Imagine...driving down the highway, with a radio talk show blaring. It's your dental hygienist on the air, discussing the pros and cons of the Iraqi conflict with three guest speakers, or perhaps it's your auto mechanic, waxing poetic about great moments in major league baseball.
Sound a bit farfetched? Welcome to the fast moving world of podcasting, the craze that sweeping headlines everywhere. While podcasting has only gained popularity in the last six months, radio stations are quickly jumping onboard.
KCRW listeners know podcasting is a term used for download radio segments onto their Ipod or MP3 players, for enjoying later. There are over 22 million Ipods or MP3 players in America and right now 29% of those users have downloaded podcasts from the web. That amounts to about six million adults who have tried this new feature.
With so many folks interested in podcasting, big business is trying to get in the act. Infinity Broadcasting, one of the nation's largest radio conglomerates, is transforming one of their failing AM radio stations in San Francisco, KYCY, into podcast central. The station is accepting amateur podcasts from wanna-be commentators and talk show hopefuls around the country and following a screening process, will air the segments on their AM dial. The screening will eliminate any who fail to meet FCC standards. And for those outside the San Francisco airspace, KYCY will be simultaneously streaming those same podcast shows on the net.
Meanwhile ex-MTV veejay Adam Curry is developing his own podcasting excursion. Mr. Curry is truly a pioneer in podcasting, as he is responsible for developing the software for the uploading process. Now, on May 13, he'll host daily shows on the Sirius Satellite Network, streaming material exclusively sent in by amateurs via podcasting.
Both these new examples offer a new concept in podcasting usage. Infinity and Sirius are only streaming amateurs podcasts, not offering downloads of them. I suspect the reason is, that neither corporation wants to be liable for licensing the music that is used on the podcasts. A radio station can stream music as part of their performance license, but the minute they offer to download music, they must pay more. And podcasting is so new to music labels that licensing rates haven't been determined yet!
In truth, it's probably a short term problem, as the record business will want to close this loophole and monetize the opportunity.
Radio was built as the voice of a community, and now, with many voices starting to come in from every direction , it's going to be interesting to see if it takes a village or a country to connect with listeners. Stay tuned, or then again, podcast regularly.
This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat on KCRW.