A Radio Station Where 'Girls' Rule

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MTT News's picture
Matt Geiger

Female artists are just better than males ones. That’s the way Tom Forrester feels, and that’s the principle on which his independent radio station was founded nearly a decade ago.

“I’ve always appreciated the girl artists,” he says, sitting in the headquarters of Girls Rock Radio, which also happens to be a downstairs room in his Middleton home. “They sound a lot better than their boy counterparts.”

For a small Internet station – in this case one that specializes in the women of rock, pop and alternative music - to stay on the air for nine years is no small feat, especially in what Forrester calls “the harsh, here-today, gone-tomorrow climate facing Internet radio stations today.”

But while it hasn’t always been easy, Forrester says he’s glad he opted out of his former profession and decided to pursue his dream.

“It’s probably something that has its inception way back in my life,” he says. “I was in the IT profession, and at one point the IT field kind of imploded, so it was time for me to find something fun to do.”

“It was the early 2000s, and there was an emergence of some really awesome women artists,” he continues. He points to singers such as Michelle Branch, Avril Lavigne and Vanessa Carlton as his early inspirations.

“I have no background in radio whatsoever,” he says. “I’m not some drive time guy from Boston.”

But his life has long been linked to radio. As a kid, he tinkered with the technology of the day, building his own stereo receiver. He even mounted an antenna on the roof of his family home in Beaver Dam.

As a youth, he remembers tuning in to hear authentic, underground radio DJs. 

“When I was a kid, I’d listen to underground DJs who would just talk to us,” he recalls. “They weren’t flashy or commercial. They’d just talk. Those, to me, were the glory days of FM radio.”

Today, Forrester says he works to make sure radio retains some of the magic it had before it became increasingly corporate and troublingly bland.

He bemoans “sterile and lifeless,” highly automated modern radio stations that adhere to a “pure play” format.”

“I think it would be a travesty, a real travesty, if radio lost its personality,” he says.

The typical revenue model for Internet radio stations is listener support, through which the hope is that the audience will donate funding to help keep the entertainment value coming their way. Tenuous at best in strong economic times, it’s nigh impossible during the current slow economic recovery, according to Forrester.

He remains optimistic, however. “Nevertheless, Internet radio continues to be a beacon of music freshness amid the stale and limited playlists of corporate broadcasters,” he says. “Internet radio is one of the few ways in which you can be exposed to new artists and new music without the tedium of searching and building playlists for your device yourself.  Just tune in and let it come to you.  And for our part, we have a very independent artist friendly station which means we serve up music not available on the best ‘build-a-station’ features found on many of the major music services.”

As a representative of the Internet Radio Fairness Coalition in 2013,  Forrester joined several other online broadcasters -including industry giants like Pandora and Clear Channel Communications (iHeartRadio,) - as well as many independent artists, in pitching the case for a friendlier business climate for Internet radio to elected officials in Washington D.C.  

It is a position supported by many independent artists who recognize the value of Internet radio in helping them break the barriers to being heard and build a following, Forrester says. 

“The independent artists are completely onboard,” he comments.

What he calls “egregious” royalty rates are at the heart of the matter, and a new round of royalty rate-setting hearings will take place in 2016.  

Proposed rates in the past have threatened to silence Internet broadcasting altogether, contends Forrester.

“The music industry has its hooks in deep,” he says. “And there’s a whole undercurrent of difficulties faced by online radio.”

“We all believe the artists deserve to get paid,” he adds. “That they should get their fair share. But when Napster came along, it just scared the crap out of them.”

Not content to sit and wait, Girls Rock Radio is working to evolve its philosophy and its revenue model.

“I believe Girls Rock Radio has a unique opportunity to become a voice for one, if not many of the many causes specific to women in society and the world today,” says Forrester.  “We can greatly exceed the value of our musical entertainment offering by helping make a difference in the world, and in doing so, support our own ability to carry the message.  To that end, Girls Rock Radio seeks to enhance the conversation about women - while keeping the guys involved.”

“What I think we need is a cause,” he says. “A voice. Obviously for us that’s going to be championing causes for women.”

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