Today's Country Music

FRAMINGHAM (04/24/2000) - I'm sitting at home on a Saturday morning writing this column while listening to the "Hillbilly at Harvard" show on WHRB, Harvard's student-run radio station. The show is on every Saturday from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. and is one of the best radio shows of its type anywhere. But after 1 p.m., it is really hard to find reasonable country music in the Boston area.

The local station that claims to be a country music station seems to pride itself on not playing any song older than its listeners and, based on the banter of the announcers, assumes the average listener is about 7 years old.

This is a real letdown after the announcers on WHRB.

A few months ago, I found a way to bridge the gaps between Saturday mornings by using this Internet thing that everyone is talking about.

Cousin Lynn, one of the hosts of "Hillbilly at Harvard," mentioned that the station was now online (www. whrb.org). This is not all that interesting to me because I can get the station just fine the old-fashioned way.

But he went on to say that KHYI (www.khyi.com) from Plano, Texas, was broadcasting live over the Internet and that it had very good country music. He was right, and I'm now a regular listener at home via cable modem and at work.

I was aware of the growing number of Internet radio sites, but I had not realized the number or the quality of stations. KHYI transmits at 16K-bps. It's not the same as listening over a high-quality FM radio, but it is a lot better than my car radio.

I use RealNetworks Inc.'s RealPlayer (and worry a bit that Real Networks might be recording my preferences while I'm listening), although KHYI also transmits in Windows Media Player format.

The station is quite good music-wise, even if the announcers vary from smart and articulate to pathetic, but they don't quite understand that they are transmitting to the world. The ads are still for local events, eateries or stores. There is plenty of opportunity for additional advertising revenue here.

It is also impressively inefficient to have the server in Texas send data streams to each individual who wants to listen. I'm sure that intermediaries such as Akamai can help the efficiency and quality, although I rarely get congestion-related problems. But the ideal would be to actually get IP Multicast running as a normal service from ISPs.

At this time, few ISPs are even trying to use multicast because of a mix of technical and business issues. The Internet Engineering Task Force is looking at what can be done to improve the technology, but the business issues will be harder to solve.

Disclaimer: Even though Harvard's business plan does occasionally look like simultaneous multiparty multicast, the above observation is my own.

Bradner is a consultant with Harvard University's University Information Systems. He can be reached at sob@sobco.com.

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