In June 2011, Edmonds resident Michael Raley walked away from a successful career in radio advertising, with one mission in mind: to build a radio station of his own.
But Raley wasn’t looking to start just any station. He was tired of commercial radio’s lack of creativity – both in terms of the music it played and the advertising it ran. He wanted a station that supported and celebrated local music, musicians and businesses. And he wanted to make the broadcasts available on a digital platform.
This week, Raley’s vision become a reality with the official launch of Jet City Stream. The station’s focus is on local music, which includes finding and featuring local bands. Since April, when the station first went “on the air” from its headquarters in Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood, Jet City staff have been working to build their brand at various community music events, participating in the Capitol Hill Block Party, Bumbershoot and the Crooked Chinook Music Festival, among others. Jet City has also hosted several smaller events at its studio location inside the former Rainier Brewery-turned-Tully’s-Coffee headquarters on Airport Way South.
The most important room in the Jet City studio suite is probably the server room, complete with a 10.5 mm fiber optic cable – “the biggest you can get,” Raley said. “We wanted to push the audio because EQ (equalization) on the Internet is average at best. So what we did was we created two streams for one fully-equalized path. When you listen to it online, it balances out highs and lows. You can hear total separation in what we do. “
In addition, the station has a functional air studio where they have held Jet City Stream Sessions with local bands including Reignwolf, Walking Papers, Father John Misty and Fly Moon Royalty.
The station also plans to feature famous names as they come through the Puget Sound region for a concert. “Our goal is to get those bands to come down to the station, do an acoustic or electric set with us and leave us with those gems — and then we can play those songs for eternity because they were recorded with us,” Raley said.
He envisions eventually expanding the concept to 25 cities nationwide, creating an online network of Internet stations, each with the same focus on local music and community events.
Part of what drives the 50-year-old Raley is his memories of just how good radio used to be during his childhood and teen years, when a station would play a diverse mix of music — everything from Glen Campbell and Elvis Presley to Roberta Flack and Queen.” Today, Raley noted, “there are five major (music) labels and they control 50 major bands, so they fund those bands and that’s it.” As a result, many great bands and their music are left in the collective dust.
“We just wanted to take the great things radio did and combine it with today’s technology of music discovery,” he said.
Most people in the Internet radio business are “either doing it in their basement in some bad audio way or they are doing Pandora style, which is not radio – it’s just an iPod online where you can click a song,” Raley said. “It’s not radio DJs. It doesn’t have localism.”
Raley himself is a former Edmonds restaurant manager – he worked at Anthony’s Home Port from 1985-1995– who has been in love with music since he started playing guitar in a rock band at age 16.
After encouragement from an acquaintance, he moved into radio sales at age 37, starting with KISS-FM and eventually ending up in Los Angeles before moving back to Edmonds and a sales job with Seattle-based Clear Channel.
However, he grew tired of the type of advertising that was being aired and added that he “felt that the best music in the world wasn’t getting played on the radio,” due to what he called “the corporate rule of record labels.”
As he began building his new station, Raley’s top two priorities were his staff — “finding the best people in Seattle” — and also securing what he described as “an iconic location: a place where a band could bring their record down and see the DJs and meet them.”
His success so far is reflected in both the choice of the station’s home — the hip yet comfortable former Rainier Brewery office suite — and his equally impressive hires: Shawn Stewart of 103.7 The Mountain fame is Jet City Stream’s content director and is on the air fron 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Marco Collins, who broadcasts from 3-7 p.m., is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and best known as the DJ and Music Director at Seattle’s 107.7 “The End” during the 1990’s grunge era. Running the station’s marketing is Joe Hammill, former “The End” promotions director. And Jet City’s vice president of programming is Becky Brenner, who was program director at KMPS for 16 years.
The well-known names continue as part of this week’s official Jet City Stream launch. On Friday, Collins will be joined by Seattle radio legend Pat O’Day, who will co-host the Top 20 Seattle Songs, starting at 3 p.m. According to Raley, the combination was a natural fit: The two personalities have made a name for themselves by discovering the best sounds from Seattle from the ’60s (O’Day, at KJR 950) and the ’90s (Collins at 107.7).—and both men are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The Seattle Top 20 Countdown is a weekly feature hosted by Collins that covers the best-selling albums from Seattle artists, based on local record store sales.