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Net Losses

Web radio's future is unlimited, but its present isn't pretty.

Despite the deadly hits that dot-com stocks have taken of late, no one's ready to declare the Internet revolution an overhyped flop -- if only because the basic technology works. Nevertheless, it is easier to create a whiz-bang site these days than it is to make money from it, as GoGaGaDenver.com, a high-profile Web radio outfit, is learning the excruciating way.

A product of Boulder-based Eclectic Radio, GoGaGaDenver.com sports an exceedingly impressive pedigree. Its president is Ray Skibitsky, who was instrumental in launching both KBCO and the Peak and helped shape the sound of the Adult Album Alternative format across the country via his partnership in the influential consulting firm SBR Radio Company. Moreover, Skibitsky hired some intriguing talents to help him realize his cyber-vision, including John Hayes, the program director at KTCL during some of the station's most interesting periods, and Jim Musil, the man who launched CU-Boulder's KVCU/AM Radio 1190. He also forged an affiliation with the Denver Post, in which Post reporters discussed the big stories of the day on the site and the paper's longtime pop-music critic, G. Brown, worked as the morning-shift disc jockey for its "eclectic rock" channel.

Yet somehow, this seemingly can't-miss combo managed to do so anyhow. On January 10, GoGaGaDenver ceased streaming audio -- the equivalent of a standard radio station shutting off its transmitter and turning out the lights. The Post had originally touted its relationship with GoGaGaDenver in Aldous Huxley terms; the June 12, 2000, headline announcing the pairing read, "Post Adds Online Audio Link: Newspaper, Radio Pairing Opens New World."

Now, the Old World has gotten its revenge.

While Skibitsky is understandably downhearted about this turn of events, he hasn't become a born-again Luddite. At present, he's actively seeking new financing to help revitalize and expand on the GoGaGaDenver notion, even going so far as to authorize the publication of Eclectic Radio's phone number (303-402-9353) in the hope that investors will ring him up. He'll likely tell those who do that in a little over half a year, GoGaGaDenver drew a considerable audience (about 30,000 unique visits per month toward the end) and was "gaining traction" regarding advertising revenue, in part, Skibitsky believes, because of its Denver-centric focus.

But if all that's true, why is GoGaGaDenver currently as silent as Marcel Marceau? Skibitsky is forthright about the problems. "Three things happened to us. One, there's been a big downturn in the Internet. Two, Internet radio has not generated the kind of advertiser support we needed. And I also have to say that we got caught up in the JOA."

The existence of the JOA -- the just-approved joint operating agreement chaining together the business components of the Post and the Rocky Mountain News -- raises some intriguing questions regarding the publications' Web equivalents. If the sites are determined to be primarily editorial in nature, they will probably remain under the control of the individual newspapers. But if they're deemed business assets, they will almost certainly fall under the authority of the Denver Newspaper Agency, the entity created to oversee non-editorial functions. As such, they might be stripped down, altered or perhaps even combined in order to save a few bucks.

Speculation about the latter prospect accelerated on January 6, when the Rocky announced that Jack McElroy, its general manager of new-media Internet operations, had been reassigned to the newsroom to handle "special projects."

But right now, no one at either daily is eager to talk about it. McElroy forwarded inquiries to marketing vice president Linda Sease, who's leaving the News for an executive position at Clear Channel. A representative for Sease then directed questions to Rocky editor John Temple, whose assistant actually laughed in response to a request for an interview with her boss. (I'm guessing that the only way Temple will ever phone me back is if I get photos of him necking with Dean Singleton.) Likewise, Tom Botelho, spokesman for the Post regarding the JOA, says that no one at his paper can comment until January 22, when a so-called quiet period ends and the agreement becomes official -- a position echoed by Michelle Wells, speaking for the Denver Newspaper Agency.

That leaves Eric Grilly (son of Post publisher Gerald Grilly), who serves as vice president of interactive media at MediaNews Group, which owns the Post. He declines to chat about the outlook for the Web sites as well, but he's considerably more open to discussing what happened at GoGaGaDenver. Grilly expresses affection for Skibitsky's baby and doesn't rule out the possibility of working with Eclectic Radio down the line, but he concedes that "unfortunately, GoGaGa didn't have the funding it needed to prove that its model worked. Even with the help of one of the biggest media vehicles in town, you can't achieve critical mass to support yourself in six months. But that's not to be negative toward either Ray or his model. We'd just started to launch our sales campaign, because we needed to have an audience to sell before we could start selling it, but we'd only gotten to make one or two presentations when the plug came out."

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