Wednesday, July 05, 2000

Web radio reaches everywhere


Through simulcast “audio-streaming,” area stations enjoy a worldwide audience

By John Kiesewetter
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Funny how times change.

        The hottest technology in the first part of the 20th century was “wireless,” the ability to broadcast words, music or (gasp!) pictures through thin air.

        One hundred years later, it's a wire — the Internet wire — that everyone is talking about.

        Anyone on the planet who has a computer with a modem, sound card, audio-player software and speakers, can hear Cincinnati stations simulcasting, or “audio-streaming,” their programs:

ON THE WEB
  Addresses for Tristate stations simulcasting, or “audio-streaming” on the Internet:
  • WCIN-AM: www.1480wcin.com
  • WEBN-FM: www.webn.com or www.webn.cc
  • WGUC-FM: www.wguc.org
  • WKFS-FM: www.kiss107fm.com
  • WLW-AM: www.700wlw.com or www.700wlw.cc
  • WMKV-FM: www.mkvfm.org
  • WMOJ-FM: www.mojo949.com
  • WMUB-FM: www.wmub.org
  • WNOP-AM: realjazz740.com
  • WOFX-FM: www.wofx.com or www.wofx.cc
  • WOXY-FM: www.woxy.com
  • WRRM-FM: www.warm98.com
  • WVMX-FM: www.wvmx.com or www.wvmx.cc
  • WVXU-FM: www.xstarnet.com
        • Reds fans from Nome to Rome can listen to every pitch called by Marty Brennaman and Joe Nuxhall by clicking on the WLW-AM (700) Web sites, www.700wlw.com or www.700wlw.cc. They can even e-mail questions and comments for Marty and Joe to read during the game from their far-flung corner of the globe.

        • Former Tristate resident Jessica Armstrong can sit in her Los Angeles home and listen to her favorite big band station, WMKV-FM (89.3) from Maple Knoll Village, at www.mapleknoll.org.

        “I thought when I moved, there must be a good big band radio station in a big city like Los Angeles. Sadly, I was wrong,” Ms. Armstrong said in an e-mail to the station in March.

        “There is no station that compares to WMKV-FM in Chicago or Los Angeles or any other city that I've ever been to,” said Ms. Armstrong, who has put in a second phone line so she can listen to the Cincinnati station all day and night.

        • A big fan of Oxford's WOXY-FM (97.7) alternative music is Bill Childs of Minneapolis, who listens all day while working for U.S. District Judge James M. Rosenbaum — in the District of Minnesota.

        “97X definitely gets the largest proportion of my listening time,” says the Minnesota lawyer, who learned about the Oxford station (www.woxy.com) through on-line radio discussions in the Twin Cities. He has never lived in Ohio.

        The enthusiastic response from people like Mr. Childs convinced WOXY-FM owner Doug Balogh that Net working is the wave of the future. He hired a full-time Internet developer 18 months ago for the Oxford station that doesn't reach all of Greater Cincinnati.

        “We realized that this was the opportunity of a lifetime,” says Mr. Balogh, the station's “Dot.Commander.”

        “We've always had an availability problem. All we've asked is for people to sample our product. And the Internet is an equal opportunity distribution system,” he says.

        “On the (computer) screen, I'm as big as Clear Channel,” he says. He's referring to the world's largest radio chain based in Covington, which owns eight stations in this area, including top-rated WLW-AM and WEBN-FM (102.7).

        In the past year, WOXY-FM has heard from Web listeners from London to San Jose. But most 97X Internet listeners, estimated by Mr. Balogh at between 25,000 and 65,000 a month, are working in Tristate offices that his weak over-the-air signal doesn't penetrate.

        “One of the areas of early growth was the folks who have high-speed lines at downtown Cincinnati businesses,” he says. “On Monday through Friday, from noon to 1 p.m., our listening spikes up about 25 percent.”

        In that regard, tiny WOXY-FM is truly just like WLW-AM, the 50,000-watt self-proclaimed “Big One.”

        WLW-AM's on-line audience skyrockets when the Reds play a day game during the work week, says Darryl Parks, operations director for Clear Channel's four AM stations.

        “I think it's mostly people listening in their offices,” he says.

        Audio-streaming through the computer comes through loud and clear in Tristate offices where computers and other electronic devices can interfere with the over-the-air signal, he says.

        On WLW-AM's Web site, Reds fans also can download and listen to Marty and Joe describe great moments in recent Reds history. The “classic calls” include Johnny Bench's home run on his retirement night in 1983; Pete Rose's record-breaking hit No. 4,192 in 1985, and highlights of the 1990 World Series.

