An Orthodox rabbi from Mississippi with a masters degree in library science has been running a web site here called 613.org. For those who are a little rusty at biblical numerology, 613 is the number of commandments in the Old Testament. 613.org is the Jewish Torah Audio web site. 36 year-old Fyvel Smiles runs the site out of his home.
Smiles: We're not really stuck on the Internet. It's just whatever way works and the Internet is the cheap way that works most of the time.
613.org has rabbinical lectures, cantors singing Jewish holiday songs, presentations on Jewish history and a crash course in basic Judaism. All told, there are more than a thousand hours of audio content on the site.
[audio from site up]Smiles: Some people say, "This stuff sounds like mud. What are you doing?"And other people say "This is making me cry. It reminds me of 80 years ago when I was a kid."You get all the spectrum. We're not professionals. We didn't know anything about audio. We're still trying to learn.
One thing Mr. Smiles has learned is that the technology keeps getting better-- and cheaper. In addition to the shrinking cost of storage, the fact that compression technology keeps improving is also a boon for people like Mr. Smiles who are putting audio on the Web. But despite all the hype about web-based radio taking off, Mr. Smiles thinks people don't like listening to audio on desktop computers all that much.
Smiles: They want to move with it. They don't want to be stuck with it. So that's the next step, to get it so that it moves, especially in L.A. because you drive all the time and people who drive don't want to take a hundred cassettes in their car. First of all, they melt half the time.
Mr. Smiles sees the growing use of digital audio players such as Creative Labs' Nomad as presenting a new opportunity for producers of web-based audio content.
Smiles: One press and a thousand hours into your Nomad. We'll do it automatic. With software you can do anything and it just sits there for a day or two and sucks it in.Kalish: You seem to be saying that it's not inconceivable that with the right software, someone could come to your site and basically say, "Download a ton of this stuff,"and leave their Nomad plugged into their computer or the Net and it'll all go into the Nomad. Smiles: That shouldn't be hard. Or buy it on a DVD or a CD-rom and put your CD's into a Nomad or whatever you want. And you can do it one by one, but, like anything else, you can mechanize it, and say you have a thousand CD's, you can put them all in your Nomad.
Some of these digital audio players now come with a 6 gigabyte hard drives so the concept of storing massive amounts of compressed spoken-word audio programming taken off the web is now a reality. These technological advances allow non-profits to make mega-amounts of audio content available for comparatively little money. 613.org sells 300 hours of religious material on three CD's for $40. And with these plummeting costs comes a propensity to make more and more content available, which in turn is swamping folks like Mr. Smiles. He started encoding Talmud lectures for the community of religious Jews who study a page a day but it just became too much for him to handle.
Smiles: I was doing it but it was taking up all of my time and a radiology student in New Jersey was really into it and was bugging me, "When is it on? When is it on?"So I said "Do you want to do it?"And he said "Sure. I'm up in the middle of the night."Because he does emergency room work and stuff. So he does it himself and he has his pals and they get it done.
Fyvel Smiles, the man behind the 613.org Torah audio web site.For WNYC, I'm Jon Kalish in Los Angeles.