But as the big boys scramble for lucrative footholds, small operations will no doubt be the ones to make this new technology sing. And that's why I just sent a check off to my old alma mater earmarked for WHRW and their online project. Because all the choice in the world isn't worth much if all the choices suck. CP

LOCAL RADIO ONLINE

IN THE PAST six months, software packages like RealAudio and StreamWorks have enabled a lot of radio stations to put their broadcasts on the Internet. KEGE-The Edge (http://www. 937edge.com) was one of the first local stations to go up , and traffic on their website has been heavy since its debut on March 15, according to Kristen Gordon, New Media Services Manager for the station; by KEGE's count, the site received 333,000 hits in the past 30 days.

But what's the benefit of putting the station signal on the Web? At this point, it's mainly a promotional tool, as the station doesn't yet earn income directly from the online broadcasts. "It's a novelty, I guess," says Gordon. "The quality isn't what you'd get on your stereo. But there are a lot of people working in their offices who want to listen but aren't allowed to have a stereo--according to the Nielsen Internet survey last October, 66 percent of people who'd logged onto the Internet in the past 24 hours had done it from work. Live audio online is partly for that." KEGE's sister station, KQRS, is scheduled to begin broadcasting at its own website this week (http://www.92kqrs.com/); the site will feature click-and-play audio files in addition to the broadcasts, allowing users to listen to archived routines from the station's morning show programs without downloading special software.

Other broadcasters are biding their time with the new technology. Rev-105's Assistant Program Director and resident computerhead Thorn says he is excited by the potential of the technology, but not by the way it's currently being used. "Most radio stations are just putting their same broadcast signal up there," he says, "instead of doing something that really merges the two media." Rev is currently working with Bitstream Underground on developing their website, and plan to have a broadcast feed in the future. "But not until the technology is there to really let us do something different."

Minnesota Public Radio (http://www.mpr.org) isn't broadcasting online yet either, though they've begun adding audio files to their website, and plan to offer continuous stream broadcasting by fall. John Pearson, MPR's manager of online services, says it's too early to tell how the new medium will shape up. "We're looking at the way people use radio," he says, "and how that adapts to radio delivered over a wire without any geographic boundaries. People who really want to participate in their audio environment will be able to pluck audio from a variety of radio resources and assemble their own their own personalized listening experiences." Pearson suggests the possibility of multiple online music services, so fans of 20th-century classical music, say, could access an archive or stream broadcast on either a pay-for-use or membership basis.

"People will also be able to interact with other people while they're listening to things," he says. "For example, Garrison Keillor had a program at the end of April on jokes, and he announced at the beginning that people could e-mail jokes into the program. By the end of the broadcast we'd received between 200 and 300 jokes, some of which we put out over the air. So I think with online broadcasting we'll be seeing people interacting with radio in whole new ways that aren't necessarily definable because the experiences haven't really emerged yet." Despite the medium's novelty, Pearson doesn't believe in the wait-and-see approach. "If you're waiting for it to be perfect, you'll be waiting a long time. Meanwhile, there are a lot of interesting and creative things that can be done with it just the way it is today."

However online radio shapes up over the next few years, the medium does seem to be a big part of the message, meaning conventional broadcasters who don't adapt new strategies for the Net will be irrelevant there. "I personally think that just putting the same broadcast signal from a normal radio station on the Internet is completely worthless," says Michael Goldberg, editor of the San Francisco-based online music magazine Addicted to Noise, whose "Radio ATN" section presents long-form audio features through click-and-play files. "We're trying to do things that don't exist in the non-online world. This is a medium that's about reaching a much narrower audience, but a worldwide audience. There could only be 10 fans of punk rock
in some little American town where everybody else hates punk rock. But those 10 fans can listen in [to your station], along with maybe
20 fans in some town in Poland, and so on
and so on. You add everybody together,
and you can end up with a substantial audience. So this medium really allows you to do much more interesting programming--you don't have to be programming for the lowest common denominator." CP

--Will Hermes

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