Podcasting is the buzzed-about technology that allows listeners to download audio programming and play it at their convenience but just try making money off it.

For commercial radio stations, the technology poses numerous challenges, such as whether it can deliver copyrighted music and syndicated programs as well as how it can generate revenues.

"I'm a great believer in possibilities," said Ruth Seymour, general manager of public radio station KCRW-FM (89.9), which offered its first program for podcasting last week. "It takes the station another step. It makes the programs more available. At the end of the day, it's all radio. You can listen to it in a lot of different ways."

KCRW's offerings, which include talk shows like "Which Way, L.A.," are among the limited programming formats that work effectively in a podcast.
The timeliness of news programming, for instance, makes it impractical for podcasting, while music is subject to royalties and runs the risk of being pirated. Making syndicated talk shows available could undercut the efforts of stations that pay for the right to air them.

Podcasting started out as a grass-roots outgrowth of the iPod revolution. It allows anyone with the right equipment to produce programming that can be placed on the Web and then downloaded on computers or mobile devices. As seen with other Web creations, such as Blogs (or Web Logs), the content, quality and audience reach range wildly.

There are now more than 3,000 podcasting outlets, according to the Web site ipodder.org, which provides downloads of podcasting software. But many of the outlets are hobbyists who produce homemade audio of ambient dance music, sports commentary and even their own weddings. There are no statistics on how many radio stations provide podcasts, although KCRW and L.A.'s other public radio station, KPCC-FM (89.3), are believed to be the only two local outlets.

While KCRW has made much of its offering, KPCC isn't touting its podcast of a program called "Pacific Drift," which spotlights creative artists in the Los Angeles area and includes documentaries about life in the region. Station spokeswoman Kiyomi Emi did not know how many listeners have downloaded the podcasts, which became available in January.

Emi said KPCC, which broadcasts from Pasadena, plans to podcast other programs soon. The station has done relatively little to publicize the Pacific Drift podcasts, preferring to wait until it has a complete package of programming, Emi said.

* The full version of this story is available in the March 7 edition of the Los Angeles Business Journal.

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