Internet radio is under threat… again

Even though I am an avid fan of podcasting, I do love internet radio. You can only listen to so many podcasts and your own music library so much, so when I need it, it’s there. However, it’s under threat. Get more of the story at or the Radio and Internet Newsletter (RAIN), but I’ll also give a bit of personal back story to my interests in this issue.

In April of 2002, I was the Production and Community Affairs Director at KRUI. A little, 100watt college radio station that I spent nearly six years toiling with, and I became the Operations Director(station engineer) that following month. Just a short time before that, we established the first webcast in the history of the radio station, and it has continued to this day. In fact, I still tune in to hear DJ’s mumble about the music that gets played and hear my voice on the numerous station ID’s that I created while I was there. (By the way, check out my portfolio to hear some of that stuff. Did some updating to that as my job hunt in Vancouver has swung into full gear.)

The DMCA[wiki] set into motion a string of debates as to the copyright royalties that music labels should get from internet radio stations. In 2002, those rates were astronomical, so much that the fees were going to force a huge percentage of streams to turn off, including ours. Basically, the costs calculated out to having internet radio stations to pay a certain amount of money per song, per listener. That means you would have to track not only what songs you played but as to how many people heard it as the time it was played. Combine that cost with the resources it would take to track all that information and the numbers shoot up quick.

These costs were going to be retroactive to a specified time, and if you were webcasting for a few years, then you would have been in severe debt when these rates took hold. For some, that mean six figures in fees. Major ouch, especially for a tiny station like KRUI which, at that time, ran on a yearly budget of nearly $16,000.

Being good little college students that we were, we protested this. We weren’t the only ones. Numerous internet radio stations participated in the “Internet Radio Day of Silence”[rain] where streamers either turned their streams off completely or restreamed a marathon program from Wolf FM, which is what we did.

KRUI - TV Interview for Internet Radio Day of Silence We even worked our connections with the local newspapers and TV stations to spread the word about the issue and our participation in the day of silence. I even showed up on the six o’clock news in my sleep deprived stupor from getting all the equipment in place the night before. I actually wrote papers and did speeches about this topic in some of my college courses because I knew the ins and outs of it so well. In fact, I traveled to the CMJ conference in New York that fall and attended a panel discussion about this. Kurt Hanson from RAIN shared the table with other major players and was a pleasure to meet as well.

Additionally, this latest threat is prompting another “Day of Silence” for internet radio stations. Find out more here.

In the end, the powers that be lost out, internet radio took a sigh of relief, and the royalty rate structure went back to the drawing board. The group in charge of collecting these fees, SoundExchange (which is comprised of a board with heavy influence of the RIAA), are about to unleash an updated royalty rate that is going to choke a lot of streaming stations on the day it takes effect.

By now you’ve likely heard the news about the Copyright Board’s ruling regarding net radio. Simply put, it approximately triples the amount paid to record labels via SoundExchange for streaming Internet radio over the next three years, changes the way the payments are computed (from what is called an “Aggregate Tuning Hour” basis to a straight “per play”), adds a confusing and onerous “per station minimum” fee with no maximum, and extends the new rates back to the beginning of 2006. Many small Webcasters won’t be able to afford this, and you can bet large Webcasters like us are all taking a hard look at the Internet radio business and our products to decide if it’s really worth the cost. Big companies might have more money, but they can’t stay in businesses where they don’t make any profit, a pretty simple business fact.

Compare the implications of this decision to terrestrial radio which pays NOTHING to SoundExchange, or even satellite radio which pays only 3-7% of their revenue to SoundExchange, and it’s hard not to be left scratching your head. The irony of all this, of course, is that this ruling will keep LAUNCHcast, Pandora, and the like out of your living room and push you toward FM, where the labels are paid zero. This decision cuts off a genuine future revenue stream before it has had a chance to grow. [savenetradio]

KRUI - Audio routing for Internet Radio Day of Silence As some one who fought for this before, I can say that there is no dispute that recording artists shouldn’t be credited and payed for the music that they create. However, rates like this that makes the entire medium suffer and puts functionality into the hands of a minority of players that can afford rates like this is appalling. I encourage you to go to and find ways to help fight these rates.

