Online Extra: Radio Days for Everyman
Brian Ibbott always wanted to be a deejay. Growing up in Denver, he spent hours plunked down next to his radio speaker taping individual songs that he would mix together on a cassette tape, complete with his own introductions.
Though Ibbott grew up to become a Web-site designer at a software company in Boulder, Colo., last September he saw the chance to realize his dream. Three times a week, the 35-year old now produces a half-hour show called "Coverville," which is devoted unabashedly to covers of popular songs.
But don't look for Ibbott anywhere on the radio dial. Instead, he's distributing Coverville over the Internet using podcasting, the hot new technology that allows anyone to create their own radio shows and deliver them automatically over the Web. Podcasts can be played on computers or mobile devices such as the Apple (AAPL ) iPod -- hence the name. "This is a way to do what I always wanted to do," says Ibbott, who tapes the show in the evenings after work. And people apparently like what he's doing: Around 9,000 download each one.
It's no secret that podcasting is all the rage online. Techies were instantly jazzed by the possibility of do-it-yourself radio when podcasting first appeared online last summer as a collaboration between Dave Winer, one of the most important developers in the Internet blogging community, and former MTV video jockey Adam Curry. The two names –- one well-known in techdom and the other in the music industry –- instantly got attention.
Since then, more than 3,500 different podcasts have popped up. Increasingly, they're expanding from geek roots of early podcasts -- when most of what was found was techie talking heads -- to new territory such as blues music and free daily horoscopes.
Ibbott's eclectic show is a great indicator of that divergence. And this is no lark: Though he's happily churning out podcasts, he sees potential. "Right now it's a fun hobby, but I would love to figure out how to make money with it," says Ibbott.
To pave the way, he took early steps to clear up any legal issues he might have with broadcasting music online. In October, Ibbott e-mailed the American Society of Composers, Authors & Publishers and Broadcast Music Inc., two performing rights organizations, to negotiate the royalty rights for the music and lyrics. "I wanted to know how I could do this legally," Ibbott explains.
Both called back, and Ibbott explained what podcasting was, and what he wanted to do. The organizations granted him yearly licenses, which each cost around $275. Ibbott also contacted the Recording Industry Association of America to negotiate the rights for the sung performances of the covers and has already heard back from its licensing unit.
They were prescient moves. Coverville picked up a sponsorship in October from the makers of iPodderX, new software you can download and use to automatically receive various podcasts and pull them together in one place.
Then last month, Ibbott says he got an e-mail out of the blue from an American Express (AXP ) employee who had been listening to the shows and was interested in talking about advertising on them. The ad money from iPodderX covers Ibbott's expenses, including Internet bandwidth and equipment costs. But the interest from American Express has raised the possibility to do more.
What's unlikely to change is the show's theme. Ibbott loves covers and always has. But he never expected anyone other than his wife to really share his affection. Turns out, he underestimated his market. In fact, among the hundreds of e-mails he has gotten over the past few months, the only negative one came from someone who was disappointed he didn't play a request on Valentine's Day.
"BORED WITH RADIO."
That enthusiasm goes a long way to explain why podcasting has created so much excitement. It allows people to thumb through an exploding treasure trove of shows and find exactly the right one for them, no matter how off the wall it might be. That makes podcasting very different from mass radio, which needs to play the most broadly popular songs to attract the widest audience.
With podcasting, niche audiences can dip in and out shows, compiling their own lineup. "People are lot more bored with radio than even they realize," says Ibbott, "There's no charm to it anymore. There's no uniqueness."
And since podcasts are mirrors of the people who create them, they can't help but be unique.
By Heather Green in New York