March 6, 2008 issue

radioIO: From the Bedroom to the Boardroom

High Country Resident Takes Internet Radio Around the World

Vilas resident Mike Roe is the founder of radioIO, a web-based radio service that broadcasts 60 different channels of music to approximately 1 million listeners around the world. Photo by Frederica GeorgiaStory by David Brewer

In March 1998, current Vilas resident Mike Roe was living in Jacksonville, Fla., where he joined the first wave of people broadcasting music over the Internet. Beginning as a one-man operation in his spare bedroom, Roe’s love of music and technology, coupled with his persistence led to the success of the company he founded known as radioIO. With approximately one million regular listeners, the High Country businessman and music aficionado is leading the charge into the digital age of radio.

Originally from Wilkes County, Roe was nearing 40 when he did what millions of Americans dream of doing every day: he abruptly left a successful career because he wasn’t happy and decided to pursue a childhood dream. In Roe’s case, the successful career was marketing and advertising, and the dream, one he realized in sixth grade, was to own his own radio station.

“My whole life I’ve been passionate about music and technology,” said Roe.

Unfortunately, Roe soon found out that buying even a small radio station would entail a financial commitment he could not realistically manage. Fortunately, through the advice of a pirate radio legend who agreed to talk with Roe at the time, he discovered the fledgling medium of Internet radio, becoming instantly hooked on the concept.

“It was love at first sight with the whole thing,” said Roe.

Roe originally launched a single SHOUTcast stream called radioA3 (a radio industry term meaning “adult album alternative” music). Roe changed its name to radioIO (for Internet-only) in 2001. As one of the world’s first webcasters, Roe is generally regarded as a pioneer in the medium and one of its most knowledgeable and influential people.

“It’s a medium that’s really just coming into its own,” said Roe. “We’ve seen tremendous growth with this medium in the last 10 years.”

In June 2002, radioIO, still a small, independent company with a handful of employees, ranked number 10 in the country among Internet radio sites. In December 2002, Arbitron MeasureCast, a new ratings service for such services, listed radioIO’s Eclectic channel as the second most-popular web music channel, based on total listening hours, for the week ending December 22.

Not long after the web radio provider changed its name and began attracting a growing number of listeners, Roe and the rest of the up-and-coming industry ran into a major roadblock courtesy of a proposed royalty rate that would have financially crippled webcasters. The proposed rate had never been imposed on AM/FM broadcasters. Roe founded Voice of Webcasters (VoW), the grassroots group of small webcasters that organized the Day of Silence, when many webcasters, including radioIO, fell silent in protest.

On December 4, 2002, the Small Webcaster Settlement Act of 2002 was signed into U.S. law, largely as a result of VoW’s work in challenging and changing U.S. copyright law.

In an ironic twist of fate, the high-profile settlement gave webcasters such as Roe a shot in the arm because of the national publicity surrounding the case. Curious Internet users soon began tuning in to see what all the fuss was about and many liked what they found.

“radioIO went from 100 people listening to thousands of listeners in a couple of months,” said Roe. “This is an industry that had to fight for its existence from the very beginning.”

Roe is also among those who suggest that the golden age of radio is long behind us in terms of musical variety that can be found up and down the dial. With corporations taking over stations nationwide, playlists have grown smaller and more repetitive while Internet radio providers and their listening base thrive on the variety of styles and ever-expanding playlists.

According to Roe, the average classic rock station programs approximately 300 different songs on a regular basis, making it more likely for listeners to hear their favorite tunes during their short commutes in the morning and afternoon. Roe said that radioIO’s classic rock station features a rotation of approximately 3,500 songs.

“You’re not going to hear the same songs over and over,” said Roe. “It changes everything for the listener and really expands the choices.”

While some critics of Internet radio have been skeptical because of its lack of wide availability in the car (a problem that Roe says is only temporary), Roe contends that 90 percent of Internet radio listening takes place at work.

“The car is not where you spend most of your time,” said Roe. “I want you at work, where you’re spending eight hours a day.”

In September 2005, radioIO became the first publicly held Internet radio operation when it was acquired by PowerCerv Corporation, that changed its name change to IOWorld Media. Thomas Bean was named CEO of radioIO and Roe was named radioIO director of strategic planning and creative director.

Shortly after Roe’s company went public, he packed his bags and left sweltering, sunny Florida for North Carolina and the cool mountains that his family has called home for many years.

In November 2006, radioIO announced that it had registered 3,989,513 unique IP addresses as measured by Webcast Metrics during the ratings period of June 29 to September 20, 2006. In November 2007, radioIO announced that it would double its music channels to bring its total offering to 60 unique music channels, and targeted 2 million listeners in early 2008 based on its performance in 2007.

From basic channels such as Rock, Pop, Country, Eclectic & Specialty, Hip-Hop & Soul, Electronic & Dance and Classical & Jazz radioIO has continued to create exciting niche formats and channels such as Women in Rock, and Guitar Heroes.

Listeners can currently tune in for free to radioIO’s barrage of stations found at www.radioIO.com. For $4.99 per month, music fans can purchase an Audio Pass, which allows them to listen without the interruption of advertisers.

Although he continues to be thrilled with the growth of the company that he founded in his spare bedroom, Roe is particularly proud of radioIO’s dedicated and talented staff and their contributions to the business. Located all over the country, staff members include former satellite radio employees, music business insiders, historians and more—all of whom help create unique music stations with exciting and varied playlists.

“Most services are nothing more than glorified mp3 jukeboxes,” said Roe. “We have an amazing group of people. We do not have one person on staff that was not first a listener and a fan. And we’ve never had a single person quit.”

With various forms of media becoming available through web-based outlets, Roe predicted that radio is one of many forms that will blossom because of the Internet in the coming years.

“I’ve believed for 10 years that the Internet is the future of radio,” said Roe. “I think that 10 yeas from now, AM/FM radio will be the domain of talk, Spanish and religious programming. Music fans will not be listening to AM/FM.”

To learn more about radioIO, click to radioIO.com.