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Current - Ann Arbor's Entertainment Monthly - November 2002Ann Arbor Alive Net Radio by Charmie Gholson

James "Griff" Griffin doesn't sit back and wait for someone else to show him a good time. The founder of Griff's Jams monthly jam sessions has launched Ann Arbor Alive, an on-line, community cultural resource. Its initial incarnation takes the form of an internet radio station. And guess what? We're all invited to participate.

Nine years ago Griffin knocked on downtown doors looking for a place to rent in the "energy center" of town. "That's how Griff's Jams was born," he says. "The purpose was to promote music and culture at the time when there were only two live venues in town, the Blind Pig or Rick's." "Griff" promoted local music and brought musicians together for five years in open jam sessions in the old WPAG studio at Liberty and Main, high atop the Hutzel building.Ann Arbor Alive founder James Griffin

"After the city had developed its live performance scene," he says, "the next step was distributing Ann Arbor music, which you could barely buy in the city's limits. Then I realized it was really all of Ann Arbor's culture that needed to be distributed. I came up with Ann Arbor Alive to promote all of Ann Arbor's culture."

Griffin envisioned a way to provide Ann Arborites with camaraderie and support by gathering people with the same artistic interests. He wanted to provide local musicians with the opportunity to be heard by a larger audience, even a worldwide audience. The obvious commercially viable vehicle for realizing this dream would be the Internet.

"Because of the current change in technology," Griffin explains, "we're in the ideal position to move into the future of radio." He adds, "Internet-based radio will overtake AM and FM probably in three years. They have to keep a transmitter and their range is a 40-mile radius. What's our range? We are worldwide and our production costs are 50% or less."

Right now people who are listening to Internet radio do so at the office or home with DSL or high-speed internet service. Recent improvements will soon make it possible to deliver high quality content over a dial-up network.

It's anticipated that cell phone technology will replace both the Walkman and the car radio. Right now people can pick up an Internet radio station on a cell phone and either play it through headphones or drop it into a cradle that plugs-into car speakers. The cradle is as cheap as $20, and auto makers are working on a prototype to feature in new cars.

"Griff" placed several ads about the web radio station start-up, looking for DJs, salespeople, technical wizards and management. The ads said, "No radio experience necessary. Computer skills and motivation a plus."

On-air personality "Nearly Normal" Warren Kress was an information technology manager for Borders Books at the time. He carried the ad around in his wallet for months, thinking about it.

When he did respond, Kress wrote a letter to the unknown advertiser and ranted that "this is the type of thing I could really get into, but if you're talking about doing the same old damn thing then I don't have the time to come in and talk to you." "I think," he confesses, "it was influenced by some rum and lime."

Griffin and his wife rolled on the floor when they read that letter. Someone thought they were the corporate enemy. Nothing was further than the truth. They called Kress. It was a perfect match. With the addition of Tom Saunders as the sales and marketing manager, the trio set out to bring Griffin's vision of a cultural revolution to fruition.

According to Kress, "Nearly everybody that I talk to complains about the mush on the FM dial. We're smart consumers; it's obvious there's a lot of packaged entertainment being pushed on us."

He adds, "We can promote local music in a big way, We can promote music and clubs, but mostly it will benefit those of us who dig the music. If you've been going out listening to local music, you know just how good the local music is. It can stand up to anything on the national level."

From their web Site,, listeners select a channel and listen to pre-recorded music and news shows created entirely by local folks using digital technology. On the web site there are instructions for becoming a net DJ, radio channel manager or volunteer. "The focus here is on an individual's love of music and desire to present it to people," Kress says. "We'll do everything we can to keep the technology from interrupting that."DJ Warren Kress

The radio Station will have many channels when fully operating. In October, two channels were up and running: Cornucopia, a random selection of the entire library at the station, and Local/Indie music. On deck are kids' channels, Wag the Tongue (all things spoken) and blues. Classical, reggae and electronica channels may be open as early as December. Ultimately, the goal is for people to be able to access numerous areas of interest from the web site: web radio, sports, University of Michigan, fine arts, music, dance, poetry, theater, readings, clubs, healing and medicine, tours, shops, city politics, citizenship, education, and something for kids and by kids.

Kress is excited about the News and Views channel. "The idea is to give the big picture instead of the details that you get in the paper, instead of the micro-management. So we can ask the big questions like, What is the purpose of U.S. foreign policy? What's the sense in having hero-worship of people like [Bill] Gates and Ted Turner when a third of the world goes to bed hungry?"

Kress observes, "National public radio has created a hole. They have become much more conventional. They' re pressured by their Congressional funding so they moved to the right and we'll step into that bole. That's where our ideology is anyway."

Internet radio offers a compelling freedom of expression that FCC-regulated broadcast radio won't allow. Kress explains, "I played poetry of Sarah Jones, a young African-American from New York. Recently, public radio station KBOO in Portland got fined $7,000 for playing her poem called 'Your Revolution'. It's about the degradation of women and commercialization; it's a political statement. It s a beautiful piece of poetry. It gave me great pleasure to give her respect and play her poem."

"People don t understand how much music is culture," says Kress. "When anthropologists look at a society, the first thing they look at is what the people eat and then their music. It defines the people." Ann Arbor Alive's invitation to participate in this new form of broadcasting isn't just limited to musicians, though. Their web site explains, "We're hoping to contribute to and support the newly developing Internet community by creating a radio station that reflects the culture of Ann Arbor and by getting as many people as possible, associated with our city, involved from their home or office computer. The time has come to put Ann Arbor back on the map artistically, politically and intellectually. The time has come to participate in the future of radio." What are you waiting for?

Direct inquiries and submissions to 106 Liberty St. Ste.303, Ann Arbor, MI 48104 and visit Ann Arbor Alive on the web at Call (734) 761-6874 or visit the web site for more information.

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