Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Pure Jazz Radio

George Bernard Shaw once said “You see things; and you say, 'Why?' But I dream things that never were; and I say, 'Why not?'”
Veteran Long Island disc jockey Rich Keith had a dream about establishing a successful internet jazz radio station, the first of it's kind, and his dream has become a reality! After spending over 30 years on various stations throughout Long Island, Rich spends his time these days as the general manager and founder of "". His show "New York Tonight" is broadcast 8-11PM EST Monday through Friday bringing listeners worldwide the best jazz sounds ever recorded! Recently, I was privileged to sit in the studio with Rich and talk about his new adventure!

MICK: How did you get started in radio?
RICH: Years and years ago, I majored in radio and television at Suffolk Community College. I was the only guy who wanted to be in radio. Everybody else wanted to be in TV. I went the entire two years and forgot everything I learned about TV and decided to stay in radio. I was fortunate enough to actually get a job in radio while I was in college, a station out on the East end WRIV 1390AM. It's still around! Eventually, I moved on to some other stations in the area like WALK, another station in Patchogue WLIM 1580 AM. I was morning man there for a long time. Never really made a good living in radio so I managed to make money elsewhere. I always had my hand either part time or full time in radio. Most recently, I was at WSHR 91.9FM, Sachem High School radio station. Big FM station the school got back in the 60's. It covers most of long Island, the south coast of Connecticut, parts of NYC. I programed the jazz and standards there for a few years. I did a Friday night show and programed a Sunday Sinatra show. When the station's tower was hit by lightning and knocked off the air, we came up with the idea for an online radio station. I got some real good engineering help from a friend of mine at CBS and we were able to make it happen.

MICK: Very cool! A great idea for sure!
RICH: Yes! It's nice because we are not limited by listening area. Basically, the listening area is the entire world! I've worked at radio stations where if you had a real good throwing arm, you could probably throw a baseball from one side of the listening area to the other. It was always a big deal if someone from 15-20 miles away was calling. Here at Pure Jazz Radio, we get emails from all over the world!! Australia, Europe, all over! Last week we got an email from a guy in Hong Kong and they are 12 hours ahead of us. I'm here at 10PM in New York talking into a microphone in the studio here and there's some guy in Hong Kong listening at 10AM in the morning! It's absolutely amazing!

MICK: Is your programing worldwide as well?
RICH: Yes, we were able to make contacts from all over the world too! Programing comes in from all over the United States and elsewhere in the world. The Jazz Scene, which we do every day to announce jazz happenings, comes from contacts in England, Scotland, Australia. If we get the information well in advance, we post it on the website. It's worked out really well!

MICK: How many listeners do you think you have now?
RICH: Right now, we're reaching between 7000 to 8000 people. It's a nice start! We've only been around since January 2009 so ,it's not even a year yet. It took around 6 months before we worked out all of the technical problems. I have a dedicated fiber optic line for the station. The software package we use is excellent and makes this all possible. I don't have to be here 24/7 to make it happen. So that's basically where we are at right now. I do the live show between 8PM and 11PM Monday through Friday. We broadcast that a couple of times to different time zones. I rebroadcast it midnight till 3AM EST so the listeners on the west coast can hear it 9PM till midnight. We also rebroadcast the show the following day 3 till 6 because we're picking up our listeners in Europe. That's a neat thing covering the different time zones with a live show. We are getting shows programed from all over! Regular disc jockey shows from people who work at NPR stations in North Carolina, Santa Fe New Mexico, Orlando Florida, even a couple of programs coming in from England. We try to run them at times that are good for the people over there. It's really starting to take off for us as far as listener ship is concerned. We've just been approved to be a New York State non-profit corporation. Mainly because we want to keep the programing true to what we do. We are filing this month for the federal 501-c. At that point. all donations will be tax deductible.

MICK: How is funding coming along?
RICH: It's coming along slowly. We've had some listeners who have been very generous. We're about breaking even right now. We run it for "next to nothing" now but, with the plans we have in the future for enhanced studio space, a performance studio, promotion of live music and education, substantial funding will be required.

MICK: Do you pay royalties?
RICH: Yes we do. We take care of that. They are performers and they deserve to get paid! I know there are a lot of operations out there flying below the radar but our intention is to do everything the right way. You really don't want somebody coming at you somewhere down the line. The next step is once we get the 501-c we can go the corporate route and see whats out there. I'm going to need some help as that's not my strength. My strength is programing the radio station, doing live programs and attracting new programing. We'd like to expand into jazz education and funding for jazz festivals. It's important to me to keep the musicians working.

MICK: Will you be broadcasting any live performances?
RICH: Yes. Right now we have a moderate collection of music. Our intent down the line is to actually move into a bigger studio where we can have some live performances with live musicians in the studio. Right now, everything is on cd, tape, MP3. But it's our intention in the future to move into a larger operation with office space, performance space, a few studios. That's the direction we'd like to go depending on the amount of money we get to come in. That will determine how much time I'm able to spend doing this. I'd like to be able to dedicate myself full time to this. Right now, everybody is working basically gratis. I'd like to be able to help them out because some of them are spending money on production costs out of there own pockets.

