When Michael Raley was a senior account executive at Clear Channel Seattle, everyone in the office wanted to play a song called "Two More Minutes" by an artist named Jaymes McFarland. Everyone except the people who controlled and audience-tested what made it onto the air.
To See More Photos: Behind the Scenes at Jet City Stream
"Well, a DJ did end up playing it," Raley says. "Then it got played on KEXP and The End, and eventually McFarland came out here and played a concert for The End. At Jet City Stream we do the same thing . . . we're taking that chance."
Taking a chance, indeed. Taking on Pandora, Spotify, Rhapsody, and the myriad other online music options, Raley is the founder and CEO of Seattle's Jet City Stream, an online "radio" station that spins local music and tunes by artists on their way into town. It is, Raley says, what radio was intended to be. "When you think about what a radio station is, every traditional radio station is local, as in, it's located somewhere," he says from his office at Jet City Stream headquarters in the old Rainier Brewery. "Back in the '50s, if you had a record you wanted to hear, you could call your local station and request it. If you were a band with music to drop off, it was an actual place you could go to. But these days terrestrial radio has a tough road. A lot of it is driven by Wall Street and stock prices, and I thought, what if we stopped trying to sell shit and just let people know that we're all in this together?"
Perhaps not words you'd expect to hear from a radio executive, but Raley, who entered radio sales at L.A.'s KIIS-FM (a job that eventually led him to Clear Channel) was a music lover and member of Seattle bands The Next Exit and Gas Station Diner long before he saw the other side of radio—a side he eventually soured on.
To See More Photos: Behind the Scenes at Jet City Stream
People are increasingly tuning in to the regional flavor of their communities—from handcrafted beers to locally sourced veggies—as a way to promote the sustainability of their 'hood. Jet City content director Shawn Stewart—former program director for The Mountain and producer of nationally syndicated show The World Cafe—feels that Seattle is "the absolute right city" for the station to flourish. "We have this extraordinary music scene that has such history," she says. "People from this area are so appreciative of the music that's here, and that's what we're counting on: That people love Seattle and things that are small-batch and locally sourced."
Jet City has a local thumbprint similar to KEXP's, but where KEXP is largely listener-supported, with programming geared toward buzzing indie bands regardless of origin, Jet City is financed by revenue from local advertisers and capital from private investors. And unlike most commercial playlists these days, its programming runs the gamut from Heart to The Head and the Heart, from Hendrix to My Goodness, back to back. "We believe we can mix genres the way they used to in pop radio in the '60s and '70s," says Stewart. "If it's from Seattle and I like it, I can play it.
"When I left The Mountain," Stewart continues, "I didn't want to be a broadcaster, I wanted to be a micro-caster; I felt like I was better suited for that kind of work. I did not want to go back to commercial radio. Then Michael approached me with this idea, and I liked the idea of doing something on a small scale, something hyper-local, and being involved in a startup from the ground floor of something I hope will grow—but not too big, I hope. It's recharged my batteries."
David Einmo, of Seattle-based bands Head Like a Kite and Daydream Vacation, whose new single "The Mirage" was recently added in rotation at the station, finds value in what the startup offers. "Services like Jet City Stream are the future of the music-listening experience," he says. "It's not just a passive, one-way channel like traditional radio. Online radio allows you to be an active participant in what you hear and watch. As a business model, it allows its marketing to reach a specific demographic that can be positive if it results in a person getting info about shows, clubs, restaurants, stores, etc., that are relevant to that listener."
That's what Raley hopes Jet City will do. "Look at one of our sponsors, Oh Boy! Oberto," he says. "They've been a locally owned, family-run business for nearly a century. They employ over 200 members of the community. By talking about its business and saying 'That block of music was sponsored by Oh Boy! Oberto,' it encourages listeners to make a local choice."
Speaking of local voices, Sonics legend Shawn Kemp recently joined the team to host Wednesday night's Off the Record, and former Santana drummer Michael Shrieve is hosting Notes From the Field on Sundays. Marco Collins, the End DJ who was the first to spin tracks by Pearl Jam and Beck, among others, is on board as music director. "For me," says Collins, "it bridges the gap between the old Seattle sound and what's happening now. We can play Super Deluxe next to Hey Marseilles, and that's what's exciting to me."
The new venture is not without its hiccups. With Jet City's servers based in New York City, Superstorm Sandy wrought havoc on the stream, making service unreliably spotty. An old rap beef between Jake One and Sir Mix-a-Lot prevented Mix from appearing at the station's official launch party. And early on, it was unclear whether the station had enough funding to move forward; at that point, Raley took out his "PowerPoint notebook" and brought more investors into the fold. "I asked enough people and showed enough passion, and now more and more people are starting to come on board," he says.
In the future, City Stream Inc. plans to build 25 networks to showcase local music in cities where, as in Seattle, they'll be building a following and a station from the ground up.
"A couple staff members brought some people into the bathroom to introduce me as I scrubbed the toilet," Collins says with a laugh. "I just smiled and said, 'Hello, nice to meetcha.' There's no shame in that game. This ain't Clear Channel where you do your time and clock out at 4:59 p.m. Sometimes you gotta go the extra mile."