The Business And Reality of Internet Radio
Interview With Gregor Markowitz, Founder of Hober.com (Thinking
Radio) By Steven Digman,
The reality of Internet Radio is that audio is
not the only quality. It has musically established what traditional
radio cannot; which is an interactive link between the listener,
and the 'playee'.
In November 1998, Hober Thinking Radio began broadcasting... "I had
been messing around with real audio since beta 1. My web company had
a T1 that was mostly unused, and I talked my partners into letting
me use up the extra bandwidth. I got our best graphic artist to donate
some of his soul, and our administration to set up a server.
MusicDish Network Sponsor
Six years later, I find that many dozens of people
have worked on the project in one way or another. The broadcast
has touched many hundreds of thousands of people all around the
"It actually started as an 'eclectic' mix of all kinds
of music from rock to chanting monks. As we listened and learned,
it became clear that we should somewhat focus the playlist, [and
by doing this] were drawn into the more natural sounding recordings,
probably because the sound coming from our little computer speakers
was about as far from our techno-desktops as sound could get.
"But we didn't want to get typecast into a genre.
Stations were popping up that did all bluegrass, or all "Celtic"
or even all Sea Chanties. Good for an hour or two before you 'did
it -done it'. So we mixed them all: Folk, Blues, Bluegrass, Klezmer,
Sea Songs, Irish and Scottish. You name it - as long as it sounded
more or less natural; sort of like making laps at a large folk festival
with ten small stages. You might hear about anything, but it is
going to be human, and have history behind it."
Hober calls their little meta-genre... "Unvarnished
[Steven Digman] In 1993,
Carl Malamud created the first Internet Only Radio Station. Since
that promising beginning how do you feel the Art and Business
of Internet Radio has changed over the years?
Gregor Markowitz First there was the art and
then there was the business, and then the business failed and then
there was art. Hober [Radio] has been lucky ... it never took venture
money, so we were free exploring the new delivery medium and our
take on doing Internet radio the way it should be done: just a bunch
of people who were handy with computers messing around after hours.
What we do is to take into account the listener and
their needs. We're not needy and don't ask for a lot of attention.
You can bury the Hober player under stacks of other windows and
we don't care, but if you become interested in something you hear,
bring the player up and check it out.
[Steven Digman] What
do you consider to be the primary listening advantages of Internet
Only Radio as compared to that of Traditional Radio?
Gregor MarkowitzTraditional radio is limited
to a little geographical circle of listening range. Time, Traffic,
and Weather are the three mantras of AM and FM radio. Three concepts,
which are absurd to an Internet station.
What the Internet offers is worldwide access, which
leads to a 'bunching effect' of interest groups. So I can broadcast
Folk music to enthusiastic listeners all week, but my station would
be a dismal failure, as a [traditional] air-broadcast station. But
the truth is, there are always a good number of people at any given
moment who want to hear stringband music.
[Steven Digman] What
basic computer ingredients (in 'lay readers' terms) are necessary
to build and maintain an Internet Station?
Gregor MarkowitzYou can start an Internet station
as simply as going to a service such as live365.com and downloading
their little program and signing up for a free account. It's easy
and fun to broadcast and I highly recommend it. To maintain the
station, it must be your life and love.
[Steven Digman] Putting
all these ingredients together (again in 'lay readers' terms) -
how does it all work?
Gregor Markowitz What we use is a conventional
broadcast automation system which feeds live encoders. The broadcast
machine has three soundcards and a skis array. All of our music
is in raw uncompressed form, and is encoded by the codec-of-the-day
on the way to the listener. This allows us to send to any encoder
without being married to one compression codec. The signal is processed
by a good quality soundboard, along with a good mic, CD deck and
Gentner phone patch. The mix is sent through a compressor, and on
to two encoder machines with two soundcards each. After encoding,
the stream is sent via private T1 to our rack in a huge data center
where we can send 20 megabits if we want.
[Steven Digman] What
is the thinking process of selecting material (songs) for the "Thinking
Gregor Markowitz We collect music from all
over. A lot of the must-haves were found at the public library.
We've retrieved recording from the Library of Congress and made
a lot of field recordings. Many of the tunes on the station can
only be heard here. I like to ask buskers what they are listening
to. Nowadays, a lot of discs arrive in the mail.
What we do is put five discs in the house CD player
and play them for a week. Sometimes there are songs that work on
[Steven Digman] Royalties:
Are the Artists and Publishers you play...actually paid for their
Gregor Markowitz You've got me. ASCAP and SESAC
don't ask us whom we play, but BMI does. I've heard from one musician
that he once got a check of $1.10 from 'Internet airplay.' But I
don't know if that came from our play specifically. We pay the bills
that the rights agencies figure for us. It is up to the artist to
find out from their agency if they are getting their fair share.
But in perspective, Brittany [Spears] probably gets listened to
as much in one day as all the songs on Hober in five years combined.
As for the performance rights payments that were in
the news a couple of years ago, I doubt that much will ever reach
the artists because it costs the organization more to cut their
check than the payments themselves, and expenses come out of the
artist's side. Some big bands will benefit, but not anyone on our
playlist, I imagine.
[Steven Digman] Does
"Thinking Radio" have Live Broadcasts or is it all On-demand stored
Gregor Markowitz Hober is not On-Demand. We
use an artificial intelligence system that decides what to play
real-time depending on rules set for different time blocks. That's
why we call it 'Thinking Radio.' There is no way for the listener
to choose which to hear or know what will be played in advance.
There are no playlists and it would be odd for the same two songs
to play next to each other twice ever. But it is not random play
I keep an on-air studio and turn on the mic every
once in a while. I can see the next six songs in queue, so I often
tweak the song queue in ways that leave the listener with the impression
that it just couldn't possibly be automated.
We also have a special acoustic studio in the house
for live broadcasts. We have performed over 60 live shows of two
hours each, called 'Sound Unwound.' We've had some great nationally
known players right here in the house for dinner and a show. It's
been great, and meeting a lot of successful working artists has
been a rich learning experience for my daughter.
[Steven Digman] Is there
any particular software that a listener needs to install in order
to tune in to "Thinking Radio" or any other Internet Radio Station?
Gregor Markowitz Right now you can only listen
[to Hober] using RealPlayer or RealOne.
[Steven Digman] And finally,
in the future of Internet (Only) Radio - What happens?
Gregor Markowitz Only time will tell. Hober
is funded for at least two more years, which is the longest [that]
we've ever known we were still going to be on for. The station will
be 18 years old when I retire and could be quite large by then.
I'm really looking forward to that.
As for Internet radio in general, it really depends
on where people want to spend their attention time. In the future
we will have multi-casting, which will allow much cheaper and larger
broadcasts. But we're just slowly building, improving, and laying
down a track record, because like in any other business, experience
and reputation can mean a lot. And the more time that is put into
it, the better it gets.
by the MusicDish
Network. Copyright © Tag
It 2004 - Republished with Permission