by Josephine Bosma
Radio on the internet did not start with the immersion of RealAudio. It was there long before. To make a good judgement of what radio is in the age of digital media, the traditional concept of radio has to be overthrown completely. Where in the beginning of this century the communicative possibilities of radio were diminished in favor of control over the airwaves for reasons of censorship and security, today the system of cables, airwaves and satelites that shape the internet needs first of all no strong security measures for the sake of basic services like ambulance and airplane traffic control, and secondly, censorship seems a lot less easy task to perform. Radio no longer needs to be a single stream of sound that is transmitted from a central point to its listeners. Trying to make this type of radio in the net in fact seems contradictive to the qualities the net adds to communication technologies. It still serves well for tactical reasons, but even then it is not just the single soundstream classic radiostations produce.
To understand the possibilities or maybe even the future of radio on
the internet one has to look at experiments with communication tools
done in the arts, specifically music and performance art. The work done
by Gerfried Stocker and Roberto Paci Dalo serve as good examples of this,
their work should be well documented and retrievable. Gerfried Stocker,
now director of Ars Electronica, is a composer and soundsartist and has
created many works in which realtime sound was made at different locations,
which were connected firstly through telephonelines and later also the
internet. Roberto Paci Dalo is a theater man by origin, but he has lost
his heart to radio long ago. He is one of the main people behind radio Lada,
together with ORF-Kunstradio the first internet-art-radiostation in Europe.
He has worked on many projects connecting performance places with several
radio stations at the same time, through telephone and internet connections.
One specifically beautiful project was one that also involved the speaker
system along the italian coast, that exposed unexpecting wanderers along
the beach to (for them I imagine) mysterious sounds from an international
What is most important to learn from their experiments, besides the enormous variety of medialinks possible, is the fact that what is heard in one place is not necesarely the same as what is heard in another. Each end of the 'line' can add its own preferences to the project. What is heard from each computer or in every setting involved, be it a radiostation that broadcasts the event live, creating its own version of the signal or a theater/performance space where the project is processed further and a new signal might be send back, depends on the technical and creative choices made at that side of project. So there is not one single product.
With the coming of RealAudio a lot of radiostations have embraced the
possibility to broadcast worldwide. Allthough this in itself is a
revolution for local broadcasters, the coming of RealAudio has put the
development of a multifaccetted new style of radio, that uses the qualities
of the internet appropriately, in the shadow of the overwhelming presence
of extended mass media old style on the net.
RealAudio software is a typical design from linear thinking from old media into new. The player offers the listener little opportunity to play with the signal it recieves. The server is RealAudio's strongest feature, as its capability to split one 'stream' into many, is unparalelled still. There are experiments in many a studio however, to design a type of software that is more divers in its features, and that will allow users to toy with a signal more. Audio and computer engineers are challenged by the many unsolved questions that linger in the gap between RealAudio and the experiences produced at performances in the arts. Martin Schitter, a technician and artist that has worked with both Roberto Paci Dalo and Gerfried Stocker, has started a mailinglist that focusses on audio and internet for this very reason. He will be exploring the technical details mostly, but the list contains artists and radiopeople as well. A new type of software is needed, and one single standard should be avoided.
Besides from all this, a very sensitive question arrises with radio on
the net, which is: What to do with those screens? I have talked to many
media-artists, radio- and televisionpeople about this, trying to get a grip
on what future radio would 'look' like. The special quality of radio or
audio in general is of course its 'omnipresence', compared to tv or video,
which is locked in a box in the corner. Now with radio on the net, it has a
shiny prison as well. Felipe Rodriguez, director of the dutch
internetprovider xs4all, sees a great future for net.radio, but he thinks
of listeners in places with good net.connections mostly, like offices. Allready there are
many people listening to net.radio in this way, through a leased line or
isdn connection. Connected to the speakersystem in the rooms, radio is its
old self again, no trouble with screens here. Robert Adrian, mediaartist
from Vienna, thinks the screen will add new qualities to radio, like every
new extension does. What these qualities are still needs to be seen, as the
medium is so new. Gerfried Stocker made the suggestion to just leave the
screen black, or not use it at all.
Two very different examples of this screen usage are from a computer music festival in Germany and a new media radioshow on the Berlin air, called radio Convex tv. "The Darksite" as the website of the musicfestival is called( I cannot give you the url, due to my crash last week, but try the search engines) , offers a black screen with a burning candle in the middle. A few words point out some basic information. Once entering the site, the black screen shows several glowing stars, each opening a different soundfile on clicking. The info writes how the dark screen was chosen to give all the attention to the sound, without visual distraction.
The people from Convex TV have a radioshow on the student universityradio that has been given some of good old 'Voice of America's' airtime. The program is highly experimental, and uses the internet during its broadcasts once a month for producing live texts and images. There is no sound here, on the internet that is. Listeners of the program through the ether, can take a seat in front of their computer and join in the live text event on their screens. People outside of the transmitter radius can do this also, having a very different radio experience indeed.
What will happen when moving images are added though? Will radio become television on the internet? The definitions of both need re-examining. Both Roberto Paci Dalò as Gerfried Stocker spoke of the different working conditions in television and radio. The structure and hierarchy at a tv station are more rigid and less inclined to experimentation, compared to the more relaxed and free atmosfere at a radiostation. This has many reasons, and these differences are certainly not always present. There are exeptions, but they are few. The traditional difference between the sound and the visual artist, where the first often works in groups and the second alone in his studio could have left traces in the working styles of both audio and video artists. Roberto Paci Dalò mentioned this, when he spoke of his love for radio. He also spoke of the huge difference in budget that radio and television have to work with. The high costs of the equipment needed to produce a reasonable quality television show probably cause both a more strict working regime and, together with the impact of television as opium for the people, leads people working in the television broadcast industry too often to overestimate their own importance. This goes at the expense of experimentation and cooperation. Now television and radio both are moving onto the internet, both will change because of it. Radio will have a stronger presence and television will loose some of its importance, in the sense of the old mediaprofiles. The difference between the two will often be hardly distinguishable though.
The new possibilities offered by the internet for radio are various and they are enormous, and this cannot be said often enough. Radio finally might regain some of its freedom. Starting a radio station on the internet is not restricted by politics yet, though attempts are being made. Sending a single stream out into the whole world can change the entire political situation of a country and with that of everybody. Again, the situation of Radio B92 serves as an example of how effective simply sending one stream of live audio can be. Authorities in other countries, such as Latvia, now try to regulate the growth of net.radiostations by ordering new net.radiostations to aply for a legal broadcast status when more then 20 streams of audio will be used. Such a status will never be given. This is censorship, and why is there no outrage over it?
The magic word is mediacouplings. Radio and other media should not just
have extensions into the net, but the net should also have extensions to the
outside. In the case of radio this means that audiostreams should be used
much more creatively, connecting them to ether and cable stations, legal or
illegal, playing the sound in public places, allowing the audio to be
played with, using connections to television and whatever you can think of.
As long as there are no connections of the net to the outside, it will stay
unknown, possibly enemy territory.
Radio should from its old position understand the need for a more flexible way of working, in which every situation needs a different approach. The experimentation of media artists should be examined and translated to net.casts of a much greater variety.