The .14 Cent Solution
If you want to see the future of music, you might do well to visit an apartment in St. Paul, in an unassuming townhome complex behind a strip mall. Here, in a spare bedroom carpeted with CD jewel cases and electronic bric-a-brac, a 38-year-old Web producer named Eric Iverson is introducing the world to a Venezuelan band called Los Amigos Invisibles. Later, if the mood strikes him, he might spin Thai rapper Joey Boy or Afro-Cuban ensemble Hijas Del Sol. Iverson's playlist is hypothetically infinite. Likewise, the listening audience for his Internet radio program, Zoetek World Radio, is both potentially infinite and largely hypothetical. "I almost prefer not to know," he shrugs. "It's better to assume people are listening than to know they're not."
The radio station of the future, it appears, is a pretty modest affair. Introducing the "heart and soul of the operation" with a showman's flourish, Iverson slides open a closet door. On the floor a small, reconditioned Dell Optiplex server whirs industriously. "I was having transmission problems for a while," he explains, as he points to the mop and bucket that also reside in the closet. "Then I realized my mop was too close to the server."
When Iverson started broadcasting on the Net, in 1999, he spent around $1,000 on secondhand hardware. Most of his 1,000 or so CDs are promotional copies from small record labels. To send his signal out to the world, Iverson pays $14 a month to Live365.com, a California-based clearinghouse that stores users' MP3 files on its servers and streams them onto the Web. He also sends his show to a company called iM Networks, which provides Net-radio programming for Internet-ready tuners. Although users are invited to click on Iverson's playlist and purchase the music they're hearing from Amazon.com, nobody ever does, and Iverson has yet to make any money from his hobby. He is not bothered by this. "I guess the main reason I started my own station was because there was nothing else to listen to," he says.
As a phenomenon, Internet broadcasting might seem more akin to a millennial ham radio than to the oft-evoked global jukebox. Yet Net radio stations like Iverson's are proliferating: Live365.com alone offers 34,000 stations, ranging from the mainstream (Planet Zeb, an Eighties rawk program), to the esoteric (Dr. Dick's Dub Shack), to the puzzling (FluffertraX, which plays the soundtracks to adult films), to the truly indefensible (Shit 'N Disco, devoted to the art of Rick Springfield and Kajagoogoo). Many traditional radio outlets, from college stations to those owned by industry behemoth Clear Channel Communications, also stream their broadcasts on the Internet. But the medium undeniably remains largely the domain of obsessive music fans, dedicated hobbyists, the Eric Iversons of the world. It is music's wild frontier.
Just as Internet radio begins to catch the public's ear, though, new regulations pushed by the recording industry threaten to squeeze Webcasters like Iverson out of cyberspace. If approved this week by Librarian of Congress James H. Billington, these rules would force Webcasters to pay substantial new royalty fees to record labels and recording artists. The impact of the fees is hard to quantify: Some stations might pay as little as $500 a year; others could end up owing as much as $300,000. Anticipating financial ruin, a number of stations have already vanished from the Web. Others will do so soon. Webcasters fear that however this week's decision plays out, the royalties will ultimately be high enough to shut down most independent and college stations, leaving the Web to deep-pocketed media corporations. Taking out a calculator, Iverson quickly figures that his own modest operation could be on the hook for $1,000 a year (and possibly much more, as it turns out)--enough to take the shine off his hobby. "This was definitely more fun in the Nineties, when it was a novelty," he says. "It might lose its appeal very quickly."
And, Iverson points out, the situation may be even more dire for the majority of Webcasters: If the regulations are enacted, they could effectively smother Internet radio in its cradle.
Like most Internet-related ventures, commercial Web radio has been hit hard by the recent dot-com shakeout. Minneapolis-based NetRadio.com, for instance, a Web-streaming pioneer that once broadcast 120 channels of music to three million listeners from its headquarters in Riverplace, quietly closed shop last October after failing to attract new investors.
But Net radio's current peril was plotted long before the New Economy flamed out. It dates at least as far back as 1993, when President Clinton appointed a former industry-entertainment lawyer named Bruce Lehman to revamp the nation's copyright laws for the digital age. Lehman was, not surprisingly, sympathetic to his former clients. In particular, he responded to fear from the music industry that digital technology would soon render the traditional record business obsolete.
