"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 22 April 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Radio Radio



Call it shovelware with rabbit

ears. It looks just as silly,

and the reception is full of

static, but radio is going

online. Of course, there are

hundreds of useless

local-station home pages with

program listings and pictures of

DJs whose faces we'd rather not

see. This is simply more old

media taking its sweet time to

figure things out. Recall that

the first network TV sites were

static program guides too -

nowadays, they're so much more.



In contrast to teevee's national

orientation and cybertopian

programming's supposed cutting

of geographic ties, most

present-day radio stations

remain tuned to the local

market. Plenty of radio shows

still address local audiences

and are produced on the spot

with local "talent" - the very

bottom rung on the broadcast

journalist career ladder being

small-market radio news.

Excepting Rush, Howard, and the

various gravelly-voiced sex

counselors who tell us night after


night that it's really OK

to whack off, radio programming

has relatively little national

brand identity.



But just because radio has

nothing to market nationally

doesn't mean they won't get out

there and market it anyway. To

wit, Audionet, whose Web-ported

network of stations takes full

advantage of their radio

personalities' (it's a clinical

term) already-indistinguishable

patter by stashing it on Real

Audio servers for the whole

world to hear. No matter where

you are, Audionet brings you the

radio content you can't live

without, be it right-wing

politix with Ronnie's son

Michael (he's an Honorary Member

of Congress) or just the king of

Dallas Sports Comedy. And, of

course, a wide variety of

classic rock stations is always

available - assuming you can

correctly configure RA

and tolerate its


sound quality.



Sure, Audionet's a pure and

brainless transplant of one

medium to another. But talk

about service: not only can you

keep your inane

chatter-of-choice going from

your bedroom to your shower to

your car to your desk,

now you can get

not-noticeably-different inane

chatter from elsewhere around

the US (or even the world!) with

just one ergonomical and

economical mouse click.



Monitor-impaired online shows

have more going for them beyond

the fact that they're cheaper to

produce and eat less bandwidth

than what growth-starved cable

companies know as "The Grail"

and we know as "video." They

have basic desktop sociology on

their side: those millions of

knowledge workers, parked at the

PCs through which the online

media seep, are, ostensibly,

working. Audio lets them do, or

continue to give the appearance

of doing, whatever it is their

job description calls for. Think

productivity bomb on the order

of Minesweeper, but with the

added bonus of Your Commercial

Message piped in every few

minutes - neo-leisure for your




Stick-in-the-mud cynics might

say that if your average desk

jockey really wanted radio in

his cubicle, wouldn't he have

already invested $10 in an AM/FM

Realistic and plopped it beside

his monitor? To which the

enterprising media exec would

retort: we don't really know he

doesn't want it until we've

brought it to him and personally

guided it down his

boredom-greased gullet. With

workstation radio, as with

PointCast's screensavers,

consumers no longer have to

choose their media diet one

morsel at a time. Much easier to

be hooked up intravenously. More

efficient. More effective. More.



Once we have net-based

distribution, the radio biz

starts to look more like the

cable TV biz: one MTV and a

couple of CNNs translates to one

nationwide alternative rock

station, one oldies franchise,

one news/sports/weather

organization, and so on. For

music especially, this will

simply make explicit what was a

thinly-veiled radio programming

truth: it's already the same in

every city. Program-director

gurus churn out playlists from

LA or Houston or wherever they

first turned a loser station

into a hit, and the rest of the

country just fills the CD



With the demise of local radio -

one of the few remaining

bastions of identity for the

American city, which tends to

define itself through the media

it receives - the fallacy of

geographically-based community,

today revolving around sports

teams and frontal systems, will

be further exposed for the fraud

it has come to be. Put another

way, with Disney, Denny's, and

the Dallas Cowboys, why should

we expect to have anything but

nationally franchised DJs?



Seen in this light, the FCC's

attempts to regulate the net,

conventionally understood as an

effort to expand its

jurisdiction, can be read as the

Commission simply protecting its

turf. With the power to grant

licenses, frequencies, and

coverage areas, as well as to

determine programming

limitations (the number of

commercials per hour, the type

of content permissible during

certain times of the day, and so

on) - to determine, in other

words, who gets to say what to

whom - the FCC has a dominion

that net.casting threatens




The upside? Granted a huge

potential audience,

narrow-interest audio

programming that can't survive

on the air could flourish on the

wire, whether it's genuine

pirate radio, foreign-language

talk shows, or already-licensed

renegades like New Jersey's WFMU

reaching an international

listenership. More prevalent,

though, will be venture

capital-sucking cheesecasters

recreating the stations we hate

to begin with for no other

reason than with the Internet,

they can. It may not be pretty,

but a net-based broadcast

universe will be more democratic

than an FCC-rigged

scarce-spectrum one.



And once the promised land of

unlimited spectrum is reached,

the obstacle between you and

making your megabuck isn't

content - it's marketing,

publicity, and sales. But then,

it was never really content to

begin with. Federal broadcast

regulations were devised when

spectrum was a scarce commodity.

As any cableco attorney will

tell you, once bandwidth frees

up, the rules don't apply.

courtesy of Johnny Cache