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Talk Radio Still A Toddler

According to Bill Rose, general manager and vice president of Arbitron Internet Services, branding is the biggest challenge facing Internet talk radio sites. In addition, Rose says online talk radio faces the same hurdles to widespread acceptance as all streaming media content: clunky end-user experiences and limited broadband connections.

Perhaps one of the most telling signs of the nascent state of Internet talk radio is the fact that The Howard Stern Show still does not stream.

The official site, www.howardstern.com, shows no signs of integrating streaming media, sporting only a photograph of cast member BeetleJuice.) While Stern would undoubtedly enjoy the absence of censorship online — Internet radio — at this point, would be hard-pressed to meet the financial needs of an offline superstar: Stern recently signed a five-year contract for $100 million with Infinity.

But while 95 percent of the U.S. population reportedly listen to terrestrial radio at some time during any given week, and just 5 percent listen to Internet radio, the numbers for online listenership are slowly but surely going up. According to Arbitron, 20 percent of Americans listened to Internet radio in 2000, up from only 6 percent in 1998.

Even outside of the numbers, Brian Glicklich, vice president of interactive services at Premiere Radio Networks, believes streaming is beneficial to the talk radio format. "I believe that we're expanding the audience by making shows available at different times and places," he says.

Premiere Radio Networks, the company responsible for the national syndication of programs such as The Rush Limbaugh Show, The Dr. Laura Schlessinger Show and Coast-to-Coast AM (Art Bell's all-too-serious look into extraterrestrial issues), streams many of these shows on its own sites, such as www. coasttocoastam.com. Often, though, listeners can find the syndicated programming on their local station's stream, as well.

According to Glicklich, the small size of the current Internet audience has allowed for experimentation in negotiating the Internet rights to syndicated shows. Although a miraculous audience migration to the Internet could change the economics of terrestrial syndication, Glicklich firmly states that Premiere is not trying to circumvent affiliate stations, and that it has achieved its success through cooperating with affiliates.

"For now, it's reasonable to assume that people will listen to the show on the local affiliate radio station if they have access because they can just turn a dial," says Glicklich.

However, Internet radio can reach into office buildings when AM signals often cannot, and entertains while allowing for the freedom to perform mundane chores such as balancing a checkbook. In the end, though, Internet radio needs to wiggle its way into the daily behavior patterns of listeners to become as viable a medium as terrestrial radio. Unless, of course, wireless distribution sets Internet radio free. According to Rose, however, that is not likely to occur until 2004 or 2005.

Until then, according to Eyada's Meyrowitz, "the challenge that faces all of streaming media is for people to understand that a computer is not just something you can type on."

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