Rooting for KAMP Student Radio is a lot like rooting for the Arizona Cardinals. Everyone in town wants them to succeed. How cool would it be to have a good football team or widely distributed student radio? But sometimes it just seems like the obstacles are too great.
KAMP's main challenge has always been that it doesn't have the funds for a strong FM antenna. Instead they have a weak AM one, 1520 AM, that only works around the university. But alas, even that has issues. Several of the taller buildings on campus actually block the signal, so it's not widely available.
KAMP mainly relies on people streaming the content from its Web site, kamp.arizona.edu, or from TVs in the dorms. Both work well, but students hardly use the services.
However, just as the Cardinals' new receiving corps looks like it may finally reverse that team's longstanding fortunes, KAMP has a new option that could lift its future: Podcasting.
Podcasts, so named because they're basically radio broadcasts played over an iPod or other music player, are perfectly suited for smaller radio stations like KAMP.
What distinguishes Podcasts from traditional radio is that they are an on-demand service. In other words, when listeners turn on the radio, they have to listen to whatever the stations are playing at that moment. With a Podcast, users download the entire show to a musical device and can fast forward, skip and delete at will.
Podcasting is not a new phenomenon. It has been going on since shortly after the MP3 revolution began. But finding Podcasts scattered around the Internet had always been difficult until Apple's midsummer announcement of a Podcasting directory on its enormously popular iTunes music service.
Now any of the millions of users on iTunes can download any of the thousands of free Podcasts instantly. Users can even set iTunes to "subscribe" to specific Podcasts, and iTunes will automatically download updates.
Placing Podcasts on the directory is free, and anyone with a microphone and something to say can go out and record a show and then send it to Apple for inclusion in the directory.
To be sure, there are significant challenges to Podcasting that are even more complicated than, say, Internet radio.
Josh Romero, KAMP director, notes that because Podcasts are permanently placed on a computer, the legal issues surrounding any music included in them are unresolved. Because of that, he doesn't see Podcasting with licensed music happening for several years.
Instead, he says, KAMP would Podcast its exclusive content, such as news shows, sports shows and interviews. It could also include unlicensed or independent music, including unsigned local bands. But alas, even its news shows include clips of licensed music. While Apple will include music clips up to 30 seconds long, Romero says KAMP would need to change its news broadcasts so as to not have any offending music.
Romero anticipates KAMP starting to Podcast its news shows in the next two years. Students should hope it happens sooner rather than later.
What would be better for KAMP than students downloading its broadcasts and listening to their iPods as they go to class? KAMP could - gasp - compete with the Arizona Daily Wildcat!
But as KAMP waits for the day when every student has access to it, they go on relentlessly improving their service. The big current change is an expensive computer system that will allow automated playlists, which replaces a giant CD player that used to be set on autopilot whenever there wasn't a DJ in the booth.
They also consider it a high priority to be in the Student Union Memorial Center and the Student Recreation Center. And KAMP has several important projects on the line, including finishing a major overhaul of its Web site and adding multiple streams to allow it to, say, broadcast two sporting events at once.
But Podcasting lingers on the sidelines, waiting for KAMP's embrace. Romero says all it really takes is one person willing to spend the time to make it happen.
This month Apple is widely expected to finally enter the market for portable hard drive video players, and a natural extension will be the emergence of video Podcasts, which could mean the same for TV as Podcasting might for radio.
UATV, are you listening?
Ryan Johnson is an economics and international studies senior. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.