A Dam in the Stream

If Clear Channel can't afford Internet radio, who can?

Different prerequisites for different programs spur more headaches, says regional vice president Larsen. "For one thing, there are copyright issues with syndicated programming. To put a Major League Baseball game on the Internet, you have to pay Major League Baseball a monthly fee."

This combination of irritants ultimately convinced Clear Channel to change its entire approach to Webcasting. Previously, the company had covered costs related to bandwidth and assorted fees incurred by local stations in exchange for a slice of revenues. But toward the end of 2002, Clear Channel reps informed their stations that this direct monetary support would be ending, leaving individual outlets responsible for funding their Internet operations. Executives with Clear Channel stations in some of the nation's larger markets decided to stick with Webcasting, despite this switch: Chicago's WLIT, at www.WLIT.com, is churning out soft-rock classics right now. Most, though, shut down, with stations in Detroit, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Miami picking the option chosen in Denver.

The silence was broken locally on January 8, when Clear Channel's Denver outlets resumed streaming -- but a day later, the off switch was thrown again at Larsen's behest. "We knew we could only put streaming up for a short time, and then there was uncertainty past that," he says. "And I didn't think it was right to put our sites up, take them down, put them up, take them down, put them up. The next time we put them up, I wanted it to be when we found a solution that will keep them up -- that we can promote and people can count on. I didn't want to keep driving the people who listen to us nuts."

Lee Larsen has pull at Clear Channel.
Anthony Camera
Lee Larsen has pull at Clear Channel.

The end of streaming is especially unfortunate in the case of KBCO, whose online listenership got a boost from another of Clear Channel's failed Internet initiatives. Several years ago, the firm owned a station in Santa Monica, California, that was overseen by programmers at KBCO, whose format is known as "World Class Rock." The Santa Monica signal was sold in 2000, but Clear Channel retained the right to promote the station's concept on the Internet at www.WorldClassRock.com and paid a staff in Southern California to keep it running. The notion never made a profit, and it was abandoned around the beginning of 2002, but Clear Channel hung on to the Web address in order to direct fans to KBCO. While program director Arbough isn't sure how much KBCO's Web following grew after this move was made, he knows that it's broadened substantially in recent years. "People send Select-a-Sets from Japan," he says. "We even have listeners in the Antarctic who collect CDs of our Studio C sessions."

South Pole dwellers with Internet access aren't completely out of luck: A few Studio C sessions, by the likes of Tori Amos and Delbert McClinton, can still be accessed on the KBCO Web site. But for the time being, online streaming is only a memory -- and Larsen thinks that unless new answers are found, the people behind other Web radio stations may have to make the same tough choice he did. "It will take a while for all the unions, syndicators, radio stations and publishers to come to some conclusion on what's a fair way to divide the pie," he says. "In the meantime, streaming is only a very small part of what we do. We can only justify spending so much money or so much time on it."

Paved with good intentions: The tale of Oscar Hernandez, a five-year-old leukemia sufferer whose search for medical treatment was documented in this space last week, grows odder with each passing day. On January 31, the Denver Post published a report stating that the Denver District Attorney's Office is looking into a complaint that spotlights Children's Hospital of Denver, where Oscar is to receive a bone-marrow transplant, and the law firm of Moyes, Giles, O'Keefe, Vermeire and Gorrell, which represented the hospital as well as the child's family. The central question: Did a conflict of interest lead these parties to initially hush up and subsequently discredit an offer of a free transplant by the Children's Hospital and Research Center in Oakland, California, even as locals donated thousands upon thousands of dollars to pay for care Oscar could have received at no charge?

DA spokeswoman Lynn Kimbrough says a formal investigation is not yet under way -- a point she also made in the Post article. But that piece left out plenty of other intriguing details about the media's role in fueling the story and, on one occasion, took credit where it's not entirely due.

The first person to alert the populace about Oscar was Nancy Leal, a reporter with the Denver arm of Univision, a Spanish-language broadcaster. "The mom called me," Leal recalls, referring to Oscar's mother, Susana Nieto. "She told me she went to different media -- radio, [English-speaking] TV stations -- and nobody would listen to her needs. She needed to raise a lot of money to help her kid, and since I've done stories like this one in the past, I said I would try to help."

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