Riding the wave of the future!

Riding the wave of the future!

Internet and alternative radio broadcasts to Dayton and the world

 By Zach Rogers

 
Photo: Mike Clare/mikecimages

Chances are, if you’re someone who still listens to the radio your options have never been better. In the past ten to 20 years there’s been a gigantic surge in radio, one that’s seen a lot of changes in the way we listen to our favorite stations. Of all the different ways to tune in (traditional/terrestrial, AM/FM, digital, satellite, etc.), no other outlet has had the sort of meteoric rise seen as with Internet radio.

Now, this isn’t Pandora or Spotify we’re talking about. That’s a different ballgame. These are the smaller ones, the ones run by you and me – everyday people; not by some corporation out to make as much money as they can. These stations operate as completely independent entities from a higher authority. There aren’t many rules or regulations, and frankly it’s leveled the playing field. These new stations appeal to listeners with special needs and interests in mind, tailored tastes that aren’t readily available on your typical radio dial. Perhaps they want to listen to jazz-funk fusion or Chicago house music all day long, without any commercial interruption? No matter what you crave, there’s one place to find it: on the Internet.

So what exactly is Internet radio? In theory, an Internet radio station transmits music and/or other forms of audio through the web in a process known as streaming. With the right software and equipment, any smooth-talking music lover has the ability to create their own station. It’s relatively easy to do, and it’s a sensation that’s been sweeping the country for years now, even managing to catch fire in Ohio.

“At first, people thought it would never take off,” said Karen Kelly Brown, marketing and promotions director at Downtown Dayton Radio, a local Internet station. “I’d say within the last two to three years it’s gotten way bigger than it ever was before.”

Radio has been evolving since its inception in the early 20th century. AM started off as the popular format and remained dominant throughout much of radio’s early years. FM was designed to eradicate the interference problems associated with AM, and although it succeeded, broadcasting at a higher power meant the signal was more localized. Because of this, FM radio didn’t truly catch on until much later when it finally became the mammoth for radio across the country. In the early years of this century, audio streaming formats like RealAudio and Winamp were released, and with these innovations the concept of Internet radio became increasingly real. The technology made it simple for anyone to stream anything online. As bandwidth capabilities increased, Internet radio grew into the rising underdog it is today.

In Dayton, the variety of Internet stations is quite staggering, and each have different goals in mind. They range from all-purpose community stations to variety formats playing music across all genres. Some incorporate a mix of signed and unsigned acts, and some specialize in a particular genre like country, jazz, blues or rock. Downtown Dayton Radio is an Internet station focused on becoming “the voice of the city.” Fronted by the husband and wife duos of Will and Sue Harris and Butch and Karen Kelly Brown, the group has a combined 100 years of radio broadcasting experience, proving Internet radio can be both independent and professional at the same time.

“We’re focused on everything that happens downtown, and we highlight local arts, artists, restaurants, businesses – anything downtown,” said Brown. “We play all kinds of music, including one original Dayton artist every hour, so it’s not the same 25 to 30 songs played over and over again.”

Similarly, in Troy there is Troy Community Radio, owned and operated by Scott Hornberger. Broadcasting for more than a year now, the station is dedicated to serving the general interests of the city of Troy.

“Troy Community Radio was created in order to fill a void in our community,” said Hornberger. “The city had been without a local radio station for nearly 20 years, and as more people started getting their music online, I created a website that could stream a station and focused it on Troy.”

Programming is one of the key factors in a station’s existence, and on the web that means providing listeners with the kind of stuff you won’t hear on terrestrial radio. Red Earth Radio began as a simple means to an end.

“It started as an outlet for a popular local group called Red Earth,” said Tim Sturgeon, who runs the radio station as a one-man operation from his home in Dayton. “I was searching for a way to get their music out to the masses. I heard about Internet radio and thought, ‘Well, maybe I could do that.’” From 2006 to 2009, Red Earth Radio played nothing but original material from the band, but eventually Sturgeon branched out.

“In 2009, I starting adding other unsigned bands to the rotation, but the big change came in 2011. Now, our format is playing rock, hard rock, classic rock and metal from both signed and unsigned bands, along with about 15 syndicated programs running every week.”

