At the lowest point of the Cincinnati music scene just a few years ago, there was no radio arena that showcased independent music artists and local performers.
But then Inhailer Radio came along to showcase underground Indie music in Cincinnati and beyond, right when the city needed it most.
And now Inhailer Radio is celebrating the fourth anniversary of its mobile app and website this week, and underground Alternative Rock has a permanent place in Cincinnati again.
“It’s amazing to think how far we’ve come in just four years,” Inhailer Radio founder Coran Stetter says in a press release. “What started off as a few music lovers trying to do something to keep the Cincinnati music scene connected has turned into a huge community of supporters of independent music,”
In 1983, WOXY-FM, which also was called 97X and was found at 97.7 FM on the dial, operated from Butler County and was the first of its kind in Cincinnati. It was an independent radio station that played Modern Rock, embracing tenets of the Glam, Punk, Indie and Alternative genres.
In 2007, Rolling Stone said that 97X had been one of the best stations in the country -- that is, until the station was sold in January of 2004. New owners ended all of 97X’s terrestrial broadcasting that May, according to Belt magazine, and launched one of the country’s first Internet-only stations. But that, too, failed, as the web station changed hands several times until shutting down in 2010 (97.7 FM is now called La Mega and broadcasts Spanish-language programming in Cincinnati).
Following the termination of 97X, the Indie music scene in Cincinnati was in a difficult spot, with Stetter calling it “a very hard time for the Cincinnati music scene” during an interview with CityBeat. No true independent Rock station serviced the area until 2015, when WNKU-FM began broadcasting the Adult Alternative music that the city lacked since 2004, says Stetter.
Owned by Northern Kentucky University, WNKU (89.7 FM) strived to emulate the success of major independent stations around the country by following a similar format that stations such as KEXP-FM in Seattle used, which included highlighting local music once an hour that met the standards of all the other music that the station played. WNKU grew a passionate fan base of both listeners and music artists before being sold in 2017 due to NKU’s budget cuts. The station was sold to the Bible Broadcasting Network, which now plays Christian radio on 89.7 FM under the call letters WYHH.
After the sale of 89.7 FM, Stetter, whose band Multimagic had a song featured on WNKU, came up with the idea of Inhailer Radio to save independent Rock in Cincinnati. “We didn’t want to have this void that happened between WOXY and WNKU for that ten-year period or so where there really wasn’t a connected scene. The thesis when we started Inhailer Radio was basically ‘could you have an app-based radio station that was primarily marketed to a location like terrestrial radio,’' says Stetter.
In order to prevent the absence of Alternative radio in Cincinnati yet again, Stetter reached out to others around the WNKU community to gain the momentum and resources necessary to develop a mobile app and website that would carry the same values as the beloved radio station.
Since 2017, Inhailer has streamed music on both its iPhone and Android apps, as well as on its website. The station takes inspiration from the late WNKU by playing music that you would not find on mainstream radio and consistently highlighting local Indie artists. Inhailer Radio began with just two DJs and has since grown to streaming 24/7 with close to 20 voluntary DJs for approximately 50,000 monthly listeners, says Stetter.
“Where we’ve really taken inspiration from WNKU is that idea of not having a local show at midnight on a Sunday when no one is listening (to play local music),” Stetter says. “We just take the best local music that is presented to us and mix it into our rotation the same way you would hear anyone else.
Inhailer uses itself as a platform to show that the Cincinnati music scene rocks just as hard as national artists that are commonly heard elsewhere on the dial.
In addition to playing local music, Inhailer Radio reports to the North American College and Community (NACC) Radio Chart, which means that Inhailer receives music directly from music promoters. Reporting directly to the charts has given Inhailer the opportunity to play music from many up and coming artists before their songs become popular, and has even allowed the radio station to feature a live performance of a then-new single by Julian Casablancas of The Strokes.
At the end of 2019, Inhailer Radio signed a partnership with Cincinnati Public Radio, which Stetter describes as exciting for the company because Cincinnati Public Radio has access to terrestrial radio that Inhailer Radio does not have. Listeners are able to tune to Inhailer Radio on WGUC’s 90.9 HD3 on radios with HD capabilities, as tuning to the frequency on a normal radio will not capture Inhailer Radio.
Despite the partnership with WGUC, Stetter believes that the future of Inhailer remains in streaming due to current trends and terrestrial radio’s high costs.
But Stetter isn’t stopping there.
“We would really like to start partnering with local venues and local promoters to bring artists to town that we already curate and have an audience for on air,” he says.
As more of rising Indie artists come to town, Stetter believes that this will positively impact the significance that Inhailer Radio has on the Cincinnati music scene. Long-term, Inhailer Radio’s goals include branching out to other formats and applying its model to other genres such as Hip-Hop or Blues.
“We want to take what we believe is a successful model to bring in even more partners, not even just Indie Alternative, but whatever else Cincinnati is known for” Stetter says.
Inhailer will host a celebration for its fourth anniversary at Fretboard Brewing, 5800 Creek Rd., Blue Ash, 45242, 6-11 p.m. June 11. Live music from local Indie bands Carriers and Psycho will begin at 7 p.m. Fretboard Brewing becomes 21+ at 9 p.m. Learn more at inhailer.com.