Is This The Future of Local Radio?

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When you give nearly 30 years to a profession that you love, it’s hard to let it go. As a radio journeyman, Bill Grady grew up in the heartland listening to terrestrial radio stations. “I grew up in Fort Dodge, Iowa, and when I was a kid I grew up on Top 40 radio on the AM dial, and then when an FM station came along, for me, it was just magical.” The magic helped him choose a life path. In 1979, at age 18, he started his journey through the ether and became a radio station GM at age 23.

Grady had a dream come true in the early 90s. “When I was hired by Dean Sorenson in 1991, I got the privilege to run a couple of the stations I grew up with. It was really a broadcast dream for me to come back and run those stations.”

Dreams fade and radio landscapes are ever-changing. “Today, all of the stations I ran, plus others I worked at, seven stations in all, are run by one out-of-town group. All of a sudden it’s one group, one voice, and one vision. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.”

Cue Fort Dodge Radio . No towers, no transmitters, just a stream. “It came about as a result of a breakfast conversation I had with my wife. I had been a veteran in podcasting, I had a blog and a website for about 12 years. So I thought if I knew how to do it, I would do something called Fort Dodge Radio.”

Bill Grady

Grady has been streaming for about a month now; playing the music he’s familiar with. “I didn’t want to do what they were doing, just a carbon copy of them, I wanted to do something in a niche they were missing. What I was hearing from friends and colleagues in the business was that the 70s and 80s music group was being underserved. I knew the music, I had the music, it was sort of my wheelhouse. It’s what I grew up with on the radio.”

“All the music is basically from my personal collection. My collection is immense, so that is a huge advantage if you are trying to start a radio station. We are not trying to be like terrestrial radio on a digital platform. In a digital age, where people are listening on-demand, my philosophy is to get in and get out. We simply say here’s some songs from the 80s or songs from the 70s, and then we play three-in-a-row. Because of digital music license restrictions, there are a lot of terrestrial radio things we can’t do.”

That licensing is handled by the streaming service that Fort Dodge Radio uses and pays for. It’s not a hobby for Grady, it’s a love that he hopes to turn into a business. “All the digital ads that are on are paid for. It’s all based on listener impressions. We’ve only been on for about a month, but I’m happy to say that it looks like we broke even. Which was much better than I expected. Like I told my wife, if we start this it’s going to be for the long haul. From my experience, both in podcasting and doing websites, you don’t look at it too closely until at least a year or two.”

Getting the word out about Fort Dodge Radio is a challenge and a far cry from the old days. “In the old days when a new terrestrial radio station went on the air, the billboards went up. In the digital age the new billboard is social media. We market it through social media, blogging, YouTube, and the website. People are sharing the station and talking about it online. A group called StreamFinder has about 13,000 stations on their site. They recently picked us as one of their Featured Stations of the Month, based on listener feedback.”

Grady is happy he has moved out of the air and into the stream, especially because of how the rules for radio station ownership are changing. “There have been five ownership changes of the stations I worked at in about 20 years. They are now all operated by out-of-town owners. When I worked for Sorenson, you could only own so many stations in a market. We owned seven and for me that was a perfect fit. It was big enough, yet small enough, and we made money. The way it is today, I think that if we had more owners with less stations that would be good, overall, for broadcasting.”

You can contact Bill Grady at 515.573.5117 or email info@fortdodgeradio.com

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