oWOW Lives Local Radio Dream Via the Web

John Gorman and Jim Marchyshyn bring their Cleveland sensibility to online operation

Tune into the web stream of Cleveland station oWOW and you’ll hear solid local content — live DJs who live in northern Ohio, local musicians and talent, and local advertisers.

In-studio performances by local musicians is part of oWOW’s approach.

But search Cleveland’s AM and FM bands for oWOW, and you won’t find its signal, because this hyper-local station is web-only.

Even though oWOW works out of a broadcast-style studio and office complex at 1305 West 80th Street in Cleveland’s Gordon Square arts district, this adult alternative station delivers its content exclusively on the internet.

“We have everything that goes along with an AM or FM station except the transmitters and towers,” said John Gorman, oWOW’s co-founder and chief content officer. “But since you can get us in the car using the oWOW app on your Android, BlackBerry or iOS smartphone, and either a Bluetooth-connected radio or probable FM transmitter plugged into your smartphone, this isn’t such a big deal.”

oWOW staff selling T-shirts and hats at BAY arts, a gallery and arts center.

oWOW is also available at www.owownow.com, Roku streaming media device and on other streamers such as Pandora or Spotify.

WHY WEB-ONLY?

Gorman is the former program director and operations manager of WMMS(FM), vice president and operations manager of WMJI and VP of programming for OmniAmerica Group; he also had his own radio consultancy, all based in Cleveland. oWOW co-founder and Director of Sales Marketing Jim Marchyshyn also was an employee of WMMS.

Collectively, this pair is well-versed in the ways of local Cleveland radio. So why did they decide to launch a web-only station in 2015?

“It can be traced to the devolution of U.S. radio by large conglomerates, where ‘live and local’ was replaced by voice-tracked shows and syndication from distant locations,” said Gorman. “Add the fact that creativity and DJ personalities have been replaced by safe, faceless, cookie-cutter content, and there really is no place left for people who preferred personality-oriented local radio to do it on air.”

Another benefit of not having a transmitter and antennas is the cost.

John Gorman with the oWOW airstaff: Ravenna Miceli, Steve Pappas, Charlotte DiFranco, Chuck Matthews, Chrissie Louder.
Images courtesy oWOW

“The operating costs of traditional radio broadcasting are prohibitive, especially to new independent stations who would have to carry a massive debt load to get started,” Gorman said. “We saw no need to go that route, when the web offers so many ways to reach local listeners.”

Tune into oWOW online, and you’ll hear a AAA station with an emphasis on a vast playlist, smooth production and lots of local content. The schedule features live personalities with deep Cleveland radio roots during the dayparts. They are Ravenna Miceli on air 9 a.m.–2 p.m. weekdays and Saturdays, who is familiar to listeners from work at WMJI(FM) and WNWV(FM); Steve Pappas 2–6 p.m. weekdays and Saturdays (WQAL); and Chuck Matthews Monday to Thursday 6–9 p.m. and Saturday 6 p.m. to midnight (WMJI and WMMS).

“This is local contact and content that people can’t get over the air anymore,” said Gorman. “It’s gotten so bad that when the Eagles’ Glenn Frey died, oWOW was the only local Cleveland station that was live and able to announce the news — and adjust our playlist to focus on his work.”

Gorman says oWOW does its best to be visible on Cleveland’s music scene.

Such local content is also not being provided by the computer algorithm-driven playlists on Pandora and other streaming services, he added. “For live and local in Cleveland, we are the only commercially-driven choice.”

PAYING THE RENT

oWOW sees localism as the station’s defining edge against its AM/FM competition. This is why the station emphasizes local news and sports, weather and musical talent in its schedule, and also does its best to play a big role in the greater Cleveland area.

“We are working into the fabric of the community and serving as media sponsor of events like the Cleveland Beer Week, Cleveland Comedy Festival [multi-day, multi-location], the Cleveland Independent Film Festival and regional business expos,” said Gorman. “We were also sponsors of two major music festivals, LaureLive in June and The Burning River Festival in August.”

oWOW is using billboards to raise its profile with Cleveland radio listeners.

To pay the rent, oWOW is focusing its ad sales on the 17-county area surrounding the Cleveland, Akron and Canton markets, including sponsors from Akron and Youngstown. This is why the station goes the extra mile to promote its local advertisers not only in its stream, but also on a dedicated “Keep It Local, Cleveland” Sponsors page.

“In addition to sharing in our local identity, being an oWOW advertiser means that your message doesn’t get lost eight to 14 unit sets,” Gorman said. “This is because we have a maximum of three spots per unit set, and only three sets per hour which are run between music; not announcer breaks.”

Despite this pro-advertiser bent, oWOW is having a tough time wooing over-the-air advertisers to its web-only feed.

“One reason is because a few potential advertisers are unfamiliar with how much over-the-air radio has moved away from being local, and how much internet radio has improved its reach to listeners,” said Gorman. “Another factor is the scarcity of experienced advertising salespeople and account managers in this space. It’s taken us months of searching to find the sales, promotion and marketing talent that we need.”

PLAYING FOR TIME

Despite the challenges of selling advertising in the web-only space. Gorman says that oWOW gradually is gaining traction locally; both in terms of ads sold and people tuning in. He also remembers a time when FM radio was the new kid on the block, and the problems that FM station owners had attracting advertisers to their airwaves.

Inviting the listening public into oWOW’s studios.

“FM had its teething pains until it became the dominant medium a few decades back, supplanting AM,” Gorman said. “Now we’re able to offer the same kind of superior value proposition to local and regional accounts that FM did in its day, including more musical choice and more local content at a time when over-the-air broadcasting has abandoned this region. We just have to hold on and keep at it until the market catches up to us — as it did with FM.”

Comment on this or any story to radioworld@nbmedia.com.



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