For years I’ve been going on about the wonderful online music station Radio Paradise. With it’s self-proclaimed “eclectic music” selection, active user community, and high quality feeds, it’s easily one of the best stations on the net.
Bill Goldsmith, the man behind Radio Paradise, happily agreed to an interview…
[dbs] Bill, you’ve been involved in the radio industry for many years. Can you give us a some quick background on yourself, and how you got to be the producer of one of the most popular online music stations on the net?
[Bill] I’ve been fascinated by radio since I was in diapers. I started taking radios apart to see what was going on inside them when I was 4 or so. My dad started bringing me old castoffs from the radio repair shop (I’m totally dating myself with *that* reference, I know…) so that I wouldn’t take apart their good radios.
By the time I was 8 or so, I would take a radio to bed with me & huddle under the covers late at night listening to rock & roll stations from Chicago, Oklahoma City, and California, since we lived in western Colorado at the time & all you could get on the radio during the daytime were big bands & country-western.
So radio was a natural as a career choice. I got started in the business right out of high school in 1971, and spent the 1970s working for a variety of stations in California & Hawaii – mostly of the hippie-underground variety. That’s when I developed my idea of how radio *should* be done: turning a DJ loose in a music library, with no goal in mind but to entertain & educate his (or her) listeners, creating a seamless flow that spanned decades, genres, and styles.
I then spent the 1980s watching the radio industry move as far away from that ideal as it possibly could. Radio became a hit-spewing money machine, intent on cramming as much advertising down as many throats as it possibly could. The idea of radio as an art form became laughable. Everybody in the industry knew that it was all about the money, and the ratings that led to the money. Period.
The 1990s were even worse, as behemoths like Clear Channel Communications ran amok through the media-scape, gobbled up local stations at one end, shat out cookie-cutter “classic rock” and “hot country” clones at the other, and sent the last remaining creative spirits in radio running for the hills, the bottle, or a new career in timeshare sales.
Fortunately, however, I spent the 1990s at one of the very few shelters from that storm – a funky little FM station near Santa Cruz, California called KPIG. We were everything that FM radio had convinced itself that it couldn’t be: adventurous, irreverent, creative, and thoroughly unique. We were also wildly successful – regularly out-billing the local Clear Channel stations in spite of the fact that we mostly played music that nobody had ever heard of before, made fun of our advertisers, had a certifiable left-wing nut job as our news comentator, and let the DJs (gasp) pick the music on their own shows.
In 1994 I learned a little html and built a website for KPIG, and in August 1995 I inaugurated the world’s first full-time webcast, using Xing Streamworks software. It was 16kbps MP3 (so you can imagine how bad it sounded) and we could only serve about 50 listeners, but I was thoroughly and completely hooked on the idea of Internet radio. I saw it then – and I see it now – as the natural successor to FM, with a worldwide reach and an unlimited number of channels.
In 1999 I left Santa Cruz to relocate to Paradise, where my wife Rebecca owned a house (we were married in 1999) and I spent the next year working as a consultant for KPIG and other stations while I put together the dream project that had been bubbling around in my head for decades: a station of my own – where I could play exactly what I wanted to play & say what I wanted to say, without worrying about what any station owners or advertisers thought. What made it all possible was that magic confluence of technologies called Internet Radio.
So, in February of 2000, Radio Paradise was born.
[dbs] How many folks are on your team? I know that you are The Voice of Radio Paradise, and we hear Rebecca on occasion doing spots, are there others that help keep the station going?
[Bill] It’s pretty much just Rebecca & myself. We’ve been outsourcing our web hosting since the beginning of last year, and we utilize some freelance design help here & there – but other than that it’s just the two of us. Rebecca handles all of the finances and is our music reviewer. She spends several hours each day combing through the CDs and music files that we’re sent, searching for the stuff that meets our picky standards. I do the music scheduling, DJ breaks, web design, and technical stuff.
[dbs] From the technical side, how does RP produce its shows? Do you come up with your playlist on the fly, a day ahead, etc?
[Bill] That depends. When we’re taking time off we can schedule things up to 2 weeks in advance, other times I’m working just a few minutes ahead of air time. Due to the nature of our setup, the station is never quite “live” in the traditional sense. Everything is pre-planned & pre-recorded at least 5 minutes or so ahead.
[dbs] The 2 channels you provide now (the main feed as well as the listener Review channel) are wonderful. Do you see more channels coming up, perhaps specialty shows and guest DJs?
[Bill] We’ve thought about doing some specialty shows & perhaps guest DJ slots -but we don’t plan on spreading ourselves too thin by producing more than one channel.
We don’t really count the listener review channel, since it’s just a random selection of songs. It’s easy to do multiple chanels if you’re willing to settle for that kind of quality level (like most multi-channel webcasters are) but for us radio is all about how the playlists are put together and segued into a seamless flow – and that requires a tremendous amount of ongoing work.
[dbs] The music industry has always been on the scopes of large monopolies such as Microsoft and Clearchannel. How do you see the online music industry faring as it gains popularity and attracts the attention of these giants? I point to issues such as proprietary music formats, licensing, and digital rights management systems.
[Bill] The big media conglomerates have been trying to control & dominate the online music space for several years now. I think that eventually they will accept the fact that the rules are just different here – that, for instance, tightly controlling users’ ability to freely copy music files will never quite work. They’ll need to come to terms with the fact that the monopoly they’ve enjoyed over the distribution & marketing of music is over. And – also – that for every door that the new technology shuts, two or three others are opened. The idea that the only way the music industry can be profitable is if they restrict access to their product is just flat out wrong. Plenty of people in the industry get this & are already thinking along new avenues. I think we’ll see some interesting stuff develop over the course of the next 5 years or so.
[dbs] Has Radio Paradise given thought to getting on one or both of the satellite radio networks such as XM Radio or Sirius? I remember something about looking at XM a year or two ago, did anything come of that?
[Bill] XM & Sirius are both currently producing all of their music programming in-house (with the exception of a couple of branded channels like TV & Disney) and they’re happy with how that’s working for them. If that changes, and they begin opening up to outside programming, then we will quite likely have a good shot at getting on one of the services.
[dbs] I thought at least XM radio had opened up a bit, since I’ve heard a lot of NPR shows like This American Life, etc on XM…
[Bill] XM carries a lot of outside *talk* programming – but very little outside music programming. BTW, NPR is on Sirius, not XM – though XM did lure Bob Edwards away for their newest talk channel. I’m an XM subscriber & like it a lot.
[dbs] The recent site changes (including the major overhaul about 6 months ago) have really improved things. Do you have other goodies in the works for the site? The interactivity of the forums linked with the current playlist makes for a wonderful community feel between all the listeners. What’s the future hold for RadioParadise.com?
[Bill] Rebecca & I will be brainstorming on that over the next couple of months. At the present time, though, I’m afraid I don’t have any “teasers” to dangle.
[dbs] Here’s a big advertising opportunity. If you had to give the elevator speech about RP to someone who hadn’t heard of it before, how would you pitch it?
[Bill] Radio Paradise is the old 1960s progressive-FM philosophy (“put a DJ in a room full of records & turn him/her loose”) applied to the whole universe of 21st century music: modern & classic rock, world music, electronica, acoustic, even a smattering of jazz and classical – with a real human DJ in full control, not just an “iPod on random play” jumble of styles. It’s radio-as-art, rather than radio-as-marketing – something you just don’t hear on FM any more. Try it. It’s addictive.
Many thanks to Bill for taking the time to talk with us. Keep up the good work!
© 2004 Dave Belfer-Shevett – Planet-Geek.com – All rights reserved.