by: Kathleen Flinn & John Wesley Hardin
art by: Tom Thewes/Der Lärmer
G. J. Goldwyn got fed up with radio and all its inherent commercialism in the '70s, so he quit and "went into computers," as he puts it.
Twenty years later, he's back on the radio -- broadcasting on a computer. "Radio on the 'net is sort of like an underground radio station," Goldwyn says of his station, iRock at www.irock.com, one of the first to broadcast original music. "It's like having a pirate setup except that I'm not violating any laws. My philosophy is simple. I make good radio and good music. If geeks or idiots complain about my show, then I forbid them to listen. I don't have to pander."
In 1995, it's hard to believe that 75 years ago radio had much of the same hype and mystique surrounding it that the Internet does today. An adventurous few had the technology and huddled around massive, mysterious boxes that somehow emitted voices and music. Not to downplay the impact of radio as an invention, but radio isn't that dynamic as far as technology goes. Other than the advancement of stereo sound in the '60s, the medium hasn't changed much since Marconi invented it in 1907, not to mention that it was quickly abandoned with the advent of television in the late 1940s.
Three years ago, radio via computers would likely seem to many people a foolish notion. Not
anymore. With technology allowing for greater quality of sound transmission, more radio stations are using
it to expand their programming and market reach worldwide.
The first two U.S. stations to enter into the 'net radio arena were KPIG-FM in Freedom, Calif., at www.kpig.com, and WKSU-FM in Kent, Ohio, www.wksu.kent.edu when they began offering up-to-date newscasts using RealAudio last spring.
Others have followed, including ABC Radio Network at www.radionet.com, National Public Radio at www.npr.org/, C-Span at www.c-span.org/ along with an arm-long list of other radio stations throughout the world, ranging from Nexus-IBA in Milano, Italy, to KBS in Seoul, South Korea. An excellent directory of radio sites on the 'net can be found at town.hall.org/radio/index.html.
RealAudio was created by Progressive Networks, a Seattle-based start-up headed by a former
Microsoft executive. Real-time audio replaced the standard .wav files that required users to download large
files to play back sound. That .wav technology did not allow for the "broadcast" of sound via the 'net and
the quality for music was limited at best. StreamWorks, by Xing Technologies, is based on the same video
delivery technology that Xing has provided to NBC and Reuters for broadcast of financial news
Internet Wave, or IWave, was developed by VocalTec, makers of
|| the Internet
Phone (see IU issue #1 page 20).
Use of such software is what allows the conversion of files to sound,
Internet broadcasting instantly overcomes one of the biggest inherent limitations of radio: range. AM signals can bounce off the ionosphere and travel hundreds, sometimes thousands, of miles, but that's not a reliable way to broadcast, and FM transmissions are line of sight only. Internet broadcast frees radio stations of these physical constraints. Overnight, computers are opening up local radio shows to global markets.
"Our market used to be a few hundred square miles. Now as long as people understand English
and have an Internet connection, they can listen to our show. If we could get that across to our sponsors
(laughs) we'd be pretty stoked," says John Bates of RadioNet.
RadioNet broadcasts from KSCO AM Santa Cruz, Calif., RadioNet at www.radionet.com. During its weekly technology show, the station takes the usual phone calls, but they also solicit user comments through e-mail and IRC comments from the Web, making it more interactive than any radio show ever before. While this is unusual, what takes the show beyond the ken of normal radio broadcast is their use of RealAudio technology to broadcast their show live on the Internet.
"The other advantages to what we've done is that we created a radio show with a shelf life," says RadioNet's producer and programmer, Sheila Siden. "In the past a radio show was perishable: the minute the words escaped the radio, it was gone. Now we're able to capture it and put it on the Internet."
Broadcasting on the 'net is the answer to every wanna-be D.J.'s dream. New technology has
made it easy to have an instant global audience. But the simplicity is deceiving , warns iRock's Goldwyn.
"True, it's easy. But it's costly. You need a T1 line for a server or you get cramped after a thousand listeners. Then you have to deal with music licensing and attorneys so it basically costs the same to have a regular station," Goldwyn says. "Sure, you could do it with a CD player, but I don't know how many listeners you're going to get or maintain."
Getting listeners on the 'net takes something more than just a regular station. If it's just mindless music surfers are after, they can just turn the traditional dial. "The Eagles in Seattle sound the same to me as they do in California. When you turn on iRock you know you're not listening to a regular broadcast. That's what it takes. A 'net surfer is like a channel surfer. They click and click and click until they find something they like."
For now, radio on the 'net remains almost a novelty. Eventually, creators of online radio
programming hope that it will become part of daily routine, the same way online news organizations hope
people will get in the habit of opening a virtual news resource on a regular basis. One of the early entrants
is ABC RadioNet. With an easy-to-use graphical interface, RadioNet offers on-the-hour updates, local
news for several metropolitan cities, sports and weather forecasts. They even had live simulcast coverage
of many major events, including the Papal visit to New York. Eventually, ABC expects to add video into
"What makes it interesting is there's no handbook to pick up on how to put audio on the Web. There are no answers, which can lead to some difficult moments," says Jeff Herman, producer of the ABC Radio Net site. "I feel like we're kind of inventing this new way of publishing information. Right now, we try to have text lead-in, similar to what an anchor might say to set up the context of a video story. Then you can click on the link you want. The text offers an overview, the audio gives you the details."
Soon, real-time video will begin to infiltrate the 'net and the novelty of audio may fade somewhat. But until then, those involved in 'net radio will bask in the attention.
"It's cool to listen to radio over the 'net," Goldwyn says. "Anyone can listen to the radio. Just think of what kind of instant geek babe magnet you'd be if you tried playing iRock on your laptop through a wireless modem on the beach. You'd have to fight them off."