Waves in the Web

By Josephine Bosma, 10 September 1997

Josephine Bosma on

Radio on the internet did not start with the appearance of RealAudio. It was there long before. To judge what radio is in the ageof digital media, we need to completely overthrow the trditional concept of radio. Radio no longer needs to bea single stream of sound that is transmitted from a central point to its listeners. Trying to produce this type of radio on the net seems contradictory to its inherent qualities. Given the way a lot of people use media at present - zapping through channels and constructing private programmes through combining assorted media - seeking alternatives to centralised broadcasting techniques, online radio will bring with it possibilities and freedoms that mass media productio denies many broadcasters.

To understand the potential future of radio on the internet, it's important to look at experiments with communication tools made in the arts, specifically music and performance art. The work of Gerfried Stocker and Roberto Paci Dalo offer us good examples. Gerfried Stocker, now director of Ars Electronica, is a composer and sound artist. He has created many works in which realtime sound was made at different locations and connected firstly through telephone lines and later via the internet. Roberto Paci Dalo was originally a theatre man, but lost his heart to radio long ago. He is one of the main people behind Radio Lada, as well as ORF-Kunstradio - the first internet art radio station in Europe. He has worked on many projects, making live connections between performance sites and multiple radio stations via telephone and the internet. Of specific importance is the fact that what is heard in one place is not necessarily the same as what is heard in another. At each end of the 'line' specific preferences can be added to the project. What is heard at each terminus (e.g. computer, radio station, theatre) is open to the technical and creative choices made for that project and/or site. As Gerfried Stocker puts it: "When you work with digital sound, when you start to sample and you have all those sound pieces that can recombine in multiple circumstances then you very soon get this idea of a pluralistic space of possibilities. So I think it is no longer adequate to think that you have to create a definitive masterpiece. As soon as we entered the era of digital technology, we lost the ability to be in control of the result." Radio here is used as a "distributed acoustic instrument" in an open improvisation in combination with its more traditional set up. The broadcast is a polymorphous entity inside a network, and the experience of the audience or participants depends on where they are, what equipment they use and what situation they are in.

With the coming of RealAudio a lot of radio stations have embraced the possibility of broadcasting world-wide. Although this in itself is a revolution for local broadcasters, the advent of RealAudio has managed to overshadow the development of multifaceted new styles of radio production by extending old style mass media models onto the net. RealAudio software is a typical linear transferral of old media into new. The player offers the listener little opportunity to play with the signal s/he receives. The server is RealAudio's strongest feature, with its unparalleled ability to split one 'stream' into many. However, many attempts are being made at designing software which is more diverse in its features, and which will allow users to play more with signals. Martin Schitter, a technician and artist who has worked with both Roberto Paci Dalo and Gerfried Stocker, has started a mailing list that focuses on audio and the internet. In reference to RealAudio's ability to split streams he says: "I think this feature is not so exiting. It's just the way we perceive it, because it's another criterion for the price of this software [...] the paradox of countable connections in a broadcast utility. New types of software are needed, and one single standard should be avoided."

Something like a RealAudio player, which gave the user control over a sort of mixing panel and allowed for reasonably fast mixing, cutting and switching of realtime sound streams and archived audio-samples could provide a good start.

We also need to ask: What should be done with the screens? I have talked to many new media artists, radio and television people about this, trying to grasp what future radio would 'look' like. The most specific quality of radio or audio in general is its 'omnipresence', compared with TV or video which is locked in a box in the corner. Now with radio on the net, it has a shiny prison aswell. Felipe Rodriguez, director of Dutch internet provider xs4all, sees a great future for, but thinks of listeners in places with good net.connections mostly, like offices. There are already many people listening to in this way, through a leased line or ISDN connection. Connected to the speaker system in a room, radio is its old self again, no trouble with screens here. Robert Adrian, a media artist from Vienna, thinks the screen will augment radio by way of being an extension. Gerfried Stocker from Radio Lada suggested just leaving the screen black or not using it at all whilst Roberto Paci Dalo said: "If you deal with the internet, if you deal with a computer with sound, you can't escape from reflecting on the role of the image as well. [...] Radio can be bigger than TV, and/or more flexible. [...] If you work with CUSeeMe in a radio project that is online, that's interesting. People tend to think: The biggest thing is image and then you get the sound in the image and the text. In this case firstly there is the sound and inside the sound you get all the other things." Straight from the heart of a radio-art lover, his words reflect the experiential difference in sensory perception of sound and image. By thinking through the principles of a spatial, elusive sound with its own very specific qualities, the addition of the image produces something other than the usual experience of sound on TV. The ocular bias within media and its influence on our perception could almost make us neglect the subtleties of our own sensory 'network'.

What happens when moving images are added though? Will radio become television on the internet? Now that television and radio are moving onto the internet, both will change. Their definitions need re-examining. In terms of the old mediaprofiles, radio will gain a stronger presence while television will lose some of its importance. The difference between the two will often hardly be distinguishable.

