Let’s Be Clear

Just so’s we’re all on the same page in regards to this quality podcast vs. public radio thing, I’m not arguing that quality is unimportant or shouldn’t be strived for. It should always be. If you got a game, stepping it up should be a priority to you. However, the notion that one must be at the peak in order to play is erroneous.

Some people, like this guy, seem to be thinking I’m advocating for low quality or that I think as he puts it that I’m for “I turned the mic on to see what would happen”. Wrongo, pop filter breath. Thousands of new people are coming to this, and they got to start somewhere. That is usually – although not always – on the low end of the curve. I’m amazed at how fast I hear people improving by the boatload. I too have unsubscribed from shows because of bad audio quality. I’ve also stuck with a lot that were pretty rough because I wanted to hear what they had to say.

Like I said over a year ago when I first started my podcast, your content banks up your karma and your audio quality sucks it out. If you don’t have much banked with what you are saying or playing, you’d best not push your luck with the sound. However, my basic opposition to Stephen Hill’s stance is the notion that the floor is “public radio” level of production or no one will listen. That’s demonstrably bullshit. Do your best work, have something to say, make it sound as good as you can this time and better next time, but do the work. If you don’t do it today, then you won’t get to the better one tomorrow, right?

And let me state for the record in stark opposition to a lot of the talking heads and wagging tongues out there, I don’t care how many bad podcasts there are. I don’t have to listen to them and neither do you. Everything appeals to someone, if not you. How can people throw around the “long tail” terminology all the time without grokking what that really means? Do the work, get better and maybe I’ll come back later. My first year on radio was bad, and I don’t blame you if you turned it off (although living in a small town in rural Kansas with one station helps with audience retention.) I did it and did it and eventually got better. Most of the radio I hear is bad, too. The big difference is that podcasts I hear tend to improve over time and the wacky morning DJs suck forever.

Production Quality: Coda

This afternoon, I left the house for the first time in a while and drove to the coffee shop. On the way, I tried to listen to All Things Considered on the radio. Within one minute, I got sick of it and instead listened to the Ruby Conf Wrapup episode of the Ruby on Rails podcast. The sound quality of it was dicey, but listenable. That’s right, I turned off a well-produced show in favor of one with shitty production values. Why would I do this? Because I was more interested in hearing these two guys talk about their views of Ruby Conf and the politics of programming language extension and “fanboy” impulses at meeting famous figures in the open source community. I’m newly interested in Ruby and Rails, and I was captivated. There are not 1 in 10,000 Americans who would find this interesting, but I am one.

Production quality isn’t unimportant, but it’s not a make or break. Once you cross the threshold of barely listenable, captivating content of interest to you is all that matters. I just disagree with Stephen Hill so deeply that it makes my bones ache. This isn’t some kind of academic argument or thought experiment, this is how I live my life. I vote with my ears every single day and I’ve been turning off public radio, for all its slickness and production values, because it is physically incapable of being as relevant to me as the playlist on my iPod Shuffle.

Public Radio v Podcasting: Prelude Step, Normalization

Before I write up my piece responding to Stephen Hill’s thing about public radio and podcating, I’m going to do an experiment. If it works, I’ll always do this before tackling any of this “Thing X” vs “Thing Y” written by someone who has a dog in the fight (whether or not I’m rooting on that dog.) I’m calling it either “Stacked Deck Normalization” or “Straw Man MRI”. The idea being, let’s get a sense of where the sympathies lie in as succinct a manner as possible.

In order to do this, I’m going to go through his piece and extract out only the adjectives or adjectival phrases that are applied to the generality of either the public radio/old media or podcasting/citizen media/new media spaces. My theory is that this will be illustrative. I got a sense of the deck being stacked while reading it, and by stripping out everything but these couple of words I think we can go straight to the sympathies.

