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Wiretap 3.02 - a report

Wiretap 3.02: Radio & Internet: a workshop report by Andreas Broeckmann (1997).

Wiretap 3.02 Radio & Internet was a workshop organised by V2_Organisation in Rotterdam in February 1997. It was aimed at investigating the relationship between radio and internet, and to explore the possibilities, advantages and disadvantages of combining the two media. A group of eleven radio makers and internet artists from former Yugoslavia, Austria and the Netherlands were invited to spend a week together, visiting institutions that deal with radio, internet and digital audio, and working together in a simple studio environment set up in the V2 building. The workshop started with a public presentation by the radio makers from former Yugoslavia in Amsterdam, and finished with a three-hour radio programme produced by the workshop participants and net-cast live via the internet.

Sunday 16 February

Most of the participants of the Wiretap 3.02 Radio & Internet workshop arrived in Rotterdam on Saturday 15th and Sunday 16th February. Sunday afternoon was spent getting to know each other and beginning to set up the workshop environment at V2_Organisation, Eendrachtsstraat 10, Rotterdam.

At 17.30hrs we left Rotterdam in the rented bus to go to Amsterdam for the public programme with presentations about the situation of independent radio stations in the former Yugoslav republics, organised by Press Now at De Waag, Nieuwmarkt 4.

At De Waag we met quite a large number of friends and acquaintances, xYu-ex-patriates, Dutch friends who have visited Yugoslavia in the past, organisers of conferences like the Next 5 Minutes (January 1996), for which some of the guests from former Yugoslavia had come to the Netherlands in the past, and several people from Press Now. In total, there was an audience of about 50 people who came for the presentations and the discussion.

The programme was chaired by Jo van der Spek of IKON Radio and included presentations by Drazen Pantic of B92 (Belgrade), Edin Karamehmedovic of Radio 101 (Zagreb), and by Luka Frelih of Radio Student and Ljudmila/Ljubljana Digital Media Lab (Ljubljana). The presentations gave overviews over the current situations of the radio stations and the ways in which they use the internet to complement their radio activities. Due to the great urgency of the situation in Belgrade and the strong emphasis that B92 is putting on the distribution of their programmes through the internet, the discussion focused on the case of this station.

B92 has a live-stream of its programme on the internet, which means that it can be continuously received by a global audience. Due to financial and technical limitations of the Real Audio software used for this net-casting, a maximum of 500 people can listen to the programme at any one time. The Real Audio server B92 uses has been given to it as sponsorship by the Progressive Networks company and is maintained and supported by the Amsterdam-based internet access provider XS4ALL. In addition to the live-stream, B92 produces daily news bulletins in English and Serbian which can also be listened to globally.

Radio 101 currently has a website which contains clips, jingles and songs in the real audio format. It is planning to establish a continuous live-stream net-cast in the near future.

Radio Student is so far not using the internet consistently. There have been experimental programmes occasionally, and Luka Frelih has a weekly programme on the radio which deals with computer- and internet-related issues. The station has recently acquired a digital audio studio which will theoretically make it possible for Radio Student more easily to prepare programmes for internet casting. At the radio, a new department, the Ministry of Experiments, has been established where, in the future, experimental approaches towards coupling radio with digital media and electronic networks will be further explored. (Bojan Azman from Ljubljana who joined the workshop on Wednesday 19th, works at the Ministry of Experiments.)

The ensuing discussion touched on many topics, some related to the political situation in former Yugoslavia and the role that independent radio stations are playing. There was an apparent interest from the side of the Dutch guests to understand the degree to which the radio stations are actually politically independent - a question which is, however understandable, difficult to answer: how does one measure independence, and what is the 'degree of independence' of organisations like Press Now, Dutch broadcasters, or art organisationslike De Waag or V2?

Another theme of the discussion was the question in how far there is co-operation and mutual support among the different radio stations, and what the possibilities of, motivations for and advantages of such co-operations might be. There was a sense that, although such co-operation is desirable, there is no inherent need for them to be limited to partners in the former Yugoslavia. In fact, the different republics are increasingly developing their own, separate identities, and co-operations between them are regarded as not much more important than those with other European partners. The presentations showed that, already, the situations in Zagreb, Ljubljana and Belgrade are so different that it may not really make sense any longer to approach the former Yugoslavia as a coherent region. Although there is a shared history, language, and cultural aspects among them, the situation, for instance, in Kosovo or Vojvodina is no more a Slovenian problem than it is a German or Hungarian problem. What inspires international co-operation between independent media and art organisations is therefore not so much a matter of historical allegiance, but something that was described as 'urban sensitivity', a form of 'urban internationalism' that binds people together who are increasingly connected through the electronic networks and who realise that they share interests, problems, and visions of culture and diversity without nationalism.

