Well Said: WXYC and the first internet simulcast

Host:That’s a radio station in Basel, Switzerland, talking in 1994 about the first radio station in the world to rebroadcast its signal online. They’re talking about WXYC, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s student radio station.

Today, we stream nearly everything online —  TV shows, movies, music. But something that seems so normal now was once just an idea in the head of a WXYC student DJ.

Michael Shoffner:I just went by Mike S. I’m not really super creative. Somebody started calling me that, so I just stayed with that.

Host:Welcome to Well Said, Carolina’s official storytelling podcast. Mike S is Michael Shoffner. Today, he’s a software architect at RENCI, the Renaissance Computing Institute at Carolina. He’s also an adjunct professor in the UNC School of Information and Library Science. Twenty-five years ago, he was a DJ at WXYC, and was working with Paul Jones in the School of Information and Library Science on an early-internet project. On this episode, Michael and Paul tell the story of how they made history a quarter-century ago.

Clinical professor Paul Jones has been at Carolina for 42 years. In 1994, he was doing what he does now — leading ibilio.org. It was known as Sunsite.UNC.edu back then. Paul calls that project a “collection of collections” on the internet. The site’s an online public library with freely available software and information, but in 1994, ibiblio and the internet looked very different.

Paul Jones:The coming of the World Wide Web set a different expectation about how the Internet would be used. Internet was mostly about file sharing whether those files were email whether they were software or whether they were audio. The earliest attempt to do some kind of radio was done by Carl Malamud in something called Internet Talk Radio. Carl would interview people in a show called Geek of the Week. Every week he would call up someone who was making the Internet happen.

Host:Those interviews were really low-quality audio files, and they were sent in a link by email with instructions on how to access them online only. The second attempt at online radio was the Mbone, short for multicast backbone, but it required complicated networking tunnels to be set-up, so it was really only for special purposes, not for everyday use. Then came the idea of video conferencing.

Jones:Conferencing was mostly done with some heavy lifting on the network side, but there was a lightweight kind of client-based program that could run on a PC or a Mac from Cornell called CU-SeeMe, CU standing for Cornell University, and you could have eight or ten people with little boxes of video if they didn’t move a lot. If they moved a lot, they looked like they were cubic, or they looked like they were slow-motion underwater. We called them jello vision and Picasso vision. It’s the two ways that video could break.

Host: But audio was much easier to compress than video, meaning it could be streamed without impacting the network so much that it became distorted, so they started using CU-SeeMe for audio instead. In comes Michael, the WXYC DJ who worked on ibiblio.

Jones:And we were kind of playing around with it and Michael Shoffner came in and said, “Why don’t we just like, play the radio,” because we were conferencing with somebody and the radio was in the background. He went, “If you got rid of that person, this would really sound good. We could broadcast radio everywhere.”

Host:With one simple question, ibiblio and WXYC stepped into uncharted territory. Michael, Paul and ibiblio’s director of multimedia research David McConville envisioned something called simulcasting: to stream the same thing in two different places. This wasn’t uncommon for radio stations to pull off in the ‘90s. Only this was an internet simulcast, something no one had done before. But there were two barriers — one technical, one legal. So, while David was adjusting CU-SeeMe’s code, someone else was trying to figure out if the whole thing was even legal.

Shoffner:Meanwhile I’m sitting there going, “If we thought of this somebody else is working on it.” In my mind, the clock is ticking, and I’m just pacing around like this, ‘Come on, guys,’ like the countdown timer in some movie or something. Tick tick tick. Those threads went along for a bit. The SunSITE folks got CU-SeeMe to work. A little after that, we got a f green light from the legal side. Well, you never know for sure, but we were really pretty certain that we were not going to run afoul of the FCC or any other rights agencies.

Host:So, after Paul and the ibiblio team recoded CU-SeeMe, it was time to make the dream a reality. Remember, though. This was in 1994, so the set-up wasn’t glamorous.

