GOING DIGITAL: Freeman (left) and Lynch.
Just as I’m finally making the changeover from VHS to DVD, along comes yet another technology I’m going to have to embrace: Internet radio.
In Arkansas, the newest incarnation of this trend is one that’s sure to be exciting to any fan of political punditry and newstalk — wairadio.com. Set to go hot June 6 with 12 hours of live coverage per day, 24-hour broadcasting, and searchable archives that can be downloaded to iPod, hard drive or CD, owner Stephen Freeman promises that the station will be a step into the future for Arkansas listeners.
In reaching that goal, Freeman has lined up an impressive list of Arkansas radio talent. Veteran DJ Joe Cobb will host early morning programming, fielding a look at local and national news with help from correspondents across the state from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. This will be followed by “Pat Classic,” the new show featuring long-time talk radio host Pat Lynch, from 8 a.m. to noon. At midday, Cobb will again step in to lead an hour of news and financial updates, followed from 1 to 4 p.m. by an unscripted show called “No Holds Barred,” featuring Ray Lincoln and Freeman.
For listeners who miss a live broadcast or that night’s rerun, the station’s website will feature a month-deep archive of programs.
By hiring experienced talent and then trusting them to know what they’re doing, Freeman hopes to beat the corporate second-guessing that he thinks has stifled radio nationwide. “Pat and Ray Lincoln have had close to 30 years experience in this market alone,” Freeman said. “We’re certainly not going to hire a consultant 2,000 miles away to tell these guys what works for Arkansas.”
Lynch said his new show will be “very much like the Pat Lynch show of the ’80s and ’90s at KARN,” with commentary on politics and local events, plus interviews with newsmakers. Most of all, Lynch said, it will be a forum that respects all opinions, something he said has all but disappeared from both television and radio since the coming of partisan talkers like Rush Limbaugh.
“We’re certainly not going to stand around with a stopwatch giving people equal time,” Lynch said. “But the point of this station is that when people listen, they will feel like more than one viewpoint has been represented.”
If anyone can pull it off, it might be Freeman. In a little over a year, his company, Broadcast Solutions, has turned Little Rock’s KMVK into the most frequently streamed country music station in the world, with an average daily listenership topping half a million people. Even with a success like that under his belt, the question has to be asked: other than a few thousand hardcore Arkansas news and politics junkies, who’s going to be listening?
Freeman envisions a broader appeal that can reach a nationwide audience of those with a “vested interest” in Arkansas. As an example, he points to the mega-corporations headquartered here, like Tyson, Wal-Mart and J.B Hunt. Freeman said these companies have both transplanted Arkansans across the nation and sired a following of business people interested in the homegrown factors that might influence the policies of those corporations. Given those and other factors, Freeman predicts that a year from now, wairadio.com will be pulling in 50,000 to65,000 daily listeners.
Though you can almost hear the laughter rolling down the halls of Arkansas broadcasting outlets at a statement like that, Freeman doesn’t seem to be sweating over such a bold statement, or his competitors’ inevitable reaction.
“All I want to do is remind them that in 1950 with FM radio, they said no one would listen. In 1965, they told everybody “no one will ever pay to watch television,” Freeman said. “Guess what. I hope like hell they say nobody will listen to Internet radio.”
Spinning the platters that matter.