"What they were seeing was a world in which rather than anyone buying CDs, any song you wanted to hear, you could just call up over the Internet," explains Niels Schaumann, a professor at William Mitchell College of Law who specializes in copyright law and the Internet. "Obviously in a world like that, you wouldn't need record companies anymore."
The solution Lehman proposed found its way into 1998's "Digital Millennium Copyright Act" (DMCA), a sweeping piece of legislation that imposed stiff penalties for copyright infringement. The bill was lauded by the entertainment industry as a victory for artists' rights (it became the basis for the record industry's successful suit against Napster). Others complained that it was draconian (it was also the justification for the jailing of Dmitry Sklyarov, a Russian programmer charged with distributing a program that enabled users to circumvent Adobe's eBook encryption).
Schaumann explains that the primary effect of the DMCA was to give more power to copyright holders. "At one time, there was an understanding that holding a copyright didn't give you undifferentiated ownership," he says. "You'd get a right to certain things, and the public had rights to certain things. That bargain has shifted in a major way."
For Net radio broadcasters, though, the most important consequence of the DMCA was this: Unlike traditional radio, Congress reasoned, Web radio was giving its listeners permanent copies of songs--in theory, at least. Therefore, unlike traditional radio, Web radio stations ought to pay royalties to the holders of the songs' copyrights (i.e., recording artists and record companies). It was a legal distinction long sought by the music industry's aggressively litigious trade group, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), who feared that listeners would use Net radio the same way they were using Napster--to bypass the record companies.
In long-accepted practice, traditional radio stations pay nothing to record companies to play music over the public airwaves, by the logic that commercial radio is essentially a promotional vehicle for records. Performers, too, get nothing. Radio stations do pay royalties, amounting to about three percent of revenue, to the composers of the music they broadcast (through the music-publishing companies ASCAP and BMI). So, for instance, when a radio station plays Alicia Keys's "How Come U Don't Call Me Anymore?" Prince would get a small payment, while Keys got squat. Among its many changes, the DMCA marked the first time Congress had ever awarded so-called performance rights to musicians.
When the time came to determine how much Web radio stations ought to pay to play, the RIAA and Internet broadcasters, represented by a group of large companies like Clear Channel and Infinity Broadcasting, were miles apart. Webcasters proposed to pay 3 percent of their annual revenue; record companies asked for 15 percent. Then the Webcasters struck upon an idea: Instead of paying a fixed rate--called a statutory license--they would pay record companies a fraction of a cent in royalties for each song they played. It would turn out to be a ruinous miscalculation.
Bill Goldsmith, a Net-radio advocate who runs the listener-supported Radio Paradise in California (www.radioparadise.com), says that the Webcasters--media conglomerates or startups rolling in venture capital--were dazzled by the medium's potential as a cash cow. "They had their heads in the clouds with where they were going," he says. "They thought they were going to be minting money by streaming radio on the Web. They thought millions in advertising was going to roll in, and they wanted to protect that flow of cash at all costs. Now most of those companies are out of business." Goldsmith also notes that because the participants had to pay for the proceedings, small Webcasters were priced out of the negotiations from the start.
When negotiations stalled last year, the Library of Congress--which oversees copyright and patent issues--empowered a triumvirate called a Copyright Arbitration Royalty Panel (CARP) to resolve the impasse. (Schaumann points out that the group would be more accurately called a "Copyright Royalty Arbitration Panel" if not for the unfortunate acronym.) In a peculiarity of the process, the CARP was required to base the royalty terms on an existing example. They chose the deal that Yahoo had made with the RIAA after acquiring the streaming service Broadcast.com for $5.7 billion at the height of the speculative tech boom--hardly a representative model, it would seem.
In February, after months of testimony from major Webcasters and record companies, the CARP proposed a solution. Web radio broadcasters, the panel recommended, should pay record companies 14 one-hundredths of a cent (or $.0014) per song per listener. Traditional stations that also stream their broadcasts on the Web were to pay seven one-hundredths of a cent ($.0007), while noncommercial stations would pay two one-hundredths of a cent ($.0002) per song. As mandated by Congress, that money would then be evenly split between the labels and musicians.
