“When you walk in here, you’re inspired,” says John Gorman, Chief Content Officer for oWOW
, a regional online radio station that has just gone live, as he walks through the halls of the 78th Street Studios
where the station has its offices. The hallways of the warehouse-like building are filled with artwork and photographs by the many artists who have studios in the space. “It’s not like walking into a regular office building. By the time the people who work at the radio station get to our offices, they have passed by a lot of art. It’s inspiring.”
Currently, Gorman and Director of Sales Marketing Jim Marchyshyn are holed up in a windowless room (nicknamed "The Trolley") where they have set their laptops up on two small tables. But they have plans to build a bigger studio that will even be able to accommodate live performances.
Several years ago, Gorman and Marchyshyn, two industry veterans with deep local roots, began thinking about starting an online radio station.
“The idea [for an Internet radio station] has been there for ages,” says Gorman, who was the program director at WMMS when it was considered to be one of the best radio stations in the country, when asked about what made him want to launch an Internet radio station. “It goes back to when streaming first became viable online. That was in the mid-’90s. You could see it in the future because there was a need for it. The other side of it is that it’s expensive and why do it unless there’s an audience for it. The idea has been in our minds but the timing wasn’t right.”
In fact, when Gorman and Marchyshyn worked together at a radio station in Detroit, the program manager told them not to spend more than five minutes on the Internet because it was “the CB radio of the ’90s.”
That same guy also walked into their office and yelled, “Don’t be creative.”
“That’s when we knew radio was over,” says Gorman. “If there was a point when we knew that terrestrial radio as we knew it would come to an end, it was that day.”
In order to bring oWOW to fruition, Gorman needed to have a good business plan. He admits that the streaming service Pandora enabled fans to listen to a broader range of music than they could hear on commercial radio and seemed to pave the way for a new approach to getting music from the Internet. It wasn’t just about downloading anymore.
“We saw that Pandora had a critical mass of audience of people using the Internet for entertainment and that was when we realized something was going on,” Gorman says. “Spotify solidified it. But the other side of both of them is that there is no element of surprise. You’re going there for a specific reason. In the old days, you had people on the air into the music and they would say things like, ‘Here’s something we think you’ll really like.’”
The station will feature several on-air personalities and will offer special programming such as Friday Night Live, seven hours of pre-recorded live concert music.
“It will be a combination of live music from albums that anyone can buy plus some unreleased live material,” Gorman says. “It’s a mix of everything. We are slowly building our own archives. At ’MMS, we had an incredible archive that went back to the ’70s.”
Gorman says local classic rock stations draw from a pool of only 200 or so songs. By adopting an Adult Alternative format, oWOW will have plenty of flexibility and much broader playlists. He hopes to revisit songs from the past two or three years that never got airplay in Cleveland and cites alt-country bands such as Lucero and Blackberry Smoke as the types of group that will receive airtime.
And he wants the station to be visible in the city.
“We want to do live remotes from clubs and live remotes from here and we want to sponsor events around town,” he says. “Cleveland hasn’t changed. You have great clubs. You have the Grog Shop
and the Beachland
and the Music Box
. But the dots aren’t connected. It’s not the well-oiled machine that it once was. Hopefully, we can be the catalyst to bring it back. There are good things happening in the city but you have to bring it all back together.”
“There was a synergy,” he says as he reflects on the time when WMMS worked with local promoters and club owners to make Cleveland into a destination for both up-and-coming and well-established bands. “That’s what we hope to establish again.”