Monday, 20 July 1998
STAR TECH 6E
By Timothy Gassen
THE ARIZONA DAILY STAR
The irony must evoke laughter from even the most advanced technocrats: A creaky, antiquated form of mass communication – radio – is the hottest “new” media on the Internet.
Need to hear a Cubs baseball game that’s only broadcast in Chicago? Want to listen to an online station of your favorite ’60s British Invasion hits? No problem – dial it up on the Web.
Local over-the-airwaves radio is now suddenly doubling as global Internet radio. Internet-only Webcasts also offer reams of specialized programming choices.
Setting up a Web radio station is affordable and easy, says Matthew Grossman, project leader for network operations for Starnet, the online service of The Arizona Daily Star.
All one needs, Grossman says, is a fast, continuous Internet hook-up and the necessary media posting server software, which can be downloaded from a place like RealAudio.
“A live, analog signal (such as a radio broadcast) can be digitized by your computer, then sent through the server to the Web,” he says. (Another, more costly, option is hiring a commercial Internet media service that specializes in hosting audio programs.)
Casting the Web
“Streaming audio” is the crux of a Web radio broadcast. Audio is streamed – sent and collected a portion at a time – to a listener’s computer. The computer then plays the collected (“buffered”) audio, downloading more of it as the “Webcast” continues.
StarNet is currently using this system to feed a streaming program of National Weather Service audio through KVOA-TV’s Web site (www.KVOA.com).
“The free (Webcasting) software allows up to 60 simultaneous users to access the streaming audio. If you need more access for more than that, then RealAudio licenses commercial software,” Grossman says. RealAudio is one of the most popular streaming audio programs – for both Webcasters and listeners – but several others are also commercially available.
Thousands of radio stations have used the technology to jump on the Webcast bandwagon, including Tucson’s KLPX-FM.
Larry Miles, operations manager for KFMA-FM and KTKT-AM, and program director for KLPX-FM, says, “We’re Webcasting KLPX 24 hours a day (http://monoxide.com), and we’ll continue to explore Webcasting.
“The ratings benefit for being on the Web is virtually zero for us – Webcasting for us is being hip and forward-moving in the world of technology. We want to be on that cutting edge,” he says.
Miles has seen positive response from KLPX’s online service. “We get e-mail all the time from Tucsonans who travel and who listen to KLPX from out of town,” he says.
Scratching the surface
Putting an exact commercial value on such a new technology, though, is difficult.
“At this moment, Webcasting of local radio fits in for national advertisers like McDonalds, Jiffy Lube or Coca-Cola,” he says, “but it doesn’t do much for local advertisers like car dealerships.
“The benefit locally is for people who use a PC at their work desk – that’s a key for the growth of Web radio. Stations that have a broadcast signal deficiency for part of a city will also benefit by having people listen through their PC.
“But we’re just scratching the surface of what Webcasting can do for the radio industry,” Miles says.”
So, what’s next in the evolution of the Net and its great-grandfather, radio? “Internet technology continues to change almost daily, and what I see coming is Web radio finding a place on the `active desktop’ from Windows 98,” Miles says. “I think you’ll see more usage for Web radio when a radio station comes up automatically when you boot up your computer.”
Web radio might become an accepted norm, but Miles doesn’t think it will threaten traditional over-the-air broadcasts.
“Computers are becoming common and popular, but they’re still not very mobile. One of the benefits of radio is that it’s mobile, it’s on all the time and it’s free. As long as radio is free, a Webcast’s value will probably be to expand a station’s potential workplace listenership,” Miles says.
Record companies smell the boatloads of cash that could be on the Internet audio horizon and are preparing to extract extra dollars from radio stations.
Miles, however, wasn’t aware of the separate royalties that record companies plan to collect from radio stations for their online music use. These performance fees will be in addition to the royalties that music publishers currently collect. (See accompanying story.)
“I think I’d pull the plug on our Webcast before paying record companies a performance royalty,” Miles says, after hearing about the upcoming fees.
Miles admitted, though, that he’d reconsider his position if local competitors developed their online audio presence and appeared to gain an audience edge.
Non-commercial radio stations worry less about competitors and more about scraping up the cash to pay their electric bills.
Stony Brook University’s WUSB-FM claims to be “Long Island’s largest non-commercial, free-form radio station.” It has embraced the Net with its own 24-hour-a-day Webcast (http://www.wusb.org/hear_us.shtml).
Disc jockey Spiney Norman has produced and hosted the weekly “Psychadelicatessen” radio show (10 p.m. to midnight each Saturday) on WUSB for the past eight years. “I play the best in hard-to-find garage, psychedelia and whacky R&B;,” Norman says with zeal.
The New York station’s Webcasts have suddenly thrust the underground DJ into the global spotlight.
“I’m getting response from all over the world,” he says. “I did a show on psychedelic music from Denmark, and the next day I checked my e-mail to find people from Denmark who listened to the show, offering advice about my pronunciation of Danish names.”
Global radio approach
The sudden change from local broadcaster to international garage DJ has also altered Norman’s approach to his show.
“It changes your mind-set a bit, so I drop some of my local on-air references,” he says. “But first and foremost this is a local radio station.
“Still, when you make a mistake now, millions of people could hear it,” Norman adds with a laugh.
“I announce the WUSB Web site address on the air, and I tell listeners about other Web sites for artists I’m playing. Sometimes I’ll ask, `If anyone listening in Seattle knows about this band I’m playing next, then give a call,’ ” he says, “and someone listening over the Web will call me up.”
The only problem Norman sees with Web radio is its eventual popularity. “If commercial radio clogs it up, then you could have to dig through the bland muck to find good stuff, just like over-the-air.
