by: Douglas E. Hill
One of the promises of the Internet is to drastically increase our listening options. There are too many different listening options on the Internet to mention them all in this article. But I will discuss some of them of interest to me. If any of these interest you too, you will probably find that these are worth checking out. But even if your tastes run quite differently, they should give you some idea of the things you can find when you look around the Internet yourself. Not only does the Internet increase your listening options, it can also give you an opportunity to program a station. Just as the Internet is making us publishers, as well as readers of the written word, it can make us programmers (i.e. web-casters) as well as listeners of the sung or spoken word.
When I was growing up in Contra Costa County (in San Francisco/Oakland East Bay area) in the 1970's, my radio listening options were limited to AM. To be sure, exciting things were happening on San Francisco FM stations, but these could not be received easily where I lived. So I grew up listening to AM. As I grew up, my listening options expanded. When I went to college, I started listening to FM. Now the Internet offers an explosion of audio choices. But I must admit that many of these audio interests were shaped by the San Francisco AM radio with which I grew up.
Program Your Own Radio Station
Websites such as live365.com let anyone program a radio station. So anyone with some eclectic taste or interest can program a station around that. One can update one's play-list when he chooses to, or when he uploads new songs. Until this is done, the station can be thought of as a repeating tape of a various length. At first thought, this may make the station more convenient for the programmer than for the listener: a programmer does not need to re-program 24 hours every day for the station, but if a listener listens long enough she would hear a lot of repetition. But I suspect that for most of us, Internet audio lacks the convenience of simply turning on a radio anywhere in the house or even in the car. So for most of as, Internet audio is an occasional diversion, and therefore we will not listen to any one station long enough to notice the repetition. Even if we do listen long enough to notice this on any one station, there are thousands of others.
Some Internet entrepreneurs had bigger ambitions: they hoped to bring full-service radio stations, with a full staff, to the Internet. Many stations, including KUCI, include a web-cast in addition to their FM or AM broadcast. But a local effort at moving a full station to the Internet has not been successful.
AAA Music in Greater Los Angeles
Many of us followed a radio format known as adult album alternative (AAA) rock music on Los Angeles radio in recent years. It as on 101.9 FM, first as KLIT and then KSCA, starting in July 1994. But in February 1997, the format disappeared for a while, then Gene Autry sold the station to Spanish language broadcasters. It reappeared over a year later as Channel 103.1, which was technically two radio stations. KACD broadcast their signal from 103.1 fm in Santa Monica, while KBCD broadcast the same signal in Newport Beach on the same frequency. When Clear Channel Communications sold these outlets to another Spanish language broadcaster, the station decided to move to the Internet, with its full staff of disk jockeys and programmers, as
worldclassrock.com. (They went all-Internet on August 28, 2000). But in June 2001 they fired their DJ's and became another programmed Internet station.
Worldclassrock.com failed to survive as a true radio station distributed via the Internet alone. The website remains and still plays music, but it is now just playing pre-programmed music. If you like the kind of music they play, you'll probably still enjoy listening. But without the radio personalities, the only difference between this and the stations you will find in places like live365.com, is that worldclassrock.com plays more audio commercials.
But radio has never been limited to music, and neither is Internet radio. Comedy and drama have been part of radio broadcasting since its early days, and continue on shows like KUCI's own The Darkling Eclectica. In fact, KUCI plays many different audio formats. Many formats, including comedy and drama, are finding a full-time home on Internet-only stations as well.
Inspired by Dr. Demento, David Tanny programs comedy on live365.com stations that he calls DFSX and DNCR. His stations can be found at: http://www.davesfunstuff.com/dfsx and http://listen.to/dfsx. Mr. Tanny was kind enough to be interviewed for this article. Here is the text of our conversation:
KUCI: Why go to all the trouble to create DFSX and DNCR?
Tanny: Well, for one, in many radio markets, there are no radio shows such as Dr. Demento that play funny or amusing music on a regular basis. The big stations' idea of comedy is unfunny shock jocks whose idea of comedy is solely on anatomy and sex humor.
San Diego is the worst case of all as there are virtually no eclectic nonprofit stations that exist that can play some novelty music weekly. Zeb Navarro hosts a 2-3 hour funny music show on KKSM 1320 up in Oceanside for those within 10 miles of the station. The only two main metro noncommercial stations play all jazz and all news, and that's it. Getting funny music exposed on the broadcast outlets is increasingly difficult, if not impossible. Today's corporate radio playlist policies basically stink up the high heavens.
Internet radio playing many genres and niches helps to fill in several coverage gaps such as all Eurodance or all Jimmy Buffet or all Grateful Dead, whatever you can imagine. I filled in this novelty song niche with two channels of dementia for people all over the world to listen, enjoy, and most important of all, to give feedback and let me know what songs they like or dislike.
DFSX and DNCR feature novelty songs and amusing tunes that were made famous by Demento and, before that, Top 40 radio from the 40's through the mid 70's when Top 40 began to over fragment so much that novelty music fell through the cracks. DFSX features the novelty hits of the 80's, 90's, and today, and the playlist is changed about once a month. DNCR is all classic novelty hits from the 40's through the 70's from artists such as Spike Jones, Tom Lehrer, Cheech and Chong, Barnes and Barnes, Ray Stevens, and many goofy gold hits of the 50's through the 70's by mostly one-hit wonders. Getting many unknown acts exposed for others to enjoy is worth the trouble. I also threw in some of my original songs into the playlist for exposure, by gum.