In addition, the RIAA proposed that Webcasters keep detailed logs of the music they played--ostensibly so that royalties could be accurately tallied. Among the two-dozen pieces of data Webcasters would have to provide were detailed logs of when their listeners were tuning in and from where--a worrisome prospect for privacy advocates, to say the least.
Certainly, a sliver of a cent doesn't seem like anything to get exercised about. But for Webcasters, who generally bring in little to no advertising revenue, it could be enough to break the bank. Take, for instance, Eric Iverson's Zoetek, which goes out over the for-profit Live365.com service: If the station played 15 songs an hour, 24 hours a day to an audience of one, he would still owe only 50 cents a day. Say, however, that Zoetek had 1,000 listeners---a reasonable expectation for a successful Webcast. Suddenly, Iverson would be paying $500 in royalties each day--or more than $180,000 a year. With revenue of approximately $0, Zoetek would, to put it mildly, be facing tough times.
According to Goldsmith, just keeping track of these fees would put most small independent Webcasters out of business. (Recall that Iverson is almost totally oblivious to the size of his audience, much less when and how his listeners log in.) Combined with the fees themselves, Goldsmith says, the CARP proposal virtually assures the death of Net radio in its current form. His own Radio Paradise, which has 90,000 listeners a month, could end up paying $9,000 each month in royalties, or roughly three times his gross income. And, because the fees are retroactive to 1998, he could presumably already owe nearly $250,000. "And I'm more successful than the average," Goldsmith adds.
To put the issue in perspective, the ratings-tracking firm Arbitron estimates that if record companies were to collect the same fees from a successful New York City radio station, they would amount to $15 million a year. In other words, the fees proposed by the CARP would be high enough to derail even the $20 billion advertising juggernaut that commercial radio has become.
¬ For its part, the record industry maintains that Lilliputians like Iverson and Goldsmith are merely pawns of larger commercial Webcasters hoping to ride for free on the backs of starving musicians. On its Web site the RIAA characterizes the anti-CARP campaign--which included a "day of silence" on Internet-radio stations earlier this month--as "an intense misinformation and propaganda campaign (so called 'grassroots' but really ginned up by sophisticated lobbyists in D.C.)." (Reached in Washington, an RIAA spokesperson declined to comment for this story.) The anti-CARP carping, the RIAA continues, is meant "to scare noncommercial Webcasters--including college radio stations and so-called hobbyists--and their members of Congress into thinking that CARP rates are going to drive noncommercial Webcasters out of business."
The problem, according to the RIAA, is that anti-CARP agitators are using fuzzy algebra to distort the effect of the new royalty fees. Because Webcasters' calculations have erroneously assumed that every listener is logged on for 24 hours a day, the RIAA contends, the total royalty fees are vastly inflated. Again using Zoetek as a hypothetical test case, if Iverson's broadcast had the same 1,000 listeners per day, but those listeners only logged on for an hour each, his royalty payments would be closer to $8,000 per year. It's worth noting, though, that even such a relatively small payment would be enough to drive nearly all hobbyist Webcasters off the Net. In the cases of independents and college-radio stations with a small listenership, the annual royalty fee could be even less than the $500 minimum set by the DMCA. And record companies, the RIAA adds, are eager to broach a compromise with noncommercial independents--perhaps, for instance, going back to the model of setting royalty fees as a percentage of a station's annual revenue.
Small Webcasters aren't mollified by the RIAA's assurances or convinced by its math. Kurt Hanson, editor of the Chicago-based Radio and Internet Newsletter and a co-founder of the Web site SaveInternetRadio.com, says that, while royalties may be lower than forecasted, they will still be prohibitive for smaller Webcasters. "What it is is a barrier to entry," he says. "If CARP is approved, I can't imagine most normal people would want to be their own Webcasters."
Like many Webcasters, Hanson argues that the rationale behind paying royalties is fundamentally flawed. Because the songs broadcast on Net radio stations are compressed to accommodate lower connection speeds, the sound quality is rarely better than that of AM radio. Moreover, unlike Gnutella or KaZaA, Net radio doesn't provide users with permanent copies of songs. In other words, listeners currently couldn't pirate copyrighted music from Internet radio even if they wanted to.
