What's happening with radio on PEI? Part Two: radio@upei
In Her Own Write
by Ann Thurlow
Perhaps the most obvious question about radio@upei is this: why call it radio? To the unsophisticated, it looks pretty much like a website, albeit a website with lots of sound. But it doesn't work like radio. And that, says Mark Hemphill, is the very crux of what radio@upei is trying to do.
“We needed something familiar for people to grab onto, a familiar name,” he says. “It's like when they used to call cars horseless carriages. They didn't have anything to do with horses, but they kind of described them.”
Hemphill is a professor of business at UPEI. radio@upei came from a challenge he issued his students to find new and interesting ways to apply technology. But at it's root is a philosophy and a way of thinking about media. From their frequently asked questions section:
We're living in a time when the vast majority of our dominant media outlets are controlled by a very small, very distant, and very detached few. But the Internet changes everything. We can give a voice to those great independent artists, and independent thinkers, that we love and see so rarely in the advertising-supported mainstream media.
What that philosophy means, in practical terms is a radio station that uses new technology to offer access to anyone in the greater UPEI community (ie: anyone who has ever had anything to do with UPEI or wants to reach UPEI students, staff or alumni). There are weblogs and podcasts and streaming audio and the contributions are as eclectic as you'd expect from a university.
Contributors use the site to promote a favourite band or an interesting ideology. There are notices about pub crawls and the CARI pool. Streaming audio offers a healthy selection of Canadian (and especially Atlantic Canadian) music. Listeners are invited to contribute a song or two—or even a whole show—to the mix. The site has a SOCAN license, which allows it to play music legally. The Panther radio service at radio@upei also offers broadcasts and podcasts of Panthers hockey and soccer games. Even organizations that are not specifically student centered, but might be of interest to students use radio@upei to get their message out.
The immediacy of the medium is starting to produce interesting results. As the recent coup unfolded in Thailand, former UPEI student Thomas Vignal, who now lives there, reported first hand on his experiences. And within a surprisingly short time, mainstream media was on the phone to radio@upei trying to track Vignal down.
Hemphill thinks that rradio@upei virtually broke the story of the coup in Thailand is “pretty cool.” But he says it's the inherent democracy of an internet radio service that he finds the most attractive. “People can take it upon themselves to use the service as they see fit,” he says. Contributors are cautioned to be respectful. The problem so far has not been lack of respect, but perhaps lack of effort from people who are used to be being passive consumers of media.
Certainly radio@upei is not the only media outlet to use the internet. All of the radio stations on the Island have websites. They allow passive participation (send us your story ideas! enter our contest!). but none allow the listeners to actually become the station itself.
Hemphill believes it's an idea whose time has come. He points out that, with no need to deliver listeners to advertisers, radio@upei is free to be whatever the users want it to be. “Young people are all over this,” he says. “They are used to being active contributors and to listening to what they like, instead of what someone feeds them.”
Across the hall from Hemphill's office, students Nathan Gill and Ryan Palmer are busily working on an upgrade to the station which will be launched in October. They have been heavily involved in Panther radio (a service that is so well used that it has actually attracted advertisers) and are hoping to convenience other universities to use their technologies to broadcast their own athletic events.
I ask them if they think something like radio@upei will ever replace the more passive medium of radio that you just turn on and listen to. They believe this has already happened. I tell them the first thing I do in the morning is turn on the radio. They say the first thing they do is turn on their computers.