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MAGAZINE ARTICLE

mike

Happy Healthy New Year
One can't help but imagine hearing Elton John's "I'm Still Standing" subtly playing in the background as sort of a radio anthem.

Innumerable death knells have sounded for the medium yet - to borrow from a true anthem - its "flag" continues to proudly "wave."

Among the recent threats it has needed to fend off is Internet radio.

Although pooh-poohed as being a serious or legitimate challenger to terrestrial radio, Internet outlets nevertheless possess their share of proponents. Site operators such as Manhattan Beach, CA-based Linda Mackenzie are establishing comfortable and informative niche markets.

Proud Pioneer
A more dynamic, energetic, pleasant and enthusiastic entrepreneur won't readily be discovered as Mackenzie, who five years ago on a shoestring-like budget launched Internet radio site HealthyLife.net. "I've always been a pioneer but pioneers don't always make money," she jokes. "I was the world's first data communications engineer for the airlines and did that for about 18 years."
The former owner of a dietary supplement manufacturing/distribution company as well as one of America's first used PC stores unplugged in 1995 to write books and to do radio shows.
For eight years, Mackenzie voiced positive talk programs for Wisdom Radio, PAX Radio and the Cable Radio Network. "I was heard in 246 markets," she proudly states. "I tried to find stations that would syndicate positive programming [but didn't discover any]. I saw the [power of the] Internet and was familiar with computers. I knew it would work and decided to start HealthyLife.net."
It became apparent very quickly into Mackenzie's research phase however she knew nothing about audio equipment or ways to develop websites. "Few people [in 2002] were audio-, radio- and Internet-savvy so I had to figure it out myself," recalls the author of "Inner Insights - The Book of Charts," winner of 1998's COVR Award for Best Metaphysical Book.
Through a series of fortunate, if not highly unlikely, circumstances she was able to find the person who'd become the site's PD (Dennis Glines) and someone else who was audio-proficient. "[Dennis] did radio in San Francisco and in Monterey," explains Mackenzie who literally bumped into him at a golf store. "We got together with a great guy [who] actually knew about the Internet. We began testing the network [in October 2002] with my show [which] was on five days a week."

Inversed Compensation Model
Relatively few individuals were knowledgeable about Internet radio's module a scant five years ago so Mackenzie was faced with uncovering a way to inexpensively sustain the site. "I decided to design a `Pay for Play' [system for the hosts] until advertising began coming in," she recounts. "I didn't charge listeners - I charged the hosts. That was the only way to stay on but [in the meantime] we've reduced costs for the hosts. I always wanted to pay them rather than charge them but we did what we had to do. I wanted to make it viable for [listeners]. There will come a time [when we pay our hosts] and I think that's within two years."
Depending on a particular on-air talent's preference, shows on this Internet site can be pre-recoded or done live. "When I did a two-hour show on [terrestrial radio], I'd [take] 36-42 calls in 40 minutes of call-ins," Mackenzie recounts. "I only do about 20 minutes of call-ins on my one-hour Internet radio show. In the beginning, many people were still on dial-up [so] there wasn't a way for them to use their [phone line]. Now that [nearly] everyone is on DSL, we're getting more calls. We find the biggest call-in times are around 8-9am [Pacific Time]."
Interest for the all-positive talk site was generated mainly through Mackenzie's numerous blog appearances.
Four like-minded hosts were brought onboard five years ago (January 2003) and Mackenzie had enough money the following year to go 24/7. "That's when everything just exploded," she points out. "We're a `How To' network [rather than a] `New Age' network. We have programs on addiction, sex, astrology and natural health [but] don't do any sensationalism. That's not allowed on my network. If you provide answers, you can do controversy."
Innovation on Mackenzie's part was the key to the site's success. "If you can believe it, we began with about $3,000 in equipment," she notes. "I did a lot of research to find out what was best and got some used equipment in West Hollywood. We now have about $30,000 in equipment."

Winter Warm-Up
Locating a suitable radio automation package was among Mackenzie's greatest challenges: It took her a year to do so. "I knew I had to have something we could grow with and was reliable [but] it couldn't be as expensive as [what is used in terrestrial radio]," she comments. "Everything in radio is expensive because the market is so small. We found a good package and have been running without a glitch for well over six months. Instead of having thousands of files, we've batched some together so there's less chance of error. There's been a lot of homework on my part."
Typically during summertime, the site attracts about one-half million listeners a month but as Mackenzie remarks in some winter months, "We've gone as high as 920,000. We know that because we have page views."
It is her contention this specialized, positive talk programming format would be lost in an Arbitron-type measuring shuffle. "It was viable when Arbitron had Measure Cast," she maintains. "I had all the cities I go to but didn't have [a male/female composition split] or [any idea of] age group [breakouts]."
That's one reason she initiated "The Clubhouse" four months ago (September 2007) where people sign-in and provide those statistics. "We're finding our audience is about 89% female," reveals Mackenzie. "The age groups are interesting too [because] we span the board [although] we don't have the 12-17 market. Our biggest age group is [50+] and the average listener is online [at our site] about two hours [a day]."

