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"... or who don't get played on the radio," adds Jim. "That's what comes first."
This philosophy has resulted in Rolling Stone magazine last month describing 3WK as "the FM radio of your dreams ... a sneak preview of what the Rhino compilation That's a Pretty Nice Haircut: Alternarock Hits of the 90's will sound like." Such publicity is not uncommon for the station owners, who say they're interviewed by some sort of media outlet about once a week. This, in turn, has drawn the attention of fanatics all over the world. "We had a guy in Louisville who listened," says Jim, "and people who worked in his office came into his office -- he was the only one with an audio connection, and he ended up putting sound cards and speakers on every one else's computer, and then they were all listening, too."
Adds Wanda: "There are companies who pipe us through their speakers all day."
Listening to 3WK, it's obvious that the station is being programmed by ex-commercial radio people. Although the playlist is much more diverse than FM stations (excluding, of course, college and community radio stations), it's programmed in a similar fashion: They pick songs and artists to emphasize -- to put into heavy rotation, medium rotation and light rotation -- and then design a daily playlist. It's not uncommon to hear the same song by, say, Medeski, Martin and Wood three or four times in the same day. If the Atkinsons like a band, they'll play them constantly (they love Sebadoh, Front Line Assembly and Built to Spill). And although there is a certain whimsy to the station, there's little freeform spontaneity. You'll never hear Guided by Voices followed by the Beatles followed by the Velvet Underground followed by the Pastels. The station is rooted firmly in a fairly strict format, a sort of "alternative to alternative rock."
But as a way of gaining and retaining a large listenership, creating a "product," in Jim Atkinson's words, perhaps their method is best. They do know radio, as opposed to many other online-station operators who arrive from the other side of the technology. "Most of the people come to it from the Internet side," says Jim. "They understand the technology, but they don't understand the music. Or you find people who can do it from the radio side, but most people who are in radio are used to working with consultants -- they don't necessarily know how to program anymore."
3WK tiptoes on the line between the two kinds of rock stations online: On one side are the corporate Internet stations like Rolling Stone radio (www.rollingstone.com) that cater to major-label artists and attitudes ("You turn on their modern-rock station and it sounds just like any FM station," opines Jim); on the other side are narrowly niched stations such as www.88hiphop.com or www.punkradio. com. The Atkinsons take exception to these stations, too: "Saying that there's 30 different kinds of rock is kind of silly," says Jim. "I'm sure there's a few, but when you get so segmented like that, you get a station that's like a jukebox. You turn on the Goth rock station and every song sounds just like the one before it. Or turn on their electronica channel and every song sounds the same after you've listened for 20 minutes."
Plans are in place, however, for 3WK to diversify and grow more stations. Like many of the larger Internet radio sites who offer more than one musical style from which to choose -- once a station has the hardware and the knowhow, it's relatively simple to program an alternative-rock station, an electronica station, a garage-rock station, etc. -- the company soon hopes to offer more options. Says Wanda, "We can do three, four, five stations on our own as 3WK and still turn around and do other stuff, too."
"We'll probably end up with five," clarifies Jim, then adds a thought that illustrates how drastically online broadcasting is changing, considering the two send their signal from a South City home: "We don't want to have 150. I don't see the point in that.