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New Web radio technology aims for masses

Nullsoft, which created WinAMP and MacAMP, hopes its new technology will stir up a grassroots tidal wave of independent Web broadcasters.

Now anyone can be a Web DJ.

At least according to Nullsoft, which says its newly released SHOUTcast product enables anyone with Web access to do just that.

The company that created WinAMP and MacAMP--software that can play MP3 compressed audio files--hopes that SHOUTcast will stir up a grassroots tidal wave of independent Web broadcasters.

The software allows anyone using a WinAMP audio player to create his or her own Web radio station--without high bandwidth requirements. SHOUTcast allows its users to broadcast lower-quality MP3 sound files to other WinAMP users, and to broadcast their programs through Nullsoft-hosted servers. In addition, anyone with a WinAMP player can listen to any other SHOUTcast stations.

"It makes it easy for the masses to broadcast stuff," said Justin Frankel, the 20-year-old creator of SHOUTcast and president of Nullsoft.

A University of Utah drop-out, Frankel also created WinAMP--at the age of 18--along with friend and Nullsoft colleague Tom Pepper. WinAMP since has become the audio player of choice used by Netizens to download and listen to MP3 audio files.

MP3 is an audio compression format that--along with the businesses that distribute or play back MP3 files--has been at the center of a heated battle with the recording industry. MP3 proponents claim the technology opens doors to new music distribution channels, free from the recording industry's leash. The recording industry, on the other hand, sees MP3 as fostering music piracy and the violation of copyright laws.

SHOUTcast technology could run into problems of its own with the recording industry, as well as with the American Society for Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP), since it potentially can skirt licensing requirements in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The Act mandates that Webcasters must pay a statutory license fee to record companies in addition to regular licensing fees to groups such as ASCAP.

But Michael Robertson, chief executive of the audio download site, pointed out that all great technologies were feared when first introduced into the market.

"I think that the potential of the technology far outweighs the negative aspects. It's the horribly interesting question that organizations like ASCAP will have to answer," he said. "Technology is moving faster than licensing."

ASCAP was unavailable for comment.

The potential for mass usage of SHOUTcast certainly exists. WinAMP receives 60,000 downloads from Nullsoft per day, and thousands more from other links around the Web. As of four months ago, Nullsoft estimated that some 5 million WinAMP downloads had taken place since the technology was released.

"We have an enormous installed base that will use [SHOUTcast]," said Frankel, arguing that the creation of SHOUTcast was just a logical step toward increasing the use of WinAMP.

But there also were personal reasons for developing the product, he said.

"The real reason why I did it is because they don't have Loveline here," Frankel said, referring to the popular radio talk show. The show apparently is not broadcast in Phoenix, Arizona, where Frankel resides.