US broadcaster tries all-podcasting radio format

Infinity Broadcasting, a terrestrial radio company whose business model is being challenged by the iPod phenomenon, is borrowing a page from its rival’s playbook.

Next month, Infinity will convert an underperforming station in San Francisco to a format that will broadcast only “podcasts,” or amateur recordings distributed via the internet that are intended for listeners’ iPods and other digital music players.

Infinity, which is part of the Viacom media conglomerate that also owns CBS and MTV, announced on Wednesday that it would convert its KYCY-AM station in San Francisco to the new format on May 16.

Infinity said it would be the first time a radio station anywhere played an all-podcast format. Robert Unmacht, a radio consultant in Nashville who tracks radio formats, confirmed that it would be the first such station in the United States.

Podcasts have become popular in the past several months with the booming use of Apple Computer’s iPods and other portable digital listening devices. Podcasts are essentially audio files that people make on their own and then upload to internet sites.

Listeners can then copy them to their devices and play them whenever they want.

A huge variety of podcasts are available through aggregator sites like iPodder, ranging from random musings on pop culture and sports to music or commentary on movies.
Unlike radio broadcasts, they can be stored and listened to at any time, paused and replayed.

Joel Hollander, the CEO of Infinity, said the station, which would be promoted under the name KYOURADIO, would run material submitted by listeners but screened to make sure it conforms with federal broadcasting standards for decency.

Hollander described the format change as something of an “experiment,” but he said the company had not decided how long it would try it before deciding whether to keep it. He said the station won’t charge or pay for the podcasts contributed by

listeners.

Infinity has been one of the hardest-hurt traditional radio broadcasters as Wall Street frets about stagnant advertising revenues and declining listenership. Parent company Viacom took a $10,9-billion charge in February to recognise the declining value of its radio holdings.

Despite its challenges, radio remains hugely profitable. Viacom reported last week that its radio division made 41 cents in profit on each dollar of revenue in the first quarter—a very high margin for any business, but still down from 44 cents on the dollar from the same period a year ago.

Meanwhile, radio industry leader Clear Channel Communications has been trying to lure listeners back in by reducing the amount of commercials. So far Infinity, the next biggest player in radio, has not matched Clear Channel’s “less is more” initiative.

In trading on Wednesday, Viacom shares rose 50 cents, or 1,4%, to close at $35,28 on the New York Stock Exchange, while Clear Channel shares fell 18 cents to finish at $32,37. - Sapa-AP

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