“Webcasting could become `McRadio,’ ” Norman laments.
For now, Webcasting is an effective fund-raising tool for WUSB. “Since we have to beg for money to stay on the air, it’s opened up new ways for us to raise cash,” he says, adding that a recent Internet reggae festival brought in donations from around the globe.
Norman hopes to host his own Internet music festival next summer, when he’s planning to Webcast the performances of 100 garage and psychedelic bands live from the WUSB studios.
“When a band plays online, they’re suddenly playing to people all over the world,” Norman says.
The paisley-punk DJ is excited that more people can hear his show, but hopes the potential global audience of Web radio doesn’t change the fun attitude of local broadcasting.
“There used to be a sign in our studio that said, `Don’t panic, it’s only radio,’ ” he says. “Let’s hope it stays that way.”
Web audio sites
You’ve loaded up a streaming audio player program, plugged in your desktop speakers and are ready to kick out the Web radio jams. Here are some starting points and links to Web radio and audio sites:
Formerly AudioNet, this is one of the most visited audio-resource sites on the Net, hosting a wide variety of content. Live Radio, Music, News and Sports links are plentiful, making this a useful, mainstream place to start the search for Web audio.
BRS Web Radio (http://www.web-radio.com)
BRS has a plethora of helpful and detailed links to Web radio, cross-cataloged by genre and location. Links to various audio player sites makes downloading of free software a snap, and BRS also designates which player-program is needed to decode each Web radio site’s signal.
Here’a a clearinghouse of information about the high-quality MPEG3 audio compression method. There are links to search engines containing MPEG3 sites – and information about the RIAA’s legal crackdown on sites using MPEG3 technology to illegally transmit audio over the Web.
KFI-AM 640 (http://www.kfi640.com/programming/listenlive.html)
This leading Los Angeles talk-radio station uses its occasional out-of-control on-air moments as motivation for listening on the Web. Their site states, “When you listen to KFI on your radio, there’s a 10-second delay so we can `dump’ (bleep-out) forbidden words. But over the Internet, you can hear KFI’s pre-delay audio broadcast – live and uncensored!”
That extra 10 seconds can make the Phil Hendrie Show even more exhilarating than usual. Hendrie is the hottest media blabbermouth in LA’s current pit of media overdose. He poses as a talk show host, the call-in guests, and often the other irate callers who complain about what his other characters say.
It’s all done live, in real time, and it’s easy to understand why thousands of suckers get caught up in his schtick every day, calling in to heap their complaints onto the manufactured furor.
Hendrie’s show is Webcast live Monday-Friday from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m., and online fans can get extra doses of his insanity through archived audio files of his past exploits.
Audio Related Internet WWW & FTP Sites (http://www.qnx.com/~danh/info.html)
Exactly what the page’s title indicates, this is a wide-ranging list of audio sites. It’s maintained by an individual as a friendly service to the public, so don’t expect all the links to be functional or up-to-date.
The Free Radio Network (http://http://www.frn.net)
Here’s the place to go for reams of information about the global pirate radio movement. the emphasis is on over-the-air stations, but there are plenty of links to sites with streaming audio or music archive files. The FRN even makes cassettes of pirate radio programming for fans of the genre.
Timecast’s site holds an extremely easy-to-use collection of links for a wide variety of Web radio (and TV) stations.
Live Radio on the Internet (http://www.frodo.u-net.com/radio.htm)
This is an amazingly exhaustive collection of links for online radio. Sections for Europe are especially helpful for tracking down international programming – That’s not surprising, since this page generates from London.
Pirate Radio (http://www.pirate-radio.co.uk)
Also UK-based, this is a cool place to find the latest European house, techno, trance and garage sounds, spun by a variety of online DJs. This Web site and its sound mix are so slick that it’s open to question exactly how “pirated” these transmissions really are.
Tucson `Web radio’
A few Tucson-area Webcasts and music archive sites to whet your Web whistle:
KAMP-AM 1570 (http://kamp.arizona.edu)
The UA’s low-power student station can reach a much wider audience over the Web, and their site features some danceable RealAudio files from “DJ Gringo.”
MIXfm 94.9 FM (http://www.theriver.com/mixfm)
Like most Tucson radio, MIXfm’s on-air signal isn’t simulcast on the Web, but you can download an audio file with comic Sean Morey’s song “The Man Song.”
UA Sports (http://www.fansonly.com/cgi-bin/cframe.cgi?/ariz/audio/ariz- audio.html)
The Fans Only Network hosts simulcasts of KNST-radio’s broadcasts of UA football, basketball and baseball. The site also archives some previous games, so proud alumni scattered throughout the globe can catch up on their athletic heroes’ past exploits. Perhaps you missed Brian Jeffries’ play-by-play of last December’s Insight.com Bowl, so you can get out the popcorn and hang on every archived streaming-audio word. Hint, though: The Wildcats won the game.
Pueblo High Magnet School (http://phs.tusd.k12.az.us)
Pueblo students produce digital audio and radio programming in the RealAudio streaming format as part of their multimedia classes. The school plans to broadcast with its own low-power AM radio station this fall, and continue to feature selected audio segments as archived files, teacher Doug Potter said.
The site for this popular Tucson alternative-pop band features a selection of 20-second samples from their CD.
High Desert Bluegrass Band (http://www.azstarnet.com/public/nonprofit/bluegrass/hidesert.htm)
The cyber-home for this local traditional bluegrass band includes a short audio clip in the QuickTime format.
KUAT-FM 90.5 (http://w3.arizona.edu/~kuat/audio.htm)
The PBS station provides weekly selected news features as downloadable files.