The discussion ended after about two hours. The evening continued with a friendly 'family gathering' in the cafe of De Waag.

Monday 17 February

The first workshop session started at 11.00hrs. Beside the participants from xYu and from Austria, the Dutch radio makers Josephine Bosma, Jo van der Spek, Geert Lovink and John Dr. Beeldplaatje came to Rotterdam. Some more time was spent setting up the technical equipment, and then we had a first meeting during which we introduced ourselves and talked about plans and expectations for the week. (Michiel van der Hagen who lives and works in Warsaw joined us and gave a brief report about the work done by Marta Dubrzynska-van der Hagen at the Warsaw Centre for Contemporary Art in the field of art using the internet.)

The first discussion dealt with the differences between the audiences for regular radio broadcasts and net-radio, and with the financial and technical limitations and opportunities of net-casting, and especially of the Real Audio software. The current audience of the net-casts of B92, for instance, is a rather well-defined 'distributed' group of people: the Serbian ex-patriate community spread across the world, and journalists, information services and media activists who want to get information about the current situation in Belgrade. It seems to make perfect sense to net-cast the signal to this audience. Broadcasting to a less specific audience via the internet, however, seems more questionable: what is the content that you would want to offer to a global audience, or, how do you define your audience when using the net as a broadcast medium?

It became clear that, at least at present, radio net-casting is very much a tactical medium, who's purpose has to be defined on the basis of a particular situation and whose application should be developed in relation to this particular situation. The flexibility of the internet medium: use of multiple media, wide reach of diverse audiences, listening-on-demand, is an advantage over regular radio broadcasting, but it will have to be seen in how far programme formats will be developed that make use of the medium in a net-specific way, rather than just doubling the present radio formats and using the internet as a mere distribution channel.

Later in the afternoon, we held a first editorial meeting about the net/radio broadcast on the 23rd for which we were joined by Francisco van Jole, a Rotterdam-based media presenter and journalist. An important point of discussion was who the audience of the programme would be, because beside the net-cast we would also have a live-audience at V2 for whom looking at a bunch of people at computers might not be terribly exciting. As there were no clear ideas as yet about what the exact contents of the programme would be, we decided on a rough schedule and on the fact that we would try and open several channels for audience participation, both from the live-audience, via telephones, and via the net. (The plans for the net-cast slowly crystallised in the course of the week, leading up to the editorial meeting on Saturday 22nd when the parameters for the programme were set.)

In the evening we took the watertaxi to Hotel New York where we had a wind-blown dinner.

Tuesday 18 February

After driving to Hilversum, our first station was at the VPRO broadcast company. The VPRO has established a digital department that maintains the company's website and that develops projects that combine television, radio and the internet. We were welcomed by Erwin Blom, who has conducted experimental programmes about Internet radio and who gave an introduction about his department's activities.

For him, the internet broadens the possibilities of broadcasting by offering an archival space that allows for 'radio on demand'. Thus, on the listener's side, the net individualises radio listening. On the producer's side, it makes it possible to make 'all those programmes you always wanted to make and that didn't get broadcast' available to an interested audience.

The VPRO is as yet uncertain how to develop this branch of its activities. Its license covers regular radio broadcasts and television, and it is unclear what status net-radio broadcasts will have in this context. Another question is that, at the moment, listening to programmes via the internet is free for the listeners, whereas the broadcasters (through their internet provider) pay for the data traffic that is being generated by the listeners picking up the data streams. In the case of larger net-radio events, like live- coverage of pop concerts, this data traffic can amount to a substantial expense. For a national, public broadcaster like the VPRO this raises the problem that the fees they raise from their listeners are used for net-casts that can be picked up anywhere in the world by people who do not contribute to the funding of the radio station. There are no solutions for this problem at the moment, and the option to close off listeners from outside of the Netherlands seems to be so adverse to the nature of the internet that it is unlikely to be realised.

We later talked to some of the technical staff at the VPRO Digital Attic and also went to have lunch with them. These conversations with technical people always proved to be particularly fruitful throughout the workshop.

