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May 21, 2000

Radio Revolution
by Royce Carlson

Radio started out as a free-for all until the government got involved in regulating it. Over the course of time, the number of radio stations became fewer and, little by little, mega-media corporations bought those up until most radio stations are now owned by only a handful of companies.

The regulations kept the little guys out of the business by requiring huge fees and bank accounts before a frequency could be assigned. This forced those who wanted to have a radio station to become beholden to their advertisers who all had a stake in what kind of content they wanted to air. If you ever wondered why all the stations sound mostly the same, thatís why.

All along, however, there have been pirate radio stations. I was a DJ at one in Southern California several years ago. Pirate radio stations mostly operate in one of two ways. The first type are low-power stations operating unlicensed. They sometimes move from place to place so the Federal Communications Commission canít find them. When they do get caught, the FCC usually just confiscates the transmitter for a first offense. FM stereo transmitters, by the way, are illegal to buy in the United States without a license.

The other type of pirate station is operated offshore from a ship in international waters, and has a high-power transmitter. The government has no jurisdiction so they continue to exist as thorns in the side of authority. In fact governments, themselves, use this technique to broadcast their propaganda into other countries.

Now, those with an alternative message or alternative content can once again join in a free-for-all by "broadcasting" over the Internet. Internet radio isnít really radio but the effect is virtually the same. Instead of a transmitter all you need is a web site and streaming media software to get your station online. There are hundreds of Internet radio stations now. Some are broadcast stations that also have web radio and some are Internet only.

The development of the Internet has made radio fun again. There is a tremendous variety of music and content and it is available worldwide. This is a big advantage over conventional radio which can only reach a relatively small geographic area. Another advantage is cost. The equipment to run an Internet station is much less than a broadcast station. No high power transmitters or huge antennae are required. Right now there are no licensing fees or financial requirements, either.

The current disadvantage to Internet radio is the equipment you need to listen. Currently, you need a computer, modem and phone line to do it. This is severe overkill. Using a PC to listen to music is like using a helicopter to mow your lawn.

Fortunately, there are a few products coming out that are designed only for Internet radio. They cost somewhere in the $300 range now, but Iím sure the price will come down as sales go up and competition gets stiffer.

To sample some Internet radio stations visit the Pirate and Internet Radio category at Zenzibar. Also listed is information on pirate radio.

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