First, I can't overstate how strongly I feel this venture is about community. It's about organizing people around a shared interest in promoting music and public affairs of the Washington-Baltimore metroplex. It's about coming together, exchanging ideas, trying new ways of doing things, and learning from one another in the context of a viable business.
I want to thank in advance those of you who'll decide to give this project a spin. Starting a radio outlet is an ambitious challenge for anyone; I'm sure there'll be some who'll discover this is not for them, but will still get something of value from the experience. That's the exciting part about exploration, isn't it? Getting there from here is half of the fun.
To launch and operate our radio station, an energetic stream of input will be needed from musicians, students, record labels, music lovers, performing artists, IT and broadcast professionals, writers, journalists, event planners, civic activists, small businesses, marketing consultants... well, everyone and anyone. I've decided, half-jokingly, to call the project a Death Star because its business model will be a significant departure from broadcasting orthodoxy, and yet its organization will be so fundamental and transparent as to make the whole venture appear commonplace. Not only will the station's operation be influenced by you -- its supporters -- you'll share in the ownership of the venture.
My inspiration comes from many sources: years spent in and around non-commercial and commercial broadcasting; the evolution of the Internet and digital culture; the many D.C.-based musicians and performing artists I've met; untold hundreds of conversations with people from all walks of life, in a variety of settings, about music, media, and radio. What I've discovered is there's a general consensus that believes mass media generally, and broadcast radio specifically, isn't about local voices anymore. Radio programming has become increasingly centralized and homogenous... McDonald's-like. Generic. If you were to travel between cities, turn on your radio, and scan up and down the dial, it would be nearly impossible to tell you've changed locations. Not only is the lack of programming diversity apparent across the dial nationwide, the individual stations within a market each feature tightly regimented playlists and syndicated content. This is the state of the industry today as a result of its control concentrated in the hands of a few, as influenced by broadcasting deregulation and American-style economics.
Now, I'm not an opponent of commercial radio. Neither am I categorically against a corporation holding multiple licenses, within reason. I have no objection to a network of station affiliates. But it is clear the conventional point-to-multipoint (P2MP) broadcasting architecture is no longer competitive for content producers, broadcasters, sponsors, or consumers in a world of Web 2.0, digital content, and iPods. A radical re-thinking of what a radio station does and how it does it is in order, and the solution's more complex than streaming broadcasts over the 'net and offering podcasts.
The Death Star project is my attempt at a solution. It involves a fusion of various technological and business elements to be sure, but specifically, it's a listener-supported radio station organized as a cooperative. A limited, and permanently fixed number of memberships will be offered by way of a direct campaign at $25 (student), $50, $100, and $250 (business/professional) levels -- securing for each member a part of ownership, with the more expensive memberships each conferring various privileges onto the member. The members will collectively split a minimum of 50% ownership in the venture. An annual membership dues schedule will be decided once a revenue model and budget has been determined through election by members.
The next step is to convene an organizational meeting so that a board of directors may be seated, and an organizational mission statement drafted. It will be this initial group of organizers who'll help with the inaugural membership drive, as well as help shape the venture's operation and goals. February 19, 2009 is the tentative date for the first meeting at a location to be announced. Registration forms will be forwarded upon receipt of all e-mail requests.