KUCI: How difficult was it to do so?
Tanny: I thought of starting a station on the Internet that plays funny songs 24 hours a day, but unfortunately, there were three roadblocks: time; I work and sleep, money; can't afford DSL, and servers; I'm no good at that department. That's where live365.com steps into the act. You can broadcast live on a channel you set up, of course, or do what I do, that is, upload about 365 MB of songs to the server space and let the station stream them for you while you free up your bandwidth for other projects. You can set it up to repeat songs on the playlist, play them in sequential order, or in random order. The only difficult time I have is that you have to use their proprietary file transfer tool that won't let you delete the MP3s you uploaded on the fly - you can delete the MP3s on the web though. Anybody can do this with live365.com. I tried Shoutcast and I couldn't get anything to work. I tried broadcasting live on live365.com and I succeeded, but my system resources were over consumed.
KUCI: What is your programming philosophy?
Tanny: When you get right down to it, when you're programming a music station, you have to keep in mind, first off, that you're doing it for the listeners. If you're not doing it for the listeners, then you have no listeners to listen to your programming. Every music playlist has its own personality in the mix. Some are squeaky clean like on Radio Disney, some aim for adults but have no bad words in their songs, some aim for the really adventurous listener who likes humor with no bounds. The idea is to keep the mixes consistent, not to put in a wickedly funny expletive-laden Eddie Murphy routine if your overall mix doesn't normally play works with such words. Surprises are okay, but if you put something they don't expect, then they'll tune somewhere else and may not come back.
If there's a niche to fill, you gotta fill it, or somebody else will.
It can be difficult to find radio drama broadcasts. KUCI has (and I hope continues to) broadcast recreations of old-time radio shows from the University of California, Irvine drama department. But recordings of original radio dramas can still be heard on the Internet. Those of us listening to AM radio in the 1970's and 80's may fondly remember the CBS Radio Mystery Theater. (This was also called Radio Mystery Theater or simply Mystery Theater on stations that broadcast this show but were not CBS affiliates, such as KSFO in San Francisco.*)
Mark A. Yafchak has put together one of several live365.com stations that plays episodes of Mystery Theater. His stations can
be found at: http://home.twcny.rr.com/myafchak/ where you can link to his Live365 station as well as select some of these programs directly. It may be easier to listen to them this way, since you can select a show and listen to it from its beginning. On a radio station, be it broadcast or Internet, you must listen to a program when the station plays it. This may not matter much for comedy or music, but one is liable to miss something important when one comes in, in the middle of a drama.
Mr. Yafchak was also kind enough to answer a few questions for this article. Here's the text of that conversation:
KUCI: Why did you decide to put together an Internet radio station?
Yafchak: I started the Radio Mystery Theatre Internet radio station as a spin off of my hobby of trading old episodes of the show. When I posted my first Radio Mystery Theater Trader webpage I was flooded with requests for old shows. I eventually received upwards of two-dozen requests for copies of the shows on CD a week! Since I did not have the time to fill all of the requests, I began to look for other ways to share my love of the Radio Mystery Theater with as many people as possible. When I found the live365.com website I felt that it was the most efficient and of course the least expensive way to present my collection of shows to the widest possible audience. It also fulfilled a need. We are very fortunate in Central New York to have a public radio station that airs The Radio Mystery Theater nightly (www.wrvo.org). Many communities around the country are not so lucky. People have written to me to tell me how they remember listening to the old shows when they were younger and how much they appreciate having a website that offers these shows on a regular basis.
KUCI: Did you find it difficult to put together?
Yafchak: Setting up the Internet radio station was easy. Programming it on the other hand was a bit more of a challenge. I work in the broadcasting industry for Time Warner Cable as a Producer/Director of Local Origination programming so I am familiar with issues of scheduling and audience demographics. I wanted to make sure that the shows I netcast will be fresh and new each time someone clicks on the station. The real challenge is to make sure people keep coming back. The only way to do this is to change the line- up on a regular basis. Uploading shows to the live365.com servers is probably the most time consuming part of the whole process. I also select the best possible shows in my collection based on sound quality and completeness.
KUCI: What kind of response has it gotten?
Yafchak: I average about 40-50 hits a day to my companion website and on average there are about 15 - 20 listeners at any given time on the live365.com Internet radio station. I have monitored my broadcaster stats page at all hours of the day and have found that the average number of listeners varies but is consistently within that range.
KUCI: Why did you choose Mystery Theater, as opposed to other radio dramas or other programming?
Yafchak: I chose the Radio Mystery Theater because it was one of my favorite radio dramas. I also had a pretty extensive collection of shows on CD so it made programming the Internet Radio Station a bit easier. I currently have over 500 shows in my collection so I have a large variety to choose from when I program the station.
You might not be able to find exactly the kind of audio programming for which you are looking on the Internet. But you can probably come close. And if you cannot come close enough, it is not too difficult to set up your own station.
Thanks to David Tanny and Mark Yafchak for their interviews for this article, and to Rodger Barrow and Mike Payne for contributing additional information.
*Source: Gordon Payton and Martin Grams Jr. The CBS Radio Mystery Theater: An Episode Guide to Nine Years of Broadcasting, 1974-1982. McFarland & Company, Inc. 1999.