Rolling Stone magazine writer Jon Landau left a concert in Massachusetts back in the mid seventies and famously proclaimed, "I've seen the future of rock and roll, and it's name is Bruce Springsteen!" Well, now that "The Boss" is very mainstream, I'm here to update that and state emphatically that the future of rock and roll's name is Internet Radio.
I spent yesterday afternoon at the studios of Zecom Radio in suburban Hoffman Estates, IL. The man with the plan there is Marty Zivin, someone whose path and mine have crossed many times over the years, most notably at the old 92.7 WCBR-FM, a station that probably out played, out hipped, and had a much cooler vibe that than larger WXRT. However, with a smaller (much smaller) signal and the advent of radio deregulation, they didn't stand a chance.
Since the late 90's Zivin has been working on various technologies, and waiting for the bandwith, as well as the portable computing devices to play catch up. That time is almost upon us. Most AM radio stations, especially in the smaller markets are on life support. Radio inflation has left many FM's in a situation where they can never pay for the high acquisition costs during the gold rush of ten years ago.
Enter Zivin, who has fashioned not one, but two full time streaming rock stations with little more than an Internet connection, several PC's, some old radio equipment, and old fashioned programming know-how. Zecom -Gems plays oldies and Zecom-The Choice delivers a mix of progressive and classic rock.
A computer programmer helped him develop the software that organizes the music, and plays the station promotional tags, and even his brief announcements
about weather forecasts and listener tidbits. When I first tuned in the
morning, I thought he was on the air live. "Nope," he says, "I get up
at 5:30 and record most of the "live " tracks for the day. Zivin's servers even stream other stations, such as Joe Gentile's WJJG-AM and Okemos Brewing (Internet radio) from Michigan.
In fact, when we sat down in the control room to really go live with a bit of banter and several psychedelic songs of my choosing, it was the first time he'd "had a go at the board in years." The result was an enjoyable two hours of real live radio. The sad truth, is that very few stations operate that way anymore. And why should they? A DJ can come into the production room and "voicetrack" their announcer parts in forty or fifty minutes on a Friday for their entire weekend shifts.
Of course, the result is that you get a very scripted, unspontaneous feel to the broadcast. You can even hear that in some online entities. Ever tried Pandora radio? It's an intriguing idea. You tell the software what your favorite artists are, and the computer tries to play their songs, as well as material from other bands you might like. I've used it. It seemed that most of the songs were from "greatest hits" albums and didn't have a lot of depth and breadth.
However, therein lies the hope for anyone who has a rather sizeable music collection, and Zivin has just that. A lot of vinyl, CD, and even reel to reel tape accumulated over the years. That gives him large music library to program from. He has been getting about 30,000 listeners a month. Not sizable by Chicago radio standards, but on the other hand, his operating costs are a fraction of a downtown station.
You can even hear The Choice in your car radio. Of course you have to be somewhere between South Barrington Road and Route 53, but punch up 101.5 on your FM tuner and surprise!
All Zecom needs is to get the word out.
So that's were a fledgling writer and former disc jockey like myself comes in. We spun a few hours of music yesterday, and since only a handful of folks tuned in, I recorded the proceedings and saved an aircheck which you can listen to on the mp3 player at YourSportsFan - InternetFM.com (my other website.) Tell me what you think. Or better still check out Zivin's two stations, and if you like what you hear - tell others.
Our setlist - as heard on Friday:
Bubble Puppy - Hot Smoke and Sassafrass
Pink Floyd - Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun
Emerson, Lake, and Palmer - The Barbarian
The Cure - Hanging Garden
Echo & the Bunnymen - The Cutter
Led Zeppelin - Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You
Supertramp - School
Fairport Convention - Tam Lin
Casiokids - Fot i hose
The Who - The Punk Meets the Godfather
Rolling Stones - Can't You Hear Me Knocking?
Jefferson Airplane - White Rabbit (live)
CCR - Long As I Can See the Light
Grateful Dead - Werewolves of London
Bonzo Dog Band - Look Out there's a Monster Coming
Lindisfarne - Lady Eleanor
Genesis - The Fountain of Salmacis
Moody Blues - The Story in Your Eyes
Paul McCartney - Moonkberry Moon Delight
Frank Zappa - Let's Make the Water Turn Black