Shoffner:From the control room at the radio station to CU-SeeMe was not through ethernet or some network because there was no network here like that. What we did was I borrowed my younger sister’s little boombox that was, you know, just kind of a junker boombox she had. So, I took that thing and we set that up down at SunSite. I bought an adapter to put into David’s Mac, his workstation he worked at every day, so he plugged that adapter in there and then the boombox went to the adapter, and that was where the signal came from. Now, of course years later they replaced that feed with a real feed off the control room board and whatnot, but it was really a shoestring operation.

Host:A shoestring operation, but it made history. Nov. 7, 1994, the first radio broadcast ever streamed to the internet in the world .

Shoffner:It couldn’t have been much of a smaller I don’t want to say splash exactly, but it was just …

Host:He says this event went under the radar. If something this revolutionary were to happen today, the splash would be much bigger. But people didn’t really understand the internet back then the way they do now, so even when he did explain it to people, they didn’t really get it. Twenty-five years later, he’s not surprised that their once crazy idea is the new normal.

Shoffner:I think that it was a milestone for internet culture and just sort of media and radio and whatnot combined. It at least showed that we could do this sort of thing, that it was possible to do it. And I think that that opened up a lot of possibilities for people for media distribution especially. Now of course all music’s distributed via big services, streaming services or digitally in some way. It was a harbinger of this thing in a good way. I think it was I just think it was kind of a milestone for that.

Host:And Paul says it was a big milestone, but he didn’t really expect the idea to impact the music business the way it has.

Jones:One of the things that new technologies do sometimes is they knock the middle out, so it enabled a lot of amateurs to do a lot of work, which is kind of cool. More regional bands can be found on Spotify or Reverbnation than they ever could have hoped to have been found earlier. And very sophisticated people can also make a lot of money, so people can kind of eke by or just get some little bit, but the middle is a really hard space to play. The internet has helped somehow like if you are a zydeco band, for example, in Wisconsin, you can create an audience in Montana through this which you never would have been able to do in the radio days, or even in record distribution days.

Host:Today, you stream lots of things. Movies, TV shows, music. You’re probably streaming this podcast right now. You can thank Paul and Michael and WXYC and ibiblio for helping make that possible.

Want to learn more about ibiblio, the public’s library and digital archive? You can do that at its website, ibiblio.org. You can also learn more about the Renaissance Computing Institute where Michael works now at its website, RENCI.org.

Do you have an idea for an upcoming episode of Well Said? Please tell us. Tweet us at UNC or email us at WellSaid@UNC.edu. You can find Well Said wherever you get podcasts, so we hope you’ll subscribe and leave us a review. Thank you for listening to this episode of Well Said. See you next week.

Well Said: Learning and teaching investigative reporting

Nikole Hannah-Jones:I feel like my whole career and, in some ways, my whole life has been geared toward this moment. I’ve been obsessed with the year 1619 since I was in high school.

Host:That’s Nikole Hannah-Jones. She’s a 2003 master’s graduate of the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media. Today, she’s a staff writer at the New York Times Magazine where she launched the 1619 Project, which examines the 400th anniversary of the first African slaves who arrived in an English-speaking colony in the Americas.

Hannah-Jones:Now, I found myself as the anniversary was approaching being at the New York Times and really understanding the power of that form to assess the legacy of slavery. I decided probably in December that I was going to pitch the project. I pitched it, and immediately Jake Silverstein, the editor and chief at the magazine, felt the passion and believed in it and said yes.

Host:Welcome to Well Said, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s official storytelling podcast. On today’s episode, Nikole will explain how Carolina helped prepare her for a career in investigative journalism and why she’s returning to Carolina to train more journalists of color.

Nikole’s 1619 Project debuted on August 14. It’s an interactive publication featuring essays, poems, short fiction, a photo essay and a multi-episode audio series aimed at re-examining the legacy of slavery in the United States.

