With a recent proposal by the Copyright Arbitration Royalty Panel, regarding royalties and internet radio, there's a good chance that we'll soon see a significant reduction in the amount of streaming audio available on the Web. But while it may become more difficult to find Top 40 online, there will continue to be alternatives from the best in documentaries to the worst in musical disasters.
Beginning at the higher end of that scale, we have American RadioWorks. A project of Minnesota Public Radio and NPR news, American RadioWorks produces reports and documentaries for public radio stations throughout the country and through its website further enhances those productions with additional online material. (To date, there are more than 30 documentaries available onsite, with subjects ranging from Revisiting Vietnam to the post-September 11 life of Muslims in America.)
With complete programs available in RealAudio, ARW Online provides a second chance for anyone who might have missed an original broadcast (some pieces date back to the late '90s), and as a recent presentation, "Remembering Jim Crow," illustrates, the site is worth visiting even for those that have heard the program over the airwaves. This account of segregation on the American South adds to the audio-only option by breaking the subject matter into six sections (each with a text introduction and relevant sound bites), and offering such features as slideshows, a sampling of Jim Crow laws, an opportunity to post and read first-person recollections of living under segregation, and a list of recommended websites and readings. Similar "bonus material" is available with every program listed.
There's a good chance that some of the producers featured at Transom will eventually find themselves creating programs for shows like ARW. (In fact, some already have.) Named for a time-honored method of delivering unsolicited manuscripts, Transom exists to give producers a potential launching pad to the networks and anyone is welcome to submit almost anything for consideration. In the words of Transom,
"Submissions can be stories, essays, home recordings, sound portraits, interviews, found sound, non-fiction pieces, audio art, whatever, as long as it's good listening. Material may be submitted by anyone, anywhere by citizens with stories to tell, by radio producers trying new styles, by writers and artists wanting to experiment with radio." (You can get a feel for the variety of Transom's material by listening to a 20-minute introductory 'tour,' located at the bottom of the homepage.)
If a submitted work clears its first hurdle, it's posted online, and visitors are encouraged to voice their opinions about the work. In addition, chosen productions are auditioned by both domestic and international radio programs and networks. To make this opportunity available to as many people as possible, Transom also provides advice on recording and editing audio, and offers links to professional level (but free) editing software. Programs currently featured on the home page include stories from "Construction Workers at Ground Zero," and "Your Radio Nightlight" ("...something on the radio that didn't fit. At all.") Archives hold an additional 20 projects.
Of course, you may prefer to go in a completely different direction, and when it comes to online audio, and you can't get much further from NPR and soon-to-be NPR than Miserable Melodies. These are the songs that should have never been recorded, songs that the artists probably wish they never 'did' record, songs that most of us would never have heard if not for the Web. Miserable Melodies' growing collection (which currently stands at about 75 titles) offers such attacks on the spirit and execution of music as Pat Boone singing "Smoke on the Water," Phyllis Diller's rendition of "I Can't Get No Satisfaction," and several classical selections by the excruciatingly bad Portsmouth Sinfonia an "orchestra" composed half of professional and half of very, very amateur musicians. (There are no words ... you'll just have to listen to a track.)
The catalog also offers a few spoken word pieces (Fabio on Inner Beauty), and in addition to such topical titles as Leonard Nimoy's "The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins," Melodies boasts three interpretations by the greatest overactor in the history of motion pictures, William Shatner. Unfortunately, some of the files here, including Shatner's, are only sample clips, but you can find some of the true, full-length glory of Shatner at EarthStation1.com's Shatner Aflame! page and if you liked his work in "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan," ("KAAAAHN!!!") you'll love his finale of Bob Dylan's, "Mister Tambourine Man" ("MISTER TAMBOURINE MAAAAAN!!!").
And personally, if it's a choice between Britney Spears singing "I'm Not A Girl..." and Captain Kirk singing "Rocketman," I can live without Top 40 radio online.