Webcasting puts new spin on music

Radio revolution taking
place on home computers


Michael Elta taps on his computer keyboard and calls up the e-mail from Russia.

"U are a superb!!" it reads in broken english. "We're glad to listen you for a 24 hours 'a 'day! You have a serious army of fans in Russia, U know! And it grows, oh yea man, it grows!"

The electrical engineer sits back in his impromptu studio in a greenhouse in his Ann Arbor home and checks which song from his 3,000 plus CDs is playing on his Internet-only radio station BikerBar Radio
( www.bikerbarradio.com ).

He taps another button and changes the song.

"I'm sitting in my greenhouse but someone in Russia is listening to this," he says. "People realize there is an alternative to the junk on the radio."
And then he smiles.
"When people talk about an army in Russia, I get nervous."

But Elta, 50, says this revolution is happening over America's computers. Internet radio is becoming a growing force as it allows listeners access to songs they may never hear on commercial radio.

Elta's BikerBar Radio is three stations that play 20-hour loops of his own musical collections ranging from traveling old-time rock songs to alternative country music. He's been at it for three years and the Internet industry trackers estimate he gets 10,000 listening hours a month - making his station the sixth most popular on the Internet according to Live365.com, an Internet broadcaster.

He is a pioneer in what some experts believe is becoming wildly popular across the world - listening to music via the Internet.

The Pew Internet Project, a Washington think tank that studies the effects of the Internet on Americans, estimates 40 million American adults listen to music on the Internet. It estimates that 6 percent of all Internet users are listening to music from online sources.

Elta says it allows listeners a choice to pick their songs without commercials and without jabbering disc jockeys.

You heard little-known Josh Groban sing "You're Still You'' on the season 'finale of Fox TVs Ally McBeal and loved the show but didn't tape the show?

No problem. You can just go to www.wbr.com/joshgroban on the Internet and listen to it.

It's that type of access and control of the music you listen to that has Elta convinced that commercial radio will go the way of the 8 track tape.

"I think the Internet will be bigger than FM," Elta said. "FM will be what AM is now.

"Some industry experts disagree.
"You don't necessarily listen to radio just for music," said

Michael Elta broadcasts his Internet-only radio station - BikerBar Radio - from a converted greenhouse in his Ann Arbor home. Elta is a pioneer in what some say is becoming wildly popular around the world - listening to music via the internet.

Web music copyright issue is still in the courts


When Michael Elta has his Internet radio station playing throughout his home, the clarity is as good as a CD.

What isn't nearly as clear is whether the Ann Arbor man's hobby is infringing on copyright laws.

That is because there aren't any clear rules established yet for Internet radio and that, many industry experts believe, is a major obstacle to its growth. Elta doesn't make any money on his BikerBar Radio, a combination of three Internet-only stations that broadcast music from his own personal collection.

But the U.S. Copyright department is evaluating plans on how to regulate who should get paid and how much in this new medium. It should have a decision within six months, said Jano Cabrera, spokesman for the Recording Industry Association of America.

"I assume at some point I'll have to pay royalties once the gray area is cleared up," Elta said. "Something is going to happen."

Elta, a 50-year-old electrical engineer, now plays music from his own collection of 3,000 CDs. He puts them on a computer file and they play on the Internet in 20-hour loops.

"When he bought those CDs, he bought those for personal use," said Jerry Henderson, a Central Michigan University professor and an expert on Web broadcasting. "You are paying for copyright fee for personal use. But now, that is public performance use. That is a different copyright issue.

Cabrera said the Digital Millennium Act passed in October 1998 make any copyright fees retroactive to the date the bill was passed. Elta's stations have been online for three years. When the U.S. Copyright comes down with its ruling, Cabrera said, Elta could have to pay copyright fees back to October 1998.

Cabrera said the Recording Industry Association of America has submitted

a plan to Congress asking for 15 percent of the gross revenues of Internet stations.

"If they don't do well, we don't do well," Cabrera said.

Elta said he isn't planning to try to turn his radio stations into a profitable business but may later.

For stations that do make money, it could get very costly to pay retroactive copyright fees.

That's why Henderson has stopped broadcasting WMHW-FM on the Internet. He is the faculty advisor for the Central Michigan University student radio station. He said many other radio stations have done the same until the courts work this out.

"It is a whole new ball game and a tricky one," he said. "No one has the answers to it. It comes down to who wins what lawsuits and where the jurisdiction is. I don't think it is even an issue in the courts yet."

Art Timko, station manager for WEMU, Eastern Michigan's college station. "It more than music people want. There is an interest factor, an entertainment factor and an information factor. People who drive to ,work sometimes listen to the radio instead of a CD. It is a sense of companionship."

Jerry Henderson, a Central Michigan University professor and authority on Webcasting, said FM stations will survive, just as AM did by finding a niche in talk radio.

"It is not going to be the death of FM," Henderson said. "It will help FM radio be even more specific and market researched in terms of who their listeners are and how they will appeal to them."

Elta's BikerBar Radio focuses on alternative country music. He plays artists who are not commercially recognized but have solid reputations.

He points to an Alison Krauss song that's playing at the time on his station."She's won 10 Grammys and you'll never find her on a radio station," Elta said. "How many people do you know who have won 10 Grammys? The musicians I play, they don't fill stadiums but they win Grammys."

Elta lists the songs he plays on his station's Web site so listeners can see what is in the rotation.

For an uninterrupted connection to Internet radio, listeners need a digital subscriber line (DSL) or the broadband cable. And to start their own station. Elta said, all they need is some good music, a good Internet connection. a reliable Web host and some technical computer expertise.

"Anybody can do this." he said.
Some day BikerBar Radio may mean big business. But for now, Elta said, he hasn't made any money despite its growing popularity

The father of three teenagers says he never was interested in turning a profit just a disc.

"It is a hobby," he said. "A lot of this started just because we want to hear the music we like."

Michael Elta's homepage for BikerBar Radio station. Internet trackers estimates he gets 10,000 listening hours a month among a worldwide audience

Tom Gantert can be reached at tgantert@annarbornews.com or at (734) 994-6701