John "Whip" Wilbur about the death of Indie 101.5 and the rise of Indie303.com
No one tried harder to save Indie 101.5 -- a station discussed in a just-published interview with Max Media Denver president and general manager Jeff Norman -- than its music director, John Wilbur, known to one and all as Whip. In January, he stepped from behind the microphone to launch a campaign on behalf of the exciting but low-rated outlet, and in May, he urged advertisers to sign up if they wanted to prevent the format from vanishing. Nevertheless, Max Media's owners silenced Indie in favor of (briefly) The Pole, a jokey "Stripper Radio" approach, and then The Truth, which offers right-wing talk. Fortunately, Whip continues to draw his Max Media salary, performing board-op-type duties for The Truth even as he pushes Indie303.com, which recasts the defunct station as an Internet-only radio source. The switch hasn't been totally smooth; this past weekend, a technical glitch forced Whip and fellow Indie vets Ralphie (who's also still employed by Max Media) and Lynne Ryan (a freelancer getting paid through a pre-existing trade-out deal) to zip their lips and spin tracks without introduction or comment. But he sees things moving in a positive direction. "People are obviously upset they lost the terrestrial signal," he says. "But they've been pretty supportive of the website so far."
True enough. The site, which is currently running in beta mode, streams on Live365.com, and at the time of its launch, "we were ranked, like, number 1,700 worldwide," Whip reports. "Now, we're up to 260, and in our format, we're in the top ten. Just in the first seven days, we had 20,000 streams -- and in the old days of Indie, we might have gotten 500 in a month." As a bonus, Live365.com "gives you statistics to let you know where your listeners are," he goes on. "You know, it could be somebody listening in Poland. But about 90 percent are coming from the Denver metro area." That's important, because most Denver advertisers have no interest in reaching consumers in Warsaw. Still, this breakdown doesn't make selling ads on Internet radio a snap. Businesses are purchasing fewer spots on old-school radio these days due to that recession you may have heard about -- and getting them to invest online, on a new operation distributed via a more-or-less unproven medium, only increases the overall challenge. But for Indie303.com to remain viable over the long haul, it's got to generate advertiser support. After all, programs will essentially be brokered, with single sponsors paying for them as they did in the golden age of television. Thus far, Whip says two or three advertisers are giving Indie303.com a try, and the site's got other leads. In the meantime, he's trying to rev up members of the community, many of whom have been connecting by way of Indie's Facebook page, through get-togethers like one that took place at 3 Kings Tavern earlier this week. At this point, Max Media is essentially funding the project, and Whip is uncertain how long they'll continue to do so unless Indie303.com can prove it's capable of supporting itself. But he's grateful for the opportunity, no matter how long it lasts. "The fact that Max Media thought to do this -- I'm stunned by it," he maintains. "I figured that when Indie was done, it was done for good. And I'm not sucking up to the owners. This is really out-of-the-box thinking in the radio industry. I think they saw that Indie could sell products and stuff, and this is just another way of doing it."
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