Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Houston rock radio pioneer dumps FM for Web broadcasting - exclusive

There has been a lot written about the upcoming Houston Independent School District online radio station going live next school year. The Internet station is called K12RadioHouston and will target student's parents with music and news about the school district. It will be the first of its kind in the nation.

But only on will you find out about RFC Media - the company behind it. The story starts several decades ago in the early 70s when a 21-year-old Pat Fant spun The Who's I'm Free on 101 KLOL. Most know that radio station became one of the top rated rock outlets in the country under Fant's leadership. But that was then.

"Broadcast radio is in my rear view mirror," Fant told the blog. "I'm taking everything I learned from doing compelling, one of a kind radio and offering it on a different kind of delivery system."

Thanks to well publicized decline in listenership and subsequent advertising rates, traditional broadcast radio is searching for a new direction. But after starting the station that became 94.5 The Buzz KTBZ in the 1990s, plus an FM news station and rock station in the 2000s, Fant is now looking to what he considers the real future of radio - the Internet.

"Forces today have taken radio off the table as a provider," Fant told me.

Around a year ago when he left Cumulus Media in Houston, he started RFC Media. It's a company that specializes in building online and in-store radio stations for businesses. Fant says the concept is called "brandcasting" or targeting listeners around a common interest.

You could say it all started with a drink. RFC Media's first client was Spec's Wines, Spirits, and Finer Foods - a Texas based store selling all things alcohol related. Fant, along with former KTBZ Program Director and DJ, Cruze, began programming a radio station that matched the Spec's brand. That means the music, the voices and what they talk about are there to promote the stores' identity. Spec's Radio plays on the Spec's Web site and inside every Spec's store across Texas. Listeners hear a wide playlist of music everyday, but will also get snippets of an interview with Spec's wine manager Bear Dalton on one day or a special mix of country acts during Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo time the next day. The music and programming change on a daily bases but each day will promote the stores and brand Spec's. In special situations, a DJ could actually broadcast live to the station.

Every RFC Media client radio station will be different. The music and topics are targeted to that brand. Fant and crew have also built online radio stations for Lexus of Las Vegas, Radio Free Cruze and the next project will be the already mentioned K12RadioHouston. Fant stresses the music and programing changes daily for each brand.

Why would a business want its own radio station? Fant says it is to connect with customers in a new way. The online radio station keeps listeners coming back to a company Web site. He says the music his company programs is not commonly found on today's commercial radio. Meanwhile the content is of interest to a customer who buys from the business.

"You've opened a new pipeline of communication with your core customers," Fant said. "That beats old fashioned reach from radio any day. We can do a lot more for our customers by building digital music channels for them that sit on their Web site and pulls in a greater number of Web visitors and longer hang time."

Fant also is counting on the fact that today's radio stations are the last resort for a music lover thanks to iPods, satellite radio and the Internet. He says while his product is essentially a promotion with songs mixed in, it has the fraction of ads that a commercial radio station runs.

"I don't have to pay the penalty of 18 minutes an hour of commercials for a Journey, Foreigner or Bad Company record," he added. "Why would I sit through that?"

Even though Internet radio stations have been around for more than a decade without a breakout business model, Fant feels he has the winning formula to make money with online stations. He says it's about the client, programming and technology powering the project. In his opinion, simply redoing a traditional music radio station online with commercials thrown in will not be successful. Fant believes the future of brandcasting will only grow with portable media players (Spec's for example has an iPhone app), 4G networks and Internet connections available in vehicles.

As the potential market grows, Fant has started working with former Rock 101 KLOL on air talent like Laurie Kendrick, Lanny Griffith and David Sadof.

As for K12RadioHouston, the decision is currently being made on which HISD student designed logo will be used for the online station's August launch. Fant tells me he's already received interest from an out of state district about the concept. COMMENT: Click to leave your thoughts on this post here