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THE WEB, ETC. | WEB SCOUT

Call it `MyTaste'

Bill Goldsmith's Radio Paradise plays only what he likes, and folks like what he plays.

December 24, 2006|Patrick Day | Special to The Times

RADIO PARADISE, the Internet radio station run by Bill and Rebecca Goldsmith from their home in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, could seem like a dinosaur -- a throwback to FM radio's golden days of the 1970s, when the playlists were controlled by a select few disc jockeys, not corporate flunkies, and the audience had no choice but to trust the DJ.

Yet the idea behind the station couldn't be more current: It's the logical extension of the filtering mania that drives the Web. After all, presenting the world through a unique set of eyes has proven quite lucrative for everything from politics (Drudge Report) to celebrity gossip (Perez Hilton). Why should music be any different? Bill Goldsmith, Radio Paradise's one and only DJ, is militantly against the idea, common in the Web community, that music should be controlled by the people. On his site he plays only what he wants to play. As he tells listeners, "It's not a democracy."

Starting at 7 a.m. most days, Bill Goldsmith is at work in his second-floor office/on-air studio, creating 24 hours' worth of the playlists for which he's become revered by his listeners. Though his voice appears occasionally between songs to provide small transitions, Radio Paradise (www.radioparadise.com) is mostly an uninterrupted stream of music reflecting Goldsmith's broad tastes. He doesn't shy away from the big hits or big artists, but he's as likely to play an unsigned obscurity as he is to pick something by rock gods such as Led Zeppelin or the Who. And he doesn't stop at rock -- jazz, reggae, classical, electronica, country and world music all find their way into the mix.

For many listeners, it's a game to figure out the themes between songs. On Dec. 8, for instance, Goldsmith paid tribute to John Lennon's death by intermixing his favorite Lennon songs with Beatles covers and songs about the death of loved ones, such as "Revelry" by the band Sea Ray. Sometimes it's just a kick to hear such disparate sounds interwoven, loud and soft, old and new. Several listeners point out the time he followed Bjork with Beethoven, then played AC/DC.

Goldsmith remembers FM's golden days well -- he started on the radio in 1971 and spent nearly 30 years playing songs at stations throughout California and Hawaii. As he watched corporations wreak havoc with the freedom radio once enjoyed, he conceived Radio Paradise as his ideal station -- one where he played only music he liked and without commercials cluttering up the mix. When he moved with his wife to Paradise, Calif., in 1999, he decided to act on his dream, launching the Internet-only station in February 2000.

While Bill Goldsmith creates the playlists and maintains the website, Rebecca handles the business affairs and sifts through the hundreds of songs submitted by listeners and record labels, passing on to Bill only the music she really likes (usually about 1%).

Taking control of the music out of the hands of the listeners in an age of ever-increasing interactivity, when people have come to expect everything on-demand, and to do it all without commercials, is not a business plan the typical Silicon Valley venture capitalist would jump at, but the Goldsmiths are not typical Web entrepreneurs. As Bill Goldsmith puts it, "We're not noncommercial, we're anti-commercial."

The couple is approached almost daily, they said, by companies interested in advertising on the site or on the air. They've turned down every offer. In their view, commercials ruin the listening experience and aren't that effective anyway.

As a society "we've gotten pretty numb to advertising," Rebecca Goldsmith says. "Most of it is insulting anyway."

Radio Paradise, however, is not a pirate radio station, and royalties must be paid. To keep the songs playing, the Goldsmiths have made the site 100% listener-supported, and listeners are invited to contribute however much they feel is appropriate to keep the operation going. Though money contributions are solicited on-air, listeners are never given a hard sell. It's like public radio without the intensive pledge drives. The Goldsmiths admit they probably won't ever get rich running the station, but it's a labor of love.

Due to additional royalty fees imposed on digital broadcasts under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, Radio Paradise must pay an estimated three or four times what a typical FM station pays to the recording industry, but, Bill Goldsmith says, "enough people enjoy the station that we can make a living."

Currently, that audience stands at around 10,000 registered users and 20,000 to 30,000 additional unregistered listeners in a given week, with between 12,000 and 15,000 listening at once during peak times. Listeners hail from places as disparate as South Africa and China. It's an audience that's grown steadily and has been achieved entirely through word of mouth. The Goldsmiths do not pay for advertising.

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