Hannah-Jones:What the project is trying to argue is that the institution of slavery and the legacy of that slavery is one of the foundational elements of modern America. It’s a history and a legacy that’s been largely marginalized, and because of that we can’t really understand who we are. We can’t understand why things are like they are in the country until we actually grapple with the fact that slavery is at our foundations. Slavery and the anti-black racism that developed to support slavery is in almost every American institution. It’s in our culture. It’s in our politics. We really hoped that this would be an opportunity to really grapple with that legacy and hopefully give us a road map to do something different. I believe strongly in the power of truth. I don’t think that you can fix anything if you’re not honest about what the causes are. Having a project that tries to really tell — as we say in the words of John Hope Franklin — the unvarnished truth about our country means that that’s what can allow you to finally move forward, but as long as you’re in denial about what has actually caused the problems, how can you possibly fix them? So, we hope that the impact is really allowing us to confront who we are and then in that confrontation make a different decision. In that confrontation with history, it allows us to have the types of conversations that we should be having, but more importantly, I hope that it will allow us to move past conversations to actually allow us to do something to address the harm.

Host:Nikole led a tremendous amount of research, investigation and fact-checking for this project. Many of those skills she learned at Carolina, where she earned her master’s degree in journalism.

Hannah-Jones:I was a history and African American studies major, who wanted to be a journalist but didn’t know a lot of the basic tenets of journalism. I didn’t know AP style, interviewing and all of these types of skills. We sometimes forget that journalism is actually a trade, and you have to learn the skills of your trade. This place gave me the foundation in a short period of time that I needed to actually transition from a way of writing about history and not being a professional journalist into being able to graduate and becoming a professional journalist. I don’t think I would’ve gotten as far in my career without that really strong foundation, but it also was giving you the more analytical aspects of journalism, teaching you about media law, teaching you about beautiful writing, and that was really important to me as well because, ultimately, I’m an investigative reporter, but I’m also a narrative writer. We all know that you can do the most amazing investigation, but if it’s boring, nobody’s going to read it, so I think this was a place that was really able to wed those two things together. I think you see what I learned here in my work every day.

Host:To help train other journalists like her, Nikole teamed up with other journalists in 2016 to found the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting. The organization trains and mentors journalists of color to learn how to be investigative reporters.

Hannah-Jones:It’s important because newsrooms represent the same racial hierarchies that we see in society, so the more important the work, the more prominent the positions, the less diverse they are, and myself and the other founders strongly believed that you are missing a lot of stories that should be told if you don’t have investigative reporting that represents the way that our population looks. For years, we’ve heard the same excuses as to why we can’t diversify investigative reporting. People always say there’s not enough qualified journalists of color, and we just got tired of waiting for other organizations to fix it and decided we would train journalists ourselves. Then you couldn’t use that excuse anymore.

Host:The society offers investigative reporting workshops throughout the country and is developing a yearlong fellowship program in New York City. Workshops cover the use of advanced technology, interviewing techniques as well as data-gathering and fact-checking resources. They also hone story pitching, project management and narrative storytelling skills. In August, the national organization moved its headquarters to Carolina’s Hussman School.

Hannah-Jones:We were so excited to come to Carolina because Carolina’s the best journalism program in the country. It would be a place where we would have students who were in the program but also be able to get the support that we need to run the organization and produce really high-quality training for journalists all across the country, and for me personally, I really, really thought it was important that the organization be in the South. This is the ancestral home for black Americans. This is a place where we really could use the type of investigative reporting that we’re trying to train journalists to do, and it was just kind of the perfect marriage of goals. We know that Dean King’s goals around these issues are very similar to mine, so we knew that we would get the support we needed. We hope that faculty and students will use us as a resource but also that we’ll be able to use them as a resource. We see it really as a collaborative relationship between the two organizations.

Host:That collaborative relationship officially kicks off on Nov. 16. During a panel discussion at the Hussman School, Nikole and the other co-founders will talk about their careers and share tips with young journalists about forging their own paths.

