Online audio market Public Radio Exchange begins beta test this month

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Creators of the Public Radio Exchange plan to launch their service
this fall, opening a new channel for independent producers to sell work
to stations.

PRX operates somewhat like an of the indie world. A subscribing
station gets an account and uses a web-based interface to browse and
search for pieces uploaded by producers. They can consult background
information provided by producers and reviews written by other users.

Independent producer Jay Allison hatched the PRX idea in late 2001,
hoping to ease indies’ ordeal of getting their work aired. Only
a fraction of the vast indie output ever lands on programs such as NPR
newsmags or This American Life, leaving producers to sell the
rest door to door. Allison, who also developed, an interactive
audio digest and support group for producers, wanted to blaze a path
circumventing national gatekeepers while creating a one-stop shop for

Allison’s Atlantic Public Media partnered with the Station Resource
Group to develop PRX. Based in Cambridge, Mass., it aims to start beta-testing
May 30, with full-fledged operations beginning in September. Funding
came from CPB, the Ford Foundation and the National Endowment for the

PRX could break ground on several fronts. It could lend new assistance
to programmers navigating a vast array of indie material. It also provides
a central payment and billing shop for the two camps.

Subscribing stations will pay a flat fee for a set amount of programming—say,
120 hours a year. PRX will dole out a corresponding number of points
to stations, with each point worth a minute of programming. Stations
exchange points for producers’ work, and PRX pays the producers
out of a central pool of funds according to the points they accumulate.

Grants and user fees also go into the pool of funds. Stations will
pay a base subscription fee on top of their points charges, and producers
will pay PRX to store audio files on its servers. That charge will probably
be under $100, says Jake Shapiro, PRX’s executive director.

Producers may earn little at first, Shapiro says. But he doesn’t
expect PRX to become a lifeline for them. Most will probably include
programs already taken by other outlets. “It’s not like
the PRX is an acquirer actually purchasing work and then reselling it
at some production cost,” he says.

Money isn’t the point for independent producer Barrett Golding.
What does matter is access to stations, particularly non-NPR stations
that do not subscribe to the Public Radio Satellite System. “That’s
worth more money to me, because I can then go get funding,” he

Producers will be encouraged to upload works in MP2 or MP3 formats.
MP2 offers higher sound quality, but producers may be less familiar
with encoding files in that format, Shapiro says. Some stations are
comfortable airing MP3s. For customers not yet encoding or playing digital
files, Shapiro says PRX may encode files for producers who submit CDs,
and conversely burn discs for stations that request them.

Earlier story
Allison’s content depot: a Napster for stations

Originally published
in Current, Oct. 22, 2001
By Mike Janssen

After 25 years in public radio, independent producer Jay Allison
can still sympathize with young producers who are switching on
their mikes for the first time. Apprentice producers have to get
their stories on national programs if they want to be heard, and
so do longtime indies like Allison.

That means some stories, regardless of quality, get squeezed
out — maybe due to length or subject, for example. “It
seems to me a miserable state,” Allison says. “If it
isn’t about travel, or money, or the arts — or if Ira Glass
doesn’t like it — it can’t exist in public radio? There
are a lot of people out there making interesting kinds of work
that there’s no home for.”

Allison is planning a project to give both independent and station-based
producers a better shot at catching someone’s ear.

A step beyond his website,,
which showcases indie work, the new Radio
will allow producers and stations to dodge the gatekeepers
posted at national shows and deliver pieces directly to stations.
In the process, it could empower more producers and even bring
a wealth of new voices to audiences.

Think of the Exchange as a Napster for public radio: a central
database of pieces uploaded in MP3 format by producers. Programmers
will be able to browse an online catalog of the audio files and
hand-pick whatever looks appealing. The set-up is similar to the
“content depot” that NPR leaders are considering as
a future replacement for their satellite system.

Reviews and recommendations, à la’s “If
you like this, you’ll love this” pointers, could help guide
programmers to noteworthy material. “A rave review from a
trusted colleague saves a lot of time,” Allison says.

But even a bustling Radio Exchange would be useless if the pieces
had nowhere to air on stations. That’s why Allison is encouraging
programmers to clear niches in their schedules for a wide-ranging
mix of stories from independents, stations and networks.

He’s testing the concept on WCAI and WNAN, the Cape Cod-area
stations he founded last year. Sunday nights, he hosts Arts
and Ideas,
a four-hour collection of pieces of odd lengths,
single programs and limited-run series that don’t fit neatly anywhere
else in the station’s schedule.

A recent show included an hour about the Sept. 11 terrorist
attacks. Two pieces, an essay by a Martha’s Vineyard naturalist
and a poem by a New Bedford fisherman, were local. Allison also
threw in an interview with Studs Terkel, produced at WBEZ in Chicago.
The program was completed with Alternative Radio, an
hour of the John Coltrane documentary Tell Me How Long Trane’s
Been Gone,
and an American RadioWorks report on food and
the global economy.

The show has become popular with listeners, Allison says, and
other stations, including WBEZ, WNYC and WKSU in Kent, Ohio, are
considering something similar. Though the interest of major-market
stations is a boost to his idea, Allison also wants the Exchange
to draw in smaller stations–even college, community and low-power
FM outfits.
In upcoming months, Allison and the Station Resource Group, his
partner in the project, will tap colleagues for advice and study
the legal and technical issues the Radio Exchange would involve.
They applied to the National Endowment for the Arts for start-up
funds, and a proposal is online at

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