Podcast to broadcast
Podcasting went mainstream last week when San Francisco’s KYOU 1550 AM began broadcasting listener-generated podcasts over the airwaves. The station, owned by Infinity Broadcasting, has moved away from a traditional format and professional disc jockeys, handing the microphone over to a legion of online podcasters.
“The idea came from our executives in the programming and marketing departments,” says Karen Mateo, vice president of communications for Infinity Radio. “We experiment with different formats all the time at our radio stations so it’s not such a big leap for us to try something different.”
Perhaps not, but for podcasters, the move represented a huge step towards popular acceptance of what is still largely an early-adopter technology.
Do the Podcast Shuffle
KYOU launched with a speech from podcasting pioneer Dave Winer, but it quickly moved on to more eclectic fare—everything from music, to news and commentary, to bad free-form poetry. In many ways, it’s like college radio, complete with cranky DJs with esoteric tastes in obscure music. Or, more accurately, it’s akin to the iPod shuffle, in that you never know exactly what is coming next. A report from two San Francisco Chronicle technology reporters, for example, was followed by a show with Beatles covers and “God knows what else,” followed by a Jamaican music podcast, which led into an Israeli rap show featuring an interview with Hadag Nachash, “the most popular rap band in Israel,” according to the show’s producer.
But it isn’t all obscure Israeli rap; indeed some of the station’s programming features big-name talent. In one segment, rebroadcast from Infinity sister station ALICE 97.3, San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom interviews the band Coldplay. The podcast Rock 50 with Mike Stark , is co-hosted with Black Sabbath drummer Bill Ward—whom, it should be noted, is a good deal more articulate than Ozzy. The slickly produced, professional quality show Fake Science Lab Report features an interview with Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason. And no matter what the level of fame or notoriety, the majority of the podcasts are well-produced, entertaining, and sound as good or better than the bland fare commonly available on commercial radio.
Whether or not that will translate into advertiser dollars remains to be seen. During the time we listened, the station didn’t broadcast a single ad over its Internet stream, other than station promos. However, Mateo notes that she expects to reach agreements with several advertisers in the “very near future.” Mateo also says although no ratings are available yet, the online response has been tremendous. “We’re getting really great feedback,” says Mateo, “and hundreds of people continue to upload their podcasts on the website.” As this article went to press, the site listed 704 podcasts that had been uploaded.
One of those uploaders was Tony Steidler-Dennison, producer of the popular Blues-oriented podcast Roadhouse. “I saw the press releases that Infinity sent out, and I submitted a couple of shows to them, ” he says. “I didn’t hear anything from them. I didn’t know what the outcome was, and then I checked the site on Tuesday and there was my show in the rotation three times that day.”
Although Steidler-Dennison says he hasn’t been able to get a feel yet as to whether or not KYOU was driving more listeners his way, he said he did get a kick out of hearing it broadcast which, coincidentally, took place at the same time his podcast appeared on Adam Curry’s show on Sirius satellite radio.
“There I was sitting in my little laundry room office in the middle of flyover country, listening to my show on [Adam Curry’s] PodShow on Sirius and another from KYOU San Francisco simultaneously. I got to strut around the house for about ten minutes before my wife said ‘okay, don’t quit your day job.’”
Not So Open Source
However, there are already a few rough spots. The station bills itself as “Open Source Radio,” because its content is entirely listener-generated. Oddly enough, however, the station doesn’t podcast any of its material, and relies on proprietary file formats. Although kyouradio.com broadcasts over the Internet, it does so via a Windows Media stream—meaning you can’t listen to any of the station’s content on your iPod. It’s an issue not lost on podcasters who have made their material available for the station free of charge.
“I think the entire experience has been interesting and not necessarily in a good way,” says Steidler-Dennison. “As far as the listener, you have to sign up and use the Windows Media content. To hear it called open source radio and to be faced with the requirement for a Windows player, plus the sign up; there are some issues I think they need to address.”
“I think the guys on the ground, just based on the discussion I had with [KYOU station manager] Steve Page today is that they’re really struggling to make this work at the station level. They want to listen to this community that they’re fundamentally brand-new to. And I think they’re committed to making it work. Whether they can translate that to the golden Infinity offices in New York, who knows? And that’s ultimately where it’s going to be decided.”
[For Mat's take on some of KYOU’s podcasts, see A few good podcasts.]
Mathew Honan was a cranky college radio DJ with esoteric tastes in obscure music.