Food for thought, if you are an RIAA member or are big enough to strike a deal with them, you wouldn’t have to pay these rates because you would already own the rights to stream the music. There are only a few entities that can afford to make compromises like that, thus killing off those who do internet radio for the soul purpose of doing it for the purpose of making enough revenue to cover costs. Being retroactive, it’s not as easy as going with music that falls outside of these fees starting right now. Amazing how all the bases seemed covered to limit the effectiveness of internet radio as a whole and putting it into the hands of those that have the budget for it.

For a little radio station like KRUI, having a webcast is vital. Students that go to school there can move away and still tune into their beloved college station. It’s also an amazing way to garner more listeners who have no radio access but can still tune in from the computer lab. Plus, mom and dad can listen in, and my parents did a fair share of that during my time there. I can’t forget to mention that WOXY doesn’t need another reason to shut down again. Geez.

Update: Getting caught up on my RSS feeds, I found this article on BoingBoing that has Rusty Hodge from SomaFM speaking about this topic.

Also, Adam Curry interviewed Doc Searls about this topic on Daily Source Code #587. It’s a little over the halfway point in the episode that the conversation starts. Good background to a very complicated story.

NPR: Fix your podcasts

The following is a message that I sent NPR regarding the quality of their podcasts. I’ve been telling a lot of folks about the problems that I have with some of their offerings. So to put money where my mouth is, I’m taking the advice of writing them. Maybe there will be others out there who feel the same way.

Hi, NPR.

There is something I’ve been wondering about your podcasts. Actually, there are a couple of things. Maybe I’m just picky, but I wanted to let you know about some things that really bug me about the podcasts you guys are producing.

First off, the hourly news updates that you guys provide drive me nuts for a couple of reasons. At the very beginning, it takes nearly 20 to 25 seconds to get to the actual news. It’s prefaced by a sounder to introduce the podcast. That is then followed by a sponsorship announcement. Is that a big deal, maybe not, but let me continue.

When the little mp3 finally gets to the news, the decibel levels are much lower than that of all the stuff at the very beginning. Some days it’s worse, other days it’s better. The point is, when I’m out for a run, I have to crank up the volume to hear anything. Then when the next item on the playlist comes up, my ear drums are attacked.

This is not the only feed that is guilty. Maybe you guys are not the guilty party, but being that you serve up the feed for “Michael Feldman’s Whad’Ya Know? – All the News that Isn’t“, I’m lumping them into the same group. Unless you crank the volume up, you hear Feldman mumbling with some sporadic laughter from the crowd. Come on, guys. I love public radio, and you are making it suck.

Why is there no compression or normalization to these podcasts? This is an easy solution, but it’s been this way for a long time. After complaining about this to numerous friends, I’m taking the step of letting you guys know how I feel. As someone who lives outside of the U.S. but enjoys what NPR offers, you shouldn’t forget about people like myself. If you give us quality content, then we might just think about giving you some quality donations when you need it.

John Bollwitt

The trenches of broadcast engineering

There are days that I miss being couped up in my window-less office, being a broadcast engineer, and working all the wires and parts to keep two radio stations in operation, every single day. When I read things like this, I have to say that I miss it even more.

KHKE Tower Collapses

The tower for 89.5, our classical service in Cedar Falls/Waterloo has collapsed – the victim of an inch-thick coating of ice and 30-40 mile per hour winds.

The latest from Wayne Jarvis, Iowa Public Radio’s Network Operations Director:

The tower and antenna are a total loss and the arc-over when the guy wires hit our power-feed connection may have damaged the transmitter and other equipment in the tower building. The building itself wasn’t damaged but there are other structural issues and we will want to replace it when the tower is rebuilt. I’m investigating to see how we might fund the rebuilding. [iowapublicradio]

This is a neighbor station to the north of where I used to be, but apparently this storm hit close to home as well.

AND THERE’S MORE: 91.7 in Iowa City/Cedar Rapids is at 50% power; the power is off at the transmitter site and we’ve been operating off of the generator since Saturday. IPTV over-the-air viewers on channel 12: we share the same tower and we’re working with IPTV’s engineers to get their service up at reduced power, too, as soon as possible.

UPDATE: IPTV-12 is back on the air with very low power, but enough to give many cable viewers access to the signal again.

