Act Locally, Dance Globally

In gratitude Marina did some promotional spots for WIDR. Patt acknowledges, "We really pushed her. And I can't say that I did it all, but she recently got into the Billboard Top 50. I like to think I was one of the key players."

Patt, age 35, has been a speaker at the Winter Music Conference, perhaps the world's largest dance-music conference, for the past three years. He's actually a rather unlikely candidate for an Internet music pioneer, given his history. In 1989, he began volunteering for a Broward-based AIDS group called Center One but felt he could put together a more productive organization. He did so and titled it AIDS, Inc. Its mission was unique: All profits were distributed evenly among other local AIDS groups. In 1992 Patt planned a gala event in Fort Lauderdale called the Pink Ball and spent thousands of dollars on musical guests, hotel rooms, and plane fares. Unfortunately the night of the event happened to coincide with the onslaught of Hurricane Andrew. The Pink Ball became, quite literally, a disaster. Suddenly Patt found himself owing some $10,000 to various booking agents and artists.

"I told everyone, 'It will take me years to pay you back, but I will pay you.'" Patt regularly sent checks as small as $5 or $10 to his creditors until one booking agent called him with an idea. The agent suggested that Patt do some booking work around South Florida that would garner a decent commission and help pay his debts. Patt was in no position to decline. By the mid '90s, he had become well-known as a booking agent on the local music scene. Around the same time, he began looking at computers and the Internet as a way to promote the artists he worked with. The site that is now WIDR was originally intended to promote one of Patt's products: a floppy-disc "business card" that contained sound files, publicity photos, and press kits for musicians.

"I just wanted to get the pages busier," says Patt, explaining how he came up with the idea for WIDR. "I never wanted to be a DJ, I just didn't have no money to pay nobody! So I figured I'd fill in. Now, two years later, I'm still doing it, and I don't want to give it up."

Though Patt may not have been the first Internet radio operator, he certainly got in on the ground floor. Today the Internet is rife with music sites such as The Box, SonicNet, Beta Lounge, and Miami's own, the Womb.

Zeoli, of Netmix, points out, "You can surf the Web to your heart's content and find every single genre known to man, rather than the limited bandwidth that radio offers in your local market. You only have a certain number of stations that can occupy that bandwidth. You want to listen to radio that the corporate companies have bought up and programmed so you have to hear Madonna fifteen times a day? Or are you going to go to work and punch up WIDR or Netmix while you're on the computer?"

It sounds attractive, but advertisers remain unconvinced. Kamen, whose MRK Records benefited greatly from the Internet, thinks that will change. "I could never have hoped to hit as many people as we have in such a short amount of time in any other way," he insists. "I could say, 'Well, we sold 5000 records over the Internet,' but the fact of the matter is that 25,000 people have seen what we're doing in the last month. And for buzz -- as they say in the industry -- you can't beat that. The cost per impression is virtually nothing."

If Internet radio ever replaces traditional radio, it won't be for some time. Internet radio can't be switched on in the car or taken to the beach (unless you have a laptop with a modem), and it lacks the "live" element of traditional radio. It costs almost nothing to maintain, however, and it reaches a global audience. Listeners don't have to wait for their favorite song or sit through a song they hate: They can fast-forward and rewind through the programs. In a society that spends more and more time sitting in front of computers, Websites such as WIDR might well be the radio stations of the future.

Patt certainly hopes so. "And now it brings me to that time of the day," he recently told his listeners, wrapping up a day of programming, "and you know what it is. It's time for the last track at WIDR. As always, we want to thank you for tuning in and allowing us to be part of your computer day.

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