ds106radio is neither radical nor safe, it’s an experiment

Image Credit: Shorpy's Radio School 1920

A week or two ago Alec Couros tweeted a few questions about the appeal of ds106radio and its seemingly deviant relationship to copyright and/or licensing. You can see his tweets below:

@jimgroom & #ds106‘ers – just watched ur @cogdog amazing story – ? arises. would have happened if restricted to legal content?

@jimgroom wondering about role of deviance/rebellion as social connector.

The question as it pertains to copyright was followed up brilliantly by Giulia Forsythe in this blog post (where a conversation like this might have a bit more space to stretch) in which she lays out a number of approaches to the idea of copyright and something like ds106radio. She argues, as Dr. Garcia did as well on ds106radio (Update: here is Dr Garcia’s 4 minute “Editorial on Deviance and ds106radio”), that deviance and the “being bad” aura is not necessarily what is driving the energy around ds106radio—which I imagine Alec was arguing with his tweets above, even if a bit cagily. Follow that up with Stephen Downes‘s response to Giulia’s post that frames ds106radio as not devaint either, but rather as always, already perfectly safe:

As for #protocol, there was definitely a protocol, the thing with ds106 radio wasn’t so much the deviance as it was the community that formed around it. It was like pirate radio, but it wasn’t really, and was always perfectly safe.

And while ds106radio couldn’t be as safe as Elluminate even if it tried, it struck me that whether ds106radio was safe or deviant was really not the point at all. It seemed like the discussion found ds106radio in a paralyzing binary—even though I think both kinda miss the point of the whole thing. Whether ds106 is too radical or too safe doesn’t really matter as much as it provides a way of imagining community through yet another platform—and not a community of one, which obviously would result in no listeners, no connections, and no real value. What ds106radio provides is a model for yet another platform for sharing, creating, and trying to foster conversation. Grant Potter is basically writing the book on what’s possible with this platform right now, it is simply amazing. And what kills me is he is doing it alone while we are talking about safe, deviant, or whatever. There are still a number of technical details to be hammered out. What’s more, there are many others involved that are imagining the cultural details of how we interact, engage, and share in this space. It’s far from perfect, but so far it has been pretty impressive how well people have gotten on, shared, and generally come up with some basics of a protocol that works. Questions that highlight “deviance” or “”safety” seem to forget that this is an experimental platform that other people might consider starting up and playing with on their own—as Downes has—though it’s hard to see the value of a one-man radio station. It could be an awesome way for students in that upcoming MOOC (you know the one that seems a lot like IT Conversations 🙂 ) to have the people taking the class to actually engage, share, and program a whole world of ideas around their course—rather than simply come to hear the expert of the week.

Point is, I really don’t want to engage the copyright issue because I don’t believe the way the US, in particular, is thinking copyright is at all beneficial to an educator trying to help people think critically about their culture—in fact, I think it is a huge impediment. What’s more, the idea of platforms as potential springs of liberation attracts me deeply, and I would rather think of a platform like globally distributed, interactive web radio along the lines of what the Italian radio station from the 1970s Radio Alice (thanks for the link Grant!) was imagining as a direct attack upon the mindless culture of work, money, and fear we find ourselves in. I don’t care about deviance, safety, or copyright—what I want is some alternatives to these predictable and imprisoning classifications. Freedom radio.

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8 Responses to ds106radio is neither radical nor safe, it’s an experiment

  1. Jim, you write “it’s hard to see the value of a one-man radio station,” and then later you write, “what I want is some alternatives to these predictable and imprisoning classifications. Freedom radio.” Maybe you didn’t see the connection between them.

