Local Audio, Online
It’s a perennial complaint, muttered by musicians in every town in North America: There are hundreds of bands here. But they don’t get any airplay on local radio, aside from the college station. Local stations should support local music.
Stephen Jaundrew knows the feeling. “I was talking with friends who have bands, and all of them were looking for a way to get their songs heard,” says the Langford electronics salesman. So he’s done something about it. Like audiophiles around the world frustrated by the limited musical range of commercial radio, he’s started an internet radio station. What’s unique about VicStream, though, is that it only plays Victoria artists.
“Both of us grew up in Victoria, so we know there’s a lot of great music here,” says Scott Sommerville, a UVic engineering student who’s Jaundrew’s partner in VicStream. So far, 24 local bands have posted songs on the site, covering everything from coffeeshop folk to metal. As it’s currently set up, VicStream automatically plays each song, in endless rotation. But Jaundrew and Sommerville also occasionally host a formal program with a DJ and request line, and even plan to record live shows in local clubs.
“It's a great idea and I’m glad someone is out there supporting local talent,” says Stephen McCallum, lead singer of the psychedelic duo Goo, one of the bands on VicStream. “I just hope they have a few listeners.”
There certainly is a potential audience. Newsweek recently reported that more than 50 million North Americans listen to internet radio already, using free iTunes or WinAmp software to access stations specializing in everything from gay news to Bollywood soundtracks. But such diversity may not last much longer. Last summer, U.S.-based net stations held a day of silence to protest new copyright fees demanded by the music industry, requiring $500 or more for an annual licence, plus extra charges per song per listener – a fee ordinary radio stations don’t pay – even though few net stations make any money. North of the border, there's ongoing legal wrangling over Tariff 22, a scheme proposed by the music publishers’ association SOCAN requiring net stations to pay $200 per month. If it passes, internet radio will become an expensive hobby.
“I’m doing a service here,” protests Mark Murphy, who runs the all-blues Murph-O-Rama radio out of his Fernwood apartment, using the free audio-streaming program ShoutCast. “There’s no money involved, and I post links to artists’ websites where people can buy the music.” He keeps listeners limited to five at a time – which includes fans in Europe and South America – although he occasionally uses the station himself at friends’ houses so they can hear his record collection. “If they do shut [net radio] down, it will go offshore, like the old pirate stations,” says Murphy, grinning. “It’s made for indies, people who are never going to be part of the star system.”
To avoid copyright problems, some net stations create their own content (such as the all-talk RantRadio in Vancouver), or cut their own deals with musicians, as VicStream is doing. Another option is using the vast array of songs that musicians have made freely available on the internet. Gordon Stark, a writer who’s run his all-electronica Synerdata from a downtown Victoria office since 1999, has built up a database of 17,000 such songs. “It shows you how much competition the major labels have, and how much good music they’re burying,” he says.
A net radio veteran, Stark wishes ventures like VicStream luck, but warns that he spends up to 15 unpaid hours every day, maintaining Synerdata’s seamless 160-kilobyte flow. Why bother? It’s a labour of love for a genre that doesn’t get much airplay, he explains; for him it started in the 1980s, when he DJed an FM show in Saskatchewan, playing Kraftwerk for wheat farmers. “I guess I thought electronic music would take over the world.”
Maybe not, but judging by the fans in Synerdata’s guestbook – in Australia, Germany, Portugal, Russia, and Turkey – his Victoria radio station is reaching it.
PS Victorians are also actively producing podcasts. (A podcast is an MP3 audio file downloaded from a website or the online iTunes store into a player such as an iPod, although 80% of listeners just play them on computers.) The BC legislature has podcasts of question period, and UVic has podcasts of campus news. Even churches are converts: Friendship Baptist and Glad Tidings post their Sunday sermons on iTunes.
Volunteer-run podcasts come and go, but UVic education prof Ted Riecken – who posts his own half-hours of Victoria sound and commentary here – says the medium is alive and well. (Locally, he recommends Mark Blaseckie’s Baba's Beach.) Recently he attended a conference entitled Podcasters Across Borders, and was impressed by the variety of shows, reporting on such specialized subjects as learning disabilties or the country music business. “People creating podcasts aren’t beholden to a sponsor, or a producer who says it won’t work,” Reicken says. “It’s people saying things from the heart.”
PPS (September 17, 2008) The Saanich Police department is now podcasting. On their website, they post updates, crime prevention tips, and info about unsolved crimes.