Selective Sponsors
Considered to be a fad by some, Internet radio is viewed by others such as Mackenzie as the way of the future and she emphasizes it is going to be the method of communication. "It is unbelievable how many things are out there. They're working on mini-microwave setups for Internet radio. The Internet is going to be the medium of choice for most people. Eventually everything is going to be Internet-based."
Several automobile manufacturers of course are already going in that direction. "Scion is starting with Internet radio," Mackenzie remarks. "We get about 10,000 listeners a month just on our archives, which we keep up for three months; then we take them off. I'm trying to get people to listen to shows live. You have to come to the site to listen."
Three sales reps were recently hired and although they don't have previous radio experience Mackenzie comments, "They have great contacts. Before I went out for advertising, I wanted to make sure I had listeners and consistent programming [from] hosts I knew would stick around."
That took about four years. "I tried selling advertising way back when but no one knew what Internet radio was," she laments. "Now that we have real demos beginning to come in, we're ready and are looking for a global market."
Pharmaceutical ads won't be heard on her site because Mackenzie opines, "They'd turn off my listeners. Our listeners are into natural food and raw eating so I won't [put on] a McDonald's commercial. I actually thought we'd be a little further along financially than we are but it's only now that the NAB and RAB are saying it is okay to do Internet radio advertising. They are giving their blessing. I've got the equipment and listeners and have [improved the technical quality]."
Representative HealthyLife.net advertisers include Horizon Wireless, Bose, A&E Channel and Kohl's. "One of [our AEs] is [pitching] Whole Foods, which would be a good genre for us, but we're also looking at [companies such as] Toyota," Mackenzie notes. "We like to do things in integrity and not off-the-cuff. We have many listeners in - and get [frequent] call-ins from - Germany, England, Norway, and New Zealand."

Abundant Aspirants
By keeping expenses in-check from the very beginning Mackenzie was able to have her Internet radio operation profitable after the third month. "The station has always paid for itself," she declares. "There are about eight [sites] similar to mine but I don't consider them to be competition. Knowledge is power only when you share. Whoever is going to come is going to come [so] I don't spend a lot of time [worrying about] competition. I do my thing and know my people are going to be here no matter what. I also think there's enough for everyone. Lime Radio [the former Wisdom] was my biggest competitor but they came into the market five years late."
Although obviously not required to do so, 24/7 HealthyLife.net strictly adheres to FCC regulations. "I think the FCC will eventually want to come in and monitor this," Mackenzie contends. "We don't want to reinvent the wheel so we've done it from the start. Our hosts must be from radio, television, film or have national lecture experience."
Approximately 40 people, including Golden Globe winner Sally Kirkland (heard on Mackenzie's site the past four years), already comprise HealthyLife.net's talent roster.
At least two-dozen more each month try to join those ranks and Mackenzie candidly admits, "I'm pretty tough and may only take on one a month - maybe. I don't need to go crazy. It's more about quality than quantity."
Having an environmental/ecology show though has been on her wish list since the beginning. "It's very hard to find someone into ecology [but who isn't] an activist," she explains. "I'm looking for someone who wants to give facts on how we can help the planet without doing any bashing. We don't have time [for that. Our hosts] really want to help people and the planet."
They also get a certain amount of time to promote themselves within their programs. "We try to make it a win/win situation and they can even sell spots on their own to support their show," Mackenzie explains. "We'll produce the ads for them. When Guy Finley began on my site, he had about 100,000 listeners. He didn't want to [but] I talked him into doing a live program. Last year, he had 300,000 people on his email list. Most of my hosts see immediate [increases] in their website traffic after a show."

Full Plate
Each HealthyLife.net personality is given a packet spelling out how they can most effectively market their programs. "We have so many listeners because each host has a following," comments American Board of Hypnotherapy member Mackenzie. "They begin marketing the show and it begins a domino effect. We'll work with hosts [who don't] have much radio experience. We make a personal commitment [with our talent]. It's a family. We won't give them actual number [of listeners] per hour because I don't care. We are a group. I hold a host conference once a year in Southern California so they understand they are not alone."
It generally takes Mackenzie just ten minutes to prepare her one-hour "Creative Health & Spirit" show, broadcast live each Tuesday at 8am (PT) but her day begins at 4:45am. "About 60% of my job is to find out about this industry and what the trends are," she explains. "I try to market the station, which could mean putting it on a locator site. I'm also doing newsletters or setting up conferences."
Making Mackenzie's power-packed schedule as President of Creative Health & Spirit and GM of her five-year old HealthyLife.net Internet radio site even more impressive is the fact that, more than 20 years ago (1987), she was diagnosed with Epstein Barr/Chronic Fatigue.
Hypnotherapy, visualization, diet, vitamins, supplements and herbs were utilized to neutralize the syndrome by a constantly upbeat executive. "I knew I was supposed to be doing this," Mackenzie proclaims. "The lowest point in the past five years [though] was not being recognized by the radio industry."
by Mike Kinosian
Mike@InsideRadio.com

www.INSIDERADIO.com Thursday, January 3, 2008