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The start of a radio empire: U of S student hopes to challenge C95 and Wired for your listening loyalty

By in News
He may not be on your FM dial, but Leejay Schmidt has technology and time on his side in building an audience.

It’s a bold move for a radio station to claim to play “the best music of all time.” It’s even gutsier for that radio station to be run out of your bedroom.

Third-year engineering student Leejay Schmidt is doing just that. He started an online radio station, the Mix, which went live in August and has a growing worldwide listenership.

“We currently log about 5,000 unique listeners, and they come from all over the globe,” he said.

Schmidt first fell in love with radio in his hometown of Melfort, where he worked part-time at a radio station before moving for university. In Saskatoon, he says he noticed a distinct lack of variety from the pop stations, whose playlists often repeat a small number of songs throughout the day.

“We try to play as much variety and as few repeats as possible. We have a minimum of 50 tracks before there’s any repeats, so definitely more variety than what gets played on C95 or Wired 96.3,” said Schmidt, who places his station’s musical choices somewhere between the two Top 40 stations and Magic 98.3.

In fact, the programming is not that different from what you might hear on traditional, terrestrial radio. In addition to a fairly recognizable roster of pop artists, you’ll hear news and weather updates and even celebrity gossip. Schmidt and Cassandra Grisdale — a recent University of Saskatchewan grad — host mornings and afternoons, and the rest of the schedule is rounded out by syndicated shows from Vancouver, the U.K. and elsewhere.

But the real question isn’t whether the Mix is good radio. Rather, it is whether an online radio station even has a chance to succeed. After all, most people listen to radio out of convenience, at work or in the car, or they simply load up their mp3 players with their own music.

Schmidt argues that radio is still relevant in helping people discover new music, and although the Mix isn’t on the airwaves, it’s available almost everywhere else: on the Mix website at themixrocks.com, on the iTunes radio directory and on iPhones, Androids and BlackBerrys through the popular TuneIn app.

“There’s lots of different ways for people to listen, and a lot of people who do listen to Wired or C95 actually listen to the webstream anyway, so basically it’s no different,” said Schmidt.

Schmidt says that because the number of smartphones and the availability of unlimited data plans are only going to increase, the Mix might actually hold the technological advantage. After all, he only needs to worry about his Mac while his terrestrial radio competitors have much more expensive infrastructure to maintain. And despite the Mix’s global reach, Schmidt really is gunning for the local market.

Running an online station also lets Schmidt and his co-hosts avoid getting in hot water for playing uncensored songs or not playing enough Canadian content — although he says the Mix still voluntarily adheres to the 35 per cent minimum set by CanCon regulations. The station also pays royalties for all the music it plays.

Although there are many steps to getting the music to listeners, Schmidt’s basic equipment is a professional-grade microphone, a Mac Mini server and the RadioLogic DJ software. He sends the audio to a Quebec-based company which then serves the webstream to computers and smartphones around the globe.

Schmidt already has plans to expand, with a rock station and an advertising business in the works, although he insists the motivation is to engage the Saskatoon community and give local listeners another option for music.

“We’re not out to make a ton of money with this,” he said.


Photo: Raisa Pezderic/The Sheaf

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