After lunch we moved on to the media department of the Utrecht art academy, HKU Interaction Design (and Music Technology), where we met with students and the department's director, Anne Nigten. The students gave a short presentation about a new audio function of a forthcoming WWW browser, Netscape Communicator. However, it turned out that they were much less experienced in using the internet for audio experiments than the workshop participants, and they were also not really aware of the great variety of ways in which radio can be used not only as a popular broadcast medium, but also for artistic experiments and the distribution of 'independent' political and cultural contents. The ensuing discussion was not very satisfying, but rather enlightening in terms of the expectations that one can have about a public medium. The students who, admittedly, were rather young, were little aware of the tactical and artistic usages that some of the workshop participants have been working with, so that this visit became a display of the short-comings rather than of the achievements of their current work.

The final visit of the day took us to the Dutch World Service, Radio Wereldomroep Nederland, where we got a tour through the building from Katherine Farnon and later talked to people from the internet department that has recently been set up to develop the internet as an extra channel for the station to make its programmes available. At the moment the internet is mainly used for publishing broadcasting frequencies and programme schedules, as well as for making daily news programmes available as audio files. Other usages will have to be developed in the future.

As the earlier visits, this one was rather sobering regarding the curiosity about the net-activities of Dutch institutions related to radio. It seemed that the combined knowledge and expertise of the workshop participants often went beyond that which we found, and it was mentioned only half jokingly that we will next time come to give a workshop for these people, rather than the other way round. This day also confirmed that the usage of net-radio is very new and that the Wiretap workshop was really one of the first consistent attempts at understanding and exploring the medium.

Wednesday 19 February

We left Rotterdam for Eindhoven with our bus in the morning and first drove to the Apollohuis, an organisation that has been very active in the field of sound art for more than 15 years. Lead by Paul and Helene Panhuysen, the Apollohuis has presented Dutch and international audio artists, organised concerts, exhibitions and workshops, published books and CDs. Helene Panhuysen gave us a little tour of the building and then showed us into the living room/office/archive/studio on the second floor. There was an amazing amount of books, records, CDs, tapes, small installations and musical instruments, a 'Wunderkammer' of sound art.

Unfortunately, the Apollohuis has to close down because the funding is being stopped, and we immediately began planning strategies for saving it. This was such an amazing place to be in with such a rich history - after all, a pre-history of the artistic approach to net-radio that the workshop was exploring -, that closing this wonderful place down seemed unacceptable. We also discussed possibilities for making some of the archival material of the Apollohuis available via the internet. Helene told us that she is planning to work on the data base which may, in the future, be brought online and could then very easily be enriched with examples of the audio material. We left with high hearts, but not before we had all been given a present from the book- and recordshop.

The next stop was at the studio of the Institute for Affordable Lunacy, IBW, where Harun Bahasoean and Dick Verdult were awaiting us with sandwiches and coffee and audiotapes, ready for making a recording for the IBW's 'G-Force Radio' programme, to be broadcast on Amsterdam Radio Patapoe. It became a very lively afternoon session during which we talked about pranks, heard a lecture by a local historian about traditional forms of popular resistance in the Brabant region, 'Charivari', and learned about the way in which the IBW is using CD-Link and MIDI to put audio-material on their website.

After driving back to Rotterdam and a quick supper, we spent the evening working on the Wiretap_Radio website, while other people produced jingles or prepared audio material and other contributions for the live net-cast planned for Sunday. In the afternoon, Bojan Azman from Radio Student had arrived from Ljubljana and from now on joined the workshop activities.

Thursday 20 February

After our days in Hilversum and Eindhoven, we spent the third of the 'travelling days' of the workshop in Amsterdam. We first went to Amsterdam Zuid-Oost, where Frank Tiggelaar welcomed us in his private flat. Frank runs the Croatia & Bosnia Info Pages where he regularly features original items from radio and television broadcasts. Frank has also recently been to Sarajevo where he helped to set up the satellite link between the university in Sarajevo and the Free University in Amsterdam. This link, which has theoretically been operational for a while now, makes it possible for the people in Sarajevo to connect to the global structure of the internet. However, technical and bureaucratic problems have made it difficult for people to actually use this link. Sjaak Schuurmans, who is the coordinator of the project at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, was also there to explain the current state of the project.

For lunch we drove into the city centre to the Press Now offices in De Balie. We were welcomed by the new director of Press Now, Paul Staal, and other members of the Press Now team who took the opportunity to talk to the radio makers from the former Yugoslav republics about their work, the political conditions in their countries, and also about the current workshop (which was financially supported by Press Now).