And, Hanson and other Webcasters point out, the RIAA's claim that the Web is taking money out of artists' pockets doesn't hold water. A recent study by marketing company Jupiter Research found that people who swap music files on the Internet actually spent more on records than they had before embracing the new technology. With the consolidation of the commercial radio industry after 1996's Telecommunications Act, it follows that Net radio is one of the last conduits available for listeners to encounter artists whom Clear Channel hasn't decided to "break." For both artists and record companies, then, the CARP may prove a zero-sum game: If Net radio disappears because of royalty fees, there won't be any royalty fees to collect.
Already, the looming specter of the CARP decision--combined with a disastrous Copyright Office decision last year that forced radio stations to stop running broadcast advertisements online--has silenced an estimated 20 percent of the stations that simulcast on the Net. It isn't just independents who are feeling the crunch, either. In May of last year, radio-industry heavyweight Clear Channel, which owns seven radio stations in the Twin Cities, halted Web simulcasting at 318 of its stations.
While some local commercial simulcasters will likely be forced to follow suit, nonprofit stations may fare better. Andy Marlow, station manager at Radio K, explains that, because the college station is partly funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, they would be exempt from the CARP royalties. (The CPB negotiated its own terms with the record industry, which, at the RIAA's insistence, remain secret.) Marlow notes, though, that Radio K is an anomaly among college stations. "We're in a strange little circumstance," he says. "My guess would be that unless Congress acts to stem the tide, most [college] stations are going to have to stop Webcasting."
Likewise, Radio Juno Beach (www.junobeach.com), a four-year-old Minneapolis Web-only station that promotes local and indie bands and features live DJs, is insulated from the CARP fallout because it negotiates directly with artists rather than with record labels. "We all thought something like this was coming down," explains Juno Beach CEO Stephen Lawson, who operates the station from a basement studio redolent of wet cat. "There's no control over the Internet, and big record companies weren't going to let it stand. As we all know, control is one thing big companies like.
"It [the CARP] is not about them getting their fair share," Lawson asserts. "What they're doing is trying to narrow the field. They're saying, 'Oh, our poor artists aren't making any money.' Well, fuck, you shouldn't have signed them to deals where they have to recoup their studio time."
Like many observers of the debate, Lawson suggests that there's more to the CARP decision than bureaucratic immobility and fuzzy math. If Net radio stations were forced out, he notes, it would clear the way for forays into vertical integration like pressplay and MusicNet, Napster-like subscription services run as joint ventures by the five major record labels. (Both pressplay and MusicNet have been subjected to scrutiny by the Justice Department's antitrust division.) "There's a huge air of anti-competitiveness about this," Lawson says. "It's elephants stepping on ants. You can't blame them--they're in the business to make money. But they're the biggest elephants on the block and they don't want to fight for foliage."
If the future plays out as Lawson and others suspect, the few companies who will be able to broadcast music on the Internet will be deep-pocketed media conglomerates like Yahoo and AOL Time Warner--and, of course, the major record companies themselves. With streamed Internet advertising projected to top $5.8 billion by 2005, there's ample motivation for media companies to make a land grab. (Split 50,000 ways, this money may not go too far; but in a dozen hands, it is a hefty sum, indeed.) But if that happens, the Internet, now a hothouse for non-mainstream genres and artists, will likely be colonized by the same hit parade of unit-shifters that dominates the commercial airwaves.
With so much at stake for both Webcasters and the music industry, the question of royalties seems unlikely to be resolved either quickly or amicably. If Librarian of Congress Billington accepts the CARP's recommendations, Net radio stations could begin to go silent almost immediately. If he chooses to reject or amend them, negotiations would begin anew.
"If I had to speculate, I'd say there's some chance the librarian might send it back to the panel," says William Mitchell's Schaumann. "But I wouldn't hold my breath."