        WVXU-FM's Web site, recently overhauled by General Manager Jim King, has “hundreds of hours of archival programs, some of it for free,” he says.

        Samples of Red Barber and Ruth Lyons documentaries produced by the Xavier University station will be offered to Web site visitors, with an option to purchase the entire compact disc by credit card, he says. More than 100 hours of Mike Whorf's Kaleidoscope history programs, and some Riders in the Sky shows, will be sold through www.xstarnet.com.

        Dr. King, 54, calls the Web site for the WVXU-FM's seven “X-Star Radio Network” stations his most exciting project since joining the station 24 years ago. He has spent his sabbatical this year redesigning the Web site on computers in his Delhi Township basement.

        “I can't recall being more super-charged by anything in our business since my early days of broadcasting back in the 1950s,” he says.

        Dr. King sees the Internet as a great potential revenue source for cash-strapped public stations. Through the Web, literally anyone on this planet could buy copies of his shows or purchase a station membership.

        “If someone pays $4 to download a program, our cost is virtually nothing because the program is just sitting on a shelf,” Dr. King says. “I think there will be a lot of money to be made on downloads, if we alert the (on-line) search engines and tell them what we have available here.”

        Another area public radio station, WGUC-FM (90.0), has discovered that Internet fund drives can be lucrative. The classical music station collected $30,852, or 17 percent of its annual April fund drive, through its Web site, www.wguc.org.

        Several “substantial” pledges came from former Tristate residents in California, says Richard Eiswerth, WGUC-FM general manager. And $18,542 came during a designated “cyber day,” in which special premiums were offered via the Net.

        Mr. Eiswerth says donors like the speed of giving by credit card through the secure Web site, and convenience of being able to pledge any hour around the clock. “The more pledges we drive to the Web, the less interruptions we have on the air,” he says.

        Earlier this month, WGUC-FM's Web site received an award from the International Association of Business Communicators. Mr. Eiswerth hopes the honor will attract classical music lovers worldwide to his site, which provides a minute-by-minute play list for each piece of music, orchestra and composer. And with a click of the mouse, listeners can buy a CD of that music.

        “The service we offer is certainly unique in Cincinnati, and we think it is valuable worldwide,” Mr. Eiswerth says. By the end of summer, longtime WGUC-FM listeners will be able to hear some of Carolyn Watts' 1960s shows through a new digital archive on the site.         Spend time surfing the Net, and you'll discover that not all radio station Web sites are created equal. Northern Kentucky University's WNKU-FM (89.7), pop music WSAI-AM (1530) and Christian station WAKW-FM (93.3) have Web sites, but no simulcast audio-streaming.

        WGRR-FM (103.5) pulled the plug on its Web site in 1997, when American Radio Systems was acquired by CBS' Infinity Broadcasting, the nation's second-biggest radio chain.

        “Being on the Internet was great. I heard from friends listening in California, and got e-mails from Australia and Japan,” says Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes, who does a 7 p.m.-midnight Sunday oldies show on WGRR-FM.

        “I don't understand what the objection is to putting us up on the Internet. It would seem to be the future,” says Mr. Rhodes, a former WSAI-AM DJ.

        Infinity hasn't ventured onto the Net nationwide. But the future is coming, says Chuck Finney, operations director here for Infinity's WGRR-FM, WKRQ-FM (101.9) and WAQZ-FM (97.3).

        “We'll be there eventually,” Mr. Finney says.

        Tristate radio operators with Web sites can't imagine a business model without a Web component. Commercial stations market their prizes, promotions and personnel on their sites.

        “Radio lends itself to the Internet. Radio is such a one-on-one personal medium, and the Internet is the same way,” says Mr. Parks, operations manager for Clear Channel's WLW-AM, WKRC-AM, WSAI-AM and WCKY-AM.

        In an ironic twist of history, the World Wide Web fulfills the dream of WLW-AM founder Powel Crosley Jr., who wanted to reach the world with a 500,000-watt signal in the 1930s.

        “At the inception of its 500,000-watt signal, WLW-AM called itself "The Nation's Station,' and we're really going back to that. Powel Crosley probably has a smile on his face in the grave,” Mr. Parks says.

        “We know the people are listening to us all over the world.”

        John Kiesewetter is Enquirer TV/radio critic. E-mail: Johnkiese@yahoo.com.

       



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