Current Online    

Portion of PRX home page shows options for user: previewing a program, rating it, buying it
An elaborate, Amazon-style interface, above, helps programmers preview and buy offerings on the Public Radio Exchange.

PRX: online audio market begins beta test this month

Originally published in Current, May 12, 2003
By Mike Janssen

Creators of Public Radio Exchange (PRX) 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 stations.

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 Arts.

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 says.

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 Exchange 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

Home Current's home page
Earlier story Earlier story: NPR plans a similar program distribution hub, the Content Depot.
Outside link Outside link: Public Radio Exchange



Web page posted May 21, 2003
The newspaper about public television and radio
in the United States
A service of Current Publishing Committee, Takoma Park, Md.
Copyright 2003