    • Reverend says:


      You may be right, maybe isolation rather than a frame of community or network is the real liberation. I just don’t know how zero listeners squares with the idea of communicating out in the open. I know you are probably half-kidding when you say zero listeners, but at the same time I wonder why not push for a platform around all the work you are already doing with several folks. I mean take the Mother of all MOOCs as one example, you have an all-star lineup of speakers, who have their own vehicles for broadcasting, the question is how might a community (or networked) platform like MOOC Radio (or whatever) enable yet another layer of interaction in that model for those taking the class rather than teaching it? Is it yet another way to equalizes the featured speaker approach? Not unlike the blog? I understand your ongoing problems with and deep distrust of groups and what that might mean for predetermined thought, but I also wonder what such a large community might bring in the way of difference and challenge to some of those ideas? Or even reinforce them—I don’t know, seems like an old new platform like radio is what we make of it—neither necessarily radical nor safe, and if ds106radio as a community is not a fit for folks than that is a different issue all together. I just hope the crazy impressive work Grant Potter is doing right now imagining this space gets taken up by others so that we can “trackback” to a variety of work, cross broadcast, syndicate, think mobile in new ways, etc. It seems to be we have only touched the surface of thefull spectrum of possibilities of a variety of stations with their own identity and sensibility.

  2. > I just don’t know how zero listeners squares with the idea of communicating out in the open.

    I do communicate out in the open. You can listen any time at http://www.downes.ca/edradio.htm (often AutoDJ, but sometimes live as well).

    My website had zero readers when I started it. I see this as no different.

    > I understand your ongoing problems with and deep distrust of groups and what that might mean for predetermined thought…

    I don’t have problems with groups, groups have problems with me, because I don’t conform. That’s why ds106 was such an irony – it was ‘rebel radio’ but became more and more like a close-knit club by the end of it.

    > how might a community (or networked) platform like MOOC Radio (or whatever) enable yet another layer of interaction in that model for those taking the class rather than teaching it?

    Right now my plan is to webcast the talks and aggregate MP3s from course participant feeds & play them on the station. It will be a slightly more accessible way to participate than what Grant set up (though I really liked the use of drop-it-to-me). I’ll probably set up access to people who want to have Skype conversations on air. Etc.

    But all of this is bonus. The main point was to provide access to the sessions for people without Eliminate & high bandwidth internet. I created my own station because I couldn’t count on ds106 being available, because scheduled course session time-slots were simply pre-empted without notice.

    Cross-broadcasting, syndication and going mobile are all good things worth exploring.

  3. Grant says:


    Looking forward to hearing your station ideas unfold. I have been working on a way to stream calls from Asterisk http://www.asterisk.org/ to IceCast2 ( some docs here: http://www.nooss.org/wiki/Audio_Streaming_from_an_Asterisk_Meetme_Room ), bypass the need for Skype, and remove the need for a talkshow ‘operator’ – essentially – a system where the lines are always open.

    As Asterisk supports SIP http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Session_Initiation_Protocol there are a galaxy of free apps across mobile platforms that would be able to connect to this PBX. It has been my “20% time” project for the last 2 months and is taking longer than expected – having a blast working on this and learning a ton in the process. Happy to pass the root keys to the VPS to anyone that would like to tinker with me.

    “What is radical? To be radical is to grasp empowerment. To define a vision based on that empowerment for a better, freer society. A society where knowledge and learning are public goods, freely created and shared.”


    “The future is what we make it, not what simply happens to us.”

    Shoutout when EdRadio is going /LIVE with some music sets – would love to XCast these to #ds106radio – really enjoyed your Saturday morning music sets in Feb & March.

  4. Reverend says:


    I think one of the things that any web radio experiment like this will have to figure out is a way of negotiating interaction, assuming you have a shared stream and it’s open. I think that is the part of the “close-knit” community you might miss the nuances of if you aren’t experimenting within it. A weakness of ds106radio might be its dependence on Twitter for communication, but at the same time that is part of how the synatx and grammar of the community emerged. For me that has been one of the most interesting things about the whole process. At the same time I can see why people who have only a marginal interest in tracking Twitter as a space to converse with others might feel excluded or somehow left out. That’s something I think opens up a whole different question about public spaces on the web that aren’t necessarily corporately controlled, but still provide an open, accessible, and populated place to communicate. One I want to think about more, and one D’Arcy, Boone, CogDog, and yourself have already be thinking about—and I wonder if the idea of the public dance hall like—if not free, open, and non-profit—provides some value as does all things Google.

