A revolution is underway, and its foot soldiers wear Birkenstocks.
"A lot of bands I like, I don't know how to put it, but you can feel it -- they're genuine people, genuine musicians," says Mark Mayhall. "I try to give them a format."
Mayhall has dedicated the better part of the past year to researching, cataloguing and playing obscure music on Ear Candy for the Mind, the online radio station he launched in early 2004. Despite the long hours, nonexistent pay and a small but growing listener base, Mayhall is still high on the possibilities of this new medium, in which a graphic designer from Anderson Township can go head to head with the titans of commercial radio.
'The way they should'
Mayhall cuts an unlikely figure for a media revolutionary. Between his perpetually laid back demeanor and close cropped beard that's showing hints of gray, it would be easy to pigeonhole him as another cleaned-up Deadhead slowly easing his way into the adult world. Sure, he's the kind of guy everyone likes to hang out with, but not the type to stop people dead in their tracks.
Then you see the collection.
It's about the size of an upturned king-size mattress, and it dominates Mayhall's home office. Row after row of hand-labeled jewel cases squeeze like sardines into the giant CD rack, and 100 more sit by the opposing wall, waiting to be catalogued.
While the collection is impressive by itself, the fact that Mayhall personally recorded most of the CDs at live concerts adds significantly to the wow factor.
His penchant for music began at age 3, fed by a steady supply of LPs from his mother. Soon he moved on to live shows, seeing hundreds of acts at venues all over Cincinnati. The Grateful Dead show at Riverbend in 1985 pulled him into the world of taping and sharing live performances. He collected nearly 1,000 cassettes by the early '90s, often spending $100 each month on postage in his quest for new music.
The advent of digital recording and file sharing helped expand his collection to its monstrous proportions, and he shows no sign of slowing his self-described obsessive archiving of live music from across the globe.
The progression from collector to broadcaster was natural, according to Mayhall.
"I always wanted to have my own radio station, somewhere to turn people on to music they would probably never hear otherwise," he says.
He quickly ruled out building a low power FM station.
"You'd probably only hear it up in Beechmont," he says. "I'd have bought $10,000 in equipment to be broadcasting to an area of around 2 miles, on a band that nobody else is using, so nobody'd ever find it anyway."
Mayhall found a solution in early 2004, through fellow Cincinnatian Ed Goodman: Live 365, an online hosting service that provides streaming broadcasts for as little as $10 a month.
"Live 365 are the only ones doing it the way they should be, where the bands are getting the royalties," Mayhall says.
Online broadcasters like Mayhall pay anywhere from $10 to $1,000 each month for various amounts of airtime, covering royalties with the fee and virtually eliminating problems with illegal file sharing. Bands have an online medium that can track and pay for the rights their songs are earning, and anyone with decent computer skills and a love of music can broadcast worldwide.
'That's my channel'
With a few clicks of the mouse, Mayhall transfers a song from his iPod to his massive database of online music; it's currently up to 8 gigabytes. In less than five minutes, he's changed the day's set to include a dark, brooding number by a Finnish trance band.
The music rotates autonomously during the day, with Mayhall going live from his home office whenever he finds the time.
"That's my channel," he says. "It's eclectic because I've lived through it all."
"Eclectic" might not go far enough to describe the variety on Ear Candy for the Mind. There is no typical set. One evening might be all Bluegrass, and the next might find Mayhall returning to his Jam band roots. Everything from The Beatles to Miles Davis to local acts like da Lemmings Onsombol and The Sloes gets equal airtime.
"Sometimes that messes with people," Mayhall chuckles as the streaming audio in the background abruptly switches from thumping Trance to Jazz.
But that's the beauty of Ear Candy for the Mind and what it represents for the future of music broadcasting. Listeners are no longer stuck with the stale carousel of 40 tired Pop songs repeated ad nauseam on a few big channels. Mayhall's station is one of nearly 10,000 hosted at www.live365.com.
While the top stations barely deviate from mainstream radio's formula -- the No. 1 station is Rock USA; the name speaks for itself -- truly independent stations like Ear Candy for the Mind can reach the same audience with the same broadcast quality. A new generation of Web-specific radios will soon make these stations available anyplace within range of a wireless Internet hub.
"Once they figure out how to do that on an iPod, it's all over," Mayhall says.
Ear Candy for the Mind has yet to rank higher than 1,100 on Live 365's rankings, but it's out there and growing, as shown by an e-mail that Mayhall opens. A new listener enthusiastically describes the artist search that led him to the station. It ends with, "Thanks for expanding my musical experiences."
Mayhall leans back in his chair and smiles.
"Cool stuff like that is the reason I do this," he says. ©