I thought you’d like to see this note from Engineer Jim Davies in Iowa City, describing what sounds like the near-failure of the IPTV/IPR tower in West Branch:

On Saturday the tower was loaded bad enough with ice that it was bending out of plumb quite a bit. The winds would hit and the top guy wire on the NW side would droop down below the next guy wire. A very good indication that failure would occur soon. We watched the tower dance for over an hour at the end of the lane in my Yukon. When it got dark we decided to get home. Nothing we could do would keep the tower upright if it decided to fail. [iowapublicradio]

It sounds a little strange, but folks who work in the broadcast engineering world, this is what fuels hours and hours of stories over meals or just standing around. It’s like war vets sharing their tales of what it was like. I think I learned more about what stupid things to not do from things like that.

Why do we live for stuff like this? Well, how often do you get to see tons of steel come crashing down? When those guy wires snap or pieces of tower come down vertically, your life can end in an instance. Morbid and fascinating, all at the same time. Oh yeah, and that tower is approximately 1,200 feet tall. Also, people don’t like it when something they expect to be there isn’t, especially when you provide a public service.

I have faith in those guys, especially Jim, to get it all sorted out. I expect pictures, so you can check back in the next few days in case I hear anything.

Update: There are a variety of pictures of the KHKE collapse here. Also heard word from Jim that the KSUI/IPTV tower in West Branch held, but there is another storm approaching today(Wednesday).

William Elliott Whitmore show review in Ohio

I’ve posted about William Elliot Whitmore before, and he made an appearance on the last Six Song on RadioZoom[rz#126]. When I pulled down my feeds this morning, Benjamin Cossel made a raving review on about a recent show of Whitmore’s in Ohio. I think he hit the nail on the head.

Bob Dylan, New York City 1961. Tom Waits, San Diego, early 1970s. What must it have been like to see these legendary performers when they were still unknowns? When the gathered crowd was small and you were so close to the artist that you could make a request in a conversational tone?

It struck me, as I watched and listened to William Elliot Whitmore, Feb 19 at The Basement in Columbus, Ohio on the kick-off date of a national tour, that this was what it must’ve been like; to see a performer at such an early point in their career who, in your heart of hearts, you know is destined for greatness with only 20 or so others are there to share the experience with you.

In many an article about him, Whitmore is compared to such legends as Waits and Johnny Cash. I’m sure it’s more to do with the deep gravelly voice and genre fusions than actual stylistic similarities – one thing that does run parallel with the Iowa born and raised Whitmore and those who transcend mere greatness is the honesty in their lyrics. [blogcritics]

Keep reading the rest of his review for sure, but oddly enough, it was one of his songs that was the last things I listened to as I drove out of Iowa to make my way to Vancouver. I think it might have been his song “Midnight”, but it’s hard to recall now. He was doing a live performance on the same radio station that I used to work at, WSUI.

It was the very same program that I had the chance of shaking the guy’s hand and running his sound for as well, nearly a year or so before my departure. That live remote could have been one of the first live programs that I ran by myself, calling the shots on the technical end and managing the part-time student help. I could be completely wrong because my time there is almost like a blur now, but it’s crazy how music can trigger your synapses like that.

Podcast: The Exchange from IPR

Caught this via the official IPR blog.

“The Exchange” is now available as a podcast. You can download any episode of the show and listen whenever you like, or you can subscribe to the show in iTunes, or in feed readers like Google Reader and Bloglines. And, of course, iTunes is one way to transfer the show to your iPod so you can listen while you’re on the go.

Welcome to 2004, IPR. Ok, that is mean, but I tried really hard to get a podcast effort going at WSUI/KSUI during my time there. A lot of it came down to huge concerns over music rights, mainly music used in bumpers and bed music. After that, it was an uphill battle of trying to teach staff, with explicit radio frame of minds, what podcasting is.

There was a short run of a weekend program that I was able to get setup, but I was instructed to shut it down due to said licensing concerns. Yes, there was a legit reason to follow the rules and not distribute material that we lacked the rights to do so for. Being the only person trying to push the new medium on top of the impending IPR consolidation, there was no room for the project on the agenda. It was in the early portion of 2005 that the plug was pulled.