Meanwhile, Net radio has recently become the topic du jour on Capitol Hill. In a strongly worded April 22 letter to Billington, Virginia Democrat Rich Boucher and 19 other House members urged the librarian to reject the CARP's recommendation. "In our view, if the royalty rates or formula stifle an inchoate industry and force hundreds of small Webcasters out of business, Congress's goals would not have been met," they wrote. Just last Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing at which both Webcasters and RIAA president Hilary Rosen aired their views.
Yet even if Net radio survives the current assault, many observers say, this is only one skirmish in an ongoing battle for the future of the music industry. For now, the music industry is determined to forestall its decline--whether through litigation against services like Napster, or by lobbying for severe anti-piracy legislation like the Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Act (widely known as "the Hollings Bill"). But it's hard not to conclude that the industry is actually engaged in a fighting retreat.
"You've got to remember that these aren't the most far-sighted people," Schaumann says. "That's how you get [Motion Picture Association of America president] Jack Valenti raging against the Betamax, when [video] eventually became one of the industry's biggest sources of profit. When you're talking about new technology, they perceive the threat rather than the benefit."
To believers in the Net's utopian possibility like Zoetek's Iverson, it also appears that record companies are now trying to stuff an ungovernable genie back into its bottle. "They complain so much about piracy," Iverson says. "Well, that box is opened. If it can come out of a speaker, you can digitize it and send it to your friends. What they should do is make it easier to be legitimate than to be a pirate. I mean, how many people are pirating paperback novels? But they want to set up tollbooths wherever they can. There's a potential sea of thousands of listeners for them, it's free publicity, and they're acting like they're doing us a favor by letting us play their music?
"It's sad, because the Net could be the best thing that's ever happened to the music industry. But big centralized organizations want to control everything. The system is a mess. If the music industry doesn't change, it's going to die."
Iverson has sampled the future of music. The question now is whether it will be open enough to accommodate him.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The airwaves don't reach far enough. Right this moment Dadaist sound poetry, obscure Japanese cult hits, and a bizarre patter of police reports are being streamed over the Web at stations in the U.S., the U.K., even Canada, for goodness sake. But without Internet radio, we wouldn't have access to any of it. The ruinous new royalty rules proposed under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act might soon make Webcasting prohibitively expensive: Even tiny, profitless stations could easily owe $250,000 in back payments. But until the U.S. Copyright Office announces its death sentence, we'll be listening to these, an informal collection of our favorite online stations. Some of them may survive the advent of the new royalty regime; others won't. Tune in now while the listening is good.
ANTENNA RADIO * www.antennaradio.com
*Loosely based in Seattle, Antenna Radio plays like the ten college radio stations of your dreams, offering everything from talk radio to classic punk to stringy vintage country blues. Each of its regular shows produces a fresh hour or two of programming each week, with the previous week's programs available in the archives. (After that, you're left humming along to the playlists.) The site and its ever-changing roster are strictly DIY, which DJ/station manager Scott Bass credits for Antenna's success. Though they've been pumping out music since 1997, they've never had a business plan, or the slightest hope of profit. Which leaves them hoping to fly under the RIAA's radar if the CARP whip comes down: "We have a volunteer Webmaster," snorts Bass. "You think we've got a lawyer?!" Highlights include "Japan-O-Rama" (Japanese girly pop) and "Friendly Persuasion" (strange spoken-word and musical fragments on a central theme). --Angela Gunn
APB NEWS * www.apbnews.com
