July 3 2000
Online radio, at a cost
Dear Mr. Paley,
Some months ago, through a link provided by the on-line news magazine
THE IRANIAN TIMES I read the story about your station in a LOS ANGELES
TIMES article by Dana Calvo, and I must say that on behalf of my Iranian
friends and relatives in Southern California I was pleased to hear of your
endeavor, and not the least bit surprised by your success and popularity
as evidenced in the article. Your
web page gives further proof of your growth in the intervening months
since the article was published.
It is noted from the KIRN-AM web page that your company requires an
annual payment of US$60 for access to the streaming broadcast of your radio
station content, KIRN-AM, over the web. This is interesting inasmuch as
your station is a commercial one airing paid advertisements over the public
airwaves, and because your transmissions are otherwise available at no
cost to those fortunate enough to be within your broadcast radius. In
effect, you have created two classes of listeners: one which must pay,
and another which does not.
As you are aware, anyone with access to the web and a reasonably current
computer and modem can - at no cost but for access charges to their ISP
- visit hundreds of commercial stations such as yours; listening not only
to the content, but to the paid advertisements as well. It is clear that
your intent - the KIRN-AM business model - is to generate revenues from
both ends; indeed nearly unique position for a public airwaves broadcaster.
Let me raise the following points. I would be interested in hearing
First, in many cases - as with your competitors who use a more restricted-access
broadcast technology (e.g. Radio Sedaye Iran, et.al.) - those outside your
standard broadcasting area at 670mhz, and who would be among your most
avid listeners, are in many cases those least likely to be able to easily
afford such a payment. Even for those who can, one hesitates to think
of their perception of your station - and your advertisers - as they ponder
on the requirement that they first pay to hear advertisements, on top of
which they are likely paying access charges to their ISP.
Of course, should they choose to patronize your advertisers, your paying
listeners should also realize that built into the merchants' overhead is
the cost of the advertising which they, the customer/listener, has paid
you to hear. In effect, they are paying three times for having listened
to the advertisements; first to KIRN, then to the ISP, and then to the
advertiser. The public airwaves listener pays only once - to the advertiser.
Second, it is irritating to note that one must go well into the KIRN-AM
"registration" process before it becomes evident that a "membership"
must be purchased in order to gain access to the broadcast content via
the web. One might characterize this as a variation of "bait and
switch" and is unworthy of you, your staff, and your advertisers.
The requirement for payment for access must be made unambiguous at the
Third, your policy of requiring payment also raises potentially interesting
legal issues which you, your attorneys, and the Federal Communications
Comission (FCC) are more competent to discuss in detail than a non-lawyer
such as myself. Nevertheless, it may be possible for an imaginative lawyer
at a regulatory agency or public interest group to establish linkages -
for purposes of regulation and/or enforcement - between simultaneous, or
near simultaneous broadcasting of "general interest" material
over the public airwaves and the internet.
While most of your fellow public airwaves colleagues are doing this
without charge, your requirement for payment may generate some unwelcome
scrutiny and either litigation under current laws and regulations, or possible
future legislation and administrative rulings. There can be varying (and
evolving) interpretations of the concept of the broadcast license as a
public trust. We'll see.