There’s never a shortage of articles claiming that old X media will disappear because of new Y media: newspaper/radio, radio/TV, newspaper/Internet — same story, different verse.
Listener-supported KOKF-FM 90.9 — aka 91 FM — lived on the knob from 1985 to 2006, when national brand Air1 Radio bought the Christian-music station. But last Halloween found 91 FM resurrected as 91 Online at 91online.com.
“Launch night, we had over a thousand people listening, from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m.,” said Rachael Jamison, operations manager for the station.
It was almost a perfect reboot, as the entire staff from the ’06 shutdown returned as volunteers to create and run the streaming version.
“With the low cost of Internet radio, we could start up,” Jamison said. “It’s not as convenient as being on the FM dial, but we can reach a broader segment (of listeners).”
In addition to regaining a local audience, the station has found listen ers worldwide, as far away as the UK and New Zealand.
Voices of Oklahoma, which is set to start streaming in the next few weeks at KVOY-89.7 FM, isn’t looking for international listeners. The noncommercial station is focused entirely on community.
“Community news, community issues, community music. There’s a lot of local stuff,” said Mary Francis, president. She heads a local group that includes Shawnee’s Michael Dodson as news director and The Blue Door owner Greg Johnson, who will run a show about music and politics.
While the programming will stream on KVOY.org, the station has its sights primarily set on not one, but three building permits: Cordell, Wynnewood and Oklahoma City. That outlook is a long one, as it hasn’t received any of the building permits yet; once the documents are secured, the FCC will grant three years to build a station before the group loses the frequency back to the agency. Building three stations will take money, but the group has already succeeded in getting grants, raising individual pledges and conducting fundraisers, such as Johnson’s July 12 tribute concert to Red Dirt musician Bob Childers.
Still, it’s a challenge to get a new terrestrial radio station going, even one that will be staffed by volunteers and run as a nonprofit. It’s not an entirely unsustainable model; Francis mentioned success stories like KFAI-FM 90.3 in Minneapolis and KBOO-FM 90.7 in Portland, which each have between 350 and 400 volunteers.
“We’re expecting a lot of volunteers,” Francis said.
But even if a small army of people work for nothing, it’s an uphill battle to fund a station.
“Not being on the air is a handicap to raising funds,” she said. “The big change will come when we actually start broadcasting, but streaming will help.”STILL SPYING
“As one of my friends said, ‘Terrestrial radio is dinosaur technology.’ It’s expensive to run, it’s expensive to maintain,” said O’Brien, owner of The Spy. Last December, The Spy abruptly went from the airwaves at KSPI-FM 105.3 to online-only at TheSpyFM. com due to a sale of the station that didn’t take.
Half a year later, he doesn’t see it as a huge loss.
“There still is a sexiness about FM, but I think it’s going away,” O’Brien said.
He’s pretty sure that the X/Y shift is real, and that Internet radio will replace the terrestrial kind.
“The future of radio does live online. We’re ahead of the curve,” he said, noting that the acceleration of technology in cars will facilitate that fall in “about two years.”
“With everyone having a smartphone, it’s as easy as having an app,” O’Brien said. He specifically mentioned the TuneIn Radio app, available for iPhone and Android. It features streams of more than 50,000 stations. With a $30 adapter, a smartphone becomes an avenue to any radio station for any interest at any time.
“Anyone who’s still listening to terrestrial radio is doing so because they don’t know any better or laziness,” he said. “Our terrestrial stations here are done, just because of the choice that is out there. I don’t think (people) are aware of the hundreds of better ones in other terrestrial markets, and thousands of better ones on the Internet. It’s ridiculous to think that a local, badly planned station can survive that.”
O’Brien believes it will get even simpler, and cars will soon have Wi-Fi radio built-in.
“As soon as that one extra step gets taken out, you can start believing people who say that it’s dead,” he said.
Jamison agreed. “The technology hasn’t caught up, because it’s not the easiest to listen to Internet radio in cars. We believe it will, though,” she said.
In contrast to O’Brien’s steadfast stance, Jamison has a more ambivalent outlook on any potential return to the airwaves.
“If we don’t, then we don’t.
We want to focus and not belittle the fact that we’re online,” she said. “Online is a very convenient way to start. It has a lot of benefits.”