Anyone who's spent time channel surfing has seen them.
They are those quirky, home-grown public access programs on cable TV that feature local "talent" starring in their own shows.
Now, get ready to tune in similar local "radio" programs broadcast to computer users over the Internet.
An East Greenwich-based Internet access provider, InteleCom Data Systems, is planning to allow its customers to have their own radio talk shows. But anyone who's connected to the Internet will be able to hear the shows with some free software, and with hardware that's standard on most computers.
Behind Internet broadcasting is some sophisticated software that can turn a computer connected to the Internet into a sort of radio station that broadcasts into cyberspace. A corresponding program is used on the receiving computer to play these broadcasts.
The audio player software runs in concert with World Wide Web browsers and is activated when an audio link on a Web page is clicked on.
One of the most popular audio player programs is called "RealAudio." Progressive Networks, the Seattle company that makes the software, gives it away for free on the World Wide Web and says that more than 4.2 million people have downloaded it since April 1995. (The company makes its money by selling the software that "broadcasts" the sound.)
The genius behind RealAudio and others like it is that they allow sound to be transmitted over the Internet in real time, even with a relatively slow 14,400 bits-per-second modem.
The trade-off is sound quality, which at slower modem speeds is scratchy, but certainly understandable. It sounds a notch below the quality of an AM radio. With a modem speed of 28,800 or higher, the sound quality is dramatically better -- some say nearly as good as FM.
Internet radio was introduced about a year ago and has become popular in the last few months. It's been used to broadcast live concerts, the Grammy awards, and even sporting events.
National Public Radio's All Things Considered is among thousands of hours of radio programming now available on the Web. (Tune in by going to NPR's audio Web site at http://www.realaudio.com/contentp/npr.html).
And soon some distinctly Rhode Island flavored programming will be found there, too.
Langevin at the mike
Secretary of State James Langevin says he will host his own Internet talk show. His will cover -- as you might guess -- state government.
Langevin, whose office launched the first comprehensive World Wide Web site for Rhode Island government, is anxious to set another first with his Internet radio show.
He hopes to have a call-in talk show from the State House, and interview other state officials like the governor and lieutenant governor. Listeners will also be able to submit questions by e-mail and through a "chat" session from the Secretary of State's Web page.
Langevin plans to do the show monthly, beginning late this spring or early summer.
Should Mary Ann Sorrentino, one of the state's most popular talk show host, start to get worried?
"I don't think so," said Langevin.
Unlike a conventional radio signal that's broadcast to a potential audience of thousands or millions, only 100 people at any one time can receive broadcasts originating from IDS. The version of the Internet broadcast software that the company bought imposes that limit.
However, the shows can be archived and saved on disk, so listeners can still tune in and hear the broadcast anytime after the show is over.
Andy Green, president of IDS, said that with the exception of Langevin's show, others will originate from IDS's offices in East Greenwich. Customers will be invited in to use a makeshift studio that will be complete with microphones and incoming phone lines.
Green said he hopes to work with local radio stations and bands who might be interested in Internet radio as well.
Talk show scheduled
The only scheduled Internet radio show so far is a talk show "about anything and everything" to be hosted by Amy Kahn, a customer service representative for IDS.
While a student at the University of Pennsylvania, Kahn said, she had her own talk show at the campus television station, a sort of David Letterman type of show with banter between herself and a co-host. She hopes to bring a similar format, and some humor, to her Internet show. She will also take calls from listeners.
One thing's for sure -- her show won't be oriented toward the "techie" crowd.
"I could do a whole show without even mentioning a computer," Kahn said. "It's definitely isn't going to be tech talk."
Kahn's first half-hour show will "air" June 17 at 9 p.m. and can be found from IDS's home page, http://www.ids.net. To tune in, you'll need a computer with a sound card, an Internet connection with at least 14,400 bits per second, a Web browser such as Netscape, and Real Audio 2.0 player software, which is available for free on the Web at http://www.realaudio.com. The Secretary of State's show will be announced on his page at http://www.sec.state.ri.us.
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