*A site that paranoids, gossips, and junior detectives can all enjoy, New York's APB News features live police-scanner broadcasts from every major U.S. city. Sit back in the darkness of your bedroom while policemen-cum-DJs from Baltimore to Los Angeles put out a terrifying variety of all-points bulletins. In time, you'll be able to distinguish a 10-54 (possible dead body) from a 10-58 (garbage complaint) and 10-91h (stray horse). If the broadcasts leave you wanting more, APB is your link to the crime over-world, from stories currently in the news ("Philadelphia Man Gets Prison Sentence for Feeding Cocaine to Baby") to commentary by such luminaries as former New York police commissioner William Bratton and Columbia University professor David J. Krajicek. The only downside is that there are so many paranoids, gossips, and junior detectives among us that Web traffic often exceeds APB's capacity. For best results, log on in the still hours of the night. And lock your back door. --Amanda Ferguson
COSMIC SLOP * www.stitzel.com/slop
*Though it's been down for a while, the Web version of KUOM's (770 AM) Sunday-afternoon showcase of vintage pop is definitely not out. In fact, DJ Joel Stitzel is expanding his Internet presence, bringing attention to music that broadcast radio ignores or has forgotten. He starts with an enormous playlist of nearly 1,500 songs covering the years between John Kennedy's and Jimmy Carter's administrations, and plans to add dozens more as time goes on. Though sometimes the playlist leans toward Seventies soft rock--a sphere of music that has now disappeared from the AM and FM dials--Stitzel's eclecticism means you'll hear a little bit of just about everything if you tune in long enough. Funk, easy listening, U.K. punk: It's all in there. The Alan Parsons Project might segue into Foghat, followed by James Brown, David Bowie, and the Buzzcocks. Stitzel also makes sure to give airtime to praiseworthy fringe artists like Billy Nicholls and Judee Sill. For Cosmic Slop, a great tune is a great tune, no matter what genre it's from--a philosophy corporate radio has long since disposed of. --Christopher Bahn
ESSENTIAL MIX and JOHN PEEL * www.bbc.co.uk/radio1
*Decent dance songs get about as much play on major U.S. stations as music does on talk radio. Which makes England's Essential Mix, on the air since 1993, all the more essential to statesiders. Broadcast from the U.K. to the homes (and now, computers) of innumerable beat keepers across the planet, this BBC Radio 1 show has aired some of the world's best DJ sets by the likes of Basement Jaxx, Cassius, BT, Dave Clarke, Derrick Carter. The wildly popular program, headed by the recognizably tart voice of London's DJ Pete Tong, is in syndication on more than 150 college radio stations in America. But it has snagged even more devoted dance-music fans through its live Webcasts and CD compilations. Perhaps a certain local station that brags it plays "the hottest in dance"--by Pink and Kylie Minogue, no less--should check out the site's playlist. --Jen Boyles
*Radio1 also allows the Yanks unlimited access to the college radio DJ's patron saint, John Peel--a purveyor of all things underground and mainstream in music. A broadcaster for more than 40 years and a former DJ on legendary pirate station Radio London, Peel currently airs his program three times a week and later archives it. Nowhere else can you track down such crisp performances from the likes of Cinerama, Clinic, and the White Stripes, not to mention artists like the Bays and Goatboy, who are still fairly unheard-of here in the States. If you usually just wait for bootlegs of these precious musical sessions to be widely distributed, you're missing out on Peel's infamously unpredictable interview style, which can be heard before and after the songs. --Kate Silver
FLUFFERTRAX RADIO * www.fluffertrax.com
*Life is a porno; here's your soundtrack. Wah-wah guitars preen to orchestral swoons and excited snake rattles. Ancient Bollywood funk riffs brush up against DJ beats. Disco Stu meets the Ladies Man. And if Love TKO's "Love Thong" doesn't juice your caboose, Puccio Roelent's "The Taste of Repeat" just might. Played 24/7 on a monster loop and updated once or twice a week, Fluffertrax.com is the baby of John Dial, an Austin, Texas-based pop maniac who has collected porn soundtracks for a decade. "Over the past few years, it's gotten easier to find the music," he reports via e-mail. Hence his giant, firm body of exotic sounds should surprise even connoisseurs who might know the theme from Deep Throat and have a fond memory to go with it. --Peter S. Scholtes
HARD RADIO * www.hardradio.com
*Thanks to my own ongoing software problems, I don't hear heavy-metal site Hard Radio anywhere near as often as I see it. Bummer, because the music is a well-sequenced blend of hard-rock obscurities, AOR staples, and new tunes spiced with a little hair-metal flash and aggro extremism. Also on offer are thousands of content pages--reviews, interviews, and the like--which will remain online after May 22, should the worst happen. Especially good are the contributions of two of the finest writers in the genre, record reviewer Martin Popoff, and news columnist Tim Henderson (also the editor of Canadian metal mag Brave Words and Bloody Knuckles). Hard Radio is a vital site for those who must know when Rob Halford returns to the studio, or how many units Iced Earth moved in Greece. Especially fun are the dates pages, where no event seems to escape Henderson's watchful historical eye ("2001: former Skid Row vocalist Sebastian Bach is nominated for a Broadway.com Audience Award for his role in the Broadway show Jekyll & Hyde"). Here's hoping that "Hard Radio Goes Off the Air" doesn't get added to that timeline anytime soon. --Cecile Cloutier
