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Tech Almanac

New Exchange Aims a Kick at Public Radio

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By Alex van Oss
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, July 6, 2004; Page C01

Here's good news for radio listeners: Every minute of every hour, great gobs of fantastic, imaginative and compelling programs are being produced. Unfortunately, listeners rarely hear or learn of them.

Producing radio programming is easier than ever before, thanks to digital technology. Still, independent producers face the perennial problem of how to distribute their creations, catch the attention of network and station programmers and, most important, get paid for their work.

Enter PRX -- the Public Radio Exchange, a fledgling nonprofit Web site based in Cambridge, Mass.

PRX is a sort of bottomless grab bag full of radio pieces. It is part radio distribution service and part peer-review resource. For a minimum $50 annual fee, a producer can post audio material on PRX for audition and licensing. Other members then listen -- free -- or acquire the feature or news piece for broadcast.

Executive Director Jake Shapiro says the intent is not only to help producers but also to give public radio a good "kick."

"A kick of adrenaline," he says, "to open the windows and let in fresh air -- er, I guess we can't say 'Fresh Air' since that's a registered public radio program, so, let in new air!"

In an interview posted online, Shapiro states, "Public radio needs to figure out what public service media means in a commercial and consumer culture." PRX, he claims, will make broadcasters aware of new talent, voices, ideas, models and "new ways to connect [their] listeners to the world."

Recent PRX offerings include a poignant news series on Uganda; a Bob Dylan radio symposium; and a feature about one of Mexico's oldest music traditions, "The Song of the Corridistas." Among the other 1,150 or so selections are a half-hour documentary about the Russian artist Ilya Repin's iconic painting "The Volga Boatmen" and a curious science report called "The Singing Yeast Cell."

Web site exchanges exist for independent musicians, writers and filmmakers, but PRX (www.prx.org) is the first for public radio.

Since its launch in September, it has gained more than 2,700 members. Most choose PRX's basic -- free -- "Vox Pop" membership. Other members pay a fee (for radio stations, it is based on station revenue) and get the benefit of auditioning pieces at higher computer audio quality (MP3) and the option of downloading them for broadcast.

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