Two very different examples of screen usage come from a computer music festival in Germany and a new media radio show on the Berlin air, called Radio Convex TV. The Darksite as the website of the music festival is called, offers a black screen with a burning candle in the middle. A few words point out some basic information. On entering the site, the black screen shows several glowing stars, each of which open a different sound file on clicking. The dark screen was chosen to focus all the attention on sound. Convex TV have a radio show on the student university radio that has been given some of good old Voice of America's airtime. The programme is highly experimental, and uses the internet during its broadcasts once a month for producing live texts and images. As yet, there is no sound on the internet version. The programme's listeners can take a seat in front of their computer and join in the live text event on their screens. Robert Adrian has commented on this kind of hybridity: "Radio is becoming part of what I've called a megamedium. A medium of recording and transmission which combines all these media. We are talking about a communications technology in which the communications element in the recordings changes the notions of space and the recording also changes the notion of time. We are moving into an era in which we have completely different notions of time and space basically developed around the telephone and recording machinery, but fundamentally the telephone."

Indeed, sound archives give radio a historical depth it never had before. Apart from this, sound files on the internet can be used and selected by anyone, to serve whatever purpose they might have - whether in or outside the net - links on homepages being their most common use. If your provider does not have a RealAudio server, you can find other places to put up your sound for free. You can also use the sound for further experimentation, in the same way that Radio Lada put up soundbites last February for use during the live net.cast from V2 in Rotterdam. This net.cast was produced by a very interesting group of radio and internet workers from former-Yugoslavia, Austria, The Netherlands and Germany and put into practice the previously impossible idea of networking several smaller, maybe even illegal local stations, across the globe.

Radio Internationale Stadt - a project by Internationale Stadt in Berlin - offers the possibility to ftp sound files from anywhere on to its RealAudio server. However, it resists calling itself a radio station because "It's not a matter of radio, it's a matter of internet community. We don't run a radio station. What the users on the internet bring us, we can broadcast. We provide the infrastructure to bring audio information to the net. It is not up to us to make audio content, it is up to the users, people that are interested in doing this. We are able to support them", says Thomas Kaulman, sysop and initiator of the project. The website is a fast growing sound archive, which hosts, amongst others, E-lab from Riga whose audio experimentation on the net was received with great 'enthusiasm' by Latvian authorities.

The new possibilities offered by the internet for radio are immense, and this cannot be said often enough. Radio could eventually regain some of its freedom if the next generation internet protocols (IPv6), stricter network-bandwidth-regulation and cost calculation leave enough space to move. Starting a radio station on the internet is not as hard as starting one on the ether despite widespread attempts at state regulation. Sending a single stream out across the world can change the political situation of a country. Again, the situation of Radio B92 serves as an example of how effective one stream of live audio can be. Authorities in other countries such as Latvia now try to regulate the growth of stations by ordering new ones to apply for legal broadcast status whenever over 20 streams of audio are to be used. Often such a status will never be given or it is tied to other restrictions - e.g. prohibitive costs.

To reach a conclusion of this short exploration of, it seems relevant to mention the lack of good information about the internet in mass media, especially now that the hype is largely over. For the internet and to develop well, it is necessary for knowledge about the internet to be shared between the 'new' and 'old' media industries. If the current climate continues, restrictions and censorship will be applied without much protest as a consequence of the relative silence in the mass media. Although my plea could involve an overly optimistic view of's potential, it's perhaps worth considering a legendary quote from one of the technicians who helped build the first telephone network: "It will no longer be necessary to have war - because now we can use the system of transmission to ask how something was meant."

Radio, like other media, should be combined, deconstructed and reconstructed. Radio and other media should not just have extensions into the net, but the net should also have extensions outside itself. In the case of radio this means that audio streams should be used much more creatively, connecting them to ether and cable stations, legal or illegal, playing the sound in public places, allowing the audio to be played with, using connections to television and whatever you can think of. As long as there are no net.connections to the outside, it will remain an unknown territory, regulated according to the strictures of existing radio broadcasting. Although traditional radio will not cease to exist, people working within radio should be aware of what the possibilities a more flexible way of working can offer their broadcasts. The experimentation of media artists should be examined and translated to net.casts of a much greater variety.

Josephine Bosma <jesis AT> is a radio pirate and net.journalist in the field of art, new media and mediatheory.

Gerfried Stocker

The Radio Lada festival LADA 97L'Arte dell'Ascolto will be presented through November 3 - 9 1997. It will host lots of broadcasts & webcasts live.[]

Radio B92

Martin Schitter <> :University of Graz - Computerlab at the Department for Humanities Forum Stadtpark Graz - Department for new media and electronic art

The Darksite

Radio Convex TV

V2 net.radioworkshop February 97

Radio Internationale Stadt