Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Interview: ErrorFM's Eric Howey discusses the past present and future of collaborative radio

A while back I interviewed a deejay (Manny) from a station called Nekkid Radio. What intrigued me about Nekkid Radio was the fact that they are distributed all over the world across hemispheres and continants, and yet manage to keep the music flowing as well any terrestrial station. To whit - Manny referred to Nekkid as "a global party". Since then I've encountered other stations that have also adopted this model. ErrorFM is one of those stations.

Listening to ErrorFM is like listening to a well funded terrestrial station. The imaging is great, the deejays sound like pros, and there is a decent amount of talk programming. While a lot of people strictly want music, I quite enjoy the context a good DJ provides to the music experience.

But what are the limits of this model. Is it the way of the future, or a temporal niche. In this interview with Eric Howey from ErrorFM, I hope to shed some light on the matter.

Q1 Neil: Eric, thanks very much for taking part in this interview. How did ErrorFM get its start? What's the back story?

A1 Eric: Neil, it's a pleasure to be here. Thank you for your interest in ErrorFM. We are quite proud of the station we have built. ErrorFM is a listener-controlled radio station based in the UK. It was originally a small shoutcast server run by Emohawk of External Error, streaming off his own pc. He used to broadcast a selection of whatever music was found cluttering up his hard drive. Today, it has turned into a fully-operational 24/7 Live radio station, with all kinds of DJ's all over the world. As Manny from Nekkid said, "a global party" is the best way to describe us.

Q2 Neil: What music does ErrorFM mainly play? What is your average listener profile?

A2 Eric: ErrorFM has two channels that are totally different from each other. Channel 1 began in 2002, a free for all where hosts log in and broadcast whatever they like. There were no rules, and no restrictions. We created channel 2 because we wanted a place listeners can listen if they don't like what they hear on ch1, and to experiment.

We decided to play indie pop/AAA music in the summer of 2007. We created a programming design out of all of the songs we enjoyed listening to. We narrowed down the list by looking up the Wikipedia page of all the artists we collectively believed made up the core of the format. We have 6 ch2 Music Directors, from other countries all over the world looking for music for ch2. We built clock patterns & experiment with specific programming, targeted to the young adult and their parent. You can call it a Daddy & Daughter station. The format is called indie pop/AAA to reference what we believe is the next progression in rock radio, but the format has no specific catchy name or reference. It's closely related to New AAA.

Q3 Neil: I like the fact that you've got a decent amount of talk programming. Can you tell me about some of the shows you've got in this regard?

A3 Eric: Our talk shows are what radio used to be. They empower the broadcaster to say whatever they want, speak what's on their mind. A lot of our talk shows are very opinionated and some are just flat out silly. The Friday Shot Day Show is a show that features a bunch of guys drinking the strangest concoctions of alcohol while talking about showbiz. Tilted Talk radio is a talk show about life, culture and every day stupidity with blunt opinions and political incorrectness. It's talk that actually interests people and isn't controlled by a program director on a power trip. We also encourage an interactive radio experience by utilizing our chat room. If you ever want to talk with the DJ's, more than likely you will find them in the chat room. If you haven't checked out the chat room yet, you're missing a huge part of the true ErrorFM experience.

Q4 Neil: Where are all your DJs and personalities logging in from? How do you manage this.

A4 Eric: Using a combination of standard software and custom built applications; we make the technical management possible for DJ's to broadcast from all over the world. We have put years of development into this process and created a solution that works for us. Our DJ's also find our custom system easy to use and manageable on their end.

Q5 Neil: Can anyone participate as a DJ for ErrorFM? What do you look for in new applicants?

A5 Eric: Absolutely! Our DJ staff is located from all around the world. We have DJ's ranging from the United States, to Europe, to far east Asia. We look for applicants who have a passion for music or radio and have the creative spark that brings a unique experience to our listeners. Experience is not required but creativeness is. Anyone who would like to apply as a DJ for us can visit http://www.errorfm.com/apply.htm and fill out our application.

Q6 Neil: Is ErrorFM as a commercial venture, a not-for-profit, or something in between? If it's not commercial, do you see this model as being a viable commercial alternative to the current mode of running a radio station?

A6 Eric: As of now we are a listener supported station. We have considered going commercial but we are finding it difficult to figure out an approach that won't interfere with our feel. We really frown on having commercials on air. I feel we could go commercial if we can still cater to the small artist; we also strongly feel that we should continue our "free for all" channel 1 broadcasting. If we could find advertisers that would be interested in this kind of programming, then I don't see we couldn't switch to a commercialized model.

Q7 Neil: Once of concerns about the collaborative model is that it tends to be DJ-centric. For example, there is a dearth of kids music stations on the Internet. I have two young children who would love a station that plays Raffi and The Backyardigans, but don't know many people interested in actually playing that stuff. Forgetting about ErrorFM - do you see the collaborative model as viable for all types of formats, or only certain formats?

A7 Eric: A format is only as collaborative as the program director will make it. Our Director of Programming Barry Funkhouser works in the commercial radio industry and he knows where it has gone terribly wrong. Its technology restricts it from being able to broadcast that kind of programming without having a major listener tune out. Web radio makes this possible by offering channels that can vary in programming to accommodate this. This goes more along the lines of our channel 1 model. We can have certain DJ's that play Raffi and if certain listeners do not like it, they can switch to another channel without leaving the station.

Q8 Neil: Is there an ErrorFM theme song? If not, what would it be?

A8 Eric: Well for years our transitional DJ music has been Sofa Surfers – Sofa Rockers the Richard Dorfmeister remix. I suppose this qualifies as a theme song. Why not break tradition.

Q9 Neil: What are the future plans for ErrorFM?

A9 Eric: Honestly, we have no idea! ErrorFM has been an experiment since its first day of broadcast and as of now we are still in those stages. We know that we want to be a supporter of independent music and artists, but we are still figuring out a strategy to make a business out of it. As an independent artist, I feel that it is way too hard for us to get any airplay. I would like to change that.