Get Up for the Download

Searching for a new network of fans, local bands tune up, log on, and drop out

Founded in 1995 before anyone had learned to put three Ws together, NetRadio was the first Internet-only commercial radio station in the world. Since then more than 3,000 similar sites have popped up, a handful of them located in the Twin Cities. Aside from the 24-hour online version of Radio K (www.radiok.org) and Indisonic.com's occasional Webcasts of live concerts, there are two major local Web stations pumping music 24-7. BlackMusicAmerica.com (cable radio's WRNB) currently broadcasts Solid Gold Soul's Marvin-to-Stevie format. Radio Juno Beach (www.junobeach.com) broadcasts live DJs with a heavy local bent: A 15-minute sampling turned up songs by Dillinger Four, Passage, and Casino Royale. Like many of the sites I've mentioned, Juno's bread and butter appears to be selling CDs on their Web page--the source of half of NetRadio's revenue last year.

There's a certain quiet unreality to all this activity, and advertisers reportedly wonder if office workers are really listening to Web tunes at all: Schweitzer claims NetRadio reaches more than 1.4 million listeners a month. Hipsters might wonder about any station named the "Best of the Web" in Forbes, but the company's playlist is deeper than anything outside volunteer radio. Schweitzer says this is why he came to the station in the first place. "I'll get e-mails from someone like, 'Oh my God, I never knew this stuff existed,'" he says.

A headliner in Vienna? Ezra Hale of Audio Magazine
Teddy Maki
A headliner in Vienna? Ezra Hale of Audio Magazine

Given this bounty of variety, the MP3 nation is already universalizing the notion of music listening as a kind of mix tape, as Stark once predicted it would. And if the hundreds of local musicians online have any luck, they'll become part of the mix. It's perhaps surprising that the idea of listener-made compilations replacing records makes Ezra Hale shake his head. "I'd rather have Bob Dylan pick out songs on an album."

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