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2006-10-22 We've been lamenting the recent demise of a couple of radio stations around here (pretty much the last listenable stations there were, although I need to give WKNC a try), and of course the gradual decline of radio in general as the FCC relaxes ownership rules and radio content becomes more and more homogenous, more and more about "placement" and less about discovering good music.

It suddenly occurred to me this morning that We Have The Technology to create an alternative.


Obviously, there are plenty of radio alternatives on the Internet, but (at least at present) there isn't any way to listen to these in the car. So I started thinking: what are the basic requirements for a Broadcast Radio Alternative?

  • must provide a wide variety of music
  • it should be possible to separate content into "channels" (like radio stations), so listeners can choose a genre
  • must be able to listen to it without an internet connection (e.g. in the car)
  • must require relatively little effort to "tune in"
  • content must be provided legally

The following points would also be nice:

  • it should be easy to identify songs and artists after listening, so listeners know where to get more


In short: a regularly-issued collection of MP3s, provided in ISO form (MP3 CD) and distributed by Torrent.


We will need a small collection of "DJs" (who really will be jockeying discs, for a change – or at least jockeying around files to go on a disc) to assemble the final ISOs. Each DJ will be responsible for a particular "show", which may or may not follow a format (it's up to the DJ); the "show" will be the contents of each CD issued by that DJ. Listeners will decide for themselves which DJs they like to listen to, based on their own listening or on the comments of others (there should be a wiki/forum/etc. for the "station").


The "station" will provide a central contact point (web site, chat, etc.) for the listening community as well as technical assistance with the torrents. Torrent files will be downloadable from the station's web site. The station will also archive past ISOs.


The main problem will be that DJs will inevitably want to include non-redistributable (i.e. most or all "popular" music) content. Here is my proposed solution to this. We provide three categories of "legality":

Completely legal
This is content which is either in the public domain or where the copyright holder allows free non-commercial copying of their music (or, in the event that the station goes commercial by selling t-shirts, Google ads, or whatever, the artist has been paid for the appropriate distribution license). The station will maintain lists of places where such tracks can be found, as an aid to those who have time to listen to a wider variety of material and find the best stuff.
Grey-market legal
This category may include some content where it's not certain what the artist's view would be, e.g. old indy CDs where the artist's whereabouts are unknown but it is arguable that they would be happy to be reaching more ears. Legal caveat: DJs providing material in this category agree to abide by the station's decisions regarding what may be included in this category. (A more general way of saying that if an artist contacts the station and asks to have their material removed, the station will do so. More generally, the station is interested in input from artists and copyright holders, will be responsive to any reasonable issues raised, and needs a way of enforcing the decisions it makes.)
Illegal but Ethical
This category includes any music released on mainstream labels known to make loads of money. DJs should make diligent effort to avoid anything that gets played on mainstream radio stations, however, as we are trying to avoid being part of the mainstream music moneymaking bandwagon – which is part of the music industry's justification for their attitude on copyright. Legal caveat: Again, DJs agree to abide by the station's decision on any issues which come up. If the record companies protest (probably in the form of a Cease-and-Desist), we may well just stop including this category, with the idea that it will be their loss more than ours... but we will see what they have to say about it, first.

Protecting the artists' interests

Regardless of whether we have full permission to distribute the tracks, there are some measures which we can take to prevent the tracks being used as copies of the works in question without reducing the value of the discs as a radio-like format:

  • Combine multiple tracks at a time into a single MP3 file (this has the advantage, on many players, of eliminating short delays between tracks)
  • Fade from one track to another (if done carefully rather than by a formula, this can enhance the listening experience)
  • Provide DJ commentary on some fade-outs (again, this must be done carefully and judiciously or it can be even more annoying than poorly-timed crossfades)
  • Provide some minimal level-compression and normalization (if not taken to extremes, this can make tracks more listenable in non-optimal settings, e.g. traveling by car – especially for tracks with wide variations in volume level)

I'm also going to investigate the possibility of buying licenses to make even the "pirate" category completely legal. It may turn out to be prohibitively expensive or impossible within their rules, but we should at least know what the obstacles are.

Getting Started

Part of the beauty of this is that it requires very little up-front effort, and can be scaled upward in small steps as more people get involved. For now, all you need to do to get involved is ask me. Also watch this page for further developments. --Woozle 11:58, 22 October 2006 (EDT)

stuff we need

  • Sources for freely-copyable tracks
  • Suggestions for particular tracks, albums, artists
  • DJs, i.e. people to assemble shows for distribution


The discs should (or certainly could, at the DJ's option) be self-promoting, like any radio station. The station can provide support for this by providing brief promo MP3s which could be inserted between songs every now and then.

ideas for voice-overs

  • "You're listening to [station name]. Get your own at [web site]. Make copies, and give them to your friends. Laugh at the music industry."