It sure looks like a traditional radio station studio, with boom microphones, an audio mixing board, even a glowing “On Air” sign in the corner.
But when RadioBDC goes live at noon on Monday, the station will not broadcast from a radio tower and will not need a license from the Federal Communications Commission. Instead, it will air via an online streaming player on Boston.com, The Boston Globe’s free website, and through mobile apps for Apple Inc.’s iPhone and devices running Google Inc.’s Android operating system.
Established radio stations have embraced streaming Web audio to extend their programming to the Internet, and online services such as Spotify and Pandora are using the technology to create mobile jukeboxes for music fans. But online streaming is also allowing companies without a broadcast operation to try their hand at radio. In addition to Boston.com, Phoenix Media/Communications Group, which publishes alternative newspapers, will relaunch its online streaming site WFNX.com in September, with new personalities and programming.
“It’s exciting to be retooling WFNX; we’re very excited about the future of online radio,” said Carly Carioli, editor in chief of The Phoenix. “We think our audience will enjoy what WFNX is becoming.”
“It was an opportunity to build a Web radio station around some personalities who already had a following.”Lisa DeSisto, general manager at Boston.com
The reduced costs associated with streaming audio enable experiments by media groups like Boston.com, said Gordon Borrell, chief executive at Borrell Associates, a research firm in Williamsburg, Va., that tracks local advertising.
“Why not try it?” he asked. “If TV stations can start classified advertising sections, newspapers can start radio stations. Everyone is using the Internet to compete in new areas.”
The challenge, Borrell said, is competition. “It’s very difficult to change people’s listening habits.”
RadioBDC and WFNX.com are joining a crowded field. More than 30 traditional radio stations in Greater Boston, from public broadcaster WBUR 90.9 FM to longtime news and talk station WBZ 1030 AM, stream their signals on the Web.
There are particular challenges to establishing an Internet-only radio station.
The online audience is small: less than half of 1 percent of the entire global broadcast audience, according to Borrell.
Advertising sold on streaming audio sites in the United States is projected to be just $1.2 billion in 2012, or 1.8 percent of the online advertising marketplace, according to Borrell. By comparison, $26 billion in online display advertising is expected to be sold this year.
Still, streaming media is “a good fit for newspaper companies because they already have the content,” said Ken Dardis, president of the consulting firm Audio Graphics Inc., in Chagrin Falls, Ohio.
Dardis said that unlike an audio streaming start-up, a newspaper already has reporters and editors who can create and update the kind of informational content that many radio stations use in combination with music.
And while the competition is stiff for listeners, people increasingly consume media on portable devices like smartphones and tablet computers, and newspapers already have a significant presence online.
“Those preset buttons on your radio are going to turn into touch screen icons,” Dardis said. “If you can get on someone’s short list, you’ve got a business.”
John Davidow, executive editor of wbur.org, said that audio Web streaming is now “a steady and significant part of the online experience for us,” adding that between 15 and 20 percent of the visitors to wbur.org listen to audio there, playing the radio station’s live stream or a previously broadcast segment.
Davidow said he doubted that the appearance of streaming audio sites by nonradio companies like the Globe and the Phoenix will create competition for existing stations. “We all offer individual and unique experiences,” he said.
That’s a view echoed by Jack Casey, a radio consultant and the general manager of WERS 88.9 FM, the Emerson College radio station, who said he is not worried that online stations like RadioBDC would present a competitive challenge.
“The considered opinion in the radio industry is that Internet-only radio is not viable yet. Its time hasn’t come,” he said.
In establishing RadioBDC, Boston.com could leverage resources it already has — a technical staff, established community connections, an existing ad sales staff, and content from the Globe.
The project began in June, shortly after The Boston Phoenix announced it was selling the alternative rock station WFNX 101.7 FM to radio giant Clear Channel Communications Inc. and laying off much of the staff. Within weeks, Boston.com had hired six former WFNX staffers, including DJs Julie Kramer and Adam 12 and news director Henry Santoro.
“We decided that it was an opportunity to build a Web radio station around some personalities who already had a following,” said Lisa DeSisto, chief advertising officer and general manager at Boston.com.
RadioBDC (as in Boston Dot Com) will be available at http://boston.com/radio and will be launched with a mix of new and classic alternative music.
The station will also feature news, particularly in the morning, and lifestyles features on subjects like cooking and relationships. RadioBDC will offer live programming from 7 a.m. till 10 p.m. every weekday, as well as a Sunday morning program. The rest of the time, the station will feature streaming music.
Although there will be advertisements inserted into the RadioBDC stream, the primary revenue generator will be “events and experiences,” like sponsored concerts, said Boston.com’s DeSisto. RadioBDC and Boston.com hope to generate revenue by delivering audiences to those events, she said.
Although the station is new, it will have the benefit of being built on Boston.com, which attracts 6.2 million unique users a month, making it the eighth-most visited newspaper website in the country and the largest in New England.
“It’s all about attracting audiences and getting people to do things with us,” said Christopher M. Mayer, publisher of The Boston Globe. “We’ve seen people move from print to the Web, and from the Web to mobile. Why wouldn’t they also want our content in audio?”
D.C. Denison can be reached at email@example.com.