Long gone are the days when families gathered around the polished box in the living room, turning mysterious knobs hunting for a piece of news or music that despite the terrible sound quality, could be the highlight of their day.
Video killed the radio star back in the 80s, at least that’s what we’re led to believe, and now we can all swim in an ocean of tunes of our choosing thanks to iTunes, Spotify and the like.
But if I want to stick to song quotes – and I always do – ‘Radio… someone still loves you’.
Not everyone has access to streaming sites and frankly, it’s not all the time that I personally know what I want to listen to. I just know that “I Wanna Rock!” (Sorry, promise, I’ll stop.)
Thanks to some clever metal heads, we can now turn on https://myonlineradio.hu/rocker-radio while making Sunday lunch just like our grannies did with Kossuth.
I talked to one of these radio station rockers, Joey MacOnkay from Paddy and the Rats.
As a musician, you and your band have obviously taken a big hit, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. How did you – personally and as a group – handle it?
When all of this was starting, we had a number of shows booked, both in Hungary and a few abroad (Czech Republic, Poland and Germany). After some hesitation, we decided to do the tour, as it didn’t seem too risky. The spread and the news of the virus followed us throughout the tour. By the time we got to Prague, you could tell that something was up, less and less people were going out, especially compared to previous experiences I had in the city. Entirely empty cafes (except for me and our sound engineer), and a much lighter crowd than what the club’s management expected at our gig.
The lockdown that came after did take a toll on all of us, emotionally and financially.
Me and other members of the band have small kids. Being locked inside is very trying, especially with children.
As for our livelihoods, we musicians were – or might still be – facing a financially hopeless year, the worst case scenario being that no live shows will take place all year.
Artists making a living performing live have now suddenly found themselves without any income. Luckily, the relief aid offered by Artisjus does help a little. But confusion and miscommunication surrounding this initiative have resulted in a kind of anti-musician mood, which is again hard on us emotionally.
YouTube videos are of course an option, but very few bands have enough followers to make money from those.
So, me and the other members of Paddy had to look for temporary options. I’m very lucky, because I could find work, and also, I have radio. Everything in show business is connected – TV, radio, etc. I did radio before and thanks to my many connections, I could now get back into the game. It’s called Rocker Radio, the most listened-to online radio station in Hungary.
We’ll get to that in a minute. As per your Facebook page, you have a few concerts lined up. Are these for sure? How do you feel about them? Are you nervous, scared or more excited about them?
If all goes well, festivals will be allowed to take place after August 15. Most music festivals have been cancelled, and some have been rescheduled to a later date. Whether they will be held or not depends on how the pandemic situation will unfold of course. If any concerts or festivals are held, the concerns of social distancing and disinfecting will need to be addressed, so it’ll definitely be tricky.
I think if we get creative, some alternative solutions can be figured out, like Tankcsapda’s drive-in show. All of us, performers would like to save a little part of the festival season. Summer is the busiest time of the year for a musician, and with a creative solution and the necessary safety measures, we could at least salvage a part of it.
As for potential upcoming shows, I’m beyond excited!
I had two fears at the beginning, one was being admitted to the hospital, and the other, crowded spaces such as stores. These held the most risk of contracting the virus. I wasn’t particularly scared for myself, but as a father, you can’t help but think of what will happen to your kids, your family. I was happy to see that we as a nation learned from the mistakes of other countries and took the regulations seriously.
But I’m not afraid however, of a concert being held where people stay in their cars, or are seated in a safe distance from one another. These would be well-controlled circumstances.
I just can’t wait to be on stage again. I would love to do as much live playing as possible. I miss it. Everybody does. One of my friends – a well-known guitar player – asked me to let him play with us once we can, no pay, no nothing, just to let him play live. This is how much we need it. For us, this is our life, our love.
For me, it’s not nearly as much of a thrill to play my guitar in my living room as being on stage, rocking out in front of a live audience.
Whose idea was Rocker Radio?
I have a friend – we used to play in the same band at one point – Gábor Kalácska, who’s been in the radio business since his student days, decades really. When he left Rock FM – it was purchased and turned into a mainstream radio station -, he decided that he is going to make his own station, a real rock radio, because that void had needed filling for a long time. It’s very hard to get an FM frequency, so he decided to go with the online option. An online radio requires much less of a technical background and much less money.
Rocker Radio hit the airwaves in February 2019 and because it’s online, it can be listened to from anywhere in the world and it can be monitored exactly how many people are connected at a certain time. We are now at a point where daily 30-40.000 connections are established. We have a listener base of 100.000, I think that’s a big deal.
We are trying to expand and make our program more international, with news and interviews in English. We have some connections with international bands and promoters. Just recently, we aired an interview (narrated in Hungarian) with The Dead Daisies. We plan on airing the interview in the original English version as well, hopefully engaging more of an international audience this way.
How did you come to be part of this project?