Public Radio/ Old Media:

slow, polite, idealistic, chronically underfunded, niche content, small audiences, donation business models, descending spiral of pandering to audiences, endless lifestyle fundraising specials, pathetic subversion of the original mission, high production value, high quality, high performance standards, greater experience and resources, incumbent program brands, production expertise

Podcasting/ New Media:

brutal techno-Darwinism-on-crystal-meth, “truth” (yes, in quotes) relevance, creativity, amateurish, casual, creative, offbeat, inconsistent, self-indugent, libertarian values, open standards, transparency, interactive ethics, superior distribution  technology, smutty charms, unique talents

That was harder than it seemed like it would be. I tried to only use the terms applied to the whole of the fields, not to specific things. I also tried scrupulously not to cherry pick and to take both positive and negatives used on either side. Still, taken as a whole don’t those two lists tell quite a story? Even though Stephen Hill might think he’s being even-handed, and it reads like he wants to be, his underlying assumptions still shine through. I mean, who in their right mind would want the “brutal techno-Darwinism-on-crystal meth world of smutty charms” over the “high production values and high quality?” Well, besides me, that is.

To be continued.

Public Radio and/or Podcasting

I’m busy at work and don’t have time to write this up, but I read both Stephen Hill’s statement on podcasting and Doc Searls’ response. I don’t think either of these meshes well with what I think. This is something I actually have some insight on, as a very early podcaster and as someone who produced entirely by myself a nationally syndicated show that was on the NPR satellites (but not an NPR production) in the 90’s. I’ll write up my thoughts when I can, but suffice it to say I have many on these pieces. Watch the skies!

Inside Mac Radio

In 15 minutes, I’m scheduled to be on Inside Mac Radio. It came about pretty last minute, but I’ll try to rise to the occasion. This is only the second live radio thing I’ve done, the first being the fairly impenetrable experience of being on BBC Five’s Up All Night where I got lots of clicking on the phone and then boom I’m on talking for a few minutes and then boom I’m off. We’ll see how this experience goes.

After the show is over, it should be up in the archives fairly shortly. My goal here is as it ever is – not to make a total ass of myself. If you listen, let me know how you think I did on that.

Audible Domino Falls

I read Doc Searls’ commentary about the news that NPR will not be renewing their contract with Audible. This line of thinking kind of fits in with what Doug Kaye as saying about the future of public radio. As Doc points out, the weird thing about this new world order is the “channel conflict”, where NPR or PRI is on one hand distributing the shows via the stations and also via podcast. Here’s my proposal for avoiding that weirdness (a little disorganized as I’m writing it in a big rush).

NPR and PRI should not podcast their shows. Instead, they should adjust their contract to allow any station that airs the program to podcast the shows if they so desire and to archive any episodes as long as they want, as long as the carriage contract remains paid up. This way, NPR is never competing with the individual stations for the attentions of the listeners. If an individual station wants to be a badass, pony up for lots of storage and bandwidth and maintain serious archives and do serious podcasting, they are contractually allowed to do that. If they want to use their podcast feed as a venue for underwriting and/or getting membership pledges, more power to them. Much like the way many stations precede their streams with announcements about how you can support the station, put those in the podcast. Use this as a resource. Let the stations serve as a decentralized, loosely affiliated set of podcast feeds for the same shows they air.

In this scenario, there is no channel conflict. NPR and PRI don’t have to have big enough iron to serve the whole world, just a directory of stations that podcast the shows. The stations get to keep their relationship with the listeners and use this as another mechanism to serve their constituents. Any underwriting inside the programming (national or local) gets propagated that much further. If they are smart, they would use the podcast feeds of the national shows to help promote feeds of their locally produced programming. Because of the time-shifted nature and the fact that everyone doesn’t need to connect at the same time, the station can server orders of magnitudes more listeners via podcast than streaming with the same resources (because the load can be shifted to off-peak times instead of simultaneously during the program). Everyone wins in a variety of ways, up and down the chain. No one is turning off the transmitters, so this is not a “death of radio” situation but the opposite, an “expansion of radio”.

I already capture the streams from a number of radio stations, including the local Cajun and Zyedeco programming from KRVS FM in Lafayette LA, and if they were to podcast those shows, I’d switch over to the feed in a heartbeat. Currently, if my cable modem is out during the show, I miss it. In a podcast world, if I can’t download it gets retried and I still get to hear the show. There’s another win. Unlike Doug’s scenario where podcasting eliminates the need for the stations, in my scenario podcasting is just another way the stations get the programming to their members. Cool stuff to think about, no?

Eyedrum Podcast

My friend and WREK cohort Chris emailed me about his new project. He has been a volunteer at the Atlanta art gallery/ performance space Eyedrum for a while. Once a month on WREK he hosts a Sunday Special that features songs from performances at the joint. Now he has set up a podcast for those shows. Cool, no? This is yet another semi-official podcast feed for WREK, on top of the ones I set up. It’s not exactly “if you build it they will come” but more like “if you build it, they will build it too.”

