One of the most memorable moments of the last – as in final – NU Rock Awards was that moment when all the current NU DJs (as well as some alumni) were assembled on stage for their final farewell, and Francis Reyes (the legendary In The Raw host, chief DJ emeritus, and whatever else title he holds) was attempting to say something meaningful to the crowd about the end of the station, the end of the idea of NU 107 as “the Home of New Rock”.
With the switch-over from Rock to mass-based programming imminent, you can imagine tuning in next week and hearing someone in the mold of Tita Swarding instead of Francis Brew – interviewing an up and coming starlet instead of an unwashed unsigned indie band.
Francis was clearly choking up, and was starting to mutter incomprehensibly into his microphone, when all of a sudden, he just blurted it out:
“NU107 Will Never FUCKING DIE!!!”
Cheers, applause. There it was, clear as day, he said it. It was shouted out, drenched in emotion and passion, like the final “Banzai!!” of a kamikazee pilot zeroing in on the flight deck of an enemy aircraft carrier. Everyone heard what they wanted to hear in their heart of hearts, though what it all really means is open to interpretation.
You could say that at that moment, NU 107 entered the pantheon of great Manila music stations that came and went including the likes of DZRJ “The Rock of Manila”, CityLite 88.3, “The Intelligent Alternative”, XB 102- “The Station That Dares to be Different”, the original 99.5 RT “Rhythm of the City” – call letters, frequencies, and programming concepts of a golden age of radio, an age that frankly, no longer exists, but lives on in our memories.
Which meant that NU107 was clearly headed for that great nostalgia trip in the sky, as part of a memory of adolescence, of a simpler time before music downloads. A time when you would call up the station, request your favorite song, cue the cassette recorder, press record, and assemble your mixtape. A tape that you could play while doing your homework or hanging out with friends.
That experience is clearly lost on today’s young music fan, who in the age of iTunes, Bit Torrent, and iPods, is more likely to be doing their homework with an IM app in a window, while listening to mp3’s of their favorite band, and viewing the band’s Facebook page in a browser, all at the same time. With all this going on, who has the time to listen to the radio?
Even the older, more affluent music fan who listens to music while commuting to work has his ears plugged into an ipod while on the bus or train. If you’re driving to work, today’s car tech gives you so many choices for in-car entertainment. Sure you can still listen to the radio, but you can also listen to CDs, podcasts on iPods, videos, and all sorts of media plugged into a USB port. If you plug in a USB hard drive to your car, that provides hours of media that radio can hardly hope to match. Some passengers take advantage of portable 3G routers to pipe in Wi-Fi into cars and vans, and social media and web browsing provide yet more competition to radio. AM radio, with its newscasts and commentaries, remains relevant. But as a source of music, radio clearly takes a beating.
NU107 would have to live on only in our memories, because in its present form, it cannot survive the realities of today. People still like music, but music fans have moved on from radio as their only source of new music and music information. Bands today have alternatives for plugging their gigs and interacting with fans. The guesting on “In The Raw” may have still been a big thing for young bands, but today they also have their websites, YouTube channels, Facebook pages, and Twitter accounts to spread their message about their music and gigs.
Music stations like NU107 used to be the only nexus for the rock music community due to their shows, sponsored events, and function as a sort of community bulletin board. But now the Internet provides so many other channels for this.
Then there are the economics of it all.
NU107 was a money losing proposition for many years for its owner, a company known as the Progressive Broadcasting Corporaton. Long-time broadcasting pro Mike Pedero of Progressive put it best in a Facebook comment when he posted, “Radio is a business and if for several years, you just keep on losing and pumping in money without returns, until when are you willing to do it?”
As far as we’ve been able to figure out, The Home of New Rock is shutting down because Progressive Broadcasting will be making available the studio, frequency, and transmission facilities to a block timer who will be paying a guaranteed amount to use all these. This is similar to the way a content company like Solar Entertainment buys block time on a UHF Free TV channel and transforms the gawky RJTV channel to the glitzy “2nd Avenue” station. The block time revenue for 107.5 goes to Progressive, who vows to plow the money into investments in new radio technology. AM and FM aren’t the only deal in town anymore, now there are digital radio technologies worth looking into, and Pedero wants to explore all these.
Mike Pedero is the guy who created stations like 99.5 RT, Citylite 88.3, 96.3 WRocK, and of course NU 107, so I think he means what he says when he says he’s in it for the long haul.
So in other words, for the present at least, Progressive is getting out of the content business (i.e. the business running a rock music station) and concentrating on providing broadcast infrastructure to another content provider.
When you come to think of it, the radio business is a crazy and expensive business. If you run the whole shebang like Progressive did, you’re responsible for both content and infrastructure. The business of creating content is just part of the equation. That involves running the broadcast studio, hiring an air staff team (DJs), programming the content and producing shows, selling advertising, producing events. There’s also the whole infrastructure side to it, setting up the radio towers, operating transmitters, maintaining radio engineering staff and the like to broadcast your content over the air. That is crazy expensive, and the company looks to advertising as its only source of revenue? Olats talaga.
If you translate this to running a web company like Facebook, it would involve not only running the website itself, but owning and operating the server farm, and the ISPs itself. You would have to own both the website and a telco like AT&T or PLDT. Now maybe this is what Google would ultimately want to do, but most websites concentrate on content creation and leave the infrastructure and information delivery to someone else. Yet traditional broadcast companies like Progressive Broadcasting attempt to do it all.
So how does an idea like “The Home of New Rock” survive?
I say, concentrate on the content creation side, and get out of the information delivery infrastructure business. This means concentrate on all the cool creative stuff associated with running the station: the music, the show programming, the DJs, the events, the marketing. But give up the idea of running radio transmitters.
Secondly, I would say – give up on radio, period. Because the kind of youth audience that NU107 was courting, the youth “Gen Y and Gen Z” market, already gets its entertainment kicks elsewhere. That is increasingly digital and online. So stay online. “NU 2.0″ would be a purely online presence, it would have its presence felt on the web and on all the cool social media channels all the kids hang out in. And it would find its way into mobile, where the online world is eventually gravitating to.
Shows could be live (live streaming, as in an internet radio station), or pre-recorded and distributed as media files (do they still call them podcasts?) that can be played on iPods, iPod Touches, mobile devices, media players, and Internet-equipped televisions. Shows don’t have to be audio only, they can include video content. Think of TWIT TV, Revision 3, or CNET but with NU 2.0 content. “In The Raw” or “Not Radio” don’t have to be a real-time radio shows, they can be weekly episodes you download through an RSS subscription and consume at your leisure.
By sticking to content creation and using the Internet as a content delivery medium, NU wouldn’t need to own the delivery infrastructure. Dispense with the idea of owning radio towers and transmitters, or even owning its own media streaming servers and storage. In an Internet operation, all of these can be provided by cloud services. You pay only for what you need. And NU would no longer be bound by NTC broadcast restrictions regulating the strength of radio transmissions. It can broadcast to the entire Philippines, or the entire world or that matter.
This can all be done on a smaller budget than what it takes to run an FM station. Hey, Francis Brew can probably finance the whole thing himself, with the help of some investors (for a quick reference, see the film, “The Social Network”). He probably can’t use the NU name (since Progressive will probably retain the trademarks) but he can spin off a version of “In the Raw” as a digital show.
Consider this some free advice. If and when this actually happens, then you could truly say that “NU107 will never fucking die.”