By Jeff McKay
Special Features Correspondent
KANSAS CITY — When you’re in radio and you lose your job, in almost all cases you begin looking for another job at another radio station, whether it’s in the same city or another market. For some, the intrigue of the internet brings them to the digital frontier. If the choice becomes the digital divide, then the question then becomes, “How can you make money?”
For that answer, you can ask “Radio George.”
George Woods spent a number of years on the air in Omaha, Nebraska, including time as a morning host on the legendary WOW-AM before entering the talk world as a host for stations including KFAB and KKAR in Omaha, along with KCMO in Kansas City. In 2005 when he lost his job, Woods decided to use his technical skills and started a website dedicated to Kansas City news and information.
“When I ‘hit the beach’ in 2005, I decided to do something with the internet. I had run a horse racing website, and spoke with a few friends and my wife, and thought about the radio market wondering if there was a hole in the market to fill,” says Woods.
He decided to build his site geared to local information, and he went all-in.
“Traffic.com provided me my very own app for traffic, and I had a deal with Associated Press to get access to their streaming audio and news for $75 per week. Woods even had news anchors providing local news, and had no problem finding them. “I placed an ad on a radio website and that little ad generated over 100 responses from Los Angeles to New York City. A friend did voiceovers for free, and my site took off.”
However, despite some success, terrestrial radio came calling once again when Woods received an offer that he claims, “I could not refuse.” He shut his site down, and packed up and made the move to St. Louis.
“Even though I knew the station had a track record of hiring and firing managers, I still took the job to work for their PD, Al Brady Law. I was one of the last of about 20 people he had hired. Then Law was fired seven months after I started, and much like the other 20 people Al hired, I too was fired.in February, 2007 after just eight months,” says Woods.
Woods and his wife returned to Kansas City and returned to the home he never sold, but this time instead of sending out resumes and hoping for a call back, he dialed his own number and created a new business of his own.
After shuttering his former internet news and talk site, Woods again took a good look at the market and decided there were indeed content holes to fill.
“This time the new hole was smooth jazz and oldies. Radio George became a music site. At first we had no listeners, and there were times when I thought of pulling the plug. I tried using Google Ads, keying on oldies and smooth jazz. I decided to geo-target the demographics I was targeting locally in Kansas City, and the Missouri and Kansas area. While the local focus didn’t take off, within a month or two I had thousands of listeners, not just locally but all over the world,” said Woods. “I then picked up a local advertiser and since then I’ve never looked back.”
Woods created Radio George, an on-demand internet radio site featuring two formats that were not being offered full-time in the Kansas City radio market.
The Radio George site consists of 114 channels of music. On the Radio George jazz site, listeners can click on any one of 30 channels on the main page, each giving them three to four hours of contemporary jazz. Along with jazz, there’s an oldies site, but he didn’t stop there.
“I contacted Envision Radio Network, which did not have an affiliate in these formats in the Kansas City market, so my Radio George site became their affiliate. They run their commercials on the shows I carry. No local radio stations were clearing any of their programs such as the Country Oldies Show or Classic Rock Live, so I cleared their country music and classic rock shows,” says Woods. He adds, “Soon after listeners began writing in with their own ideas, asking for rock instrumentals, Motown, one-hit wonders. So we added more programming.”
His site also includes local resources, such as news, weather, traffic, and where to find low gas prices.
Woods also designed his site to be far different from sites like Pandora, Spotify, and iHeartRadio.
“I did my research on ASCAP, BMI and SoundExchange. For me it’s not streaming. It’s like Pandora in a small way but it’s not the same. The Radio George site is actually file-on-demand, meaning there are no streaming costs. You have to pay to have streaming and that can become a monster rate,” says Woods. “I have to track each song and pay for using them, but the costs for using the music is recovered from advertising on the site.”
Woods claims Radio George has on average 27,000 to 32,000 unique visitors each week. On average, listeners stay on the site for just over 30 minutes, but seven percent of those tuning in stay for more than an hour. Radio George listeners can be found, according to Woods, in thousands of cities spanning countries all over the world.
Can Internet Radio Be in Your Future?
As for making a living, Woods says you won’t get rich, but you also won’t starve either.
“Fortunately my wife has a good job and our bills are manageable,” says Woods, who admits he is not making the money he made when he worked for radio stations in markets including Kansas City, Omaha and St. Louis. “But since I don’t have to pay those streaming costs, and I have solid advertising, so my bills are being covered by the advertising,” adds Woods who says he’s able to have a site that is in the black financially. “I’m not making the same money I was making in terrestrial radio, but I’m paying my bills and turning a profit.”
As for the future, Woods believes Radio George is both a viable business model and one that will afford him a solid future in the digital domain. He does caution that you can’t just create a website and think it will be the be-all-end-all. According to Woods, it means you have to check your ego at the door and be prepared to work, and clearly think out of the box.
“I have seen music show hosts in many different sized markets who have been axed go all out to do a live show online, thinking that their audience will follow them to the internet and things will be just fine. Almost all of these attempts fail,” says Woods, who reminds us that in any business model, there has to be a plan, and you can’t do it alone.
“This is mainly because of a lack of understanding that the most important thing needed to start building an audience in such a case is publicity. A single local TV story about your efforts is not enough. We’re talking a sustained marketing campaign in newspapers, TV, and online–advertising that costs money you will have to spend up front for more than a couple of weeks just to try to make people aware of where you’ve gone and what you’re doing, for starters. Equally important is having someone to act as a local salesperson to sell sponsorships and/or advertising if you intend to stay and be a voice mainly in the radio market you are in. These are the two major stumbling blocks. Without them, all such efforts are doomed, with the possible exception of the top two or three markets in the country–and you still have to generate income to pay the bills.”
As for advice from someone who is carving their own niche on the internet, Woods believes there are some steps you need to follow, especially if you are going to create a music-based site, and that doesn’t just include contracting with a streaming service.
“You’ll need some type of radio broadcasting software, just like the ones in commercial use currently [AM/FM] for music/spot/promo scheduling, etc., which you’ll need to do a show. Trying to just talk and play mp3 files will not cut it. You’ll also need some type of recordkeeping software to keep track for each piece of music played and the number of times it gets played for music licensing reporting and royalty payments. You’ll also need to contract the music licensing companies: BMI, ASCAP, SESAC, and Sound Exchange, the internet performance royalty company,” says Woods who points out it doesn’t end there.
”It’s best to have a single high-speed computer dedicated just to the broadcast operation, and a working backup of the entire thing in case the main one craps out. We’re talking an investment of between $1,000 to $2500, not counting the computer, just to get started. This does not include any publicity/promotional costs.”
As for what else you’ll need to get up-and-running, Woods says along with the right equipment, hire a sales pro.
“You say, ‘I’ll be my own salesman?’ Forget it. You simply won’t have the time to do that with a daily live show.
“Is this radio? I say it is. Only the method of transmission is different,” says Woods.
You can check out the Radio George website here. http://www.radiogeorge.com
Jeff McKay, a veteran New York-based operations manager, newsman and traffic reporter, is a special features correspondent for RadioInfo. He can be emailed at McKayway@aol.com.