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DIGITAL L.A. : REDEFINING RADIO; STATIONS LARGE AND SMALL RIDING A NEW WAVE ON THE NET.

Byline: David Bloom

After the FCC nearly found her 40-watt pirate radio station last summer - which would have resulted in a fine of as much as $100,000 a day - proprietor Paige Jarrett shut down temporarily to find a better, or at least more discreet, way to run a broadcasting operation without a federal license.

So when KBLT-FM in Silver Lake starts operating again, Jarrett plans to make it a ``cybercast'' over the Internet, where the Federal Communications Commission won't try to put her out of business.

Jarrett and her dozens of volunteer disc jockeys play everything from the '60s French pop she loves to classic country to drum-and-bass to Delta blues to rockabilly, in a labor of love paid for basically out of her not-so-deep pockets.

That all-over-the-map approach is perfect for the Internet, where the far-flung fans of those genres can find someone playing music they love.

``I want to keep the purity of micro radio and apply it to the Net,'' said Jarrett, a pseudonym she uses on the air. She asked that her real name not be used.

Though she is concerned about the additional cost of being on the Net, and some of her DJs prefer the exclusivity of micro-broadcasting, being able to be heard and be legal is an attractive proposition, Jarrett said.

The Internet is increasingly a home for radio stations around the world that want to reach local fans who've moved somewhere else, and make new ones in places their broadcasts could never reach over the air.

The number of on-air radio stations now online has skyrocketed in the past year from fewer than 100 to nearly 2,000, according to one recent estimate.

And the Internet is spawning its own kind of ``radio,'' with Net-only music sites that provide all the great stuff of radio without poor reception, endless ads or music you're not much interested in.

Greater selection

The Internet also is fast becoming a place to get audio and even video of live performances, giving fans a front-row seat without having to travel halfway across the country for a show.

The secret is computer software that ``streams'' a highly compressed audio signal over the Internet, initially storing several seconds of audio in a buffer, then downloading more as it begins playing. That tactic smooths out the hiccups in transmission that could otherwise interrupt a cybercast.

Sound quality depends on a listener's computer audio system and Internet connection, but normally at least rivals FM broadcasts.

But the biggest benefit of Net radio is having a choice of tunes that no radio market, let alone single radio station, could offer.

You can listen to BBC Radio 1 in London, or an Indonesian station, or the best techno music in Moscow. You can check out people's opinions on a talk station in Atlanta, or a sports station in Chicago. And you can dial up a site such as the Internet-only Spinner.com, whose 104 formats include such narrow slices of music as baroque or Celtic music or '70s dance hits.

``We have a lot of things over radio,'' said Scott Epstein, Spinner.com's vice president for marketing and content in Burlingame, Calif. ``You get a specific kind of music, and very few interruptions. We have some audio advertising, with four 15-second breaks per hour, vs. up to 22 minutes of advertising (per hour) over the air.''

Tunes and talk

The medium is perfect for public radio stations, whose mandate is to give away music and information.

At KCRW-FM, the Santa Monica public radio powerhouse, the Web site archives hundreds of hours of live performances by top artists who have appeared on ``Morning Becomes Eclectic'' and ``Cafe L.A.,'' said Josh Berman, the station's Webmaster.

And if you want to hear KCRW's highly regarded public affairs and arts programming, such as Warren Olney's ``Which Way L.A.?'' and Sandra Tsing Loh's ``The Loh Life,'' it's there, too, Berman said.

The Web site also features a music-only audio stream of music played by the station's influential DJs, running even when the public-affairs programs are on air.

``It's been hugely popular,'' Berman said. ``Oh, gosh, I get e-mail from everywhere, mostly Angelenos who've moved somewhere else, but also people from other parts of the world. We're even getting people who subscribe (because they listen) online.''

There are an increasing number of outlets offering live performances as well, such as the House of Blues, whose Web site features concerts, interviews and other delights from its six clubs and other venues three nights a week. The 2-1/2-year-old site also makes new albums available for listening the week before their release.

``The traffic has tripled each year,'' said Phil Fracassi, vice president of programming for the company's new media division. ``It's now a viable medium. I'm really jazzed by it.''

The company is building digital production studios in all its clubs, so it can take advantage of coming high-speed connections.

Even labels are taking advantage of the opportunities, among them Atlantic Records, which just opened a online studio as part of its Web site.

On Monday, in Atlantic's just-opened Digital Arena Studio as well as on SonicNet's Station Website, singer Duncan Sheik will take questions from the audience, play an acoustic set and offer tracks from his second album, to be released Tuesday.

The Internet radio boom promises to change even, or especially, the small fry such as Jarrett's pirate operation who can reach out, legally, in ways never before possible.

Still, Jarrett acknowledges with a grin,``There's also something appealing about broadcasting when you're not supposed to.''

LOG ON, TUNE IN

Below are some sites to begin exploring live music and radio broadcasts on the Internet:

Tools

The free RealPlayer (www.real.com) Web browser plug-in from RealNetworks is the de facto standard for playing audio and video over the Internet. Start here, because you'll have to have it anyway.

Gateway sites

Broadcast.com (www.broadcast.com) subdivides its many radio station links into categories such as talk, sports and music.

Rocktropolis (www2.rocktropolis.com) features four music channels and an advice column by former Prince bandmates Wendy and Lisa.

The Ultimate Band List (www.ubl.com) has great links to radio around the world. Got a jones for Radio Volga? Come here.

Spinner.com (www.spinner.com) has 100,000 songs in 104 formats. The future of Net radio?

Rolling Stone Network (www.rollingstone.com) has Virtual Venue and three broad radio genres among many other features.

MTV (www.mtv.com) features artist videos plus live performances and interviews from the cable channel. Imagine that, music on MTV.

Atlantic Records (www.atlantic-records.com) features live performances in its new Digital Arena Studio, videos, chat and more.

SonicNet's Station (station.sonicnet.com) includes radio, videos and live performances as part of a much larger site.

Stations

KCRW-FM (www.kcrw.org) archives 1,700 hours of in-studio performances and its great public-affairs and arts programming. Bonus coverage: ``This American Life'' and audio auteur Joe Frank.

WFMU-FM (www.wfmu.org), the great New Jersey free-form station, has an equally great site with such goofy bonuses as a poll on the worst song of the 20th century.

KNAC (knac.demonet.com), the hard-rock broadcast pioneer, lives on in cyberspace after dying on air. It features most of the original disc jockeys, chat and links to many hard-rock band sites.

- David Bloom

CAPTION(S):

Photo, Box

Photo: Paige Jarrett has pulled the plug on her pirate FM radio station and turned her attention to cybercasting over the Internet instead.

Andy Holzman/Daily News

Box: LOG ON, TUNE IN (See Text)
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Title Annotation:L.A. LIFE
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 3, 1998
Words:1270
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