Hotels played a big role in the early days of radio broadcasting, providing shelter and credibility to new radio stations.
New Orleans’ WDSU launched as a respectable business inside the city’s DeSoto Hotel in 1928, after spending five years operating out of owner Joseph Uhalt’s backyard chicken coop as WCBE. Other hoteliers played home to radio stations such as Chicago’s Drake Hotel, which housed WGN (then WDAP) in 1923.
But the trend was short-lived: As radio began to boom in the 1930s, stations checked out of hotels to move into their own dedicated facilities.
Today, in Washington, D.C., there are two facilities whose presence hearkens back to radio’s historic relationship with hotels; and the hospitality segment has drawn new interest recently from iHeartRadio as it seeks to bring its own channels and content to hotel-based consumers nationally.
RETURN OF THE LOBBY STATION
If you’re a guest at The Line hotel in Washington, you’re free to look through the windows at live broadcasts being streamed from Full Service Radio, a lobby-based internet radio station in a chic, elegant setting.
“We offer 34 weekly programs/podcasts created by local producers, which can be heard live or on demand at www.thelinehotel.com/full-service-radio,” said Jack Inslee, founder and executive producer of Full Service Radio.
Inslee previously helped launch Heritage Radio Network and is a record producer, audio engineer and DJ.
“The shows cover a very wide variety of topics from music and food to self-help and pop culture. Our full-time employee and part-timers work to identify possible hosts, who provide the content to us for free in exchange for using our studio to create this content and distribute it worldwide.”
Full Service Radio’s live schedule at The Line hotel runs Sunday to Friday. Its program/podcast titles include “SongByrd Radio,” “Beer Me,” “Beats&Beautiful Music,” “The Wedding Dish” and “Edible Activist.”
Although he says Full Service Radio does work with The Line hotel on content occasionally, the streaming station manages its own programming without external direction.
“We’re free to do anything we want as we see fit,” said Inslee. “Meanwhile, if our hosts manage to attract sponsors, they get to keep the majority of the revenues, which provides them with an incentive to grow their programs and their audiences.”
Newly completed in the courtyard of the Willard InterContinental Hotel is Big Whig Media, a full-fledged multimedia production facility. It is a partnership of Nahigian Strategies, a communications and public relations firm, and property developer Carr Companies.
Big Whig Media (“Whig” being a nod to the defunct political party) is home to an audio production studio for live radio and audio streams and podcasts, a multi-camera video studio and TV editing suite, and satellite uplinks/landline links to get the content out to the world.
“There’s a real demand for third-party production studios in downtown Washington,” said Cassie Scher, an account manager with Nahigian Strategies. “With industry experts and foreign dignitaries staying at the Willard, and so many government agencies and associations nearby, this location is the perfect spot for people to be able to do their interviews without having to go too far out of their way.”
Appealing to audio professionals is definitely part of its goals. Its website states: “Bring your podcast or live radio show to the cutting edge! Big Whig Media offers the only ground-level, windowed studio focused primarily on creating premium audio content. We also offer the opportunity to transform your program from an audio-only experience into a dynamic, visual show, streamed with the ability for fans to see you record live. For those content creators or radio hosts visiting Washington D.C., we offer the opportunity and equipment you need to broadcast from the iconic Willard InterContinental Hotel.”
Industry biggie HeartMedia may not be based in a hotel lobby, but it, too, sees the potential in the hospitality segment. Since 2017 it has been using a cloud-based distribution platform from hospitality tech company Intelity to deliver its streamed stations to hotel guests using tablet computers in their rooms.
“Integrating iHeartRadio into hotel rooms through partners like Intelity is a great way to give travelers a chance to stay connected to their communities while on the road, while also giving them the opportunity to quickly discover what’s happening in the places they are visiting,” said Jessica Jerrick, iHeartRadio’s EVP of business development and partnerships.
“In addition to access to thousands of live radio stations across the country, travelers can access music and podcasts perfect for any mood or activity, all for free.”
This September, for instance, iHeart announced an agreement with Hilton Hotels. “Hilton guests can now enjoy thousands of iHeartRadio’s music playlists, podcasts and can even stream live radio stations,” the companies announced. “Guests can access this new feature directly from their TVs in Hilton’s ‘Connected Room’ guest entertainment platform.”
Perhaps it’s too much to call any of this a rebirth of hotel-based radio or even a trend in hotel-based internet radio. But the special nature of hotels seems to have enduring media appeal.
Intelity CEO Robert Stevenson describes hotel listeners as a highly engaged, captive audience. Similar captive audiences could be captured by setting up internet radio stations in other specialized locations, he added.
“For example, if there is a streaming audio station set up in a mall, they have the opportunity to sell advertising placements to the stores within the mall and can guarantee that those advertisements will reach a relevant audience,” Stevenson said. “The secret is to have a targetable audience and a platform to deliver a broadcast on, ideally digital and mobile.”
It remains to be seen if hotels in other U.S. cities follow this trend; but Full Service Radio is now producing programs in The Line hotels in Austin, Texas, and Los Angeles.