THE INTERNET AND ITS WORLD WIDE WEB ARE CHOCK-FULL of text and graphics. But when it comes to audio information, files can be extra bulky: Using a standard modem and telephone line, it can take 25 minutes to retrieve a five-minute clip of sound off the Net. But that's not stopping Progressive Networks, a Seattle startup, from bringing radio-like programming to the Net. Its software, RealAudio, cuts retrieval time to almost zero and lets listeners pause, back up, or fast-forward streams of Net-stored sound at the touch of a mouse button.
All of which is getting broadcasters interested. Progressive's first partners, National Public Radio and ABC, plan to use RealAudio to deliver digitized versions of their radio programs to Internauts everywhere. ABC plans hourly news updates: Just click on a headline that interests you, and you'll hear the story behind it. Fans of NPR who can't always tune in to their favorite program will be able to call up a recording and listen at their convenience. And with the fastest machines--based on Intel Corp.'s Pentium chip--they'll be able to play RealAudio files while working on a spreadsheet.
Rob Glaser, Progressive's founder and a former Microsoft Corp. executive, envisions many uses of audio on the Net. You could even add your voice to your personal Web page, he says.