I was talking to Gábor, and mentioned that concerts were on hold, as well as my other jobs – I work in tourism. He said he needed someone, and because I speak English and have experience with business planning and administration, I could be a great addition to the team. This way, I can interview a band in English for instance, thus expanding the reach of the radio, and handle tasks that he doesn’t have the capacity for. He prefers to deal with the radio industry side of things anyway.
For those of us not knowledgeable in the field, what does a radio professional do? What tasks go with running a radio station? What do you do on a day-to-day basis?
There is more than one side to it of course. There’s the industry part, the business and administration.
I handle correspondence and communications, create presentations in English and Hungarian and send those out to potential partners. It’s also my responsibility to establish and maintain relationships with existing and prospective partners. We are now having discussions with multiple foreign PR agencies who are sending us their materials. We would like well-known bands to send us their songs, inform us about new releases, potential member changes and just to keep us updated with general band-related news. We have to be on the cutting edge.
We also constantly need to expand our line-up, to make it versatile and exciting. New songs by famous bands are automatically added to the rotation, but we like to make room for newcomers as well. An up-and-coming band can send us their songs, which we will then play (provided they are of a certain quality), unlike other, mainstream radio stations. For many bands, Rocker Radio is the only way to get their songs heard by the general public.
This is where the radio professionals come in: the songs we play have to be put together into a rotation, they have to decide which songs reach a certain technical level, and they have to consider what the audience would appreciate. For instance, a Finnish band screaming in Finnish might not be what most of the audience is looking for. Editing the program is the most important task of all.
We also do event recommendations. Right now, if any of the bands or clubs postponed an event due to COVID, and have a new date, we inform our listener base. We keep a close eye on these updates and ask bands and club owners to keep us posted.
I think it’s amazing that you accept submissions from new and unknown bands. How does that work exactly?
A lot of bands send us their music and if we can, we play their songs on the air.
We used to have a promo package, specifically for new performers. This would include the opportunity for the band to introduce themselves and promote their upcoming shows. Because this is a radio station focused on rock music, the audience is exactly the target to whom a new band would want to make their music known. This is of course on hold because there are no concerts, but we plan to make this available again in the future. It’s business for us, and exposure for the performer.
You mentioned measuring the number of listeners in real time. I also read that you have listeners from all over the world. Was there a country that showed up on that list that was especially surprising?
Right now, we mostly have listeners from countries where Hungarians work, such as France or Germany. We have some feedback when people comment where they’re connecting from.
The most surprising was a connection from South America. There was no feedback, so we can’t know who was listening. It’s also entirely possible that someone simply googles ‘rock radio’ and finds us, we are pretty high up on the organic search list. So if someone from abroad finds us, catches a song they know and like, they might stick around and just go make a snack while a Hungarian song is playing. That’s one of the ways to get international listeners.
So you play songs of both Hungarian and foreign bands. Is there a genre that is specific to Rocker Radio? Who is the target audience?
Yes, we play both Hungarian and international music. We also air interviews in Hungarian and English, the English ones are narrated.
It is our goal to reach a broader, more international audience. While someone Hungarian who listens from abroad might be interested in the Hungarian program, their foreign colleagues for example might hear songs they like and then start listening on a more regular basis, albeit skipping the parts they don’t understand. They still might get the type of music that they do not from other radio stations. The lack of rock music in mainstream radio is sadly global.
It’s metal and rock, we don’t favour a specific genre. Anything from Slayer to Bon Jovi and more. We have to of course realize what’s more popular, a lot of careful consideration goes into editing the program so that anyone can find something they like. For instance someone who prefers soft rock, might shun the radio for good if we played a 12-hour Slayer block, but will simply go get their coffee if it’s just one song.
We would like to reach rockers and metalheads who have no other options like Spotify. Rocker Radio is free, easily accessible online or through our app, consumes very little data, and who knows? You might catch your favourite tunes or discover a new artist.
When I get bored of the music I usually listen to, a lot of times I’m out of ideas. This radio’s perfect for that kind of dilemma. You can get new inspiration from an interview or the songs we play.
Can you tell me more about the goals and plans for Rocker Radio?
The biggest advantage online radio has over traditional frequency radio is that it can be listened to anywhere in the world, especially today when everyone always has a smartphone on their person. Thanks to this, it’s much easier to expand the listener base, and that is our plan. We would like Rocker Radio to reach as many people as possible, on an international level as well. Rock radio stations are scarce, no matter the country, so we could fill that niche.
For us, the biggest accomplishment is to know that someone stumbles upon our station, starts to listen to it, enjoys it and shares it because they feel that others might like it too. Word of mouth sure is a powerful thing.
It’s also a challenge to make Rocker Radio well-known and into a financial success, a successful business endeavour. This is an exciting project.
This is an awesome initiative! Congratulations on what you’ve achieved so far, and best of luck with your future plans!
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By Andi Tamás