In Cincinnati, the Ohio Center for Broadcasting has its own Internet station, CincyUnderground, that’s broadcast directly on campus.

“CincyUnderground is a student-run Internet station used for both supporting local artists and as a teaching tool for students who want to work in radio,” explained Jodi Franks, general manager and program director for the station. Along with offering people something different, CincyUnderground is also training the next generation of radio minds, possibly giving them a sneak peek into the future. “Our goal is to train students to be successful in the broadcasting industry,” said Franks, “but we also want to continue to grow within our internet community and raise awareness about local, regional and global indie music.”

Clearly, Internet radio has arrived, and it looks as if there’s something for everyone out there, even if music isn’t what you’re looking for. Talk-radio has also made its presence felt, and in Dayton the Gem City Sports Network is carrying the torch. A sports talk Internet station, Gem City Sports focuses on regional high school football, basketball and baseball games as well as collegiate-level athletics from Sinclair Community College and others. And, with hockey in full swing, the station is proud to provide coverage for the 2013-2014 Dayton Demonz hockey season.

“We pride ourselves on giving exposure to the little guys in the sports world, the teams that major TV and radio won’t cover,” said Brian Reiss, who runs the station along with partner Doug Brown. Their coverage includes play-by-play commentary, post-match interviews and analysis on all local sporting events. “It doesn’t matter if two teams are undefeated or don’t have a win between them, if the matchup is good, we’re likely to cover it.”

Besides Internet radio, another alternative to traditional radio lies in low-power radio, or LPFM as it’s more commonly known. Here, a station broadcasts on a local FM signal, but it’s at a much lower power, usually around 100 watts. When the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently announced they would be freeing up more frequencies in the Dayton area, Christopher Joseph jumped at the chance to launch his own station, WDYT-FM.

“I’ve always felt there could be a better radio station broadcasting in the Dayton area, one that promotes local music as well as local issues happening in our city,” said Joseph. “We want to be hyper-local, hyper-community and hyperactive all at the same time.”

With plans to officially launch in 2014, WDYT-FM will be broadcasting online as well. This, combined with the urgency to provide listeners with better radio programming, is the center of the whole debate. Quality programming is a station’s identity and it’s ultimately decided by whoever is running it. Communication is also important, and social media has become a huge benefit for Internet stations. From listener requests, artist submissions and general publicity, social media is a godsend.

The ease of programming gives online radio a distinct edge, but that’s just one advantage. Another is that there’s no regulation from the FCC. Traditional radio is heavily monitored, just as TV and other forms of mass media are, but not on the net.

“Right now there isn’t any kind of regulation,” said Downtown Dayton’s Kelly Brown. “Granted, you still have to be legal with the songs you play, but there’s nobody there to tell what you can or cannot say or play.”

Being legal means paying whatever costs are associated with playing a specific song or album. Internet stations are usually succumbed into paying monthly fees to performing rights organizations like Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI), the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) and the Society of European Stage Authors and Composers (SESAC). But as long as you can pay up, hey, you can play whatever you want.

Another beauty lies in the ease of access by anyone with a computer, smartphone or tablet. This gives the station the power to reach hundreds, thousands, even millions of people across the world.

“With the steady growth of mobile devices, Wi-Fi access is becoming more and more available to people all over,” said Sturgeon over at Red Earth Radio. “Plus,” he added, “it’s free. Unlike satellite and digital radio where there are monthly fees, Internet radio is free, and some people think it’ll take over because of this.”

While all these advantages seem to give Internet radio the upper hand, there are downsides, too. The biggest lies in getting the public to recognize what you do.

“One problem is some people don’t take you seriously,” admitted Brown. “When we first tell people about the station, often times they’ll ask what number we are or what frequency we broadcast from, because that’s instantly where the mind goes when you think about radio. I think it’ll change with time though.”

Indeed. It’s true that when trying to keep a solid ground online, a lot of stations have to work harder to get people to listen. People tend to have to go out of their way and do more of the legwork in order to find a station that suits them, but in the long run the positives are too large to ignore.