Hannah-Jones:It’s going to be amazing. I think all of us want to believe that we’re can have an impact, but you never know what that impact is going to be. When I was a first-year master’s student at Carolina, I certainly never thought that I would one day go on to create this organization and that the organization would come back home, so I’m really looking forward to it. I hope that we will serve as an inspiration for students. The most important things that the Ida B. Wells Society does is it gives people living examples of journalists of color who are working at the highest levels of their profession and are doing investigative reporting, and that’s so important to see those examples. I didn’t see that myself. I hope that us being here can also be transformative for students and help them see their possibilities in a way they hadn’t seen before. Personally, I love engaging with students, and I’m just very excited for it.

Host:This event also gives Nikole a chance to come back to Chapel Hill.

Hannah-Jones:I had a great time at Carolina. I had amazing professors that some of them I still speak with. I met some of my best friends. My daughter’s godmother I met on the bus ride when we came to interview for the Park Fellows. We became best friends, and she’s my daughter’s godmother. I just found it was an incredibly supportive environment for my learning. It gave me exactly what I came here to get, which were the skills to be a journalist and just being a part of the campus. I have so many fond memories. This is a place that’s very near and dear to my heart.

Host:That event on Nov. 16 is called Making a Mark: The 1619 Project, Investigative Journalism and the Caliber of Reporting Through Diverse Voices. It’s at 10:30 a.m. in Carroll Hall, the home of the Hussman School of Journalism and Media. The event’s free, and you can register on the school’s website, Hussman.UNC.edu.

If you’ve got a story idea, please share it with us on Twitter at UNC, or email us at WellSaid@UNC.edu. You can find Well Said wherever you get podcasts, so we hope you’ll subscribe and leave us a review. Thanks for listening to this episode of Well Said. See you next week.

Well Said: The art of hip-hop

Mark Katz: And when you go in, there are probably two things that you immediately notice. One is that it’s dominated by turntables. But then probably what else would also will catch your eye are two murals on either side of the room. So, it’s a unique room on campus. There aren’t that I can’t think of any other offices or spaces I’ve gone to that have graffiti on them that was commissioned.

Host: Welcome to Well Said, the official podcast from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Today we’re traveling to the Beat Lab with Mark Katz, professor of music. Mark cleared out an old storage room to create a uniquely inspiring space as a place to teach Carolina students about a more modern form of music.

When you walk into the Beat Making Lab in Hill Hall, you’ll find six sets of turntables, recorders, CD players, and controllers ready for students to experiment with. What’s most stunning is the art on the walls, inspiring a different kind of educational environment.

Katz: One is a giant mural of our mascot Rameses as a deejay scratching their record with lightning bolts shooting out of the record. That was created by a local graffiti artist Sean Kernik. And then the other side, there’s a kind of complementary mural that looks like strands of DNA, and I commissioned that from an alum who goes by the name of Saba Tage – a graduate of the art department – and she created this amazing image of DNA, the double helix of DNA, with the letters B-E-A-T strewn about, and then the motto is “The beat is the DNA.” And I asked her to create something with the theme that “the beat is the DNA of all music.”

Host: Mark teaches several classes in the Beat Making Lab, where students learn about hip hop, rap, the art of deejaying, and even dance. But rap hasn’t always been Mark’s interest.

Katz: So, to people that I know from high school and people I knew when I was growing up it’s very unlikely that I’m now doing hip-hop because that’s not how they knew me when I was in school. I was interested in classical music. I was interested in rock. I liked Led Zeppelin, I liked the blues, but I was a classical music kid. I played violin. My favorite composers were and still are Brahms and Schubert. But I remember when hip hop started to become popular and started to gain national attention.

Host: But when Mark was a teenager, he got his first taste of a different kind of sound.

Katz: The sound of scratching I first heard on the song Rockit by Herbie Hancock.

