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RIAA - Three Feet And Counting 24 June 2002 Edition
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When I was young (and dinosaurs walked the earth), one of my favourite pastimes was listening to short-wave radio late at night.

Using an old valve radio and a massive aerial that was rigged between my bedroom window and a huge oak tree, I could drag in scratchy, garbled signals from right around the world.

The Voice of America and the BBC world service were just two of the many foreign radio broadcasts that could be received. If you chose the right frequency you could even hear amateur radio enthusiasts chatting away -- often in a foreign language.

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Of course these days we can receive TV broadcasts from the BBC, CNN and a raft of other channels direct from the UK or USA by satellite, with a crystal clear sound *and* picture.

However, if radio's still your preference, there's always the Internet.

Or should I say -- there used to be the Internet.

While streaming video remains little more than a curiosity, thanks to the enormous bandwidth it requires, streaming audio has become a very practical communications medium.

Just as I used to spend hours listening to short-wave radio, I've found myself increasingly tuning in to overseas radio stations by way of their streaming feeds on the Net.

It can be very entertaining to listen to a talkback station in Texas and realise that their moans and groans are almost identical to the moans and groans of Kiwis -- despite the 10,000 mile distance between them.

However, the very viability of many streaming audio radio feeds is now in question -- and it's all to do, some say, with greed.

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    The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has successfully won a bid to charge streaming audio broadcasters up to 70 cents per track played per thousand listeners for the use of copyrighted music.

    Now the broadcasters are bitching that this makes their already unprofitable transmissions even less viable -- to the point where a significant percentage have said that they'll be shutting down.

    Is the RIAA simply being too greedy?

    After all, while streaming audio is a whole lot better than the old shortwave radio broadcasts of half a century ago, a 16Kbps feed is hardly "CD quality."

    Response by listeners to the announcement has been swift and very critical, with much talk of people ramping up their MP3 file-swapping activities in retaliation.

    However, despite my own fascination with this medium, I don't think my reaction is quite as radical. Sure, I think it will be a great shame if the RIAA effectively forces many broadcasters to pull their streaming feed, but then again I don't listen to Internet radio for the music.

    Although my streaming radio tastes are eclectic, they seldom include "top 10" radio stations. I'd rather ignore Britney Spears in good quality FM Stereo from a local radio broadcast than have her already grossly mangled vocal tones further mutilated by a bandwidth-limited audio stream.

    However, for those still keen on listening to music over the Net, this move by the RIAA might just represent a great opportunity for all those independent musicians out there who are looking for an audience. If the online broadcasters get behind these independent labels and artists then they might also find that they finally start generating revenues.

    Think about it -- if they play music you don't hear on the mainstream commercial radio stations and listeners like it, they can also act as an online retailer for MP3 versions of that music and actually earn some money for themselves and the musicians concerned.

    It strikes me that the RIAA must be doing a Jake The Peg and has just shot itself in its third foot.

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