by Luke Baumgarten & r & & r & Radio Free Appalachia
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & L & lt;/span & ast week, the record industry decided to go back to the negotiating table -- or rather, sit down with Internet radio for the first time -- and I took a nine-state Ryder truck road trip.
Driving through Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska briefly, Iowa again, Illinois, Indiana and finally Ohio, was an exhausting and (besides dusty, joyless, rodeo-mad northeast Wyoming) exhilarating experience. It was a trip that showed America to be a place of both jaw-dropping variation and stupefying similarities.
From the Rockies to the Black Hills, from the Badlands to the world-famous Corn Palace and finally to the Appalachian foothills, the land was mottled grandeur, the people were fiercely independent and the terrestrial radio invariably sucked. Some places had no radio at all. Athens, Ohio -- a college town of 20,000 permanent residents and 30,000 students -- is the ideal kind of place for the music industry to re-establish itself with young, diverse demographic.
It won't be able to do it with the radio infrastructure there, though. Athens, by my count, has four stations. One plays Christian music, Another plays banjo music. A third seems to be a woefully underfunded public radio station. The fourth is a hideous college-radio patriotic-country hybrid that swung wildly from Lily Allen to John Mellencamp ("This Is Our Country," for God's sake) in three songs. Aside from the college, it's a poor, defeated place destroyed by pit mining and parasitic industry. Big, expensive things like terrestrial radio can't survive in depressed, sparsely populated areas like this. Internet radio can, though.
That makes the battle over Internet radio about more than negotiating fair royalty rates for an infant medium. It's about the recording industry recognizing the tremendous marketing potential of the thing and adding that to the equation.
Markets have never been more fragmented, but they've also never been so easily reached. By backing off their predatory licensing fees, record companies would be losing short-term capital but gaining access to markets they've never touched.