Choose your own musical adventure: You can listen to the local mega-alternative radio station play the same heavy-rotation MTV crap. Or tune into the free-form Net channel http://GoGaGa.com for Johnny Cash, hip-hoppers A Tribe Called Quest, Frank Zappa, and a collaboration between anarchist pranksters Chumbawumba and Negativland. God bless the Internet.
Because traditional radio has been stuck with one signal broadcasting to a regional area, easy-to-digest formats became the business model, leaving niche musicians in underground obscurity. But yet another Net revolution is well underway: Webcasters are broadcasting underground as well as on traditional programs, and the world is listening.
"The technology [we use] had just surfaced, and we wanted to experiment with it," says Dave Fitches, 24, who began Loudfactory, an electronica station devoted to unsigned and indie artists, with his partner Dave Burlovich, 36, early last year in Toronto. Averaging 3,000 listeners each day, the single-channel site manages to turn a small profit with no employees and low overhead. The partners, who also run a Web design firm, plan on extending the brand name by creating a record label.
Joe Pezzillo also found bootstrapping to be the formula in starting Eclectic Radio Company Inc. in 1996. Pezzillo's model-launching branded channels like GoGaGa.com, the aforementioned freeform station-was initially received with skepticism by venture capitalists. Advised to bootstrap, he found independent producers to create content in exchange for split revenue. "Three years later, it's not inexpensive, but the way I like to put it is we have the best price performance team in the industry," says Pezzillo, 30, who runs 20 channels from Boulder, Colorado.
At Green Witch LLC, a Webcasting and technology solutions company in San Francisco, the founders asked themselves what the most fun business to start would be and found themselves in Net radio. "We love building the systems to help ourselves and others run radio shows," explains Brian Zisk, 34, who founded the company in 1998 with Patrick Mahoney, 31, Jack Moffitt, 22, and Todd Goldenbaum, 29. Green Witch develops its own programming and uses Icecast, an audiostreaming software the company funded and helped develop, to help other companies create their own Net radio stations. Explains Zisk, "Give people the choice . . . let them hear what it is they want to hear."