MICK: You seem to be servicing a market that has disappeared from the radio!
RICH: Our thing here is to cater to an audience that is completely under served by commercial radio and more under served by public radio. Maybe a station like this would have a hard time surviving in one local market. Most of the radio stations these days are owned by big corporations. Everything now is corporately controlled. The stock holders are the boss, not the listeners. This station that I am programing is not for everybody. It's designed for a specific audience. Not a hard core jazz audience. I don't want to limit the appeal to that narrow of an audience where we play 13 minutes of Thelonious Monk cuts or "Love Supreme" by Coltrane. We are trying to broaden the scope a bit where we are playing jazz but we are also playing standards by Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong, Michael Franks. Not to much smooth jazz. And very limited hard core jazz stuff. We'll play Nat Cole, then we'll play Miles Davis. We'll play Thelonious Monk, and then we'll throw in a Tony Bennett or a Sinatra. Basically keep it appealing to as large of an audience as we can but a very specific audience! The worldwide reach is what makes it work. A bunch of people here, a bunch of people there. There might not be a viable audience in London or a viable audience in New York but when you put them all together, we build up a nice listener audience. As a non-profit, hopefully we can get many more contributors so we can provide a service nobody else can offer.

MICK: You have the station set up really nice!
RICH: Yes, this automated system is phenomenal. I've probably loaded in about 5000 cuts so far and we get new stuff all the time. We have about 2500 Cd's and we're starting to transcribe some of the vinyl stuff that's not available on CD. The automated system that we use makes it possible for us to be on 24/7. I don't have to be hands on here all the time. It allows me to be on here 3 hours a night, 5 nights a week. Play 3 cuts, then talk. Play 3 more, then talk.

MICK: Do you record the shows?
RICH: Yes, I record every show. At the end of each night, I transfer it from the production computer onto the main computer. I have a backlog so far of about 150-200 shows so far of the "New York Tonight Show". If I need to take any time off, I can actually program it to play a prerecorded show at a specific time.

MICK: How do people from other parts of the world submit their programs to you?
RICH: They email them from all over! It's amazing! They email me the shows and I download them onto the production computer. We then program it to whenever it needs to be played. The new technology is amazing! It's like we lived in an analog world for a number of years and then something flicked a switch! It happened fast. It was analog and then with combined tape machine! Even Scotch doesn't make tape anymore! For a guy like me to be able to edit on a computer screen is incredible as I had to once deal with razor blades. When you had to edit a three hour show and you'd be neck deep in little snippets of audio tape! And if you weren't good with the razor you'd be bleeding all over the place!
Today with the digital technology, you're not losing any quality at all. You can cut 200 Cd's from a program and still have the same quality throughout the process. No static at all!

MICK: I'm very impressed with this whole "Pure Jazz Radio" setup!
RICH: I am, too, everyday! There's something that surprises me and impresses me every day! We're going to give it our best shot. It really comes down to the music. It's unfortunate that if the music doesn't have somebody to promote it on a media basis, it will die. There's nobody on the radio doing it. I've made some very interesting proposals to radio stations that have either been rebuffed or ignored completely. There are radio stations out on Eastern Long Island and a couple in Central Long Island that are doing absolutely nothing. You may as well turn them off for the listener ship they have.

MICK: I feel something like this on an FM station would be dynamite.
RICH: Definitely! The NPR station out in South Hampton, everybody's crying that they're going off the air. It's my way of thinking that they were mismanaged. They were running a million dollar deficit and I think they were way over staffed. They had a pretty decent listener ship because they played jazz. It's kind of silly that somebody won't pick up the slack. There's a ready made audience! I'm running "Pure Jazz Radio" for practically nothing right now! I'm doing everything I can to get us known out there! I'd be more than happy to pick up those NPR listeners! It doesn't matter if they're in Montauk or Manitoba!

MICK: What type of advertising do you do?
RICH: We haven't done any yet! Actually, we have to work out, as a non-profit corporation, the actual format that we take. It's probably close to what they do on NPR or PBS. I ask listeners if they'd like to donate, we would really appreciate it. We are also getting people to show online through our website. A lot of people shop online anyway so they might as well do it through us!
They can get the same price or better. We get a couple of cents off the top. It kills two bids with one stone! As far as other fund raising goes, I'd much rather do it on a governmental or corporate level.

MICK: Will you sponsor any jazz concerts to raise money?
RICH: Absolutely! We can possibly partner up with some artists and have some sort of festival to benefit the station. Our main thing is to not just hang out here and play Cd's at the station. Jazz education is important to me. Getting some instruments into kids hands and teach them how to make the right sounds with them. We want to do all we can to keep musicians employed. Today it's terrible that every event you go to it's a DJ. You can go out and get five great musicians for the price of one DJ! That's important to me to make sure these people work. That's where we get new material from! I love the old stuff but I also love to play some of today's contemporary artists that play our stuff. So we are trying to tie it all together!

Join Rich Keith each night at
"New York Tonight" 8pm to 11pm EST M-F
(Rebroadcast 12m to 3am est 7 nights a week)

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