“Internet stations provide free radio alternatives for music listeners,” said Sturgeon. “They can help local artists gain exposure, and bands that gain exposure end up playing more places. Fans who hear about these bands come to see them play, which ends up helping local economies, too.”

In truth, it can be a beautiful, revolving door, an endless cycle of promotion on a grassroots level. It’s also just another part of the timeless transaction of music, updated for today’s high-speed audience.

With all this, the future looks bright for Internet radio. Right now, it’s climbing an uphill battle to the top. What you do at the top is a different story. For Internet radio, both in Dayton and beyond, we have yet to see what will happen. From the preview we’re seeing now, however, the odds show an incredible amount of promise for the future.

“With technology changing almost weekly, you never know when the landscape will change and open the opportunity for young entrepreneurs to create something that rivals terrestrial radio stations,” said Franks.

Indeed. Who knows where this strange trip will take us. History, for better or for ill, seems to be taking place, and right now the opportunity is up for grabs. Internet radio is ascending a tall, blurry crest, so buckle up, take the ride and explore. Quit turning the dial and start clicking the mouse instead. You might like what you hear.

The ease of programming gives online radio a distinct edge, but that’s just one advantage. Another is that there’s no regulation from the FCC. Traditional radio is heavily monitored, just as TV and other forms of mass media are, but not on the net.

“Right now there isn’t any kind of regulation,” said Downtown Dayton’s Kelly Brown. “Granted, you still have to be legal with the songs you play, but there’s nobody there to tell what you can or cannot say or play.”

Being legal means paying whatever costs are associated with playing a specific song or album. Internet stations are usually succumbed into paying monthly fees to performing rights organizations like Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI), the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) and the Society of European Stage Authors and Composers (SESAC). But as long as you can pay up, hey, you can play whatever you want.

Another beauty lies in the ease of access by anyone with a computer, smartphone or tablet. This gives the station the power to reach hundreds, thousands, even millions of people across the world.

“With the steady growth of mobile devices, Wi-Fi access is becoming more and more available to people all over,” said Sturgeon over at Red Earth Radio. “Plus,” he added, “it’s free. Unlike satellite and digital radio where there are monthly fees, Internet radio is free, and some people think it’ll take over because of this.”

While all these advantages seem to give Internet radio the upper hand, there are downsides, too. The biggest lies in getting the public to recognize what you do.

“One problem is some people don’t take you seriously,” admitted Brown. “When we first tell people about the station, often times they’ll ask what number we are or what frequency we broadcast from, because that’s instantly where the mind goes when you think about radio. I think it’ll change with time though.”

Indeed. It’s true that when trying to keep a solid ground online, a lot of stations have to work harder to get people to listen. People tend to have to go out of their way and do more of the legwork in order to find a station that suits them, but in the long run the positives are too large to ignore.

“Internet stations provide free radio alternatives for music listeners,” said Sturgeon. “They can help local artists gain exposure, and bands that gain exposure end up playing more places. Fans who hear about these bands come to see them play, which ends up helping local economies, too.”

In truth, it can be a beautiful, revolving door, an endless cycle of promotion on a grassroots level. It’s also just another part of the timeless transaction of music, updated for today’s high-speed audience.

With all this, the future looks bright for Internet radio. Right now, it’s climbing an uphill battle to the top. What you do at the top is a different story. For Internet radio, both in Dayton and beyond, we have yet to see what will happen. From the preview we’re seeing now, however, the odds show an incredible amount of promise for the future.

“With technology changing almost weekly, you never know when the landscape will change and open the opportunity for young entrepreneurs to create something that rivals terrestrial radio stations,” said Franks.

Indeed. Who knows where this strange trip will take us. History, for better or for ill, seems to be taking place, and right now the opportunity is up for grabs. Internet radio is ascending a tall, blurry crest, so buckle up, take the ride and explore. Quit turning the dial and start clicking the mouse instead. You might like what you hear.

Reach DCP freelance writer Zach Rogers at ZachRogers@DaytonCityPaper.com.

 

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