You Play, They Pay

How much should it cost Internet radio operators like Jim and Wanda Atkinson to satisfy your cravings for streaming rock & roll?

The classic stream hits the basics — Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, the Rolling Stones — but also digs down for rockers like the Move, the Strawbs, Nektar and T. Rex. "Jim goes deeper than we did in the '70s," says Rundel, leafing through his encyclopedia while a cigarette, one of many that have combined to season his tenor with a rasp, burns away in an ashtray.

Both 3WK streams skew male — about 65 percent male, according to Wanda Atkinson. In fact, Jim has a policy of never playing two consecutive songs by female vocalists. Back when they started out, he explains, more men were surfing the Internet than women, and the format stuck.

"Jim picks the music that he wants to play," Wanda says. "And that appeals to the male audience. He likes the music, and men tend to like that music."

Jim Atkinson says he bailed on FM in 1993 because of "the potty-mouth humor and the stupid way that being an announcer was headed."
Jennifer Silverberg
Jim Atkinson says he bailed on FM in 1993 because of "the potty-mouth humor and the stupid way that being an announcer was headed."

Like Atkinson, Rundel learned the trade in Lansing. "Jim used to listen to me on the radio when he was a kid," he says. "He used to call in. Even at that young age, he was spouting out trade names, knew when all the albums were coming out."

Rundel was the voice of rock in Detroit in the early 1970s, jocked afternoons at KZOO in Dallas ("We dominated Dallas the way KSHE dominated here"), then moved on to Houston. He dropped out of the biz to get his law degree and practiced for a year ("I hated it") before getting back into radio as the host of a syndicated jazz show that aired in Hong Kong and China. After a stint in Corpus Christi, he was lured to St. Louis by the Atkinsons and their classic-rock stream.

Full circle. But then, a lot of ex-FM jocks have resurfaced in Internet radio. And what began as dabbling is now a multimillion-dollar business. Webcasters envision a future in which tech-savvy music fans will have access to their streams 24/7. New multipurpose phones come equipped with hi-fi earbuds, wi-fi access and the capability to listen uninterrupted to 3WK on the go. It's already possible to plug your Treo into the car stereo and stream the rock while you roll down the highway.

Yes, 1999 was a long time ago, says Steve Wolf of Nashville's WolfFM. Internet radio's promise is finally being fulfilled. Way back then he'd retired as a radio engineer but still needed an income. So, armed with a love of radio, he got to work.

"I was in a two-bedroom apartment. Nobody knew what was going on in there," Wolf says. "I had, like, twelve computers and all this radio equipment in one room.

"People listening from all over the world — and nobody in the building knew what was going on in that apartment."

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