September 13, 1996
This Is Radio Web
Whether it's a competing threat, a propitious opportunity, or a grand experiment, the World Wide Web is making its presence felt at radio. Stations are cross-promoting themselves on Web Sites and complementing broadcast programming with Webcasting. Meanwhile, a garden of independent Webcasters is beginning to blossom.
Although it is a mass audience medium, the Web is altering the notion of a mass audience, and once abstract concepts like interactivity, specialization, and customization are being realized. Web Sites and Webcasting think and act globally while radio is firmly entrenched as a local medium. Radio's local focus, portability, low cost, and adaptability have enabled it to withstand the movies, television, videos, cable and satellite television, the Walkman, and compact discs. Its biggest challenge may be an evolving medium still in its infancy.
-by David Beran with assistance by Jennie Ruggles
Setting your web sites
A Web Site is a radio station's calling card to the Web and to the world. It promotes a station, links visual images into listeners minds, disperses information, and enables communication with audiences. A Site establishes that a station's thinking is in step with the technological times.
Radio personalities such as WRCX-FM-Chicago's Mancow, Evergreen Media's Howard Stern, and Live 105-San Francisco's Alex Bennett have Web Sites to promote themselves and their stations. Stations run contests, program schedules, playlists, e-mail addresses of on-air personalities, station histories, listener surveys, and sample audio clips.
"Our Site's only been up and running for three weeks, but it's getting a tremendous response," says Tom Sittner, chief engineer/Web master at San Antonio urban/rap station KSJL. In addition, KSJL streams audio around-the-clock using RealAudio technology distributed through Dallas-based broadcast network AudioNet. "We've gotten requests from Norway and San Diego, and jocks answer e-mail in real time during their shows," says Sittner. Eventually, the station wants to set up chat rooms on their Web Site for some of their programs.
"The best thing for radio to do is to add chat rooms to their Web Sites, create live radio/Internet contests, and other interactive features that bring the two media together," says Jeff Gold, president of Internet service provider Musictown, Ltd. Some stations are finding creative ways to link Web content to their broadcast programming. A3/Americana station KPIG/FM in Freedom, California, has its own live, in-studio "HamCam" that takes pictures of DJs and musicians, and WALK-Long Island runs a "Lyrical Links" contest allowing listeners to "name that tune" after hearing sound clips.
Web Sites can synergistically increase a station's visibility and generate interest. "You get name recognition and awareness with radio ads, and complete, detailed product knowledge, feedback, service, and support with the Web Site," says Cecil Hollar, director of Internet product marketing at Chapel Hill, N.C.-based Web designer EasyWeb Inc.
Broadcasting Vs Baudcasting
On November 7, 1994, WXYC/FM-Chapel Hill, N.C. became the first radio station to simulcast 24-hour programming on the air and on the global computer network. The college station viewed it as an experiment and an indication of what the Internet could be. "The biggest potential is for stations addressing a niche audience like us," says Bill Goldsmith, Technical Operations Director/morning DJ at KPIG. KPIG was the first commercial station to cybercast and broadcast simultaneously, beginning in February, 1995, using Xing Technologies' Streamworks audio. "Broadcasting over the Net should be considered by each radio station for one reason-gaining added exposure," says Peggy Tayloe, Marketing Programs Manager at Xing. Approximately 70 percent of the Internet population falls between the 18-34 demographic, which makes certain formats Webcast-friendly. Modern rock, alternative, and college formats all seem like naturals for the Web, but NPR, talk radio, specialty sports, and news formats can also find eager audiences.
Catering to niche audiences is the customized programming concept behind cable and satellite TV, but it may only work for a certain type of radio station. "For at least several years, the current Internet backbone infrastructure and slow modems will prevent Webcasting from becoming a serious option for broadcasting at reasonable fidelity and cost," says Gold of Musictown. Stations whose content doesn't stand out may find themselves little fish swallowed up by the big pond of the Internet, but the possibility of worldwide exposure is lucrative.
"All it will take is for a KROQ to realize it could be a 'worldwide station' as opposed to L.A. only, and the battle for radio supremacy on the Net will begin," says Nick Turner, founder of the online interactive virtual city Rocktropolis. Syndicated talk shows that perform well in national markets prove that audiences can be geographically dispersed, but can this translate worldwide?
"I've noticed how generic much of commercial radio is once many of these stations began putting their shows directly on the Net," says David Pakman, Programming and Business Development Manager of Music and Interactive Networks at Apple. The attitude of throwing programming out to a global audience and hoping that it sticks may be unrealistic.
DG Systems provides digital distribution services to around 5,000 stations. The system enables a station to receive and play back audio advertising spots, first-release music singles, programming and news. "I believe we will see more and more radio stations use the Web to supplement their existing broadcast programming and advertising during the coming year," says DG Systems Vice President of Marketing Jeff Byrne. Although Webcasting technology isn't currently of help to the service, Byrne admits that they are definitely looking seriously at the Web as both a transmission and communications vehicle.
Is Hi Fidelity Nigh?
Fidelity issues center around the three major Internet audio streaming technologies: Progressive Networks' RealAudio, Xing Technologies' Streamworks, and Macromedia's Shockwave. The sound quality of the competing technologies has evolved from primitive to viable, and the Holy Grail is transmitting true FM -quality stereo sound over 28.8 baud modems.
