Decades ago, before merger mania and the homogenization of America's radio stations, disk jockeys were the cowboys of the airwaves, playing and saying what appealed to them and their listeners. The era of indie radio is now resurfacing, thanks to the Internet.
A new breed of radio renegades is broadcasting to computer users, free of FCC regulations because, so far, there aren't any. "Anyone can do it," says Lynne Margolis, associate editor of RadioDigest.com Inc., of starting an Internet radio station.
Jon Buck, 28, got hooked on Internet radio after listening to a pirate station in London. He linked up with Mark "Frosty" McNeill, 24, who gained experience with Internet radio at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. The partners launched dublab.com LLC from Los Angeles in September 1999.
The biggest challenge for Net radio entrepreneurs is standing apart from the buzz. Fast-growing technology will likely give Internet radio a boost in the near future. Dublab.com operates on the lean side, publicizing the station through word-of-mouth and e-mail. Sales are generated from sponsorships and e-commerce. Buck predicts the business will earn more than half a million during its first year. "[Sales] aren't as important as establishing our brand name and usership," he says. "Money doesn't matter as much as who has the best game plan and the most perseverance."
The basics: a standard PC and software, a Web site, broadband transmission capability (cost: $1,000 a month to support 1,000 listeners) and RealAudio (downloadable at www.realaudio.com) or similar software.
Total cost: $5,500 to $6,000
What they spent: Buck and McNeill pooled $25,000 for basic gear, a few months' rent and staff.
For details: Association for Internet Professionals, (877) AIP-0800, www.association.org