Nothing is as stale as old technology news. But this article looked at the rising tide of Internet radio, and it shows the path that satellite radio and the rest would follow. It also looks at the return of an old voice reaching new and old audiences thanks to Internet radio.

Net radio's signal grows stronger
High-speed web radio use soars

By Russ Gifford
(NOT originally published in The Weekender, 09/11/03)

Underground Radio Returns - Thanks to the 'Net Revolution
Rural America didn't see much of the underground radio revolution that occurred in the late 1960's. While San Francisco had
Tom Donahue
spinning records on KMPX-FM, his influence was mostly expended on local listeners only. This was a time before network and syndicated radio shows were the norm, and when it came to radio, only big cities had the small or under-performing FM station that would take a chance on new music. Most of rural America was left with only Top 40 music pulsing from their radios.

But thanks to Clyde Clifford and KAAY-AM, the revolution didn't miss the fly over states.

AM, unlike FM, could reach longer distances, and at night, the signal for big AM stations stretched even further. These radio stations drew listeners, and the fast talking DJs, like Wolfman Jack in Arizona, or Machine Gun Kelly at KSTP in Minneapolis, or Charlie Tuna with the KOMA Good Guys in Oklahoma City held audiences in multiple states. The DJs became famous, and listeners could hear them any night – at least, any night the weather cooperated.

Above them all, though, stood the “Mighty 1090.” KAAY was an unusual example of underground radio. By day, the station was a traditional Top 40 hit machine, plugging away with talkative DJs and commercials, jingles and phone callers. But at night, KAAY-AM was a clear channel radio station, meaning it had no competition on that frequency across the country. The station crackled with 50,000 watts of power from dusk until dawn, reaching listeners from LA to Baltimore and from Canada to Central America. Known as 'the Mighty 1090', one promo was "The voice of 48 states and 22 countries. The Mighty 1090, KAAY, Little Rock, Arkansas.”

But with great power comes great responsibility, and back in those days, the FCC took those responsibilities seriously. The station required a licensed engineer at the transmitter and normally a DJ at the station. That took two paychecks. Since KAAY had a high school kid who'd earned his FCC ticket and wanted to be a DJ, too, they put a turntable at the transmitter, and allowed the young guy his shot. Working the graveyard shift from the transmitter, this DJ, who spoke very little but was heard all over the country, started playing things that appealed to him. The station wasn't really certain about this turn of events - except the mail started pouring in from across the country.

His on air name was Clyde Clifford, an inside joke, since all the DJs were using names of members of the station's board of directors.

Another inside joke was the name of his program. He called it 'Beaker Street,' something of a mix of the 'heady' times.

Beaker Street offered the then-unusual play list of long songs culled from albums, placed inside even-longer song sets, and very little talk. When he did decide it was time to say something, Clyde was quiet. Unlike Machine Gun Kelly or Wolfman Jack, or any of the DJs of the time, there was no rushed delivery on Beaker Street.

When he spoke, the song would be completely finished - no talk on the exit ramp. Usually a bit of dead air followed - something considered an absolute catastrophe on radio in those days - and a little eerie music. Finally, a quiet voice, intoning something like, 'That was Jamie Brockett. Before that, 'Wheels on Fire,' by the Band. Ahead of that, some Morrison with the Doors. And starting it all off was Led Zeppelin.' Then, a long pause while the eerie music swelled again. And back to the songs.

Occasionally, there was a solitary ad for what we would recognize today as an Arkansas head shop with free strawberry incense, or for some drive-in theatres in Iowa. Despite all the mail the show generated, KAAY had no one working national ad sales. Good news for the listeners, not so good for the station. But they didn't seem to notice. That was the beauty of overnights in the early 1970's.

We later learned the background music was there to mask the noise created by the exhaust fans. Transmitters create heat, and 50,000 watt transmitters require huge fans to pull cooling air over the beast. But we just liked the odd sound effects. It was, to say the least, unique.

So, Monday through Saturday nights from 11 PM to 2 AM, Clyde Clifford took the few Americans that stayed up late on a trip down Beaker Street, spinning rock songs and album cuts that never made it to pop radio. Early listeners were treated to cuts of Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin and Doors songs that we never heard on normal AM stations, along with songs that would become cult classics by people like Jamie Brockett.

Beaker Street was rural America's only taste of non-top 40 rock - at least, until album oriented rock became a standard years later on radio. Clyde left his post before that happened, stepping down in 1973. Beaker Street lingered on for a while, but like an old relative dying of some terrible illness, fewer and fewer people stopped by to see how it was doing. By 1976 or 1977, it was all over. One day, it was just gone. Later, the station found religion, and dropped music completely from the format. Late night radio listeners were consigned to the hell of some of the few remaining AM stations playing music, like KOMA-AM in Oklahoma City. KOMA had been a great pop station, but had fallen from the heights of rock to disco by then. It was a bleak time. (Though none of realized it would get worse with the rise of talk radio.)

But today, Beaker Street is again available to listeners. Only now, it's via the web. Clyde Clifford is back, and every Sunday night - ironically, the only night Beaker Street wasn't on in the '60s - he broadcasts from 7 p.m. to midnight on 105.1 KMJX-FM. (We are all a little older now, you know.)

