Remix Radio, on-air in Spokane
Spoken-word format from PRX: driveway moments ‘on shuffle’
This month in Spokane, Wash., a brand new public station began piloting terrestrial broadcasts of Remix Radio, an experimental format developed by Public Radio Exchange.
“The program stream is incredibly good — it’s made entirely out of driveway moments,” said Richard Kunkel, president of Spokane Public Radio.
PRX’s Jake Shapiro describes Remix as “mainlining driveway moments.” The format includes first-person stories, radio docs and features, interviews and commentaries from the PRX library.
Kunkel decided to test-run the spoken-word format on the licensee’s newest station, KPBZ (90.3 MHz), after unexpectedly winning the channel in a years-long competitive FCC application process.
Remix Radio, carried on XM Satellite Radio and webcast on the Internet since May 2009, is scheduled by a “virtual programming director,” San Francisco producer Roman Mars, and run by an automation system, said Shapiro, PRX c.e.o.
“It’s been something we’ve cultivated quietly, but we’re very excited about its potential,” he said. Launching first on XM was a low-budget way for PRX to test listeners’ reactions to the format and the technology that’s powering it.
Funding for Mars to devote more time to the channel and refine it for broadcast distribution is one of the PRX projects assisted by a $1.5 million grant from CPB, announced Sept. 9 (separate story).
Mars left the new storytelling show, Snap Judgment, and signed on this month as Remix’s p.d., “almost full-time,” Shapiro said. Mars had been working on Remix one day a week.
To fit into Spokane’s terrestrial broadcast world, PRX has to adjust Remix’s automation system to create regular station breaks. “Right now we’re only asking for a one-minute break every hour,” Kunkel said. “They know we’d like to get to two or three an hour.” So far, the automated breaks are very simple, but eventually the station must run promos and underwriting spots.
“We are participants in developing this thing, and we don’t want to push them faster or ask them for things that will destabilize the system,” Kunkel said.
Kunkel didn’t expect to win the KPBZ frequency when Spokane Public Radio applied for it years ago in competition against a religious broadcaster (and other applicants that filed for it later). Last year, he was surprised to hear the FCC was about to assign the license to Spokane Public Radio. What would they air on the new station, and how would they handle the added work? The staff already operates two stations in Spokane — all-news KSFC on 91.9 and the hybrid classical/news on KPBX 91.1.
“We needed to find a way to program this station without hiring anybody else, and we didn’t have the budget to do anything significant,” Kunkel said. “This was a way to put something on the air that we were proud of — that we’re piloting and helping the system to develop.”
Spokane Public Radio took over the KPBZ frequency in July and began broadcasting Remix Radio this month. The other Spokane pubradio outlets aren’t promoting their new sibling, but some listeners have already started sending e-mails about KPBZ. “People are listening so intensely to these stories, even though the station ID comes up only once an hour, I think they’re remembering it,” Kunkel said. It is a distinct listening experience.
Remix Radio is a “very, very different sound,” said John Barth, PRX managing director. “It sounds like public radio on an iPod shuffle.”
There’s no standard program length to the format. Each hour is assembled from pieces in the PRX library that are licensed under Creative Commons. PRX has acquired some outside content, such as podcasts from the New York Times, according to Barth.
“There are hundreds of programs that cycle in and out of rotation, like with a music station,” Shapiro said. Each hour is different “even if it contains many of the same parts, which we think is pretty clever.” The repetition gives listeners more opportunities to hear stand-alone audio pieces that they probably missed on their public radio station.
“This is stuff that you’d like to hear more of on public radio — we give you tons of it,” said Shapiro. “We’re showcasing them in a way that is often not possible because on other public radio formats they end up on the margins.”
KPBZ airs Remix Radio round the clock right now, but Kunkel is thinking of adding Triple A music programming for overnight broadcasts. “Right now, we’re just trying to stabilize everything and make sure it’s working correctly,” he said.
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Web page posted Oct. 6, 2010
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