Then we went to the internet providers XS4ALL where Felipe Rodriquez showed us the server room and explained some of the technical infrastructure. Together with Drazen Pantic of B92, who participated in the Wiretap workshop, Felipe told the story of how the B92 programme from Belgrade was brought live to the internet via a RealAudio server that was donated by Progressive Networks and placed at XS4ALL in Amsterdam. This is a prime example of the tactical opportunity that the internet can offer to independent radio makers, and Felipe was kind enough to offer advice and also the prospect of technical support for workshop participants other than B92 for future net-radio experiments.

We continued our itinerary to the offices of Desk.NL, a small company that works as a internet content provider and that also supports artists and there projects. Desk is run by Reinout Heeck and Walter van der Cruijssen, both of whom are well known to and partly old friends most of the workshop participants, so we had a nice and informal meeting, talking about past, present and future projects, the possibilities of surviving in the commercial and the art markets, and many other things. We then visited the little studio of Amsterdam's Radio Patapoe and moved on to have dinner in the bar of the Silo, a squatted place close to the centre of Amsterdam.

Friday 21 February

Most of Friday was spent with preparations for the net-cast on Sunday. The 'studio environment' was reconstructed and made more efficient for the live-production. It became clear that the technical facilities available at V2 were not really sufficient for the professional usage and production which the workshop participants are normally used to. This was mainly due to a lack of funding for the workshop which would have made it possible to hire better equipment. For a possible future project it will have to be made sure that the standard of the technical facilities is higher, especially if the intended result of the workshop is a more or less professional radio broadcast. However, it was still possible to 'make-do'.

In the early afternoon, we paid a short visit to IPR (Internet Providers Rotterdam) where we saw the server space which was on a much more modest scale than that of XS4ALL. Jasja Zuidmeer of IPR also told us about the preparations for accessing the internet via broadband cable, which is being experimented with at the moment and which will have its first public try-out in Rotterdam later this year when 150 households will be connected.

A discussion developed about the fact that this usage means that the bandwidth of the outgoing and the incoming data streams will become very unbalanced, so that it will be much easier to download large files, than uploading them. For the consumption of video-on-demand, for instance, this dissymmetry is acceptable, it does however clash with the philosophy of the internet as an open, non-hierarchical network structure in which everybody can equally be a sender and a receiver. The critics had to admit, though, that the bandwidth that will become available for uploading data through the cable far exceeds what is available now in the 'symmetrical' structure (which is not really symmetrical anyway), and that it will have to be seen whether the opportunity will at all be grasped to provide material to others rather than consume the products of the broadcasters.

In the evening, Zvonimir Bakotin came over from Amsterdam and brought his SGI Indy computer which was an invaluable tool during the next 48 hours. Patrice Riemens from Amsterdam joined us and helped with the preparations of the programme, as well as supporting the V2 staff. Both would stay till after the net-cast on Sunday.

Saturday 22 February

Like the day before, most of Saturday was spent with intense preparations for the net-cast on Sunday. In the course of the day, we were joined by Reni Hofmüller from Radio Helsinki in Graz/Austria, and by Michael Langer, an independent radio maker from Cologne.

It can be said that this situation was the most productive and the most important of the whole workshop. The co-operation between the different workshop participants was very strong. Possibilities for the technical production and the content of the programme were discussed at length and the experiences and ideas ventilated throughout the week were distilled into a more or less precise schedule for the net-cast. Even though some of the differences in approach and opinion could not be discussed to the full, it became clear what the different strategies were that the workshop participants associated with net-radio as amedium.

Around noon we drove to Delft where we visited the Packet Radio activist Ronald Verlaan. Packet Radio is a system for sending data packets via radio signals, which means that it is possible to use all the protocols of the internet without using telephone lines, which are replaced in the process by radio transmitters and receivers. The short presentation Ronald gave us explained the system and sparked the imagination of people who, willy-nilly, normally associate the internet with the global telephone infrastructure. It became clear that, especially on a local (and a global-to-local) level, Packet Radio can offer very interesting tactical opportunities which will have to be explored in the future.

Later in the afternoon, we held a final editorial meeting, during which Josephine Bosma suggested an overall structure for the net-cast according to which we were going to draw up the schedule for the next day. The evening saw more preparations ...

Sunday 23 February

The final day of the workshop was dominated by the radio programme and net-cast that lasted from 14.00 till 17.00hrs. The radio car of IKON Radio arrived at 10.00hrs and the last preparations for the programme were made in the big hall at V2. Technical equipment was set up, final tests and preparatory conversations held.