That single weekend program pushed out about five episodes, and the response was immediate. There was hardly any promotion for it, but people were either Googling or pinging their way to the feed. The comments were coming from around the world. This was a whole new audience we were taping into, and they didn’t care if the content pertained to Iowa related topics. It was quality programming, plain and simple.

I think what IPR wants to do is become a stronger force in the world of public radio, much like what Minnesota Public Radio or Chicago Public Radio has become. This new program, The Exchange, is the first big push to get into the ring for IPR. However, quality programming has always been there. That little weekend program was a glimpse of that. If someone would have made a bigger effort to secure podcasting and the licensing worries, they would have seen that.

This American Life going to the little screen

It almost seems like a trend right now. First, Garrison Keillor[wiki] took A Prairie Home Companion and turned it into a movie[imdb]. Now it’s This American Life, probably one of my most favorite programs in the world of public radio that I hardly listen to. But hey, it’s a podcast now, so I think I’ll have to subscribe.

That’s just one of the many odd discussions that took place in the process of transforming a radio program into a television series. The show is This American Life. The host is Ira Glass. The TV series will debut in March on the Showtime cable channel.

There’s a certain simplicity to the art of radio. At its heart, it’s all about storytelling. And This American Life is a radio show that revels in storytelling — quirky stories, sad stories, scary stories.

This American Life seems so wedded to the medium of radio that when the Showtime cable network first approached Glass about turning it into a TV show, he couldn’t imagine it.

“We basically said ‘no’ for a year and half,” Glass recalls. “And we kept saying we have no idea how to… be filmmakers. You have to hook us up with people who could design something that got across the feeling of the radio show.” [npr]

I’m not too sure how I feel about it. The beauty of radio is the theatre of the mind and how it comes across the airwaves. Being an audio junkie, you would think that my gut reaction would be to hate the whole concept, but I take comfort in the idea of Showtime(or potentially in Canada, Showcase) being the network to throw this on the tube.

Audio Doc - Ira Glass
Photo credit: transomradio on Flickr

I’ve had the brief, but not the most up close, pleasure of working with Ira Glass[wiki] during my days in public radio. In fact, it was just a one day sort of thing, but he really is a fascinating guy. Not in the omnipresent, starstruck sort of way, but he is a person that knows what he’s trying to do and how that should be done. Based on that, I know that he wouldn’t make a venture into television without making sure that the end result was going to be good.

I’ll say what I have always said about television. It’s five times as expensive and takes just as much time to produce worthwhile content. That’s not to say that working solely with audio is easy. Both mediums are their respective art forms, but you should never compare the two. If you don’t believe me now, then start listening to the This American Life podcast now and see how it compares to the TV program when it comes out. The effect will simply not be the same. We have yet to see if we can call it good or not.

The slow moving, giant sloth that is Iowa Public Radio

Flickr: Public Radio daysWhen I joined the world of public radio in 2003, the general manager for the group of stations that were controlled and funded by Iowa State University issued a white paper calling for the creation of a statewide network for public radio within the state. What he wanted to do was to bring all stations from the three major university’s into a single network, the other two school’s being the University of Northern Iowa and the University of Iowa.

It was was in the first few days that this news came out of left field and made the whole place freak out. I was fresh to the whole public radio sphere at WSUI/KSUI, and it was within the first month of coming on board that people were telling me that I should consider applying for the full time position as assistant engineer. The thing is, no one knew if their jobs were going to be there if and when this consolidation took effect.

One thing that my time in college radio taught me was that bureaucracies work at an incredibly slow, painful, and sometimes ignorant pace. A motion like this would be a matter decided by a select group of people at the top of the institute of higher education food chain, the board of regents. It was no secret to anyone inside the stations that the guy who put out this white paper was licking his lips to be the one at the top of the organizational chart. Long story short, the process out-processed him. Not only did he not make it through the motions to be considered a finalist for the job, but he eventually left altogether.

