It was July 1995, and Indiana University alumni Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner were two Hoosiers stuck in Dallas without access to IU basketball.
They were sure there was a better way to get game coverage, so they created one: sending Hoosier basketball broadcasts around the world on the Internet.And so, in an unused bedroom at Cuban's Dallas home, they started a new way for people to get their information and entertainment in the 21st century.
Today, their company, AudioNet, is the biggest site of its kind on the World Wide Web, carrying continuous live programming from more than 260 radio stations around the world, including the BBC World Service. Also available are broadcasts of thousands of professional and college sporting events - including an exclusive contract with the National Hockey League to carry games on the Internet - as well as live concerts and club performances.
By telephone line and satellite, the signals funnel into dozens of file servers in AudioNet's network center in a converted warehouse on the edge of downtown Dallas. Then, back out they go on the Internet.
Those who track the business of Internet broadcasting say the industry is in its infancy, much as radio was in the 1920s and television was in the late '30s and mid- '40s. But Wagner, AudioNet's chief executive, expects explosive growth.
"I think 1998 is going to be the year when it comes awfully darned close to being a mass medium," he said.
Internet broadcasting became possible in 1995 when Progressive Networks introduced its RealAudio software. The software has evolved into the RealPlayer 5.0 program that can stream audio and video on the Internet. And Progressive Networks has evolved into Seattle-based RealNetworks Inc.
But back in 1995, AudioNet started out with only one radio station - KLIF-AM in Dallas.
Dan Bennett, KLIF's vice president and general manager, said the station signed on because it always had trouble getting its signal inside office buildings. Steel-girder framework, fluorescent lights and computer monitors created fierce radio interference.
The move has paid off for the station and its talk format. "We'll get 2,000 to 3,000 online listeners if there's a real hot topic," he said.
Television is AudioNet's next target. In January, Dallas-Fort Worth station WFAA became the first local television station to put live programming on the Internet, via AudioNet.
In the first five days WFAA was on the Internet, about 30,000 Web surfers tuned in, said Walt Zwirko, director of Web site development for the ABC affiliate. That's something local television station managers will notice in a time when viewership is dropping.
In fact, the idea seems so good that RealNetworks, the inventor of the technology, has set up its own network.
Launched in 1996, its Timecast service offers about 500 radio stations and several video services, including ABC News, Fox News and C-SPAN.
Timecast originates far more programming than AudioNet, especially music, concerts and other entertainment. AudioNet doesn't produce much original programming, focusing instead on distributing others' - particularly sports.
The few analysts who have begun to watch the Internet content and distribution industry say the future is bright as an advertising medium, but prospects for individual players remain unclear.
Timecast managing producer, Kathlene Herrmann, had no figures on Timecast's revenues, but publicly traded RealNetworks reported a $11.2 million loss for 1997 on revenues of $32.7 million.
Officials at privately held AudioNet declined to discuss their finances.