by: Barbara DeMarco Barrett
When you listen to the radio over the Internet, transmission may be spotty and you may not always get through, but that obstacle called distance shrinks down to nothing. You can tune in to a show broadcast from Rio de Janeiro, Hong Kong, or Bombay as if you're down the street.
With a sound card, speakers and the patience required to download the free software, you become an instant listener. More than 3,500 national, international, and Net-only stations exist on the Web. There were just 56 in April of 1996, claims George Bundy, chairman of BRS Media Inc., an Internet radio-tracking and consulting firm in San Francisco. He also says an additional 100 to 120 stations launch each month on average.
"[Internet radio] has enough momentum and critical mass now that those who don't plunge in in the next year or two will definitely be behind the curve," adds Jhan Hiber, ratings and research editor at Gavin Magazine, a radio-industry publication.
"More than 3,500... Net-only stations"
While most Americans still tune in the old-fashioned way, an Arbitron/Edison Media study released in February suggests that 11 million people tune in weekly to Internet radio. And in a survey last November of more than 850,000 Internet listeners, 1.4 million hours were spent tuned to online radio stations.
Still, there are drawbacks. One is bandwidth. Unlike a traditional station that can add thousands of listeners without affecting the bottom line, Web stations have a limited amount of space and have to buy more space when more people come knocking.
Yet, the drawbacks mean little when the reward is so great. KUCI's "Writers on Writing" listener, Denise Wilson, says Internet radio keeps her plugged in. " I live in a remote area of Tasmania, a three hour drive from a major centre, and we don't have much access to the news," says Wilson. "The Internet has changed my life by allowing me to know what's happening in the world."
The Internet has also changed the way broadcasters deal with information. Washington DC-based Karen Feld, host of Capital
Connections, a syndicated column and radio segment featuring political gossip, says "The Internet has made the news and gossip cycle a 24 hour one...and it places more of a demand on the broadcaster to find first-hand info and present it in a creative way with a unique spin."
"more than 850,000 Internet listeners"
Here at KUCI, DJs and Public Affairs show hosts say the Internet continues to expand their audience. Melissa Armstrong, host of KUCI's "Pulaski Skyway," says she has listeners in other countries. "I credit that to the Internet," says Armstrong.
Dr. Roland Esquire Holmes, host of "E.S.Q. All About Jazz," says, "The Internet has opened up a whole new way of life for radio. Callers from New York; Washington D.C.; Houston; Vancouver, Canada; and Santiago, Chile listen on Worldnet."
Julie Espy, KUCI's program director and host of "Howdylicious!," which draws regular listeners from New Mexico, San Francisco, New York and Germany, says, "Through the Internet, [our station] has been able to expand our voice into areas we never would have penetrated before. We continue to be a voice uncorrupted by the almighty advertising dollar, still striving to expose the new, original, and undiscovered."
"The Internet has opened up a whole new way of life for radio."
Dr. Stephen Mason, host of KUCI's "Look At It This Way," says, "The Internet allows people to know who you are, plus what you and your guest said, and to make instant contact. Internet radio seems to combine the best features of TV, radio and print."
With companies debuting gadgets and software to allow Net radio to go where only traditional signals have gone before, the future seems boundless for Internet radio.
"In the near future, the current situation-big stations on the air, with limited Internet broadcasts-will be reversed, and the big, popular stations will be online, with the occasional station doing radio broadcasts, " says Josh Burley, who maintains KUCI's computers and servers. "Soon we'll have unlimited access to the Internet-in our cars, at home-that will be wireless and with a lot of bandwidth."
Barbara DeMarco Barrett is public affairs director at KUCI and host of
"Writers on Writing" that airs Thursdays at 5:00 p.m.
click here for Barbara's web site