Web Proves Fertile Ground For Bluegrass Growth

Mainstream radio may not hear it, but that high, lonesome sound is streaming through the Net just fine, thanks.

The high, lonesome sound is meeting up with high-

bandwidth technology.

Bluegrass music has long been a tough sell on broadcast

radio, falling between the cracks in the mass-market,

cookie-cutter mold of current country formats.

COLOR="#003163">Ralph Stanley is too old

for young country and

COLOR="#003163">Laurie Lewis

heard on "The Snowy Road" (

HREF=http://media.addict.com/music/Lewis,_Laurie_And_R

ozum,_Tom/The_Snowy_Road.ram>RealAudio

excerpt) with Tom

Rozum — is apparently too cool for hot

country.

But bluegrass is finally finding a place, if one far from its old

Kentucky home, on some form of radio.

"It's like a new golden age of radio, on the Internet," said

Terry Herd, who streams live audio 24 hours a day on the

Bluegrass Radio Network (www.bluegrassradio.com). "It's

always a challenge to find radio programmers with enough

vision to give it a chance. And so the Internet is breaking

new ground and giving people all kinds of access.

"There are new ones springing up every day. They may not

be doing live, 24-hour-a-day streaming, but they're doing

some streaming," Herd said.

Taking Back The Power

One of the new streamers is

COLOR="#003163">Elizabeth Burkett, who

co-hosts "Bluegrass Central," webcast live from 10 a.m. to

noon PDT on Sundays on the eclectic, San Diego based

World Music Radio (www.worldmusicradio.org). "For a long

time, those of us who love a 'niche' music like bluegrass

have been frustrated by the lack of access to our favorite

sounds," said Burkett, a musician who is also president of

the San Diego Bluegrass Club.

"We've been totally dependent on the handful of profit-

minded broadcasters who control the airwaves, and we've

had to work like detectives to track down their meager

bluegrass offerings," she said.

"Terry Herd was one of the first to recognize and use the

power of the Internet to blow away the distribution

roadblocks to previously hard-to-find musical styles like

bluegrass," Burkett said. "[Herd's radio show] 'Into the Blue'

is a great resource for bluegrass lovers — a classy,

high-quality site that is always fun to listen to. I just think it's

a real treasure."

Herd began "Into the Blue" and his Bluegrass Radio

Network in conventional fashion. Starting out with an hour

on 2,000-watt radio station KUMA in his native Pendleton,

Ore., Herd ended up self-syndicating the show to 100

stations and moving to Nashville.

Herd began creating content for the Internet "in August of

'97. And at that time I was not doing live streaming; I was

doing on-demand RealAudio. I was recording the shows at

the station end, then encoding those and putting them on

the Internet, so anybody could go on at their leisure.

"We really had a lot of interest," he added. "And we were

pretty amazed at how quickly the interest grew. I think that

within two or three months we had people from 60-plus

different countries listening to the show. It was pretty crazy.

So right then we knew we had something.

"And so not too long ago — October 20, as a matter of

fact — we launched our live-streaming, 24-hour-a-day

programming. But we also keep 'Into the Blue' online as an

on-demand file, and we also archive a lot of our shows from

the station end. But now we send them out live as well,"

Herd said.

’Consuming Bandwidth At An Exponential Scale’

Herd's Internet operation has all the earmarks of a

commercial radio station. For one, BRN is fully automated;

Herd will break in live from time to time, notably for his

favorite segments, interactive interviews with such

musicians as Sam

Bush — whose "Wayfaring Stranger"

(

HREF="http://media.addict.com/music/Bush,_Sam_And_Gris

man,_David/Wayfaring_Stranger.ram">RealAudio

excerpt) features

COLOR="#003163">David Grisman

and Rhonda

Vincent.

By using MP3 technology — he also offers RealAudio

streaming for low-rate browsers — he's able to provide

"near-FM-radio" sound that sets him apart from other

webcasters; the cost (free) differentiates BRN from another

major bluegrass player, Solid Gold Bluegrass

(www.solidgoldbluegrass.com).

The success of the BRN, now a full-time job for Herd, has

been overwhelming.

"I like to look at it in terms of hours of listenership," he said.

"In January we had around 7,300 hours of listenership. I

mean, we're consuming bandwidth at an exponential scale;

it's frightening.

As Ross Perot said, it's that giant sucking sound."