The radio broadcast of the IKON via Radio 5 (ether, frequency MW 1008) started at 13.00hrs, and at 14.00hrs the audio signal was also put on the internet via the RealAudio server of B92 at XS4ALL in Amsterdam. Final checks proved that the 486 computer that was planned as an encoding machine was not sufficient, therefore a Pentium PC was installed as an encoding machine at the last minute.

The programme contained audio material in a great variety of formats, live interviews and discussions, telephone interviews (live and preprepared), presentations of audio material that was taken live from the internet, including live-RA streams from Radio Zid (Sarajevo) and Radio B92 (Belgrade), music, jingles and sound art experiments. It offered a colourful kaleidoscope of the possibilities that the medium offers. The programme is documented and can be listened to on the V2 website at: http://www.v2.nl/wiretap_radio The main short-coming of the programme was probably that we didn't succeed in opening up relevant feedback channels with the audience. Internet phone, IRC, CUSeeMe, telephone and e-mail could theoretically have been used but would have needed more preparation both technically and in terms of the programme content. However, the whole afternoon saw a series of lively discussions about the programme among the workshop participants and with the small audience that was present. There was also a continuous stream of technical check-ups, testing then connections between radio, internet and telephone/ISDN. The necessary negotiations were partly being held with other participants in Amsterdam, Belgrade and Sarajevo who were connected via several IRC channels. The coordination of people and machines was necessarily fast and dynamic, and a lot had to be done ad-hoc. But we managed to produce and interesting net-radio programme that was net-cast in an uninterrupted stream, which in itself was an important achievement.

The audio stream was picked up and broadcast live via the ether by several radio stations: the first 90 minutes were broadcast in Ljubljana by Radio Student, while almost the entire programme could be followed in Amsterdam via Radio 100 and Radio Patapoe, the latter picking up the radio signal from Radio 100 and rebroadcasting it. Throughout the afternoon, Michael Langer made interviews which he later edited for the Wiretap 'Backstage Tapes', a grainy sound record of what happened in the background of the programme that went out.

It will have to be seen which of the future co-operations that were talked about in Rotterdam will actually happen, but serious plans were, for instance, made by Radio Student's Ministry of Experiment to work together with Radio 100 Amsterdam and D.U.M.B. (Dutch United Media Base, Rotterdam).

Final remarks

Beside the practical experience of working with the new technical medium of net-radio for a whole week, and the personal experience of spending so much time with a varied group of experts interested in the coupling of radio and internet, some general points can be made about the effect of the Wiretap 3.02 workshop.

We had thought critically about the question whether it would make sense to invite people from former Yugoslavia in particular for a workshop that was aimed at the practical and theoretical issues of a new medium. It seemed that the experience with the tactical media of radio and the internet made it specially interesting to work with individuals from xYu, although it seemed strange to reassert a 'Yugoslavian' idea when the country seems to have separated into several different states for good. It was good to see that there were no problems whatsoever between these people coming from countries that were partly almost still at war with each other. But it also proved that there is now very little, apart from the language and a shared history, that ties people from Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia together. They are, to some extend, Europeans like Austrian, Italians or the Dutch, working under their particular social, political, financial and artistic conditions. It did not make much sense to compare the situations, for instance, of Radio Student, Radio 101 and Radio B92, or even to assess their degrees of independence ('on a scale from 1 to 10'), when their respective circumstances are so different. Being too superficial as a descriptive tool, 'xYu' did not seem to work as a useful common denominator any more.

On a practical level, the workshop was a success, although it could have been improved further by more substantial research about the institutions we visited. That would, for instance, have had the effect that we would not have visited some of those places and would have spent more time actually working together in the studio. For a future workshop, it can be advised that the technical facilities should be better, and more suitable tothe workshop participants. Unfortunately, this was impossible under the given financial circumstances of this workshop.

The concept of bringing together a mixed group of people who have a variety of different kinds of experiences in the fields of radio and internet did work, although more time should have been given to the exchange of ideas and conceptions about the media on a theoretical level. This was partly realised in an implicit form in the co-operations during the workshop, but it would have been good if some conversations had gone on longer in order to tease out the specificities of the medium of net-radio, and the variety of its usage.

In any case it can be said that the Wiretap 3.02 Radio & Internet workshop was an important experiment in understanding the technology of net-radio, in exploring the tactical potential of the new medium, and in bringing together a varied, international group of people and instigating collaborations between them.

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