Online radio in the Zone

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Richard " the unicorn" Griggs checks the song requests on facebook while presenting the morning show with his co-host Naledi tlailane on Zone inernet radio, broadcast from the Red Shed at the Waterfront. Picture: Michael Wilson

Richard “The Unicorn” Griggs taps his fingers on the desk, head bopping in time to the music streaming through his over-sized headphones. With just a peek through the glass windows encasing his studio, it doesn’t take long to realise that Griggs, a familiar name in the Cape Town radio world, isn’t broadcasting from your typical radio station.

This broadcast, streaming live from a double stall in the V&A Waterfront’s Red Shed, is for Zone Radio. Having just celebrated its first birthday, Zone’s current success is part of a radio revolution making a whole lot of noise in Cape Town.

Worldwide, internet radio is a growing trend. Instead of requiring frequencies and physical transmitters to reach users, listeners simply log in online or through a mobile device – at any time and anywhere in the world.

Finding frequencies and having limited options are a thing of the past, replaced by content tailored for a more specific listenership. Broadcasts are also increasingly accessible as the internet becomes cheaper and more widespread.

“We started our first broadcast with We Will Rock You,” Griggs said about the station’s launch last April. “That’s our promise”.

Griggs works with a small staff and 20 presenters to produce content that is almost entirely user generated. One of Zone’s most explicit goals is to take the power away from broadcasting monopolies and focus on listeners. In order to accomplish this, the music played on the station is 80 percent request based, driven by Facebook and Twitter. The station, like other internet broadcasts, highlights a diverse range of presenters and music to appeal to a much wider listenership.

And, the statistics are staggering.

“For FM radio, people only really listen in the car. This is a time when they don’t have a choice. It’s highly repetitive and not something you can listen to for a range of time,” said Seth Rotherham, founder and CEO of 2oceansvibe Radio.

For 2oceansvibe, based in Green Point, the average listener tunes in for about two-and-half hours, something unheard of in terrestrial broadcasting where play times average close to 30 minutes. The station, founded just over two years ago, has a regular listenership of over 40 000 people.

“We’ve even noticed mainstream DJs leaving regular stations,” Rotherham said.

Instead of a basic selection of three to four hundred songs, presenters in internet radio have access to thousands of songs and increased flexibility and creativity with what they discuss on air.

Fiona Furey, a well-known presence on Cape Town radio, hosts a show each day on Taxi Radio.

“The focus is to keep it as varied and interesting as possible,” said Furey. “I want to get guests that are topical and have something to say.”

For Furey, internet radio has allowed her “absolute creative freedom” rather than forcing her to “stick to the formula” from commercial broadcasting.

In that sense, she also joins a new movement to fuse the talents of well-known DJs with others – both presenters and musicians – who are new to the field. This dedication to new talent, especially SA music, is shared among the stations.

“We give local musicians an opportunity. Even if they practically recorded a song on a BlackBerry in their garage, we’ll give them a chance,” said Brett Kannemeyer, a studio manager and presenter for Zone Radio.

Even with its recent success, online radio faces a number of significant challenges, namely financial. One of the greatest struggles is finding enough funding to keep the stations afloat. While online radio costs less, broadcasters suggest it is taking longer for advertisers to recognise this market.

“People will eventually come on board,” said Soli Philander of Taxi Radio. “We’ve already got a strong response from small businesses.”

Zone Radio is sponsored by Hill & Dale winery and 2oceansvibe works directly with “brands we can believe in”, according to Rotherham. - Cape Argus

Online radio stations in SA:

l 2oceansvibe – Cape Town

l Zone Radio – Cape Town

l Taxi Radio – Cape Town

l Mutha FM – Cape Town

l Ballz Digital Radio

l Worldtunes.net

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