Enter the era of the executive director of Iowa Public Radio, Cindy Browne. No matter how much everyone tried to put us at ease with the situation, there was never a worse feeling that treating this woman with ill manner would cost you your career. We were told that this wasn’t an era of consolidation, but an attempt at better cooperation. There would be an examining of how running all the stations under one network could save money, but anyone familiar with the way any media organization goes about such a venture knows what that means. The less people you have, the more money you can save. Continue reading “The slow moving, giant sloth that is Iowa Public Radio”

Feeling as good as the weather

Right now, I’m just staying awake for the sake of not sleeping all day and then not sleeping tonight. Just been an all day endeavor of pains in my stomach area. It would be easy to say that it’s the water, but Rebecca has been fine all day long. Don’t know what the deal is, but I hate being sick.

Been a series of things that I wanted to highlight today. Northern Voice is ramping up. They officially opened up registration for the event, and we’re looking at going. The worst thing about the timing is that it’s the weekend of our first anniversary. NV is something we’re all about checking out, but we’ll have to really see how it works for us. I’ve thought about tossing my hat into the speaking ring regarding podcasting, but there is probably someone out there that could do something much more impacting than myself.

Rebecca setup another interview for this Saturday for RadioZoom. This time around, we’ll be talking to Wintersleep from Halifax, Nova Scotia ahead of their show at The Plaza Club. Should be a lot of fun, and I’m all about learning more about bands on the fly. I know the library a bit, but outside of that, I like taking these interviews as they go. Having a formula sounds like we have a formula.

Speaking of Saturday, we’ll have to miss the Canucks game that night, but what a good game against Columbus last night. It was a little disheartening to hear people boo Anson Carter, but I get why it was happening. Even better that we held on to win. Even at 1-0, there was enough action to keep me into the game. I could have really done with some more scoring though. Geez!

I’ve also been getting back up to speed with what’s happening with Iowa Public Radio. It’s been a little over a year since I left the radio world, and the process of consolidation was just starting to gather. I’ll be completely honest. Everything I am seeing makes me very unhappy.

I’m hearing things from the inside that are less than stellar. They even have a blog as the mouth of IPR now, WordPress and all. Sure, statewide public radio networks are nothing new, but everything that made all of those stations great, in their own respective ways, is being systematically dismantled. This is a topic I’ll expand more on in the future, I’m sure.

That’s all from the couch. Combined with some podcasts in my headphones and CNN on the tube all day long, I’m ready to feel better. You can only see those Head On commercials so many times, and that goes for the newer ones that rip on the original ones.

That does remind me that I need to touch on some of the TV shows we’ve been keeping tabs on and enjoying this fall. Jericho, Heroes, Law and Order: SVU, CSI, 20 Rock, Studio 60… I can’t remember liking to watch TV in a long time, not to mention on the major networks. Give me widescreen and that makes me interested in anything. Take away the commercials, and I’ll like it even more.

The royal treatment of college radio

Let’s be honest. The greatness that was once college radio is wanning. I have this deep, passionate feeling that it will rise up once again to be a driving force to make the rest of the world take notice. It might also be safe to say that it’s never been a spectrum of the medium to really be noticed in the first place. The brilliance gets harvested for its potential and profit.

I’m still a firm believer in the sanctity of college radio. Like it or not, it has an important role to play, and that mantra was my driving force during the years I put into KRUI.

I find the following story really funny, and I’ll explain why after the excerpt.

UI officials hope to raze an old laundry building that is adjacent to where a new campus recreation and wellness center’s future home on the southwest corner of Burlington and Madison streets.

Currently used as storage for campus landscaping and maintenance equipment, that space could be used for parking and holding materials and equipment during the construction of the recreation center, and could save the university money. It is not immediately clear how much it would save.

Regents gave approval for UI to look into the feasibility of relocating the equipment currently stored there. [presscitizen]

The KRUI that I came to know and love started out in a house that was tucked away on campus. But the university kinda saw it as a bastard child, pushing it into a handful of various locations in its just under twenty years of existence. Within just a few months of my three years of being a director, the news came that the station would be forced into another relocation. Continue reading “The royal treatment of college radio” hacked or letting something slip? hacked?Just as I was heading towards bed last night, I made a last dash through my RSS feeds on Vienna. A headline on one feeds read, “series hub!” Click on the preview and the body simply said, “It’s almost 1 BIOTCH”. Opening the link to the page, I get the image you see to the left. Click on it to see the full size.

Either got hacked or some one is working on a project behind the scenes that shouldn’t have been available to the public. Nothing huge, but I found it interesting enough to grab a capture of and share.