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Hot on the Web

Net radio ready for comeback?

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on June 27, 2003
(Issue 2126, Get the Picture?)

Last year, we detailed the fact that the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act was driving radio stations to pull their online streaming signal off the 'Net. The new law had authorized new royalty rates for online playing of music – rates that were based not on how many times a song was played (as is true with broadcasting), but on how many people were listening.

One casualty of that decision was the online webcasts of KSDS-FM in San Diego, more popularly known as Jazz 88.

A public station owned by the San Diego Community College District, KSDS depends on membership drives and grant-writing to survive.

If it's a giant in terms of offering unique programming not available anywhere else, KSDS is strictly small-fry when it comes to financial resources.

When the reality of the new royalties became known, KSDS stopped webcasting its signal rather than risk financial ruin or the finances of the community college district.

Back on the 'Net

But a few weeks back, KSDS began webcasting its programming again – streaming its signal at

Why the change?

Station manager Mark DeBoskey explained that under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, not only were the online royalty rates higher than for broadcast, but stations had to track users as well as songs, creating a logistical nightmare.

"The bookkeeping alone was prohibitive, let alone what the payments were," he said in his campus office.

What changed for KSDS was that the Center for Public Broadcasting has a blanket agreement with BMI, ASCAP and other royalty houses that covers all public stations.

With that cost covered, DeBoskey said his station was eager to get back online. And with the other major expense being new servers and running a broadband connection to the studio, the station's Community Advisory Committee passed the hat and came up with enough to cover that cost as well.

The benefits of the 'Net

DeBoskey said that for a membership-based public station like KSDS, being online only makes good business sense.

"It's important to us because we have to" go online, he said. DeBoskey added that there were three primary reasons for KSDS returning their signal to the Web:

"Our primary source of support will always be membership," he said. Dues-paying members are most likely to come from what are called in radio jargon "P1s," for your primary listeners – folks who listen to the station for more than three hours a day. But DeBoskey also argued that "Anyone who picks us up on the Internet is likely to become a P1." He pointed out that the station is having upwards of 400 individuals per day tune in online – and this without any real online advertising or linking programs; unless you live in San Diego, you won't know KSDS is online. Despite that, Program Director Joe Kocherhans said he's already getting e-mail from people across the country who have picked up the station's webcast.

The online presence helps the station with grant eligibility; many grants for radio based on how long listeners are tuned in per session.

Finally, DeBoskey said growing the listenership is one of the station's primary business goals right now. "Because our signal isn't as strong as we'd like, we can't get into a lot of office buildings" in San Diego, he said. "We can do it now with the Internet."

Looking ahead

Whether this means more stations will be going back online is problematic; KSDS offers a rather unique program of straight-ahead jazz – something many cities don't have available locally. Given that, folks might be willing to tune in to Jazz 88. Whether the local commercial stations could succeed online is open to question – I mean, Jeff & Jerr are huge here, but who's going to want to listen to them in Dubuque or Pittsburgh? Top 40 is Top 40 everywhere; a good jazz (or classical, or even folk or bluegrass) format is more likely to attract outside listeners because it fills a niche.

More importantly, the station's nonprofit status brought it certain advantages that commercial stations don't have.

And the Digital Millennium Copyright Act will still serve to price out of the market hobbyists who might have been tempted to webcast their own radio-style show over the 'Net.

The technology still exists to allow music and/or radio fans to set up their own home station and webcast over a broadband connection at a fairly inexpensive rate - less than a ham radio setup would run you.

But by strong-arming Congress into setting royalty rates for online use so much higher than traditional jukebox, Muzak or broadcast royalties, the recording industry has assured that the hobbyist realm will remain more nascent than realized.