Delmarva Broadcasting’s “Graffiti Radio 93.7” (WSTW-HD2) Wilmington, DE got a profile from the Delaware News Journal. The award-winning youth-oriented channel has aired since 2006 as a programming project from the company’s younger employees.
From the story:
“Chances are most folks aren’t familiar with the work of Foxygen, Ben Gibbard or other artists played on Graffiti Radio. And the typical radio listener perhaps hasn’t yet tuned in to a high definition radio station. But the Delmarva Broadcasting Co. is betting the combination of new artists, young programmers and new technology will prepare the company nicely for the radio world of the future.
“If you’re an early adopter, you do it because you believe in it, there is a future, there will be a tipping point,” said Pete Booker, president of the company. “The time will come very soon.”
Delmarva Broadcasting runs 12 radio stations between Delaware and Maryland’s Eastern Shore, including WDEL 1150 AM and WSTW 93.7 FM.
HD radio, which requires a special receiver, provides CD-quality sound for the listener, Booker said. For the radio station’s operators, it allows them to use the spectrum they already have to add additional stations.
“We thought about it. For more sustainability, let’s go with the young audience,” Booker said. “We didn’t want it to sound like any other radio station sounded.”
In the summer of 2005, they called together all of the company’s employees younger than 30 to provide their ideas for what a new radio station should be. In reality, it was the people in their early 30s who took the most interest in crafting the station – “Everyone thinks they’re younger and hipper than they are,” said Booker, who has been in radio since 1969.
Graffiti Radio – “graffiti is a creative expression of contemporary art,” Booker explained – began broadcasting in October 2006, under the formal name WSTW HD 2, or 93.7-2. It had no employees dedicated specifically to the station, but, as General Manager Mark Weidel described it, it was an “ad hoc group of young people” who had other jobs at the company, but had an interest in making it work.
At first, the music had a much harder edge, reflecting the alternative music of the day, Weidel said. They later switched to a format which includes indie rock, funk, synth pop and hip-hop. In 2010, they hired two employees to program the station and be its on-air personalities. Today, they are Sabrina Sabia, its program director, and Amber Macey, its content producer.
The station’s executives handle the business side, but “it’s their program, their format, their product,” Booker said of the younger set. The station has won a NAB HD Radio Multicast Award for innovative programming.
Macey said the focus is on introducing the listeners to music that has just come out – and there’s a lot of new music to sort through. To help figure out which music has a buzz, Macey said she checks social media like Facebook and ReverbNation, and lesser-known websites like Pitchfork, Consequence of Sound and Stereogum.
Graffiti Radio has a featured album of the week, and bands play live in the studio. Macey said there’s a focus on local music as well, with a Battleshy Youths poster up in the station’s offices. Macey said she gets out into the area live music scene to hear bands and shake hands.
There’s no way to count how many people are listening on HD radio, but they’ve noticed a steadily rising listenership online.
Revenue has been growing, and though advertisers still have yet to fully embrace the station, Graffiti has found a unique way to blend sponsorships into the programming rather than breaking for commercials, Booker said. For instance, they team up with area music venues to broadcast live concerts, giving the venues plenty of on-air shoutouts.”
RBR-TVBR observation: We wonder what ratings and local following WSTW would have today if it launched something like this on its main signal six years ago and put the full firepower of Delmarva broadcasting behind it. To us, this is how radio should be today—a place for music discovery for younger demos. These are the disenchanted 18-34 year-olds that have left radio for Pandora, Rdio and Slacker after CHR became “too young” for them. What choice do they have now? “Alternative” Rock? Please. Well-picked Indie Rock with some good picks from other musical genres is the format of the future—that is if we want to keep music on the dial for years to come.