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November 10, 2002
BY DAVID HOROWITZ
News Special Writer
Click. Indie bands from Ann Arbor. Click. Israeli music. Click. Electronica. Click, click, click. Music, talk, news, and it's all at the end of your mouse. Web-based radio is starting to change the options open to radio listeners, and several locally based operations are taking advantage of the new technology to present Ann Arbor to the world and vice versa.
Ann Arbor Alive (www. annarboralive.com) recently began Internet-only broadcasts, presenting a program schedule that's heavy on bringing Ann Arbor music to computer users throughout the world. Its "Local/Indie" channel presents local bands, most of whom would have no other means of distributing their music. There's also a "Cornucopia" channel, which boasts listeners will hear "Everything in any order." That means an Ella Fitzgerald tune could be followed by tracks from the Rolling Stones, Chopin, and Dr. John. The magic of an extensive CD collection married to a random play selector makes it all possible.
Ann Arbor Alive, based in the former WPAG studios at the corner of Liberty and Main, is the brainchild of James Griffin, the driving force behind "Griff's Jams," a freeform series of jam sessions by local musicians. As the station (broadcasting terminology still applies until something newer comes along) developed, he was joined by Sales and Marketing Manger Tom Saunders and Editorial/Content Director Warren Kress.
Even as conventional broadcasting terminology applies, so too do the economics of commercial broadcasting, and that means having to earn income by attracting sponsors.
"For the first time, thanks to the technology of the Internet, we can tell advertisers exactly how many people are at our site at any given time, and we're treating this as a regular commercial operation." says Saunders.
"Like any new operation, we're not making a profit yet, and we expected that. But we hope to be profitable early next year."
The station has already attracted sponsors eager to tap into the local market, which fits into the station's initial concentration on attracting and serving an Ann Arbor area audience. "One of our first goals is to bring the diversity and talent of Ann Arbor area artists to the community and then to a wider audience." says Saunders.
"We're a local station and the local scene is what we're promoting. We're also planning to start a channel for community news and views, where local people can discuss local events, political questions, and the arts."
Additional channels, including one for children, are also in the planning stage.
"I think the local university-affiliated radio stations are doing a good job, but we want to provide a forum for all members of the community. As for commercial radio, so many of the stations are being consolidated into chains owned by a relatively few conglomerates. This diminishes local input. While that's not intrinsically bad, we still believe there's a strong interest in local ideas. There are many smart and interesting people around here that we think deserve to be heard."
Ben Waugh, guitar player for area rockers The Sillies and fan of Ann Arbor Alive's local channel, recognizes and appreciates the value of airplay in any form to local musicians.
"When I returned from a West Coast tour, it was as if nothing had changed here. We were getting broadcast airplay in Los Angeles and New York, but nothing here. It seems fitting that something in Ann Arbor would reach out to us.
"Ann Arbor Alive Internet radio is a way for the art and culture of Ann Arbor to be heard worldwide in a way never before possible."
Like all Internet-based stations, Ann Arbor Alive is subject to the fees established by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, which made royalty payments mandatory for record companies and artists whose music is played on Internet radio stations. The current fee schedule calls for a minimum $500 annual payment. Because many sites were run by fans simply to promote their favorite music, rather than as commercial operations, many simply shut down rather than pay a fee. Similarly, many college radio stations, including those at Central Michigan University and Oakland University, were forced to stop Web broadcasts because of the fees.
"We're paying the fees," said Colleen Gehoski Steinman, head of Orchard Radio (http://radio.wccnet.org), an Internet station based at Washtenaw Community College.
"But that's what we have to do to operate the station. It's part of student life here. We're a student-run station, and we exist to provide opportunities for students to host their own programs, learn how to operate media equipment, and to learn just how a radio station works.
As might he expected, the programming on Orchard Radio reflects the eclectic state of its hosts. One program, "Promising Music From the Promised Land," is devoted to Israeli music and is conducted in Hebrew.
The show is hosted by the husband and wife team of Arik and Sarit Cheshin, and has already attracted an audience well beyond the area.
"We have regular listeners in Israel," said Steinman. "They email us requests for songs, and it's a real treat for all of us here to see that there are actually people out there listening to our students."
Other programs drawing interest are "The Ed Shipp Show," featuring hip-hop from the early days to current material, and "The Tailgate Show," a new sports show hosted by John Vargas Jr. Regular newscasts are also a staple of the schedule.
While Arm Arbor Alive and Orchard Radio are operated by organizations, several area fan-run sites are still up and running. One is called Biker Bar Radio (http://www/bikerbar.com).
As for the world of conventional broadcasting, Ann Arbor is still well-represented by "Acoustic Cafe," the successful syndicated show produced and hosted by former WIQB-FM air personality Rob Reinhart. The show, in its eighth year, is currently heard on 62 stations throughout the country (although not locally) and three times a week on the Voice of America international service. In an unconventional mix of broadcast and Internet radio, the program's guest interview and performance segments are available on The Ann Arbor News-affiliated Web site M-Live (www. mlive.com/cafe). Reinhart also has a second show, produced in association with No Depression magazine, airing on 27 stations.
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