His life would make an amusing reality show.
Alan McCall runs a locally-focused Internet-only radio station from his home in Tallahassee, Fla. His responsibilities include programming the country music, ad sales, Web page management, obtaining and disseminating updated traffic, weather and the community calendar, buying equipment and providing janitorial services.
In his spare time he is building a new studio in a trailer on his property, and he broadcasts six live shows a week, with his own records. If he didn’t need to sleep, he would probably also wake up in the middle of the night and sign on as “Johnny Midnight.”
“When I was young I started collecting country records, and I still have every one of them,” said McCall. “At age 12 I won a record from a local radio station, WMEN(AM), and when I picked up my prize in person I was fascinated by the station. Seeing the control room, I could never get radio out of my mind again.”
His music collection expanded greatly when a veteran local broadcaster, Erwin O’Conner, passed along his entire record repository dating back to 1948, on the condition that McCall “preserve it and keep it on the air.”
On Nov. 4, 2009, “Big D Country” went online. Within a few months the station had some 16,000 hits.
“I added Facebook and Twitter links,” said McCall. “Most Internet stations are just jukeboxes, but I wanted to be of service to the community with news and information out there.”
And that he is doing. Weather comes from the localized capability of www.weather.com. Updated traffic comes from the city of Tallahassee via Twitter and press releases. Leon County’s communication office provides road closure information outside of Tallahassee’s city limits, and Florida Highway Patrol gives him real-time accident reports and road blockage updates. McCall also encourages Tallahassee listeners to send him event announcements via e-mail.
The station streams all day; McCall is on the air live weekdays from 7 to 11 a.m. He also hosts “Music of New Life” featuring contemporary Christian music, Sundays at 7:30 a.m.
It’s a family affair
McCall’s background is terrestrial commercial radio, handling air work and programming. He toiled at several stations prior to starting “Big D Country,” including the magical one from which he won that record as a child.
“When I was station manager of WCVC(AM), I helped double the billing over five years,” he said. “It was a day-timer and we had a lot of preachers on the air.”
The air studio includes a RadioShack mixer, Numark and RCA CD players, RCA cassette deck, AKG mics, Gemini turntables, Behringer mixer to feed the stream to the computer, Creative Sound Blaster card, Hewlett-Packard computer with RealPlayer for MP3 playback, LG streaming computer and Studio365-Live software for live broadcasting. A new Arrakis console is pending. Production includes a Cetec/Sparta console and Spotmaster cart machines. Photo by Alan McCall
In 2000 McCall married a teacher named Marianne.
“She puts up with my radio bug. And now she and my parents are on the board of directors of Delta Star Radio of Florida Inc., a non-profit corporation.”
Radio World asked Marianne for her thoughts on the fledgling station.
“Many of my hopes have already been realized,” she said. “The station has a large listener base and is self-sustaining. The programming is excellent and has a very good response, and Alan loves his work. My one remaining desire is that we could achieve a modest income in its operations.”
And how large is that listening base?
“It’s unscientific,” said Alan McCall. “I got a report from Live365, our streaming host, which tells us that 1,536 people think Big D Country is good enough to save as a preset. Overall there are 329 country stations to choose from on Live365 and we are ranked number 25.”
McCall said that some advertisers and potential advertisers care about ratings, and some do not.
“It’s always an uphill battle getting sponsors,” he said. “As far as what we pitch, we’re trying to make local Internet radio something a lot of people can pick up at work. Most of the AM and FM stations can’t penetrate the big buildings in town. People have to deliberately find us online and we just hope they like what we’re doing.”
Just do it!
McCall has not sought the counsel of a radio consultant, but we talked to Jon Holiday, who provides this service professionally from his Denver base.
“If I was advising his station, I’d suggest utilizing available social networking tools as much as possible,” he said. “This would include maintaining a database of fans, sending periodic e-mail blasts and perhaps even marketing the site with localized banner ads on the Internet and on smart phones. Does he have a mobile app available? If he did, his station would be so much more available.”
Holiday also questioned whether the morning hours are the best time for McCall to go live.
“What do his listeners want at that time? Most of them are pretty busy, but McCall could conduct some brief research polls online to learn more about his audience,” Holiday said. “And by the way, since he is trying to reach the local market, why isn’t ‘Tallahassee’ in his URL?”
The station’s board: Marianne, Alan, Gail and Dan McCall. Photo by Davonna Hamlin Dicks
Holiday correctly surmised that McCall is part of the vast majority of small broadcasters, terrestrial and otherwise, who are under-capitalized.
“He doesn’t have a lot of money or time, so I think rather than look at his business model in the traditional sense of a broadcast station, I think if it were me, you know what? I’d totally embrace new media and blaze a new trail. What does he have to lose?”
As this is being written, McCall is moving his equipment from his home into a trailer parked near his house that will provide more space for his record collection and studio facility.
It may not be well-known among his listeners, but Alan McCall was born with cataracts and is legally blind.
“One program director told me that since I couldn’t see the control board, I would never make it as a jock,” said McCall. “I learned that board in half an hour. I’ve always loved radio. I guess I was bitten by the radio bug and it appears to be terminal.”
Ken Deutsch too was fascinated by radio at a young age. (He says that period was known to experts as “The Bronze Age.”)