As an FM station, KMJX has not much more power than those little FM stations in the late 60's. Thanks to the Internet, though, KMJX and Clyde have even more potential reach than the 'Mighty 1090' had in its heyday.

But Clyde is not just tripping on the past. "The big thing about Beaker Street was that we were playing things that just simply didn't get played. It was the real meaning of the overused phrase 'Alternative Music'... It was, really, alternative music to whatever was getting played a lot," said Clifford.

"And that's what I'm trying to still do...play stuff that otherwise may not be heard by the majority of people listening to mainstream radio...stuff like Trout Fishing In America and various independent recording artists. Or stuff that the record companies in their infinite wisdom don't really try to market that hard 'cause they don't think they'll make enough money."

Hear Beaker Street Sunday nights from 7 p.m. to midnight, Central time. Listeners can find it, and Clyde, at http://beakerstreet.com/  There are also some mp3's of past shows, including a couple from 1970.

[The above was the sidebar submitted with the article for the 9/11/03 Weekender article. It only saw print online, and only a small part of it at that. I offer it here in its entirety. The remainder of the very dated article follows. - RHG]

Internet Radio and the FCC, 2003

Last year’s copyright laws were expected to crush Internet Radio webcasters under the weight of royalty payments, and signal the death of Internet Radio. It did shut down many sites, but a year after pundits predicted their demise, Internet Radio is still alive -- and kicking hard. In fact, if history provides any indication, Internet Radio stands poised to strike it huge in the next few years. The draw is the listener’s ability to sculpt a sound unique to their tastes, or to find a touch of home, of history, or of humanity.

Internet Radio refers to stations brought to listeners not over the airwaves, as in traditional radio, but via ‘webcasts,’ using the World Wide Web and the Internet to reach listeners anywhere. The stations are not limited by distance, terrain, and weather – and until last year, by regulations. The new rules, part of the crackdown against un-authorized use of copyrighted materials started in 1998, did shut down many of the pirate stations run by wannabe disk jockeys. These low-end stations may have faded into white noise, but the draw of personalized radio, delivered by the net, has only grown stronger in the last year.

How Internet Radio Stacks Up

Arbitron ratings show Internet radio listeners are still tuning to their online networks. But the gap between radio stations broadcasting only on the Internet, and those simulcasting on both the net and over the air are widening. The highest ranked over-the-air radio station on the web was beaten almost two to one in total listenership online. Only one other station made it into the top ten. The rest of the spots were dominated by AOL’s various on the web stations.

There is a reason for that. AOL listeners can easily click on radio stations provided as part of their AOL package. Their gamut of stations on the top ten include Top Country, Smooth Jazz, Top Pop, Classic Rock, Lite Rock, Awesome 80’s and Top Jams. Each posted over 200,000 hours of Total Time Spent Listening (TTSL) by people during the week of August 11.

In fact, AOL alone boasts of 175 different radio stations. Again, the key is these stations allow users to drill down to only the type of music that meets their needs. (Find these stations at music.netscape.com/radio/ ).

Musicmatch.com, another portal to many music stations, actually leads the top ten list.

Local Plans for Streaming Audio?

What does this mean for local radio, and the industry as we know it today? The evidence is still out as to whether Internet Radio will distract, or enhance local listening. “The Internet is enticing, very enticing,” said Gretchen Gondak, general manager of KWIT-KOJI FM radio in Sioux City. “A number of Public Radio stations already have streaming audio in place. It is something we’d love to do, but we know that it would be very expensive. Right now, there isn’t any evidence that it makes a difference for those stations. I expect, someday though, we will have streaming audio.” [Someday is now. KWIT went digital and also started streaming audio within a year. - RHG]

DataTrac, a research service that specializes in radio, shows that Internet usage and radio listeners are a common audience – and the usage is growing. Since 1997, Internet usage among radio listeners has grown from 28% per day, to 83%. That’s a 300% growth in six years. New/Talk radio, and country radio format listeners lead the way in internet usage, according to DataTrac, with 88% of those listeners using the Internet daily or at least occasionally. In contrast, half as many Oldies/ Adult Contemporary listeners spend time on line.

Local commercial stations agree the Internet has provided them with an additional avenue to their customers. “The Internet has provided us with a visual tool, an ability to add video to radio’s ‘audio only’ component,” said Rick Shorg, vice president and general manager of the Sioux City Clear Channel radio stations. "There is much more we can do with our listeners," he added, including online surveys, as well as a way to get direct feedback from their listeners. But when it comes to online streaming, there are no plans for adding it anytime soon. [Again, all are on the Internet today.]

Does that hurt the local stations? No, says Shorg, since by definition, local is the true aim of radio. “Our listeners are local. And we support local events, provide vital support for local organizations, and we are involved in the local community. That’s why local radio stations survive.”

Finding Your Niche

Finding your music on the Internet is pretty simple. Using a search engine, like www.Google.com, you can look for a specific radio station, or look for a radio station locator, like http://www.radio-locator.com/ . These gateways will give you numerous links to stations around the country, and around the world.

You’ll need software on your computer to play these stations. The radio signals on the web are streaming audio, meaning they are not downloaded on to your computer and saved, but simply packets of information sent to your computer, and straight to your radio. But it does allow you to pause the audio, like a VCR, to catch a phone call. A handy feature. All your computer needs is a player installed, along with speakers, and a sound card, but must computers today have these in place.

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