Music: (Not) Only in It for the Money

Hard-working staffers at Web radio outlet WOXY do it for the love of music

 
Graham Lienhart


WOXY staffers (from left) Matt Shiv, Joe Long and Mike Taylor have done everything they can to keep the somtimes-troubled online station up and running



Three years ago I wrote about then-Oxford-based WOXY (97.7 FM, aka 97X) for another publication. Soon after that story pressed, the station's ownership sold their terrestrial signal but wanted to continue broadcasting on the Internet.

Shortly after broadcasting ceased, funding was found from outside investors to continue airing programming on

 
Graham Lienhart


WOXY staffers (from left) Matt Shiv, Joe Long and Mike Taylor have done everything they can to keep the somtimes-troubled online station up and running



Three years ago I wrote about then-Oxford-based WOXY (97.7 FM, aka 97X) for another publication. Soon after that story pressed, the station's ownership sold their terrestrial signal but wanted to continue broadcasting on the Internet.

Shortly after broadcasting ceased, funding was found from outside investors to continue airing programming on woxy.com. But last September, the money ran out and the station was again in limbo.

Funding was quickly found from Lala.com, and woxy.com was back on the air last October. As former station manager Steve Baker said to conclude the station's terrestrial broadcast, "There's been more ups and downs, successes and failures and heartaches than we could ever count."

While station formats and ownership have changed over the years, the music and most of the people have remained constant. The station is now run by only four people, streaming online 24 hours a day.

Woxy.com can also now be heard terrestrially on HD radio thanks to a new partnership with local NPR outlet WVXU. They have reinstated the local music program, Local Lixx, and have remained loyal sponsors of several local concerts and festivals.

But the station's wider reach via the Net means it can also sponsor concerts and fests all over the country.

Being on-line hasn't been all great. The recent row over royalty rate increases for webcasters has put the whole industry on notice, especially since the rate hikes have been officially approved. But the station's general manager, Bryan Miller, says having the backing of Lala.com puts them in better shape than most. He says they have resources to "see all the legal challenges through and hopefully have the ruling overturned."

Miller says he learned a lot about how to run a business from the station's previous owners, Doug and Linda Balogh. Particularly, he learned that being the most profitable station isn't always the best.

"It's always been a balance of doing the right thing and making a profit," Miller says.

More than your average workplace, the staff of WOXY has become a family over the past years. With three staffers with the station for at least 10 years, Miller calls his position a dream job for anyone with a passion for music.

Music-blogger-turned-DJ Joe Long is the staff's newest member. His relationship with the station began when he asked that it participate on his music blog, eachnotesecure.com. Soon after, the station lost its initial Internet funding and Long was reduced to listening to the station's last broadcast like every other fan.

After writing several of what he describes as "manifestoes" to the station and parent company, Lala, Long finally joined the woxy.com staff, raising the total number of staffers to four when the station resumed broadcasting last fall.

"We're like school teachers," Long says about his modest salary at the station. "(But) we probably enjoy work more than teachers."

After more than 25 years of radio history, WOXY has a legendary past. As formats and the music industry have changed, the spirit of 97X lives on strong today. With the exception of Long, the rest of the woxy.com staff have dedicated the majority of their careers to the station.

"Since graduating college, this is all I've known," says afternoon DJ Matt Shiv. "Even though it has changed and shifted considerably from those early days, the core of the station hasn't changed."

Last September, with broadcasting set to end, Miller, Shiv and Taylor were faced with the realization that their employer might not exist much longer. Taylor says he thought the station was done for good.

"In both cases, it wasn't more than a couple of days before I found out I was going back to work," he says.

Shiv says that the hardest part about the last three years has been time management. In the old Oxford studios, there could be 10 to 15 people around at any time.

"Every week we literally have mail crates of things we just can't get to," Shiv says. "It's really impossible to listen to everything when there are only three people here."

Shiv seems to appreciate the help from interns, but there are some things he has to do himself. As woxy.com continues to grow into new markets, all of the station's employees bring something different to the table.

"Working here has never been about the pay," Shiv says. "It's been about the passion for what we do."

The WOXY staff is fighting for something more meaningful than money. Until going on the Internet in the late 90's, the station was linked only to Southwestern Ohio, which meant the station could grow only as much as the listener base.

"I think this area is really slow to pick up on new bands," Taylor says.

He points to lackluster attendance at certain shows that's making it more appealing for bands to skip Greater Cincy in favor of Indianapolis, Louisville and Columbus.

"To me, the lack of bands coming through is more noticeable this summer," Taylor says.

As young people continue to move from Cincinnati for "cooler" cities, the station continues to lose its listener base. Taylor references CityBeat articles chronicling the evacuation of Cincinnati by young professionals and creative types.

"I've read those articles and said, 'There goes my audience,' " he says. "That young professional, Creative Class type of folk, they're our target audience."

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