"Cast Thy Waters Upon The Net"

by Andrew Frame

Before you start screaming about how radio's only production mag is going to the Internet dogs, siddown and have a Dew. This is a great place to talk Internet, because if you're planning a site for your station, you might very well be the perfect person to run it. After all, you're the organized, creative type with no social or family life, right?

According to a study I have from Eastman/Katz, about two years into the hype, there's more than a thousand stations on-line. Some have ventured out on the very blade of the cutting edge with software that brings on-air audio to you as it is aired. Others seem to have forgotten that you can use pictures as well as text. Still others have a simple e-mail drop on America Online.

How do you separate the hype from the need? Very easily. It's all hype, every last bit of it. It's all show biz. But since show biz is the biz we're all in, that makes the Web a very viable option to look at for Radio. And, you, as your station's Production Director or lead producer, are the most likely person that can take the data by the bitstream and develop a nifty Web site for your station. Developing a good site requires an eye for design, good writing skills, and above all, incredible amounts of time.

Every possible demographic is on the Internet--young, old, rich, poor--and not all of them are technodweebs. Since most new computers come with Net software, and the CompuServe's of the world are making it available easily, more and more people can come play. Roughly thirty five million people have access globally. About nine million use it regularly in the United States. It is the biggest library in the world, with access to just about anything you can think of. For example, I needed some info on Middle Age governmental structure for my daughter's social studies class. A few hours of digging, and we were in a database at some university in Italy. Bingo. However, the Internet, contrary to popular belief, does not reach everywhere, nationally or internationally.

The Internet is a network of networks, military computer networks, educational computer networks, and more. It is the direct descendant of the ARPANet, a cool setup from the Advanced Research Projects boys and girls in the Department of Defense. It is a "smart" network. In (very simple) theory, if your transmission was being routed from Tampa to Sydney via Los Angeles, and LA was suddenly nuked out of existence, the network would automatically reroute your signal another way, without missing a beat.

The World Wide Web is merely a portion of the Internet, the consumer/commercial division. Think of your Web site as a store in a really big shopping mall, and you have the direct dial number to every other store around.

In spite of the fact that the Web isn't anyone's saving grace, the Messiah returned, or a truly viable medium for much of anything right now, it is Cool. Very, very cool. And that is what you bank on, the Cool Factor. The Web is Hip. If you are Global, you are Cool. Be Local; Be Seen Global. And the hype goes on. Radio also used to have an aura of being the first on the block when it came to exploiting new stuff--music, fashion, and technology--even if you're not a "cutting edge" rocker. Some stations use their site as a glorified billboard. Nothing ever changes; they're just there. Others are the result of many hours of updating information, concert listings, music links, and on and on and on. (And, man, can it go on....)

Your users will be the same people that listen to your station. Looking over my Guestbook files, 85% are local users within our signal coverage. 43% are women, 77% are using IBM/compatibles, 63% have local Internet providers, and the average age is 28. But the biggest plus in my book is that 65% of the people that took the time to fill out the Guestbook indicate they patronize our advertisers. Program your Web site to push their buttons--local events, station events, live entertainment, jock bio's (bogus bio's are often hysterical), surveys, and other things that your local listeners can relate to, even job listings! When you begin selling advertising on your Web site, these are the people that potential advertisers will look for, not the gal from Saudi Arabia, or the guy from Guam.

Speaking of advertising, it's not a dirty word! But, this is your opportunity to keep the control of what your client gets in your hands, not the salesman's. Keep your ads discreet, and never on your home page! Provide a "link" button that will take people to your advertiser's page. Like on-air programming, advertising should seamlessly fit in with your overall feel. If it's blatant, you will be accused of "selling-out." And never, ever, allow the site to be fouled as part of a "value added" package.

You can tell a lot about someone from their address. For example: "http://www.99xwjbx.com" and "http://www.storm106.com." The "http" part means you are seeking to connect using the HyperText Transfer Protocol, a form of programming language. (When you get the hang of file downloads, you'll see "ftp://" a lot. This is "File Transfer Protocol.") The "www" is shorthand for World Wide Web. (Not all sites use this.) "99xwjbx" is the station. So is "storm106." And the infamous "dot com" means it is a commercial account. Other suffixes mean other things. ".edu" is educational, ".mil" is military, ".org" is a nonprofit organization, etc.. These all make up what is called the "domain name." Some addresses can look like this: "http://www.server.com/kxxx/index.html." Whoa, alphabet soup on the screen! Here's how to read it: station "KXXX" has a directory on the "www.server.com" commercial provider. And, when you log in, the page "index.html" is what will greet you.

E-mail is a little different. You also have a domain name, but you have the actual addressee, too. My personal account on the Naples Free-Net is: "nfn04694@gator.naples.net." I am account number "nfn04694" on the domain name "gator.naples.net." Or the radio station e-mail is "wjbx@usacomputers .net." "WJBX" is the account on USA Computers network server. (Anyone that has played at the command line of DOS for a few years or has programmed in BASIC or C will dovetail in with nary a bump. No offense, but it might be a little harder for those reared on Apple or Windows.)

Getting a Web site up and running isn't difficult. The hardest part is finding (or making) the time to keep it current, fresh, and relatable to your users. A knock 'em dead site that doesn't tell a user something new each week or so isn't going to get a return visit from your local user base. Conversely, one that is up to the minute current, but isn't visually appealing loses, too. Since many of us think visual when we create our audio wizardry, it's not too big of a leap to transfer our visual imagination to the computer screen. Try to capture some of the theme or feel of your station in the design.

For example, 99X is a music intensive, low talk jukebox. Hence, "www.99xwjbx.com" is a rather simple, low impact site. Storm 106, however is an in-your-face active rocker, and "www.storm106.com" reflects that. Both are formatted similarly for ease of maintenance, but they have a different feel (sort of like my Pontiac TranSport and my neighbors Chevy Lumina minivan--same basic car, different styling).

This is also where small market stations can actually one-up the big markets. The playing field is fairly level online, and I've seen some major market Web sites that were hideous. Either no one there is taking it seriously, or someone doesn't know yet what they're doing. On the other hand, many small and medium market outlets have catchy, visually and informationally appealing sites. And, for bumper sticker collectors, this is the ultimate way to snatch all those great logos that you've drooled over for years!

The Web is here for the exploiting. Eventually, Government and Business will figure out a way to tax and tariff the Web and regulate it to death. But the technology is here now. It is relatively inexpensive. Congress and the radical right aside, you can still have a lot of fun with it and establish an electronic presence to spotlight your station.

Remember, you are in the entertainment business. If your radio station doesn't entertain, it will get lost. If your Web site doesn't entertain (and, yes, inform) it too will get lost in the shuffle. Emphasize good graphics, local relatability, accurate, up-to-date information, and steady on-air promotion, and your Web site can also be on someone's "bookmark" list!

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