Omir the Storyteller

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Friday, May 13, 2005

Internet radio is coming back


Of course for some of us it never left at all, but that's beside the point.

Yesterday the fact that I hadn't read Bill Virgin's weekly radio column in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in several weeks percolated through the cheesecloth of my consciousness. So I went to the P-I site and searched for Radio Beat (the name of the column, as I remembered) and the last entry I found was for sometime in March. Well, this wouldn't do. Had they cancelled it? No, I then searched for the words "Bill Virgin radio" and found yesterday's column. It'd be nice if he or they kept the name, but oh well, at least they have a weekly radio column. Turns out yesterday's column was about conservative talk station KKOL and its bid to move to Tacoma and go to 50,000 watts. Bleah.

But in looking for the column, I found a discussion of two new features available at KOMO Radio's website in the March 24th column. Those two features are podcasting, and an Internet stream. According to the site the Internet stream is only supposed to be available between the hours of 5 AM and 7 PM local time, but ssssssh, don't tell anyone. Last night at about 11 PM I was able to listen in. News, traffic and weather, with sports, business and entertainment news twice an hour. Lather, rinse, repeat. The same format that has served them pretty well for about three years, if I remember correctly. The same format I can get by turning on the radio that sits on the top shelf of my desk, but with two distinct differences:

  • No commercials. I'm sure this is to avoid the Internet penalty for music used during commercials, but hey, if I don't have to listen to the commercials, I won't complain.
  • The stream continues during Mariner games. By contract KOMO would not be able to stream the Mariner games, even though they're the flagship station for the Mariners Radio Network, because Major League Baseball owns those rights and charges me $15 a year to borrow them. Actually, the way the Mariners are playing right now, it might be nice to have the stream available as an alternative during the games. Also, again according to the website, extended versions of some of the stories will be available when the game is going out over the air.
The site also offers podcasting of stories covered on KOMO. Taking a look at the podcast feed as I type this, I see that they're currently offering the following stories (just the top few chosen from the feed:

  • The latest news and features from Seattle's KOMO News
  • While Seattle has no shortage of coffee vendors, fans of a true cafe will likely point you to Dow Lucarell's nearest Uptown Espresso.
  • The popular 90s band is back with a new album titled 'Youth' full of great cruisin' rock 'n roll.
  • When it comes to purchasing a new mattress, the best bed is the one that's most comfortable to you.
  • With the price of regular diesel fuel rising, Biodiesel looks better to many.
  • While CD sales stagnate, sales of good old vinyl records are brisk.
  • Consumer Reports found that the diet works well in the short term, but the program is nutritionally imbalanced.
  • 'The Light in the Piazza' -- developed at Seattle's Intiman Theatre -- will compete against three other musicals for the top award.
  • The Nowhere Men have been slavishly recreating the sound of the Beatles for enthusiastic Northwest audiences.
You notice that all of these but the first are human interest, entertainment and consumer report stories -- things that have a longer "shelf life" than hard news items. (The first is a pointer to their live stream.) I would hope that as time goes on and KOMO gets more comfortable with the idea of podcasting, they would be able to take some time to do longer stories with more background than the stories that fit into their current rapid-fire format. For instance, their over-the-air format would allow for only a minute or so to be spent on a story on the Republican challenge to Governor Gregoire's election; a podcast piece might include brief political biographies of the major players, more in-depth interviews with state Democratic and Republican figures, and background pieces on the relevant law and other previous challenges to the electoral process.

Podcasting is a new medium and people and companies are still figuring out how to adapt to it. I hope KOMO does something interesting with the format and doesn't just do what everyone else does, whatever that turns out to be.

Back in the early days of radio, many attempts were made to kill it. The Navy thought radio amateurs were a menace to shipping and sought to banish them to frequencies then thought useless. Those "useless" frequencies turned out to have much greater potential for long-distance communication than the Navy had ever dreamed of. Musicians' unions resisted the use of live music in radio, which gave rise to talented amateurs, recordings and dramatic presentations, the precursors of the shows of radio's golden age. When those shows moved to the new medium of television, radio reinvented itself as a local medium, eventually giving rise to talk radio. And when broadcasting moved to the Internet and actions by the RIAA and publishers' organizations threatened to make it grind to a halt, Internet "radio" responded with areas that weren't being served by the entertainment-industrial complex. Niche genres. Small bands not under contract to a major label. Roots music. Spoken word. Podcasting. Every time I bemoan the fact that the Man has driven music off the airwaves, I then think it wasn't that great a loss, because an incredible diversity of stuff has come up to replace the same top 40 shlock we were hearing over the air.

It's a great time to be an Internet audio geek.


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