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Fast Forward: Web Radio Hits the Road

That experience also often left me guessing about what I'd just heard: These services (like the comparable interactive Web-radio services iMeem and FlyCast, which I also auditioned) don't include a human or electronic DJ to call out the names of songs.

This problem is something that Web stations will have to fix if more people tune in from places that demand hands-free listening.

Mobile listeners also risk paying a price for tuning in too often. Most Web stations employ extremely efficient compressed music formats; if you listened to Pandora on a phone for about six hours a day, you'd still only eat up half of the 5-gigabyte monthly quota set by most wireless carriers.

But when you can listen to interesting music anywhere, and when you already use a smartphone for other online tasks, you could theoretically hit that quota some day.

Webcasters also need to settle a long-running argument over the royalties they pay to performers of the music they play. For years, the organization charged with managing these payments, a recording-industry-backed nonprofit called SoundExchange, has demanded steep rates that Webcasters have said would bankrupt them.

But the two sides now seem to be nearing a compromise, and once-despondent Web radio operators now sound optimistic. Bill Goldsmith, who runs the popular station Radio Paradise (http://radioparadise.com), wrote in an e-mail that he doesn't expect to have to pay more than 10 to 12 percent of his site's revenue, which he called "high . . . but not impossible."

Land-based broadcasters, meanwhile, may one day wish they had those problems. Commercial FM as we've known it can't match the variety and creativity of Internet radio. Local stations' best hope may be to focus on what Internet radio can't do well, but which they themselves have largely neglected -- catering to the interests and tastes of their neighbors. If FM outlets can do that, they don't have to get left off the dial. If they can't, they won't be missed.

Living with technology, or trying to? E-mail Rob Pegoraro at robp@washpost.com. Read more at http://voices.washingtonpost.com/fasterforward/.


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