NYRMS Archive: Bringing pop-punk to the masses, idobi Radio continues 17-year rise to the top

(Originally published on Examiner.com on May 18, 2016)

It is hard for a small radio station to be a contender in the realm of aural media. Much of the terrestrial and online airwaves are dominated by iHeartRadio, CBS Radio and Cumulus Radio. Online, instant gratification rules with sites like Spotify, Rdio and Pandora, which let you listen to any song you want when you want. Yet idobi Radio has beaten the odds to become one of the top radio stations in the world.

In a society where streaming has seemingly taken over people’s listening habits, it’s fascinating that radio is still the number one place people discover new artists. As aural media goes, it is one of the oldest, with broadcasts first beginning in the early 1900s. At the time, CBS and NBC dominated the airwaves, first on the AM dial, then on the stronger FM dial, letting listeners hear the latest music and entertainment programs without leaving the comfort of their own homes. Over the years, radio has progressed with new technologies; satellite radio became popular in the 1990s and 2000s, and terrestrial radio was starting to go digital. This period was also giving rise to internet radio stations, which would give a new freedom to listeners who wanted to hear more than what broadcast had to offer.

idobi Radio (stylized in all lowercase letters) was started in 1999 as internet radio was becoming more popular. However, the station has proved to be more than a fad. The station has been gaining momentum for more than 17 years, going on to become both the number one internet alternative rock station and the number six digital radio station in the world. In that time, they have been able to branch out, adding more streams to their line-up, expanding their reach to such radio-silent genres as metal and hard rock (Howl), indie-rock (Anthm) and electronic (the upcoming Electra).

Founded by Tom Cheney and owned by members of Good Charlotte and Simple Plan, idobi was created to fill a gap in radio coverage. “I was hearing a lot of new music that wasn’t getting traction with the mainstream audience,” says Cheney. “I felt that if more people were exposed to it, they would enjoy it. So I started an alternative pop-punk station out of my kitchen, broadcasting on an old PowerMac 6500 on Live365.” And that is exactly what that initial stream did. Many new bands got the chance to get their music to a new audience, and in turn, a new audience got to hear new bands. “I never felt that you could only be one type of music fan,” says Cheney. “Life is fluid and music tastes change with your mood. I felt people should get a chance to listen to something new. They might become fans.”

One of idobi’s biggest draws comes from the station’s relationship with the bands that it plays. “Our entire staff takes great pride in cultivating relationships with the artists we work with,” says idobi program director and vice president Eddie Barella. Over the years, hundreds of bands have appeared on the station’s hit original programming and some have even decided to contribute their time, reaching out to idobi to start their own shows. Programs on the station include ‘Man of the Hour’ with Sébastien Lefebvre and Patrick Langlois of Simple Plan, ‘The Dangerous Darrin Show’ with Goldfinger drummer Darrin Pfeiffer and ‘The Mike Herrera Hour’ with MxPx’s Mike Herrera. “Having artists get involved in programming is a natural extension of everything we do,” says Barella. “idobi provides a unique and large platform for bold, new, and interesting voices who want to stand out in a creative environment.” The inclusion of artist-led shows was a natural thing for the station. Barella continues, “Many times artist-hosted show concepts have come up in casual conversation, or over a meal. Other times artists hear about idobi through the grape vine and approach us because their friends and colleagues have had a great experience.”

This closeness to the artists has worked well for idobi Radio. Between their website, iTunes, TuneIn and their mobile apps, more than 5.5 million listeners have been flocking to the site monthly to hear the new alternative rock they are not hearing on terrestrial radio, as well as interviews with their favorite bands on shows like ‘The Gunz Show,’ ‘The Mike Herrera Hour’ and ‘Gone Fishkin.’

The hype isn’t only in the United States either. Nearly 20 percent of their audience is global. “Our stations mainly target the US market, however, having international reach is slowly becoming monetizable as we begin airing advertisements in Europe and other parts of the world,” says Barella. “Broadcasting worldwide doesn’t feel like a real thing until we’re live on-air taking Skype calls from Asia, or engaging on social media with kids in Australia.” Although their international audience isn’t as developed yet, those at idobi are still surprised by the reach they have. “It’s mind-blowing and humbling when people from all walks of life, in every corner of the planet, reach out to express their gratitude for what we do,” continues Barella. “The internet makes Earth seem smaller and smaller. We’ve received Skype calls from every single continent!”

idobi Radio’s popularity has led to one-of-a-kind partnerships with major tours and publications. “Our partnerships with Vans Warped Tour and the Alt Press Music Awards (APMAs) came about quite organically,” says idobi creative director Sherin Nicole. Since 2014, they have been the official radio station of the Vans Warped Tour and have curated a show specifically catering to it. “We reached out to 4Fini in 2014 with the idea to create specialized radio content that would allow listeners to feel like they were on Warped Tour ‘all summer long.’ 4Fini was curious enough to try it out. It worked. Together, we’ve been making the series bigger and better each year. Look out for the new logo this summer.” As for the APMAs, now in its second year, idobi has been there since the beginning. “With the APMAs, we were delighted to get the call from AltPress during the lead-up to their inaugural show,” says Nicole. “Our audiences have a huge overlap so teaming up with them made a lot of sense. I remember Tom and I were in the car on our way to a show, while Eddie was on the phone from Denver, we all kind of smiled and said, ‘This is going to be cool.’”

Even more impressive was their partnership with The Smithsonian in Washington D.C., where idobi Radio worked with Tycho to relaunch the museum’s ‘After Hours’ series. “It’s still amazing to realize our show with Tycho and The Smithsonian was one of the hottest tickets in DC in September of last year,” says Nicole. “All our phones rang non-stop with guest list requests that entire night. When Smithsonian Enterprises first reached out to us to help relaunch their signature After Hours series, the former art major in me did a little dance. We called Tycho’s management and they were into the idea too. I mean, how often do you get to rock out under the stars, inside one of the nation’s preeminent museums. Not often at all—that was a special night.”

However, none of these partnerships and artist-driven shows would happen if radio didn’t still have such a large place in music culture. In the end, it’s still radio that influences what people listen to and purchase. “Local and internet radio stations all over the country are the ones that consistently break new artists,” says Nicole, and idobi Radio is no different. “It’s because of us that many of those unknown, alternative or indie artists finally become available via on-demand services.”

What does set idobi Radio apart is their love for the music and the scene that they cover. “idobi’s listeners adore us and we believe it’s because we give that love right back,” says Nicole. The station was created to give the scene a voice, and through its shows and partnerships, has been able to do so very successfully. “There’s nothing quite like being able to turn on your favorite radio station, then sit back and listen. With internet radio there’s no playlist or skipping of songs necessary—just good music chosen by music lovers like you for you.”

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