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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Can Houston man make money with Internet radio? He's trying

Houston man making money with Internet radio

Longtime Houston resident Harold Levine loves radio. He loves it so much he started his own radio stations on the Internet. What started out as a hobby has become a $500 a month passion to bring back music you can't find on the radio airwaves. Will he be able to turn it into a business?

I've been covering Internet radio for a decade now and with the arrival of 4G/WiMax level of mobile Internet speeds, I think we're at a point where Web radio could mature soon.

Levine's stations are as follows:
Radio Swing WorldwideYour Parade of Hits from the 30s and 40s!
Streaming the hits of the Big Band and Swing era.

Radio BopYour Never-Ending Nonstop Sock Hop!"
50s/early 60s stream

Boss Radio
All-60s Radio Bop 60s

Roots of RockThe Music Elvis Grew Up With!” - ROOTSofROCK.US
Playing pre-Rock ‘n Roll era charted pop, country and RandB hits

Mike McGuff: Why did you start your Internet stations?

Harold Levine: I worked in radio in the Dallas area in the late 60s/early 70s and though I've been in public and corporate accounting since 1974, I've always kept up with the broadcast industry. Somehow, I wound up as Business Manager of News 24 Houston and got re-educated in broadcast automation; about the same time Time Warner/Belo pulled the plug on News 24, 107.5 KLDE (now called Houston's 107.5 The Eagle KGLK-FM) dropped 50s and shifted to 60s/70s plus KQUE got sold and the nostalgia format went kaput. I was the last man standing at News 24 and my 3 month engagement to shut down and liquidate the facility ended up getting extended to 1-1/2 I started investigating Internet radio and came up with the concept of Radio Bop as I missed my 50s music...that was in 2005. I was aware of the age shift away from demographics of 54+ and this shift was happening everywhere. I figured others might be interested but didn't have a clue we would develop such a large following in Germany and the UK and a hundred other countries. I was always into formatics and jingles way back when and grew up in North Texas where I could hear great Top 40 stations like KLIF, KBOX, KFJZ, KOMA, WTIX, WNOE, and WLS not to mention Wolfman Jack on XERF.

MM: Do you feel you are making up for the lack of airplay of your music on commercial radio?

HL: I am totally saddened by the state of terrestrial radio today whereas local radio, at least in major markets, has all but disappeared...and, if it wasn't for XM/Sirius and KUHF/NPR, driving in this town would be a real bore. There is nothing musical on the local radio dial of interest to folks 55 plus. The big payoff for me are the countless emails we get from folks worldwide about how much they love and appreciate the stations...we don't push it, but we have received $100 contributions from listeners in Australia, Germany and Finland.

In May, Radio Bop had 165,000 total tune-ins with a monthly cume of 37,000 tune-ins greater than 5 minutes for a total of 55,000 TLH (Total Listening Hours) putting us in the top 8% of all Shoutcast stations with 1,000 TLH or more.

Our present goal is to build a salable audience and we are close to the "tipping point" with the total of all four of our stations at 110,000 TLH per month and steadily increasing.

MM: You mentioned to me the amount of music you have for each station and how there is still more out there to find. How difficult is it to find the music in these genres? I figure there is a lot out there that time has forgotten but once listeners hear it, they remember it.

HL: I have a large record collection mostly from the 60s but found most of my records too scratchy to use for broadcast. I made the decision to buy as much as I could on CD, initially buying compendium sets and eventually single-artist CDs in order to get the more esoteric stuff...I have bought used where I could to save a buck and visited used record stores from California to New York plus have bought off the Internet from, Amazon and eBay. Unfortunately, most of the record stores are gone so the Internet is about the only source left. Joel Whitburn's Billboard compilations have been invaluable in enabling us to compile the music for all our stations, in designing our formats and determining frequency of airplay.

Once again, we get comments from listeners excited to hear songs they haven't heard in 40 years. If it charted in 1957, we play it...and that includes pop songs that still made it into Top 40 playlists at the time...most of our competition doesn't probably because the songs don't sound like they belong to the Rock 'n Roll genre. As a kid, Frank Sinatra singing Love and Marriage seemed perfectly OK to me as just another song.

MM: Your costs of $500 a month sounds like a lot of money to take on. How long do you project you can last before you need to bring in revenue?

HL: As I mentioned earlier, I think we are very close to the point where we can bringing in advertising revenue. I've identified a dozen types of clients that our audience (in both age and geographic reach) would be attractive. We just acquired and are in the process of implementing traffic software scheduling three 1-minute commercial breaks with a :30 and two :15 spots each plus a :20 sec sponsorship each hour. We are also getting ready to completely redo the websites and based on the experiences of a couple of colleagues, believe we can generate enough from click-thrus and banner advertising to cover our monthly costs.

MM: Clearly your past work experience gives you good knowledge in the business of broadcasting. Do you feel that you can come up with a solid plan to be profitable in the future or will this continue to be a project of passion and love?

HL: This activity started out as a hobby and still is but the long-term objective is to turn the stations into a profitable business with the underlying objective being to keep the music and the radio memories of the past alive.

MM: With the coming of 4G and faster mobile Internet, what's your prediction for the future of Internet radio? Will we be listening to it in our cars? Are you laying the groundwork now for something much bigger in the future?

HL: There is absolutely no doubt that mobile listening on pdas/smartphones is the biggest growth area with growth in automobile listening following. Clear WiMax is now available in 75 cities and that will certainly fuel the inclusion of internet-based systems in more and more vehicles and internet radio listening. I plug my iPhone into my car's aux input and listen to all of my stations everyday.

MM: What's your suggestion to those who want to start their own Web radio station? Where do they start?

HL: I started on Live 365 which made it easy because they provide both streaming, licensing and autodj/storage in a package deal. I shifted to a server based automation system to control my format but eventually had to phase away from Live 365 as my audience reached a size which became cost prohibitive based on Live 365's pricing structure. LoudCity now provides autodj services now as well. Both and as well as have lots of information about starting an internet station.

MM: All of these questions aside, how cool is it running your own radio stations?!

HL: It's a lot of fun, especially researching the music and developing the theme for each station and format. And as I mentioned earlier, the big payoff are the emails we get from listeners and former radio deejays worldwide. I can't help but smile when folks send their thanks to our entire staff for the programming...of course, our entire staff is me!

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