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Vol 57 No. 4 | Feb. 2005
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Robin Cox
Cox Recognized with Deems Taylor Internet Award

Radio today can seem more homogenized than a mountain of Monterey Jack but CSULB's Robin Cox did something about it.

Cox founded Iridian Radio (www.iridianradio.com) and was recognized for it recently when the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP)  presented him with a Deems Taylor Internet Award, which commends him for his commitment to new music.

When Cox talks about new music, you can forget Britney Spears. Iridian Radio broadcasts 110 compositions -- in 11-hour bursts 24 hours a day Monday through Friday -- of the best classical music composed in the last 20 years. Outkast takes a back seat to such names as John Adams, Tom Waits, Tan Dun, Terry Riley, Philip Glass, Laurie Anderson and Frank Zappa.

"I specifically established a station that filled what I considered a surprising void," said Cox, who divides his time between Santa Barbara and Long Beach, where he joined the Music Department in 1997. "There may be thousands of streaming Internet music sources but I was surprised to discover an awfully large percentage that duplicated the programming one gets over the traditional airwaves. Yes, there are niche markets and stations to fill them, but I was surprised by the lack of under-the-radar music."

The response was immediate. "The audience has grown a lot in the last six months," he said. "To compare, my group, the Robin Cox Ensemble, would have to play for 100 people every day for a year to get the equivalent exposure our music gets worldwide on Iridian Radio." The ensemble has half a dozen compositions among the classical fare. "It makes one very self-conscious when one places one's own work between two others you consider as your desert island discs," he laughs.

Cox's primary audience is headphone-wearing, cubicle-dwelling office workers on both coasts. "People who work in cubicles tend to have high-speed Internet connections," said Cox, a composer and violinist who holds degrees from the University of Texas, the University of Michigan and the University of Miami. "The numbers are especially strong in the late morning and early afternoon." He averages 1,800 hours of listening per month with the average music lover tuning in for 45 minutes. Two thirds of the audience is American listening everywhere from New York to Omaha. He also has logged in listeners from more than 40 countries including China, South Korea and Iran.

He thinks his audience is less of an in crowd that already knows the music and more of listeners just discovering the material. "Most of our listeners wouldn't have known about this music other than through this station," he explained. "I hear less about finding composers they love than I do about discovering composers they've never known. The difficulty is not technology. Anyone with an unusual record collection could create a station like this. The difficulty is how to stay within the artistic format. That is what draws people and keeps them coming back."

The biggest audience booster he has comes from web logs. "I know when there has been a prominent blog posting because there is a spike in the station's numbers," he said. "There's an immediacy to blogs you don't get with newspapers. The biggest story in the L.A. Times didn't affect the listenership as much as a blog posting."

Cox first considered founding his own Internet station five years ago when he read about Live365.com, which allows individuals to become independent webcasters by paying a monthly fee to the service, which covers all royalties and service fees.

"This is the age of the nanocaster," Cox said. "The technology is there but I don't think people understand that for around $40 a month, they can post a station that can reach worldwide. When you've got that kind of reach, it doesn't take much to make that station viable."

Two criteria rule his play list. One, does he like it; and two, how will it sound streamed over the Internet? Extremely subtle music or music with a wide dynamic range doesn't hold up well, he believes. "When I first heard about Internet music, I dismissed it as a novelty, not ready for prime time. Even with a high-speed Internet connection, the quality wasn't good enough to last beyond a short listening experience," he said. "But now that more than 50 percent of American households (and a higher percentage of businesses) have high-speed Internet access, what once was a novelty with poor sound quality has become a mature medium that can be broadly disseminated."

Even though it takes a while to listen to 110 compositions over 11 hours, he changes about 20 percent of his play list a month. "There's no marketing testing for a station like this," he said. "You go by personal taste."

There are still glitches that tend to warp the Internet listening experience and Cox is sure his listenership would double if obstacles like pop-up ad blockers didn't thwart some potential listeners.

"There is still a long way to go before stations like mine are the equivalent of plug and play," he said. "When broad access wireless finally happens, when you can access this music without having to plug into a wall, that is when it will hit a new level of potential accessibility."

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