And he brought in this amazing DJ, Grand Mixer DST, now known as DXT, to this scratching. I just remember loving that sound when I was 13, it just sounded so crisp, so novel. I don’t know that I would analyze it like this, but part of what I like is that it’s kind transgressive – it scratches the surface of a record which is not meant to be scratched.

Host: In the late ’90s and early 2000s, Mark heard scratching come back around in pop and rock songs, and it sparked a new educational passion.

Katz: It reminded me how much I love that sound, and I decided that I wanted to write about it. Because what I realized is – I spent a lot of time thinking about music technology, and how people use music technology – is that what deejays were doing is that they were transforming a technology for sound reproduction into a musical instrument for sound creation. So, I just thought that was fascinating and transgressive and interesting.

Host: Mark started researching the technology DJ’s were using, and quickly discovered the craft was about much more than creating music. There is an entire culture surrounding it.

Katz: I learned that there are these things called battles, where deejays just on their own without rappers, or break dancers, B-Boys B-Girls would compete against each other and would create these scratch routines to see who could be the best. Some I went and this battle, which blew me away. I went into this dark room, there is a guy in front of two turntables wildly manipulating the records, and people were shouting and cheering and saying “ooh” and “ahh,” and it was this language that I didn’t understand, because sometimes the DJ would do something and everyone would react as if it was a terrible insult to his rival…and these were all men…and I had no idea what was going on. I was also the only one taking notes at this event, and I found out that there was a whole language, too, that’s called “turntablism.”

And people would manipulate lyrics on songs and use that as a proxy to insult their rivals. So, there is this incredible dissing that was going on, and once I became attuned to it I realized just how complex this form of musical interaction was.

Katz: I think the typical image that people have of deejays is usually a white man with a pair of headphones on, one earpiece off and one hand cupped to one of the sides of the headphones pumping his fist in the air, and not doing much more than that. So, people see that and wonder what exactly do DJs do. Do they just dance around while music is playing? And some of them do and make huge amounts of money doing it. But the thing that was so surprising to me…and I think it’s surprising to people when I talk to them about deejaying, in particular, is this form of DJing called turntablism is how much skill is involved. So that’s part of my job, I feel is to demonstrate to others who probably have a low opinion of – particularly DJing but also hip hop and in general and a lot of popular music in general – is just how much skill creativity and dedication is involved in making that music.

Host: In 2011, Mark applied for an Innovation Grant from Carolina’s Institute for the Arts and Humanities to teach students about the musical, technological, and cultural sides of deejaying.

Katz: I proposed a project in which I would create a new form of music class that would combine traditional instruction in music-making, in music history. But would do that in collaboration with musical professionals in the community, not just as guests but as co-teachers. So, in fact, I started in 2011 teaching a class called Beat Making Lab with a local producer whose professional name is Apple Juice Kid, and it was a very popular class. Everyone interested in making beats and hip hop seemed to want to get into that class and I realized there was this huge demand for hip hop instruction that students weren’t getting.

Host: Many students who have enrolled in Mark’s Beat Making Lab class and several others, such as Art and Culture of the DJ and Rock Lab, aren’t just learning the technical side of making music or scratching records. Instead, they combine new music-making skills with a deeper understanding of the culture Mark has dedicated his research to.

Katz: So, when I talk with people and tell them that I study deejaying or I run this international hip hop exchange program, they look at me and say something like, “really? You?” Or “you don’t look like you’re into hip hop,” and I’m always tempted – though I never do – ask, “So what should I look like?”

But what I do look like is a nerdy white professor – a middle-aged professor. So, I understand why I’m not…my picture isn’t in the dictionary next to hip hop. And I don’t pretend that that race doesn’t matter, and that color doesn’t matter. I’m not colorblind in terms of race, and I think it’s very important that I acknowledge that hip hop is a tradition, culture that came out of African American History and is deeply indebted to people of color; not just African Americans but Latinx culture. So, that’s something that I think is very important for me to acknowledge and respect and support. So, that’s also why it’s very important for me in the classroom not simply to be the only one who is talking about hip hop, but to bring artists in. And so that students will see a wide variety of professionals – most of them, people of color – talking to them as experts and that I’m not just the mouthpiece for hip hop. I don’t want to pretend that I can speak for hip hop myself.

