Amidst the hand-wringing over the inability of the music and film industries to keep up with file-sharing, there always seemed to be one medium in which corporate control hadn't been seriously eroded: radio.
Pirate radio stations pop up every now and then, but their acts of resistance tend to be frustratingly short-lived. In comparison to the massive dent that file-trading has put in the hide of the music behemoths, pirate radio was easily ignored by embarrassed broadcasters.
Radio shows, professionally produced or not, are now being traded online alongside the usual flurry of music and film files through a burgeoning community of online traders inspired by their iPods.
In the summer of 2004, MTV VJ-turned-techno-guru Adam Curry created the open-source program of choice and called it the iPodder (www. ipodder.org). The program takes radio shows, press interviews or any other Internet audio file and pops them directly into your MP3 player.
Think of it as a VCR for the Internet. You don't have to be afraid of missing the next episode of This American Life or CBC Radio 3, because you can just record the audio file and rely on iPodder to send it to your iPod (or any other MP3 player) for your perusal the next day when you're on the treadmill.
Due to the increased ease of creating digital audio files, more and more people are trying their hand at broadcasting, changing their previously written blogs into audio form for people to download. They've even named their audio blogs podcasts, after their MP3 player of choice.
The proponents take pains to differentiate their files from traditional radio. Their output isn't live, isn't paid for and is far more political and niche-based than traditional radio - much like blogs are to journalism. And like the early pirate radio broadcasters, devoted podcasters speak of their hobby as nothing less than the "democratization of the airwaves."
Podcasts can contain political commentary, interviews, short stories, sometimes even music. New podcasts pop up every week (www.podcast.net), devoted to everything from Nascar racing to Bible readings.
The inclusion of a personal voice breathes life into the black-and-white characters who make up traditional blogs, yet at the same time it demands less interaction from the viewer. People listen to podcasts more casually than they would read things online. It's akin to having the radio on while folding laundry or scrubbing day-old dishes.
Predictably, the quality of podcasts varies. Much of the audio commentary is stuck in an awkward self-reflexive stage, where the proponents feel the need to defend their choice of medium or spend most of the show talking about other sites listeners should check out. Many podcasters not trained in broadcasting also have, to twist the famous jibe, perfect voices for writing.
Some of them, though, like Adam Curry's own Daily Source Code (www. curry. com), are easily on a par with the most popular public radio programs and will inspire the others to improve.
Once again, the Internet has provided a fertile breeding ground for resistance to the status quo of media consumption.