    As to the “rebel radio” idea of ds106, I think that suggests a pre-defined idea of what it was, should have been and has emerged into. One of the things I have noticed is that it is no one thing as people pick up the stream from various places and make it their own for a bit. I kind like that it has moved away from the patina pretense of rebel radio and moved into more of a community band radiothat manages to help us think the global scale locally in new ways. Rebellion is a practice that often loses much of its edge and power once it is too vociferously so, I think that was one of the lessons for me in the wake of EDUPUNK.

  5. Grant says:

    I agree Jim – I see this radio experiment more as some sort of manifestation of community access/co-op radio than ‘rebel radio’ or ‘pirate radio’ … it’s really not pirate at all – we’re not stomping on another signal or generating revenue from this experiment and from what I can gather from http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/B-9.01/index.html within Canadian law regarding “new media” broadcasting. In fact, this experiment has resulted in music sales plus hosting and bandwidth business for Canadian companies. Hey Harper – #ds106radio is an economic stimulus!

  6. Alec Couros says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Jim.

    So, although I only tweeted these questions, what I meant about ‘deviance’ is not so much ‘being bad’, but based upon the sociological treatment of the term – “the failure to conform with culturally reinforced norms”.

    In your last paragraph, you write “Point is, I really don;t want to engage the copyright issue because I don’t believe the way the US in particular is thinking copyright is at all beneficial to an educator try to help people think critically about their culture—in fact, I think it is a huge impediment. ” Although you are not saying that this is what the #ds106radio community was built upon, your statement represents the very nature of deviance – especially in its ability to make change, and to produce new social norms in rejection of old paradigms.

    Also, from a sociological perspective, it’s important to remember that deviance is relative. What may seem perfectly normal amongst #ds106’ers, may be deemed deviant to outsiders. Open/opensource/free culture is certainly the fringe, and I’d say by in large, we’re a (relatively) deviant group.

    Now again, this doesn’t exactly produce causation in terms of what influence deviance had upon the nature of the #ds106radio community. However, as an outsider, it’s difficult not to see a correlation.

    Interesting stuff …

  7. Reverend says:

    Thanks for getting us started 🙂 I actually think this idea of “culturally reinforced norms” is at the heart of any site that seems to disregard the established norm—in many ways this is why YouTUbe in the beginning seemed so wild—you could find just about anything and a lot of it was copyrighted material. So, like your suggestions about ds106radio as attracting through deviance, I went to Youtube early on to get stuff I couldn’t otherwise. That said, thus cultural norms are so influenced in our moment by interest groups that push the idea of deviance as part and parcel of bad (hence my conflation). I mean the idea denaturing the idea of critiquing, re-using, and re-thinking from an supposedly open, democratic society in fact opens up that norm as one of the great contradictions of our moment—also one of the great civil rights problems of our moment. So, I guess I tend to resist the idea of deviance because I think an approach were we might think of something like ds106radio (as one example) as a way normalize what might be an alternative approach to the fear that is expected—a way to normalize what I think is already a fairly normal activity—watching and sharing copyrighted material online. I don’t consider myself deviant in this regard because I think just about everyone online in some form or another breaks copyright several times a day based on the way the web works. So, we have a larger issue where in the definition of deviance and the medium we find ourselves demonstrate the ethical, legal, and social quandry we find ourselves in. I would love to think education took the opportunity of our moment to make sharing, talking about, and re-working the countless works that form the basis of all these “cultural reinforced norms” completely normal, accepted, and dare I say just. This is the crazy moment we find ourselves in terms of a much larger cultural shift, and it would make sense that what might have seemed deviant just 20 years ago might be considered normal and common today. I think Dr. Garcia idea gets at this, we are simply doing what we always do online everyday, but the idea of doing it together, synchronously on the radio seems so much more deviant—but is it—really? Even sociologically?

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