ELO

My cable modem took a dump, so I relocated to the branch office temporarily. I’m sitting here working, eating a crab melt panini and listening to last week’s Personality Crisis from WREK. Jon is currently playing a chunk of songs that are ELO and ELO covers. Just like the Paul Melancon song “Jeff Lynne” reminds me, I have an enormous store of affection for the Electric Light Orchestra (and also the Move, the predecessor band.) Even at their bullshit schmaltziest, I still love everything from the early 70’s up to the mid-80’s. By the time of “Horace Wimp” the cause was lost, but there are so many of those tunes that just take me back and fire me up. “Living Thing,” “Turn to Stone,” “Evil Woman,” and one of my all-time favorite rock tunes “Do Ya” are guaranteed to bring a smile to my face and a tap to my toes. Even though later I got deep into the worlds of punk and metal, that never subtracted music, only added. At my thrashiest, moshiest point in my music fandom, I was still a sucker for “Can’t Get It Out of My Head.” Thanks for reminding me, brother. I heart Jon Kincaid.

PS – You can subscribe to the ghetto podcast feed I set up for the show. If you use iTunes, be sure an tell it to get all files, because there are five separate ones every time the show posts as it is in 30 minute chunks.

Ellen Kushner

I was surprised and pleased to see that Ellen Kushner left a comment on this blog. I really like Ellen, and I’ve been a listener of her show Sound and Spirit for 10 years. It’s one of the ones I capture from MP3 streams and listen to later. In 1996 when I was pitching the nationally syndicated version of Reality Break at the Public Radio Program Director conference in New Orleans, Ellen and the crew from WGBH gave me so much advice and support that it was ridiculous. Here I was, this kid with a stack of information packets and home-dubbed cassettes, and they all took me seriously and even helped me make my pitch to program directors. That’s part of why I’ve had such a warm spot in my heart for WGBH and why I was pleased to see them take the lead in public radio podcasting.

Ellen has got a new project, Interstitials Arts. Check it out!

Subgenius Feed

As a reminder to all of you who are in to remix/mashup culture, you can subscribe to an RSS feed for the grandaddy of them all, the Subgenius Hour of Slack, plus the local Atlanta show Bob’s Slacktime Funhouse. If you subscribe now, you’ll get HOS #999 (which is the number of Bob), and shortly get the big one, episode #1000. WREK FM, being full of the spirit of slack themselves, are a few weeks behind the broadcast schedule of most of the Subgenius world so if you missed it, here it is.

Raiding The 20th Century

I’m getting to this late because of my busy week last week but Bob’s Slacktime Funhouse last week aired in its entirety a great audio documentary called “Raiding the 20th Century”, which is about remix culture, cutups, sampling and such. I listened to it in O’Hare airport waiting for a plane and I’ve never had a more enjoyable hour in an airport.

This was a partnership with Paul Morley who wrote a book on the subject, and DJ Strictly Kev who had prepared an earlier version and then expanded it after reading the Morley book and included some author readings in the audio. You can currently download this from their website but if you get it from the links below Right Fricking Now you can make Georgia Tech eat the bandwidth bill. Stick it to the man in more ways than one! You have until 1 AM EDT Saturday night/Sunday morning to download this, after which it will be overwritten with the next show, so don’t fart around.

The show starts a few minutes after the hour, so you’ll need all three of these files to get the full show, the last one only having a few minutes of the very end. Stick around and listen to 25 minutes of the anarchic WREK programming to see if you like it. I do.

Note – each file is about 27M, so be forewarned.
First half-hour
Second half-hour
Last few minutes

And you know, if you subscribed to the WREK Subgenius podcast feed you’d already have this.

Theater of the Mind

Folks that deny the value of audio because it isn’t text just plain don’t appreciate the theater of the mind. I love it and have basically my whole life. I love radio dramas, becoming interested as a child in the 70’s. At that time, CBS radio had a revival of Mystery Theater which frequently featured Mason Adams. In fact, any time I saw him on Lou Grant I thought of him as the “Mystery Theater” guy.

