLAN radios, the Hama DIR-3100, the Sangean WFT-1D plus and the Sangean WFT-3, we tried out what happened and what changes were made for the users.

Announcement loop: "Please save your programs again"

Radio Caroline North can no longer be heard with the Hama DIR-3100
Photo: teltarif.de After switching on the receiver, the last program listened to was no longer played. Instead, a loop could be heard stating that a "change in Internet radio service" made it necessary to save the desired programs again. Depending on the receiving device, a corresponding message was also shown on the display.

At second glance, it was noticeable that the menu structure of the WLAN radio has also changed. The main menu for the web radio reception now consists of four points: At the top, some programs from the country from which the IP address of the Internet access used comes from. Among them there are the items stations, podcasts and help.

Channel menu sorted by country and genre

The station menu is divided into countries and genres. Underneath there is a search function, a menu for popular stations (which are apparently heard more frequently by the users of the database) and an item under which newly recorded radio stations can be found. This menu structure is a bit reminiscent of the receiver radio app for iOS and Android - no wonder, because this app is also based on data from Airable.

If you call up the country menu, the regions are initially sorted by continent. In the case of large states such as the USA, there is also a subdivision into regions or states. On Wednesday morning, shortly after the changeover to the new database provider, access to the station lists was sometimes very slow. Memories of the problems that arose with vTuner as a service provider were awakened.

Fixed initial problems quickly

WCBS-FM is officially only receivable in the USA
Photo: teltarif.de A few hours later the problem was resolved and since then navigation through the menus has been faster than ever. The programs available in the database can be set up as favorites so that quick access to the desired radio stations is possible again. However, the convenient management of favorites on the desktop is missing. The previous Frontier Silicon portal no longer exists and, according to information on the website, will not be reintroduced.

So it is no longer possible to program your own streams. Radio programs that are not listed in the Airable database can no longer be received with the affected WLAN radios. In such cases, Frontier-Silicon recommends opening a support ticket to have the respective station added. That should work within 48 hours.

In fact, in the past, Airable had reacted very quickly, even on weekends, when it came to the desire to add new programs. Unfortunately, this has limits that are not or only partially the responsibility of the database provider. There are program providers who only want their streams listed in their home markets, even if these are not geoblocked and technically would be receivable worldwide.

These programs are left out

Telstar Radio can also be found in the Airable database
Photo: teltarif.de The Greatest Hits Radio and Planet Rock programs produced by the Bauer Group in Great Britain are examples of "geoblocking without geoblocking". Anyone who has Internet access with a British IP address can find these stations in the relevant databases. However, if you go online via German Internet access, the programs will not be displayed. So far, the streams could be reprogrammed manually for the WLAN radios. This is no longer possible.

IHeartRadio is probably the largest network of radio programs in the USA. Most stations also stream on the internet and are not even geoblocked. Technically, reception is therefore also possible in Germany. In addition to FM and HD radio (the American DAB + counterpart), iHeartRadio only wants to distribute the programs via its own apps. Ergo programs like KOST 103.5 from Los Angeles or Big 105.9 from Miami do not even appear in databases for WLAN radios in the USA, let alone abroad. Until now, interested parties could still receive the channels by manually adding the streams. This function has been omitted without replacement.

"Part-time channels" are also not listed

Another example of radio stations that are understandably not included in global databases is Radio Caroline North. This program of the former maritime broadcaster, which is produced in collaboration with Manx Radio from the Isle of Man, is only active on one weekend a month, otherwise you simply can't hear anything on the stream.

Message loop after switching off the vTuner access
Photo: teltarif.de There are also hobby radio projects in which the stream is only active when the moderator is in the mood for it. Such programs can also not be found in any database. These stations cannot be received with WLAN radios where the listener cannot program their own streams. The restriction that comes with changing the database supplier is therefore quite considerable, even if the majority of users will continue to find most of the stations they want.

UNDOK app can still be used

The UNDOK app for Android and iOS can still be used, which can be used to control all newer WLAN radios with Frontier silicon chipsets. The search function for programs via the app is also somewhat more convenient than directly on the receiving device. The new menu structure was also automatically adopted here without the need for an app update.

It is also gratifying that not only newer WLAN radios such as the Hama DIR-3100 and the Sangean WFT-3 could be migrated to the new platform without any problems. The new menu is also available on the almost ten-year-old Sangean WFT-1D plus, and the programs listed on Airable can be played back without any problems. Once the Sangean WFT-1D plus performed an abrupt restart in an endurance test, the cause of which could not be clarified. Otherwise, this device has also worked flawlessly so far.

When using the new web radio database on the WLAN radio, there is also an improvement over vTuner, especially for American radio stations: In the USA, many stations broadcast at 64 kBit / s in MP3 and AAC +. The MP3 stream sounds cruel at this low bit rate, in AAC + the sound is much better. vTuner often only listed the bad sounding MP3 streams, Airable also offers AAC + streams. However, these cannot be called up specifically, so it is sometimes a matter of luck which of the two channels you land on as a listener.

Conclusion: action was right - improvement required

The new menu was automatically adopted in the UNDOK app
Photo: teltarif.de The technical malfunctions at vTuner had been unacceptable for a long time. Basically, it is therefore to be welcomed that Frontier Silicon acted and thus ensured that the connected WLAN radios remain functional. The Airable database has - just like any other comparable directory - gaps. In return, the provider reacts very quickly to requests for new recordings from radio stations.

However, there remains the very big drawback that users can no longer use their own streams and are therefore dependent on the offer that the portal operator offers them. Here, the device manufacturers should act on Frontier Silicon to ensure that this function is resumed.