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VOL. 126 | NO. 169 | Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Station Brings Memphis Tunes to Virtual Airwaves

RICHARD J. ALLEY

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At first glance, it looks like any home office anywhere: two flat screen computer monitors with towers beneath the desk, a coffee pot to one side and a black-and-white cat that desperately wants to be let out.

But then the microphone is noticed, and the rack of CD cases and the posters touting rock ‘n’ roll bands. Suddenly it seems like a 17-year-old’s home office.

This is the broadcast studio of the brand new Radio Memphis, an Internet-only, original-music-only, Memphis-only radio station.

“It’s a radio station that is not like any other, that’s for sure,” said founder Ric Chetter. “We’ve broken the corporate mold by getting away from trying to just please our shareholders. Not that we have any, it’s just me and the people that have stepped in to help put this thing together and make this thing a reality.”

Chetter knows corporate too. He has spent most of his life in the corporate environment, most recently with media mastodon Clear Channel Communications (WEGR/Rock 103), where he held various positions including morning drive time host with the late John “Bad Dog” McCormick. Chetter was laid off from Clear Channel in February.

“I watched it go from being a really fun environment to turning into guys in Dallas, Texas, that are going to tell you how Memphis needs to sound,” Chetter said.

The idea behind Radio Memphis turns that model on its ear. The station, broadcasting from “Pirate Radio Studios” in a house shaded by oak trees in Cooper-Young, plays only unsigned Memphis bands and songwriters, which gets Chetter around having to pay BMI and ASCAP licensing fees. This, in turn, keeps the overhead low.

“There’s that whole movement out there of ‘free radio’, but the reality is that I’ve got bills to pay and this doesn’t run on love, but thankfully I’ve kept my overhead way down,” Chetter said.

Overhead consists of some computer hardware and software, mostly paid from Chetter’s former corporate life’s 401(k). The station has a terabyte of bandwidth, and its music is uploaded to a server in Oregon before being sent out to the world “a step ahead of FM quality,” he said.

Most of the deejays are currently volunteers and the sales staff is paid straight commission at a rate more than what other stations pay.

Justin Jaggers, on-air personality weekday mornings, is working towards a double major in music business and recording technology at the University of Memphis while holding down a regular job at the Guitar Center. He decided to work with Radio Memphis as soon as he was offered the position. “I said ‘this is something, this is something I need to be a part of,’” Jaggers said. “I grew up around this with my dad (WREG Channel 3 meteorologist Jim Jaggers).”

The ad rates that will soon begin paying for it all are “a whole lot cheaper,” and advertisers are already lining up to be a part of this new technology and brand. In rate sheets handed to potential advertisers, Arbitron and Edison Research are cited to say that “the weekly online radio audience has doubled every five years since 2001, and the online radio audience now reaches an estimated 57 million people aged 12 and older per week.”

Radio Memphis went live on July 1, and already the website has surpassed 9,000 page views. The station has the advantage and luxury of real-time ratings via Google Analytics. And while listeners have popped up all over the country, and in such far-flung outposts as Saudi Arabia, England and Cambodia, 99-percent of listeners are in the Memphis area. A free smartphone app, designed by U of M sophomore Ben Deming, helps get the music out.

“One of our greatest exports is our music, and that’s the one thing that will never change,” said Leon Griffin. “It’s still the only original product that comes out of here.”

Griffin is listed on the station’s Facebook page under “Imaging & Production” and between him and Chetter, the two have decades worth of experience in the broadcast business. It’s a business for which they have a passion, and part of that passion is introducing the world to new, original music.

“It’s amazing,” said singer/songwriter Tori Tollison, whose songs are in heavy rotation on the station. “I wasn’t at a point that I expected to hear myself on a radio station, and now it’s being played worldwide.”

Radio Memphis takes us back to a time when the artist would stop by the radio station with his latest acetate pressing, but is doing so with technology from the future. It’s fun again, but as much fun as the creators are having sailing their pirate radio ship, it is still a business.

“It’s silly to even talk about opening up a business in the economic situation we’re in, but when you look at it from this point of view, it’s the smartest thing you can do because you’re getting away from these massive box corporations and you’re, in essence, starting a mom-and-pop outfit,” Chetter said. “And I’ve always believed that’s going to be the economic revolution in this country – the mom and pops – the small businesses are just going to have to come back and make it happen.”

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