"Broadcasting on the Web is in the same stage of development that radio was around 1922. In order to listen you had to be technically proficient, and ten years later, it was an easy-to-use commodity," says KPIG's Goldsmith.
In late July, Xing unveiled its upgraded Streamworks 2.0, touting it as "the only product that offers real-time, on-the-fly Internet video and audio." A week later, Progressive Networks rolled out the upgraded RealAudio Player Plus, allowing users to "tune in" to the Internet and create a more personalized experience complete with pre-set and scan buttons. Right on the heels of the upgraded technologies, Macromedia wowed users with the introduction of its near-CD-quality Shockwave Audio.
"Every different technology has its pluses and minuses," says Lenny DiFranza, audio production assistant at independent Webcaster Hotwired. "RealAudio's quality is a drawback, and although Shockwave offers a big jump in quality, you can't stream live." KPIG, Capitol Records, C/Net, and the Los Angeles Dodgers are among Sites incorporating Xing's enhanced 2.0 version. San Francisco-based multimedia label OM Records is preparing to debut OM RADIO! and is working closely with Macromedia to develop Shockwave audio into the foremost Web broadcast standard.
The real story of radio and the Web could be something that seemingly has little to do with conventional radio, yet could someday compete with it. Independent Webcasters include record labels, digizines, and many autonomous companies offering cybercast programming. Can radio learn from the pioneering, experimental spirit of independent Webcasters offering continuous audio to personal computers?
Minneapolis-based NetRadio Network is the first live 24-hour a day, Internet-only radio network. Their five formats (vintage rock, classical, emerging artists, country, and children's programming) are combined with standard radio commercials enhanced with text and image-based ads on NetRadio's Web Site. The network says that its ultimate goal is to move away from the world's focus on mass marketing and concentrate more on an individual's unique dynamics.
NetRadio's business model is largely based on advertising guru Don Peppers and marketing scholar Martha Rogers' 1993 book, The One to One Future. The book describes life after mass marketing by exploring radical business strategies, including collaborating with each customer and selling more goods to fewer people.
"Traditional radio should be testing music, presenting album hours, showcasing and testing new talent-doing all the things they can't on the air," says NetRadio's Combs. NetRadio plans to debut 3-D Virtual Audio Chat rooms that will stage audio chat room discussions for recording artist or NetRadio's program managers. "We differ in that we are truly interactive with our listeners," says NetRadio's Vice President Dave Witzig.
"The Netcast service adds what radio cannot: interactivity," says Jim Butterworth, President of the live-audio and multimedia network Netcast. "Our goal is to create a mass medium that's separate and distinct from both radio and TV." Butterworth asserts that radio should treat Webcasting as an opportunity rather than a threat, and pick up some of the new innovative material for on-air use.
"We think the most successful IJs (Internet Jocks) will be those who understand both the strengths and the limitations of the medium," says Apple's Pakman. Apple's QuickTime Live! "virtual venue" on the Web debuted with its cybercast of Bill Graham Presents San Francisco's New Year's Eve, and Apple plans to continue Webcasting participatory events, including a September 27 Cranberries concert, and the Cool Site of the Year presentation on October 3.
Sites that are Webcasting special events include the multimedia journalism magazine Addicted to Noise's Radio ATN, Rocktropolis' Radio Free Rocktropolis, and Atlantic Records' Digital Arena. "I like the fact that you can create shows that people can access any time they want on their time schedule," says Addicted to Noise editor Michael Goldberg. Though it's not live, HotWired offers around-the-clock Webcasting from their Web Site.
"At our Site, the listener is like the program director, rather than getting one stream fed to them," says HotWired's DiFranza. The online world started a trend in the publishing business of print media professionals leaving to write for digizines, and a radio exodus for the Web is a possibility.
"Anyone who jumps ship to the Web exclusively will likely paddle back to a standard radio station job very quickly with a whole lot less money in their pockets," says Musictown's Gold. NetRadio's Dave Witzig left a successful 17-year career in the music business because he believes in the medium's future, but it looks like radio will have the lion's share of listeners and advertising for the time being.
"Bandwidth is a big issue, and it will take a while to build extra lanes on the information highway," says EasyWeb's Hollars. As audio quality continues to forge ahead, copyright and downloading issues loom large on the Internet horizon.
"No exact model for Webcasting applies, but performing unions are working on this now," says Jill Alofs, founder of Mill Valley-based Total Clearance. Alofs says that it's difficult to establish a generic rights system for the Internet due to the variations in usage. Xing Technologies has an experimental license with ASCAP and BMI, and the company has decided to hold off on the "record" capability of its Streamworks audio player because of potentially explosive licensing issues.
"There's an enormous amount of confusion, and a precedent needs to be set soon by either BMI or ASCAP," says Rocktropolis' Turner. Although the Web may be viewed as a lawless, unrestricted place right now, Alofs advocates prudence. "Just because an issue hasn't been decided or formally established doesn't mean you're free from its possible liabilities," she says. "I don't want my clients to be road kill on the information superhighway."
The gold rush mentality of the Web makes it hard to forecast the future of audio and what it will mean to radio.
Is there an audience out there that needs all of the options the Web offers, or does its reach far exceed its grasp? Marketing analysts, consultants, and doomsayers sometimes overlook the basic truth about radio. As long as radio communicates, there will be a need for it.