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mp3 Streaming: Whole Wheat Radio

Whole Wheat Radio Logo

I came across a very interesting and also very cozy webcast station: it's Whole Wheat Radio (WWR), located in a small village (of approximately 400 people, reportedly with a great seasonal fluctuation in number) of Talkeetna (linked to MSN Map; JavaScript needs to be enabled to zoom in/out), Alaska, USA. If you zoom out to the top second or third notch in this map, you will probably get oriented; the village is located about 150km north of Anchorage. The station's studio looks to be a very nice cabin in a forest, as you can see in the photo of it here (in the middle right of the page).

You often find the term "whole wheat" printed on the package of organic food products, and it has a certain ideological connotation (or so it seems at least to me), like environmentalism and fitness-conscious. This may well be a rather personal bias of my own, but you might nod and smile when you browse through the photos in the "Photo" section of the station's website. I do not personally remember the early to late 1960s when hippies and their sub-cultures were in fashion and the anti-war protest against American intervention in Vietnam was fierce, but those two persons photographed appear to have a "feel" similar to that from the said era. The music played over their mp3 stream is mostly by independent musicians and bands, often of the singer-songwriter type with single acoustic guitar or jam bands.

The gentleman photographed is the master of this webcast radio, Mr Jim Kloss. And the lady, whom Jim-san calls his "better half" (another good old phrase, no? :-) is Ms Esther Golton. She is a singer-songwriter herself and also plays the Appalachian mountain dulcimer (I knew virtually nothing about this unique musical instrument). The voices of both Jim-san and Esther-san can be heard in the station's programmes from time to time.

But don't be fooled by this innocent looking couple's ex-hippie like (Excuse me! > Jim and Esther) appearances — Whole Wheat Radio is equipped and run with cutting edge high-tech computer programming and is full of wonder, as explained in the "How It Works" section in their website:

[The stream is] live... sort of. Whole Wheat Radio is a paradox: It's a down-to-earth station, but it relies heavily on technology. So much so, that it can run itself with no human intervention (assuming, of course, that the computers don't crash, and the music streaming provider doesn't go down — hey, stuff happens).

The music is programmed in advance, but the playlist can always be over-ridden by listener requests. Most of the time, there is a live human being lurking in the background. This human goes by the name of Jim Kloss. Throughout the day, Jim puts on his DJ hat, and adds his personal touch to the broadcast.

[WWR is "on the air" 24/7, and appropriately enough, there is a question in their "FAQ" as to Jim-san's sleep. His answer is, "Jim can sleep whenever he wants to sleep [as the whole system is completely automated]."]

I found this webcast just a few days ago. I first visited Jim-san's weblog, followed the link from there to WWR Station Site top page, where I realised it was a streaming station. As you can see if you go on their "Guided Tour", this station site offers each listener a dedicated "Control Console" page. Through this console, you can have access to the playlist, list of fellow listeners logged in (with personal profiles), song request button and the chat viewer where you can have conversations with other listeners, Jim-san and/or Esther-san, as well as the "EJs" (electronic DJs) which are chat-bots. What a gorgeous set of bells and whistles!

For the initial half an hour or so on my first visit to the WWR station site, I was having a peek at this "Control Console", trying to figure out what was really happening there. Apparently it had much more to it than anything else I had previously seen in any of the webcast streaming stations' websites; I couldn't resist the urge to participate for myself. When I joined, Jim-san happened to be hosting his on-air rambling time, and he was so kind to answer my stupid questions (like "Is this a genuine live broadcast?" or "Hello, I'm listening in from Tokyo, Japan. Are you really out there in Alaska?") through the microphone and on to the stream, and also via the chat screen. The "EJ" chat-bots were very active too on the chat, at times mumbling and shouting but mostly behaving themselves; they even made announcements about coming tour schedules of and song releases from the musicians being played on the streaming programme. Last but not least, the WWR listeners logged in were very friendly.

In Japan, we have an ongoing attempt quite similar (both in their spirit and also in their orientation and efforts towards listener/viewer involvement) to WWR, the well-known Tokyo Daibutu TV. I have enjoyed watching their weekly live broadcast, reading (but not joining, yet) the log on its accompanying chat screen (on a separate browser window). I found the interactive aspect of Tokyo Daibutu TV that changes and directs the flow of programme extremely interesting. WWR is the radio version of this, but on the air full time without interruption, and with a much more integrated listener/broadcaster communications interface. The fact that you can make a song request from the WWR music library any time you like, and have a chat with fellow listeners and the people in the studio live, through the single "Control Console" gives you such a wonderful sense of participation and friendly company.

I'd urge you to experience this for yourself; it's so much fun. The talk portion of the stream is in English, and so is the on-line chat. But if you can manage to ask/answer questions like "Where are you from?", "What's the weather like in your place?", "What's your favourite music?" and "Why don't you make a request?", then you can survive and enjoy. You may or may not like the music that gets played on WWR's streaming, but regardless of your musical taste, I can assure you that you will have a very pleasant time logging in the WWR station site.

[Translation completed and posted on the 13th of August, 2004. The original article in Japanese with the same title was posted on the 8th of August, 2004, under the category: radio.]

[English Articles Index of this site is here.]

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  • You can listen to the WWR stream itself from the link in the "Listen" section. At present, the bandwidth is said to be secured for thirty simultaneous listeners.

  • Two stream outlets are offered, one for low bandwidth net connection and the other for better connection. On either, as emphasised in the WWR station top page, MP3Pro works wonders as regards the sound quality at your end.

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