Yesterday while I was doing my work, I listened to an old episode of Hopalong Cassidy that came down from the Sentinel’s Ward podcast feed. I don’t know if that’s still a going concern or if it has changed URLs or something but I haven’t gotten anything down that feed since January. I love old time radio and even new time radio, such as ZBS productions and the Atlanta Radio Theater Company and Seeing Ear Theater.

A few years ago I was involved in a group that did CD trees of old time radio on MP3s. In fact, when I bought my iRiver SlimX it was these CDs that were the primary driver. I even took some of the CDs with me to test it out at the store of these MP3s at weird bitrates and such, and when it played them all I bought it. I ultimately resigned in disgust from group, because I had a dispute with the organization. They were preparing a distribution of Ruby the Galactic Gumshoe from ZBS Productions. In every CD tree I ever participated in, the shows were things that are no longer commercially available. In this case, the organization that produced the shows is still in business and still selling copies of those shows. I found that inappropriate and when no one else seemed to be bothered by this, I left the group. I do love the form though, and I’m delighted to be able to listen to some OTR whenever I can.

Benjamen Walker’s Theory of Everything

Last week when I posted about This American Life someone suggested to me Benjamen Walker’s Theory of Everything as something else that fills that quirky, brilliant, edgy niche. I subscribed and I really do like the show. I see on his blog that he posts about picking up a new station. He gives some clues where he says:

So I am not going to name names, but lets just say that starting March 5th I will be on all THREE coasts. And one more hint: this station is the best of the big stations in the network, its innovative, visionary and wholly dedicated to airing great radio (I am sure this partnership will last at best 3 weeks).

Can there really be much mystery in this? As much as I’d like to think he’s talking about the Gulf Coast and that it’s KRVS in Lafayette LA, this has to be WBEZ in Chicago. It’s is the flagship of TAL and Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me and fits all the criteria he lists. It sure was pleasant living in Evanston and having WBEZ as my local NPR affiliate since the station actually originates a lot of programming that I love.

This American Blindspot

Tonight I heard a chunk of This American Life that was a repeat I had previously listened to. I usually love the show, but this one I didn’t like very much. I realized that pretty much every episode I don’t much like has something in common – lots of Jonathan Goldstein. Not to disparage the man, but I think I’m just not his target audience. His tales of his personal neuroses and daily humiliations leave me cold, mostly because I just can’t really empathize that much. He seems to spend a lot of time agonizing about what the least important random people in his life think of him. Why not, like, just not care?

Dispirited of the Radio

I love the news of Howard Stern moving to Sirius Radio. Dammit, that’s enough to make me consider getting one! I haven’t explored if Sirius has one of those home/car combos but I love this idea. Add that to what we’ve been doing here with internet delivery of programs, and I hope we are seeing the beginning of the obsolesence of our broadcast media as they fade away for other things. Those people who have been stewards of the common property that are our airwaves have done a shitty job of it, selling out the quality of our radio listening experience for more bucks in their corporate pockets. It’s time for their lock on our ears to end. If I can ultimately have played any miniscule part in the demise of the dominance of the radio dinosaurs, I’ll go to my grave a happy man.

RSS Feed for The Linux Show

Never let it be said that I’m not a good samaritan. Doc tells me that The Linux Show doesn’t have an RSS feed which I noted means it really isn’t podcast (TM). Well, bring the noise! They do now. I subscribed to that link and am getting all the files down via iPodderX right now.

I only did the last 4 shows, but I could do more. I’ll even commit to updating this every time they do a new show but it would be nice if one of them would ping me via email to remind me. I’ve got a lot shaking to remember to keep up with that. If the TLS guys want to just mirror that XML on their site, feel free. It all points at your archives anyway.

Update: Doc was nice enough to talk up this post. Although I’ve been trying to be something of a purist so that we get the podcast terminology set before it fragments and becomes confusing, I’ll admit that something he said pushes the limits of how one describes it. He described me as “podcasting the Linux Show.” Hmm, I’m not sure if that encompasses it. I’m publishing the RSS feed that enables that, but they are the ones with the MP3 archives. I would think that this is like a multiple-column key in a database. Jointly, they and I are doing something that is “podcasting.” I’m not doing it because I’m only putting up the RSS, not the files. They weren’t doing it before I published that RSS. It only exists jointly. Interesting, no? I’m not sure that either party in this can be considered to be podcasting the show, only the group taken as a whole.