Justin Bale doesn't understand a lot of things. Like, why won't the '80s go away again? Why does so much indie and alternative rock sound wussy?
The founder of popfreeradio.com does get one thing, though: The future of radio is on the Internet.
It's been more than two years now since Bale, whose on-air alias is Chronic the Hedgehog, launched his alternative to local FM radio. And popfreeradio.com's listenership has grown from eight to nearly 4,000 hits a day since its Halloween 2006 debut. It consistently beats local FM stations to new music (most recently, the new Silversun Pickups single).
I caught up with Bale at the Dark Horse Tavern. Soon, he says, Popfreeradio will present concerts every first Friday at Davey's Uptown Ramblers Club and every second Thursday at the Brick. Before all that kicks off, though, there's a March 27 fundraiser for the Web site at Davey's Uptown, featuring Shudder, the Threes, Sterling Witt and Cody Ross.
Headquartered in a Johnson County office, popfreeradio has become a full-time job for Bale. "I go in at 9 and leave at 6," he says. He also pays 12 people to sell ads for the site and provide programming. Revolution, Bale's new politics and music program, launches soon. Sure to make his playlist: "A bunch of bands you've never heard of," he says, like Cage the Elephant and Mr. Meeble, definitely no Killers. A child of grunge, Bale believes music's next trend is a return to '90s sounds.
Even though he gets just a fraction of listenership, Bale says popfreeradio.com gets twice as many hits as any KC radio station's Web site and that 85 to 90 percent of his traffic is local. (Appropriately, April 2 is Popfreeradio's target date for the debut of a new, strictly local show.)
"I really think that FM radio continues to lose listeners," Bale says. He admits that listeners are turning to their iPods more than to Internet radio. "But," he points out, "you've got to find that new stuff to put on your iPod."
And it better not sound like new wave.