Host: Mark teaches about the historical and cultural significance of hip-hop and DJing, but also challenges students to think about its evolution.

Katz: For example, Art and Culture of the DJ, which is one that I frequently teach, it’s quite a bit about the history of deejaying. It’s a study of music history through the figure of the DJ. It’s a study of the impact of musical technology on society, on culture. It’s also a study of club culture and all of the challenges and controversies around that. We talk a lot about identity, we talk a lot about queer identity because queer people – particularly queer people of color – created so much of the dance music that people love across the world.

In addition to that, they create music through their laptops. I have them create playlists, I have them create sets. They go into the lab and they learn how to do some basic scratching, they learn to do some basic mixing. Some students have become DJ’s after taking my class and have become professional DJ’s. Most people don’t aspire to that but. It’s possible that for students to do that some of the other classes take a different approach. For example, Rap Lab is largely a performance class so they will write rap songs, write rhymes every week, they will get into a cipher – which is a circle formation and improvise and work with each other. That is very intensively practical in terms of making music.

Host: The unique projects Mark assigns in his classes attract all types of Carolina students each semester. Mark says that many who enroll don’t even call themselves musicians.

Katz: One thing that really struck me is on the very first day when we were doing introductions, we brought all the students together, and one student said in response to the question which I posed to everyone – what does hip hop mean to you? He said “hip hop is my pedagogy. Hip hop is how I learn and if it weren’t for hip-hop, I’m not sure where I would be.”

And for him and a lot of other students. Hip hop is much more than just music that they like to listen to – it is part of their identity, it’s part of their culture. So, the students really, really connected to these classes. Some of them had we’re not deeply connected to hip hop already, some were, but they all came out of this having learned a huge amount both about hip hop but about themselves in terms of what it means to create art that expresses themselves – not playing other people’s music but creating their own music – or dancing and several of them said it was life-changing. I mean it wasn’t their expectation was that they were going to learn some nice moves, or they were going to make some cool beats, but they came away with a deep appreciation of the culture but also a way of understanding the power of art.

Host: Mark has also worked to bring his classes around the globe, thanks to professional DJ’s who have taught students at Carolina.

Katz: So one thing that that has been an important part of my career is that once I created the Beat Making Lab as a class I collaborated with two artists – Apple Juice Kid and Pierce Freelon – to create what was called Beat Making Lab, but it was an international workshop instead of course at UNC. And the two of them went around the world teaching beat making — or music composition with electronic equipment — in places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Fiji, Ethiopia, Panama, and it became a really vibrant and successful way of going into communities collaborating with local young people to create music, then donating equipment to the local communities so that they can continue to make music.

Host: Ok, so my last question is, what is your DJ name?

Katz: OK. So, I’ll have to tell you this story [laughs] so I do have a DJ name. Traditionally DJs don’t come up with their own names. It’s considered the most authentic way to get a name is for it to be bestowed upon you, or for it to just manifest itself. So anyway, DJ name came about. I think…14 years ago and I remember the incident because I was holding my daughter who was a baby, and she was looking at me, and she was flailing her arms around me at my face, and my wife was standing there and she said, “Anna don’t scratch daddy!” And then somehow you know there’s a light bulb that went off the clouds parted, and I realized that my DJ name was Scratch Daddy. And so that is my DJ name.

Host: Thanks so much for listening to this episode of Well Said. While you won’t be able to catch a performance by Scratch Daddy, you can learn more about Mark’s courses at music.unc.edu.

Do you have an idea for an episode of Well Said? Send us a tweet @UNC, or shoot us an email at wellsaid@unc.edu. You can find Well Said wherever you get podcasts, so we hope you’ll subscribe and leave us a review. See you next week.