THE RADIO CAVE * www.radiocave.com
*Five streaming broadcasts out of New Jersey brew up a rich stew of the blues, showcasing the earthy vibrancy of the genre in all its joy and glory. It's a tall order to even scratch the surface of a form that's been on record more than 80 years. But site creator DJ Ron, who's been collecting blues records since the 1950s, is more than up to the job. He selects his tunes with exquisite taste, capturing the sweep of the genre across the decades and continents. There are more than 1,100 songs in the rotation, which is often especially heavy on the electric sizzle of guys like Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, and Otis Rush, with side trips into the sophisticated style of Billie Holiday or the unearthly voice of Skip James. The three main streams follow the blues' main evolutionary path from 1920s Delta to the amplified sound of 1950s Chicago. Two others focus on British blues and jazz. Appropriate to an art form of subtle, gradual changes, each playlist is a little different. --Bahn
RESONANCE RADIO * www.resonancefm.com
*Finally, a radio station that plays everything you want to hear! Of course, you might not know yet that listening to sound diaries culled from car-trunk sales, a "day in the life" portrait of Japanese noise-rock outfit the Boredoms, and a slew of records played backward is everything you want to hear. But after tuning in to this U.K. broadcast station--which is run by the London Musicians' Collective--for a few hours, it will be. With no playlists, scant DJ breaks, and no corporate sponsorship, Resonance asks luminaries like comic artist Savage Pencil and experimental saxophonist Caroline Kraabel to create their own programs, drawing from what Resonance terms "an archive of the new, the undiscovered, the forgotten, the impossible." And so listeners have access to radio's orphans: the sound-poetry clips of Dadaist Tristan Tzara, the plunderphonics of People Like Us, the industrial noise of Chinese sound architects Xpr Xr. If lost music is a newly found art, then Resonance is the great museum of sound. --Melissa Maerz
SCREW MUSIC FOREVER * www.screwmusicforever.com
*You can find plenty of music online--all kinds of it. You can also find plenty of news. But how many sites, pray tell, provide detailed information about the city's abandoned subway stations, complete with a disclaimer that pleads, in a manner that's just a wee bit tongue-in-cheek, "Please don't wander into non-public parts of railroad tunnels. It is against the law, and it is dangerous." That's just a minuscule smear of the mustard on the corn dog when it comes to Screw Music Forever, the online arm of celebrated Brooklyn microstation Free 103.9. Sure, the site offers some of the most enlightened, adventurous, and ultimately entertaining programming in cyberspace. Music runs the gamut from Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra to DJ Scud. News is refreshingly lef t of center. But it's the extras--poetry, fiction, journal entries, visual art, and, rarest of all, bulletin boards--that truly make this site the global-community hub it is. There's also merchandise, including cheap-ass CDs ($7.99!), with sounds frequently gathered from the many live shows this microconglomerate presents. Ladies and gentlemen, the AntiClearChannel is before us! --Rod Smith
WFMU * www.wfmu.org
*If only all radio stations had programs called Anal Magic. Or hosted game shows in which the host first gives young children money for answering easy questions, then tries to inveigle them to give it back to him. Or boasted DJs like Incorrect Music host Irwin Chusid, who truly appreciates songs like "Do It Like a Dog"--a riotous number by Dean Milan, who is rumored to be Tom Jones's alter ego. This New York station--which is available to the rest of the world over the Net--is a virtual smorgasbord of fringe sounds. It's the soundtrack for anyone who was ever beaten up in high school, was chided for unironically loving the Shaggs, or felt a certain affinity with comic-book characters. It's a place where the beautiful and the strange are inextricable from each other. It is, in short, quite possibly the best radio station in the country. --Maerz
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