A few weeks back a blog post by Houston media watcher Mike McGuff tipped us off to the sorta-rebirth of Rock 101 KLOL, in Internet-radio form. Immediately the site went viral and was bogged down with fans clamoring to hear and see what the fuss was about and relive a part of Houston radio history.
The man behind the site is Heath Bilbrey, a former club DJ and currently an in-demand IT director. He's building the KLOL site on his own, though he has been in sporadic contact with the on-air talent from the rock station's old days, most of whom are still in broadcasting in the Houston area. Recently the online station began airing old bits from the Stevens & Pruett morning shows, to the delight of old-school fans.
With the format change over on 103.7 FM such a big topic last week, I reached out to Bilbrey to rap with him about starting an online rock station with such a legacy and pedigree that comes with KLOL's infamous bad-boy name.
Rocks Off: What can you say about the state of rock radio in Houston?
Heath Bilbrey: I think terrestrial radio is in its final death throes due to way too much corporate interference. I would bet that most, if not all, of the people making decisions even listen to rock music. They are simply out of touch with the rock community in Houston, or any city for that matter.
I keep hearing people saying it is because the demographics have changed and I just do not believe that. I mean the fact that the Arbitron Ratings are little more than guessing tells me they have no idea what they are talking about. At least with an Internet radio station, you know exactly how many are tuned and where they are geographically.
RO: Tell me more about KLOL as it is now online.
HB: What you are listening to is a test-stream only, and is automated. The music selection is there, but "Mother" our automated DJ, cannot hold a candle to a real DJ who loves music. The creativity of the DJ in regards to comedy bits, and the type of music he plays, is restricted in the corporate-owned radio station.
Once live DJs start playing their own lists, and reporting on music news and making jokes, the product will be much better even though it sounds pretty good right now.
RO: So there will soon be a flesh-and-blood component to KLOL?
HB: In a world where we all have our own music collections, personal players in our cars, on our person, why would anyone want to listen to a terrestrial radio station? The answer is simple: It is the connection people share with the personalities that work for that station.
Of course the kind of music you play is important also, but not as much as the people who are behind the mike, and I feel that is something that has suffered since the turn of the century.
RO: What about the old crew from the station? What has been their take?
HB: I am working hard to try and bring back personalities like Jim Pruett, Boner, Outlaw Dave, Wendy Miller, Scotty Phillips, Grego and the rest. But this is listener-supported and I do not have a budget for on-air talent.
This is not to say if the former on-air talents returned they could not generate their own salaries because I believe the can. Making appearances and acquiring sponsors for their shows are all ways they could generate their own money. But this is a sticking point, and I may have to find the next Jim Pruett or Outlaw Dave working at a college-radio station, who is looking for experience and exposure and his or her chance to shine.
RO: Have any of them expressed interest in coming aboard?
HB: Only time will tell if some, or any, of the former talents will return, but some have personally expressed their interest in the project and are considering a return. Some are no longer in Houston, but one of the beautiful things about this tech is that they can broadcast from their homes in their underwear if they want.
The Outlaw Radio Show will be revived and in the evening slot where I hope to feature some local Houston bands looking for some exposure. I would absolutely love to have Outlaw Dave doing the show, but there is little to no chance of that happening because he still works for Clear Channel, and also his show on 950 AM airs in the same slot.
Seems to me that he is wasting his talents on an AM Station, but that is just my humble opinion.
RO: I imagine that some of them would love to help or at least throw support behind you.
HB: The first person to contact me was Dave, asking who I was and to contact him on a personal email, but after writing a lengthy email to him, he failed to respond. To be honest I do not know where he stands since he has not really said anything of any substance. I think his situation with Clear Channel would keep him from participating.
Dayna Steele was the next to contact me and she has been wonderful. Almost like a mother fawning over her baby. She tuned in and wrote me several times telling me how she could not wipe the smile from her face. Unfortunately a return to broadcasting is not the cards for her though, as she is too busy with her new book-writing career, but she is 100 percent behind this project and I am honored.
Sadly, Jim Pruett has been completely silent and has not corresponded with me in any way, even though I have made several attempts to engage him. Grego recently replied to me and said he was interested to participate, but that he would have to check with his current employer, which is of course understandable. Scotty Phillips is also considering participating, but he recently moved his elderly father in with him so he could take care of him, so not sure if he will have the time.
Brian Shannon, (AKA Eddie "The Boner" Sanchez) has not replied to attempts to contact him so where he is, or what he is thinking is not known at this time. Wendy Miller is a possibility, but a friend is going to speak with her and see if there is any interest. She, like Scotty Phillips, is no longer in Houston, but again they can broadcast from anywhere in the world with a laptop, mike and music so geographical location is of little importance.
RO: Is there room for an Internet rock station to prosper in Houston?
HB: Houston is a city of four million plus, and for Arbitron or anyone else for that matter to try to convince me all four million are Christians, Hispanics, hip-hop and country music lovers are just full of their own bullshit.
Even if as small as ten percent of those four million are rock lovers, you are talking about some 400,000 people. Houston has a market for rock, and no guy in a board room with an Arbitron report is going to tell me otherwise.
RO: What about your detractors?
HB: Anyone who says it will not work is someone who does not listen to rock music, and they do not want their previous statements to be proven wrong. It is sure to succeed because no corporation is involved. I am just like the people who listen and I know what Rock 101 KLOL meant to me, so I know what it meant to them.
RO: And as for the future of your KLOL, what does that hold?
HB: It is my hope that perhaps someday we can find an abandoned FM Station to broadcast from as a legacy device since there are those who cannot afford unlimited Internet and they should not be deprived because they cannot afford to listen, but make no mistake, the Internet is the future and analog stations are nothing more than legacy tech.
RO: What about an app for smartphones?
HB: There is no app in the works as of yet, but that does not mean there won't be in the future, but as of now there are plenty of ways to listen in without a branded app. It's more of a novelty thing than something that is needed. Trying to get some on-air talent on board is paramount for a successful launch on November 12 of this year.
RO: I was definitely excited to see the name and hear music coming from the site as were many others, obviously.
HB: It warms my heart to hear people share the same excitement as myself, and the fans seem to be expressing that since I put the Facebook page up and launched the test stream.
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SHOW ME HOW
I am always looking for help, but remember that there is no salary unless this thing takes off and somehow makes a profit in the future. Even I get no salary and have invested my own time and money in this thing.
Although I would not mind making money from this, it is not the driving force behind this project.