Public Radio vs the Original Streamers

Public Radio vs the Original Streamers

This should probably be viewed as a screed, my first here, and my first on this subject.

I started some time ago in email declaring that the future of serious music is on the internet and that Public Radio needed to wake up to this as a paradigm shift and a new reality. Public Radio stations needed to get competitive with high quality streams, high bit rates and great music to compete in a global marketplace for ears and member dollars. All of that has been pretty much accomplished. 128kbit stereo has become a de facto standard. The quality of the content is still questionable. Many stations are still programming the same old stuff. WNYC2 has been a standout exception in its musical offerings.

Now, Public Radio needs to take a more serious look in another direction. This is because there are already and have been for some time several great organizations in the business of web streaming. These organizations pose a threat to Public Radio in the competition for ears and member dollars. They can be seen as setting benchmarks for the successful presentation of music.

The one exception to all of this is Hearts of Space. There is absolutely nothing else like Hearts of Space. Morningstar, the investment adviser, likes companies that have a “wide moat” surrounding their fortress keeping competition at bay. If HOS ere an investment, Morningstar would love it.

There are especially three organizations, Live365, Shoutcast, and AccuRadio, which excel at the presentation of various genres of music.

Shoutcast is free and probably not a big deal for Public Radio. The reason is that a lot of what is good about Shoutcast is that it makes it easy for the listener to find Public Radio stations in the first place. Shoutcast presents a highly organized database organized by genre and sub-genre. One can simply load a stream into one’s player of choice or stream it from the station’s web site. I don’t believe that Shoutcast itself has a player. Sadly, for Classical music stations, many of them are listed in the Classic sub-genre of Jazz. No one can figure out why, except for the word “classic” itself. I have brought this up in the Shoutcast forums until I am blue in the face. I have gone as far as listing all of the stations in the approximately 57 pages of listings under that sub-genre. No one does anything about it. One president of a PubRadio station not listed on Shoutcast told me that Shoutcast required some special codec, so these Classical music stations have gone to some trouble to be listed, and they are in the wrong place. There is a main Classical genre, with three sub-genres, Contemporary, Opera, and Symphonic. But the Jazz genre has a sub-genre Classic, so apparently any stream where “Classic” is part of the description will find its way there, including those which include the word “classical”. Too bad. But, again, Shoutcast is not really a problem.

Live365 is an organization of basically independent professional and amateur streamers. The genres and sub genres are almost infinite. Live365 is a paid service. It includes an embedded player from Real Audio. It also can have its streams saved as bookmarks in Winamp, and, I suppose, iTunes. The listener registers the player when subscribing. if one subscribes on one computer, but then tries to load the subscription into another computer, Live365 will work on the last computer subscribed and stop working on any earlier subscriptions. Subscriptions are incredibly cheap. For a couple of bucks a month, I can bookmark all of the streams that I want. I can also save them as presets, like on a car radio, and play one quickly in Winamp without my opening the software.

It is at Live365 that we find the five or more streams from Innova; CounterStream from the American Music Center; Iridian, described by Kyle Gann as the best stream he has ever heard; and at least up until recently, Maestro Gann’s own stream, Post Classic. Live365 is one place that Public Radio need to look and see a serious competitor.

And last, and the impetus for this new subject, AccuRadio. AccuRadio has been around a few years. They started out with a few genres, some added and not well thought out sub-genres and a poor player. Well, these guys have grown up. The offerings are slick, sophistocated, everything works, and it is free. I have been checking out the Jazz and Classical sub-genres. There are many in each grouping. So far, I can say about Jazz, one can pick a sub-genre, start it up, and go about one’s business. If you picked a sub-genre that you know you like, you will be happy. The one drawback here is that until one changes the sub-genre, one will hear pretty much only that kind of music.

I am just now beginning with the Classical sub-genres. Here the news may not be as good, which might be good for Public Radio. There is, for example, a Beethoven sub-genre. But the programming is chunks, like a single movement of a symphony, and then maybe a string quartet. Not good. This is not how Beethoven fanciers want to hear the music. They want the whole opus, all of the Seventh (my own personal favorite) or all of the Emperor Concerto, or whatever the opus is.

Now, remember, we are talking about streams. They will never replace a Terrance McKnight or Marvin Rosen or Jim Svejda. But those guys are not on 24/7/365 and streams are.

I am sure that I am just getting started with this. I see it as a new reality to be confronted by Public Radio. I mean, you know, none of this is new. But as the internet becomes the locus of attention for Public Radio, its original denizens come to the fore. I will be spending considerable time with AccuRadio in the time ahead.