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Wednesday, December 13

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Interview Thu Nov 29 2012

CHIRP Updates Its Cure for the Loneliness of Internet Radio

CHIRPradio.org
Since its founding in 2007, The Chicago Independent Radio Project (or CHIRP) has offered a locally-curated and volunteer-based radio alternative to the otherwise mostly commercial stations that play music over the city's radio waves. But don't try looking for it on your car radio.

Current regulations under the Federal Communications Commission have prevented CHIRP from obtaining an official broadcast license, so the "station" has instead relied on Internet streaming as a way to bring independent-minded music and arts content to Chicago listeners. So it's no minor announcement when an entirely Internet-based radio station unveils a complete reworking of its website.

Tonight, CHIRP celebrates the official launch of its new and improved website with a party at Lincoln Hall featuring live music from four of the station's favorite local bands. Over a year in the making, the website brings together previously separate CHIRP-related sites under one confusion-free URL. But most importantly, the site features a brand new user-friendly interface geared towards maintaining an online community around CHIRP's programming.

I spoke with CHIRP founder and general manager Shawn Campbell about the need for this new website, as well as some more potentially big news on the horizon for the web-only radio station.

Why throw a party for the new website? Why is this a big deal for CHIRP?

First of all, we're a web-based station, so what you see and what you have to work with is as important as what we're putting out there on the air. And so we have had this in the works for a long time, and we've been talking about it for a long time. So once it was ready to go, we wanted to celebrate, and also just make people aware of the fact that the site was up because we have been talking about it and have been anticipating it for quite a while.

So what all is in the new website?

There are a number of features that people have been asking for for a long time. It's a lot more interactive than the previous site. You'll be able to search playlists that go back about six months. You'll be able to look up specific DJs, and if you know there's a DJ you like, you can search through their past playlists. You'll be able to "favorite" songs, so when you hear a song and you really like it and you're like, "Oh, I want to remember that, I might want to buy it later, or I just want to listen to it again, or I might want to request it." You actually have the name of that song and the artist in your account so you can go back and look at it, or you can click on a link and actually buy it from a local record store or an online store like iTunes or eMusic. That's a whole new part of the site in general, in fact, is that you can create an account and use your account for different things. You can store favorited songs in there, you can post to the forums, you can store your information if you shop in our store a lot. Right now, it's just a level of personalization that we offer that we didn't offer before.

What all went into informing the design of this new site?

One of our volunteers, Mike Gibson, is our web designer. He designed the first site, and from almost the beginning, he had new ideas he wanted to incorporate. And he started talking about building a new site. And just as he has kind of furthered his work and has learned about new tools, he has talked about utilizing those things for CHIRP. This was an opportunity for us to get some feedback from listeners and from volunteers, but we also had in Mike a really great resource and somebody who was really on top of the latest developments in web design and has really always had an eye for how to improve the site for CHIRP.

How else do you expect it to improve not only the CHIRP listening experience but also what CHIRP offers as a web-based radio station?

Just in one really simple way, the new website is built with responsive design, so it makes it a lot easier to use the site no matter what kind of device you're using. So whether you're using the site on your phone, or on your laptop, or on your great big desktop monitor, it expands or contracts and is still really usable. But in general, I like the fact that there is a lot more interactivity. We really hope that the forums will become a place that people really take advantage of to discuss what's going on in the musical world and what's going on in Chicago, and that it becomes kind of a virtual gathering place for people to talk and continue to offer suggestions of how we can improve. We wanted to just make it easier for people to listen, that's something we always are doing.

Does part of it also come from a need to keep up with the rapidly growing medium of Internet radio? A few years ago, it seemed like one of the few options for streaming was just the Radio section in iTunes. But now more and more people seem to be concentrating on streaming, especially given services like Pandora and Spotify.

I think that we've always been ahead of the curve on that, honestly. We don't think of ourselves specifically as an Internet radio station. We think of ourselves more as a radio station that happens to be online. We're very different from Pandora and Spotify and these services that call themselves "radio." They're really not radio, because there is no personality involved, there's no curation involved. Those services will never really lead you to something that's really completely unexpected. Those are the things that we see as our strengths, that personal connection in terms of listening to somebody, a real person. We always say that your iPod or Pandora will never make you feel slightly less alone in the world. But we definitely have always wanted to have a site that was really user friendly, that looked great, and that made sense to people and made it easy for them not just to listen but also to do everything else they want to do to interact with the service.

Looking ahead, what's next for CHIRP?

The big thing is that the (Federal Communications Commission) is meeting this Friday and at the meeting, they are expected to announce their rules for a lower-power FM application window in 2013. By all accounts, and from everything that we're hearing from our national partners, we believe that they are announcing rules that are liberally written, which means that applicants in big cities will be able to have a route to apply. So we think that we are going to be able to apply for a broadcast licence sometime in 2013.

That's something CHIRP has been advocating for a while.

That's something that we've worked on since the organization was founded in 2007. And it's actually something that's been in the works at the federal level for 12 years.
What we expect is that they're going to announce the date of the window, and they're going to announce the rules for the application. So the whole idea is that you start working with an engineer to prepare your application as soon as they announce the rules. And then there will be this five-day period where you actually submit your application. And of course, after that, the FCC has to evaluate all the applications. So it's not like you submit your application and the next day you get a license. It's still a fairly long process. But it's the first step on the path to getting it done. We weren't sure how the FCC was going to come down on this. And obviously, we still aren't 100 percent sure because the meeting is on Friday. But everything we're hearing out of Washington indicates that they are going to have an opportunity for big city applicants.

So what would be the big benefit of this for CHIRP?

We would have a broadcast license. So the biggest thing is that people would be able to listen to us easily in their cars. That's the number one thing that we hear from our listeners, is that, 'You know, I love you guys, but I wish I could listen to you more easily when I'm driving.'

Is there anything you'd like to add?

It's actually not just CHIRPradio.org that we're launching (tonight). We actually have a network of sites. It's a new Record Fair site, which is recordfair.chirp.org, and we also have a site that we use for our volunteers. We've got such a large volunteer group, we've got 160 plus volunteers. So we've got volunteers.chirpradio.org, which mostly will be for internal use but it's also an opportunity for anyone who's interested in volunteering to go ahead and begin the process of volunteering. So it's actually not one site that we're launching at this point, it's three.

~*~

CHIRP Radio's website launch party starts at 8pm tonight at Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln Ave. Chicago bands Outer Minds, Summer Girlfriends, Heavy Times and Sidecar Static perform. Tickets are $12 at the door.

 
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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

Read this feature »

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