I first discovered the original Napster about 12 years ago. I was amazed at what I found. Oodles and oodles of great music and it was all free. Who doesn't like free? Then I read it was illegal and all the record companies wanted to shut it down?
Napster was the brainstorm of Shawn Fanning, a student at Northeastern University, in Boston. Napster existed for only a short time; from June 1999 to July 2001, but what an effect it had on the record industry and anyone with a computer.
You no longer had to pay for music, though what everyone was doing was stealing intellectual property. At least that was what the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and United States Ninth Circuit said in March 2001. Maybe not, I learned later.
Let's face facts. We all did it and if you said you didn't, everyone knew you were lying. That could describe any sort of things, but we'll stick to music downloading right now.
Yes, I used Napster and enjoyed it. I had friends all across the country that used it to and we traded music on it. We talked in their chat rooms and hoped it would never end. Were we disappointed when it did?
Then I heard about other peer-to-peer file sharing services like Kazaa, Morpheus and Limewire. While they worked okay, the chance of downloading a virus was far greater than on Napster. You see, Napster held all the music files on their own servers, but these other services just enabled people to upload and download files if source computers stayed on.
If you were downloading a song and the computer that held that song signed off, your download stopped. These other services were not nearly as fast or reliable as was Napster. I'm not going to detail the entire history of Napster, as it is easily available elsewhere.
On 13 May 2010, Limewire was on the losing end of a lawsuit brought against it by the RIAA. A federal judge in New York found Limewire liable for unfair competition, inducing copyright infringement and copyright infringement itself. The court deemed Limewire founder, Mark Gorton, personally liable for the crimes as well. Again, there is no point to go over the entire story, as it is all over the web and news.
There is still one "illegal" file sharing site operating, I think, called Frostwire. Supposedly, Frostwire is a clean version of Limewire. I call it clean because it doesn't include all the junk programs that Limewire installed on a computer for their shopping sites, along with tracking cookies and possible viruses.
The big dog on the block for music downloading is now iTunes. The difference is we now have to pay for all the music we may have gotten free. The average price is .99 cents a song, if it carried Digital Rights Management (DRM) with it. DRM doesn't allow you to do whatever you want with the music. In April 2007, iTunes introduced DRM-free music at slightly higher price of $1.29.
iTunes has two other big competitors with music downloads in Wal-Mart and Amazon. Each offers pretty much the same music, but in the mp3 format instead of Apple's own AAC format. The prices are also about five cents less at these sites and they don't control the music the way Apple does. I guess Steve Jobs really is a control nut.
So here is another good question? How has all this music downloading affected radio stations? People can now control what, where and how they listen to music. All without those annoying commercials and news breaks. Wow, is that an idea or what. Music without commercials, how original is that idea. Wait. Radio stations offer commercial free hours or 50 minutes of music in a row without commercials. Yeah, then we have to endure 10 minutes of annoying commercials. No thanks.
Remember summer of 1982 when WAPP-FM 103.5 appeared on the air, in New York City. Broadcasting from studios in Queens off the Long Island Expressway, the station ran commercial free for the summer of 1982 and was the highest rated station during that rating period.
When the summer ended and WAPP-FM put commercials on the air, the ratings went down. What a surprise. Well established WPLJ-FM and WNEW-FM gained listeners back when WAPP-FM started airing commercials.
At that time, I was listening to WPLJ-FM and WNEW-FM, along with WAPP-FM. I liked the WAPP-FM DJs, including Chip Hobart who came from WDAI-FM, in Chicago, the sister station to WPLJ-FM, and Michael Stevens, the brother of Pat St. John, a DJ of considerable talent, fame and legendary status.
Pat was doing afternoons on WPLJ-FM at the time. Mike was doing the same shift on WAPP-FM. Now that was an interesting time for New York radio. Brothers who worked the same shifts, at competing stations, it was a radio version of Cain and Able.
In 1983, when WPLJ switched to a Contemporary Hit Radio (CHR) format, the WAPP-FM ratings improved slightly. WAPP-FM still had WNEW-FM, a powerhouse and its big-name DJs to counter. When you have Scott Muni, Dennis Elsie, Pete Fornatale and Dave Herman, for example, going against you, it's hard to win the battle.
Let's forget commercials for a moment. With your iPod or MP3 player, the listener controls everything they listen to. They can pick any artist or genre they desire and change it whenever they want to. All it takes is time and money.
Radio stations don't have the luxury of changing formats on a moment's notice. Radio is a business that's supposed to entertain and inform the target audience. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes they don't. See previous columns about that subject.
Radio stations hoped that High Definition (HD) radio would help them gain some flexibility to play different music for their audience. Great idea, but the average person has absolutely no idea what HD radio is all about. Although it doesn't carry a subscription fee like satellite radio, if a listeners buys a special HD radio receive, the number of stations available increases. This reminds me what happened to CB radio and its idea of Single Side Band (SSB) radios units to expand the number of available channels. That was another idea that didn't work.
If you download music, legally or otherwise, put it on your music player and decide what to hear and when, welcome to the world of private radio. If you download otherwise, some think what you're doing might be illegal. On the other hand, all successful businesses find a way to let the consumer taste test.
Matt Seinberg lives on Long Island, a few minutes east of New York City. He looks at everything around him and notices much. Somewhat less cynical than dyed in the wool New Yorkers, Seinberg believes those who don't see what he does like reading about what he sees and what it means to him. Seinberg columns revel in the silly little things of life and laughter as well as much well-directed anger at inept, foolish public officials. Mostly, Seinberg writes for those who laugh easily at their own foibles as well as those of others.
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