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The music plays on -- over the Net

By CHRISTOPHER BLANK

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 9, 1999


The Federal Communications Commission may have knocked Doug Brewer's pirate radio station off the air, but it didn't stop the music. He has kept the station and the music alive -- over the Internet.

"It's illegal to broadcast over the air, but not over the computer," said Brewer, whose Temple Terrace station was raided in 1997. "When we started the thing, there were hardly any radio stations on the Internet. We've gone as far as pirate radio can go, but the Internet is becoming a recognizable venue."

He is not alone in seeing Web radio's potential. Now more than 15 Tampa Bay area radio stations have Web sites with streaming audio, which allows listeners to hear the live broadcast directly from the Internet.

And a lot of people are tuning in.

For Sue Treccase, program director at talk radio station WFLA-AM 970, the addition of streaming audio was the next step in providing listeners with news access.

"Given that the people who listen to a talk-news station are already hungry for information, they are already inclined to surf the Net," Treccase said.

She estimated that the WFLA Web site (www.970wfla.com) averages 50,000 hits a week, based on a company the station uses to measure Web traffic. The number fluctuates according to the news, with a breaking story such as the recent Kennedy tragedy bringing more visitors.

"Somebody from the area going on vacation can now take FLA with them if they have a computer," Treccase said. "We get callers on the talk shows all the time and you'll hear them say, "Hi, I'm listening on the Net from New York.' "

Still, both the radio pirate and the corporate programmer agree that even as the quality of Internet broadcasting improves, it doesn't take the place of the real thing.

Treccase said that the biggest drawback is the computer's inconvenience. There is no download time on the radio. Most people who listen on the computer tend to stay on one station, and marketers worry that they will get less traffic from station surfers.

Brewer, still awaiting his day in court with the FCC, wants to get his 102.1 "The Party Pirate" back on the airwaves. The Internet, he said, is a "great supplement to the station, but will never replace the traditional way of reaching out to your neighbors."

While alternative stations such as the Party Pirate are popular among Web surfers, classical music also has emerged as an online favorite.

However, the bay area's only classical station, public radio WUSF-FM 89.7, does not yet offer its programming online.

National Public Radio is negotiating with music publishing companies BMI and ASCAP so that affiliate stations can add streaming audio to their Web sites. Even then, the station may have some gaps in its Web broadcast because programs such as All Things Considered and Morning Edition are streamed exclusively from the NPR site (www.npr.org).

"Getting live broadcasts on the Internet is a high priority for the station," program manager Susan Johnson said. "Already we're moving in the way of intense Web site development this year."

In addition to the station's regular on-air material, Johnson predicts that WUSF's future site will offer expanded local news coverage. But until NPR's negotiations are final, classical music fans will have to click elsewhere.

Treccase said that the best argument for adding streaming audio is keeping in touch with the local listeners.

"The people who are listening on the Web are the same people listening on their car stereos," she said. "The PC is another option for people who can't bring radios into the office."

While many Tampa Bay stations are racing to install live content on their sites, others don't see an urgent need for it. Just having a Web site jam-packed with graphics and information is enough for CBS affiliates such as country music station WQYK-FM 99.5.

"I think that it is a benefit to listeners, but I don't see the full benefits of streaming audio as a way to generate revenue," WQYK Web site manager Claudia Menegus said. "As soon as we can find a way to make money from it, I think it will be much more popular."

Though the Web is not an obvious moneymaker, Brewer can attest to its popularity. Not even he realized its impact until his computer shut down one day, and calls began coming in from pirate radio stations across the country.

"They had been rebroadcasting us directly off the Internet," Brewer said. "They were wondering what happened to the music."

Though the former DJ turned HDJ (hard disk jockey) can't claim Arbitron figures or boast about megawattage, the computer gives him the satisfaction of knowing that, even after two years being off the air, people are listening every day.

On his computer Brewer can see exactly how many are logged on to his Web site (www.ldbrewer.com), and can identify frequent visitors. And what kind of person listens to the Party Pirate?

Brewer looks at his computer and sees familiar guests from the University of South Florida, Scientific Atlanta and Boeing -- folks who also know something about airwaves.

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