"Very few commercials, no
in-your-face announcers, and lots of unheard of music and classic songs that you
hadnt heard in years. Jim goes out of his way to find new indie and national label
artists. We never ever play a song just because a label is working that song at
|The Alternative Is
on the Internet|
by Tim McMahan
It was an outrage!
After last months earth-shattering announcement that 101.9 would change its format
from the alternative-based "The Edge" to the new, all-classic-rock "The
Fox," Omahas "hip" music followers were ready to march with lit
torches to the stations downtown headquarters and demand the owners head
delivered on a vinyl copy of the Eagles "Hotel California." Oh-my-god!
Where would us poor, pathetic coffee-drinkin trend-setters now go on our FM dial to
listen to the latest in cutting-edge alternative music?
What was bunk-o about the format change, however, and the bitter
reaction by all these goth-clad/baggie-shorted youth was: a) The Edge was about as much of
an alternative music station as Z-92 or KIOS; and 2) the whining masses wouldnt know
what "alternative music" was if it bit them on their NYDK-covered asses. What
passes in the Midwest radio market (ie., Omaha) as cut-to-the-bone alternative music is
nothing more than the same top-40 gunk thats played in heavy rotation on MTV and a
handful of local FM radio stations (whose sole objective seems to be one-upping each
others circus-geek morning show team in the "weve-pissed-our-pants
aint-we-funny?" category.) Case in point: Matchbox 20, Third Blind Eye and 311
are about as "alternative" as Led Zeppelin, Cream and Paul McCartney and Wings
were in the 70s. The sad part about it is that the local listeners, those poor sods
still in high school who beg to be rebels and shun "The Man," have been duped
into believing that bands like Live, Dave Matthews or Marilyn Manson are as relevant and
daring as Husker Du, Minute Men or The Pixies were in the 80s.
And then theres the small cadre of music followers who have
always had to live their difficult, but rarely rewarding lives searching for good
"alternative" music by frequenting independent record stores, listening to word
of mouth, and reading the alternative press. They (We) were like bone-weary miners,
tunneling tirelessly in the dark in hopes that they (we) could uncover a diamond in the
heart of a mountain of cow flop.
But dont lose hope, for there is a true alternative music
station available to everyone in the Omaha area. The hook: it doesnt exist on your
radio dial; it can be found only on the Internet.
Called "3WK Underground Radio," the station is available
to anyone with a sound-card equipped computer that can access the internet at a minimum
28.8k baud rate (see the clever "How To" sidebar). The stations Internet
address is http://www.3wk.com.
Once youre at the 3WK homepage and click the
"Listen" button, youll be connected to a station that plays music by some
of the latest and greatest alternative bands, including Buffalo Daughter, Creeper Lagoon,
Versus, Tricky, Tortoise, Yo La Tengo, Modest Mouse, Spoon, Stanford Prison Experiment,
Loud Family, Come, Jesus Lizard, Jesus and Mary Chain, Goldie, Girls Against Boys,
Cornelius, Massive Attack, Caustic Resin and Neutral Milk Hotel. Mixed in with that are
tracks by classics, such as Velvet Underground, Minute Men, Sonic Youth and King Crimson,
along with a few more-mainstream artists, such as Tori Amos, Sean Lennon, Natalie Merchant
and Harvey Danger.
Its too good to be true. And while there are a number of
Internet music stations out there, none that Im aware of are actually hosted by
on-air "cyber-announcers" and broadcast round the clock. Its like
having a big-city college radio station just a couple computer clicks away.
The hows and whys are as interesting as the station itself. 3WK
General Manager Wanda Atkinson said in an interview (conducted via the Internet, of
course) that she and her husband, Program Director/Webmaster Jim Atkinson started the
station last summer because it was the only way to put out music that they loved without
having to compromise their tastes due to the almighty dollar.
"Deciding on the Internet wasnt a hard decision,"
Atkinson said. "FM radio, because of the recent FCC ruling, is owned and operated by
huge corporations now and there is no room for the little guy. A good FM signal is too
expensive to buy, and even if we found a station, advertisers would never go for our mix
of music. Listeners would love it, but there probably wouldnt be enough listeners to
get the ratings needed to generate a profit."
She says her husband wanted to program a station similar to the
trail-blazing FM stations of the 70s, when radio was about the music and not about
making money. "Very few commercials, no in-your-face announcers, and lots of unheard
of music and classic songs that you hadnt heard in years," she says. "Jim
goes out of his way to find new indie and national label artists. We never ever play a
song just because a label is working that song at radio. When a new CD comes out, Jim will
play the best songs from the album if he thinks our listeners will like them."
But there is one downside to all this. Hardcore audiophiles will be
disappointed that the station is broadcast in mono, not stereo. Theres a bunch of
technical mumbo-jumbo that explains why, but Atkinson says a lot of people dont
realize that a stereo broadcast over a 28.8 modem has much less frequency response than
what 3WK currently broadcasts. "Well be using a new version of RealAudio as
soon as its available," she said. "RealNetworks (that owns RealAudio) says
that even in mono, the new player will deliver better quality sound than FM radio when
using a 56K or higher modem."
Thats all good
and well, but with only about 4,000 people listening to the station
per day from all over the world, how does 3WK make money? "Does
anybody make money on the Internet?" Atkinson asked. "Certainly
not from banners. 3WK will start a few, selective audio ads in the
near future, but its much harder to sell Internet radio advertising
because there are no rating points to sell to an advertiser."
Most of the reason behind
why Jim and Wanda are doing 3WK is poor folks like us, stuck here
in music purgatory with no recourse on our radio. "We love
bucking the system. But more than anything else, we love to read
e-mail from a guy who swears that he never knew music like this
existed or from people in offices all over the world who can finally
listen to a radio station all day without hearing the same songs
over and over and over..."
God bless you, Jim and
Printed in The Reader June 3, 1998.
Copyright © 1998 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved