Robin Henderson leaned back and closed his eyes in aural ecstasy as the sound of the trombone flowed through his laptop computer’s speakers.
“That’s like having honey poured over your head,” said Henderson, basking in the lovesick melody of “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You” by Tommy Dorsey.
The song is part of a playlist that Henderson has curated for listeners in the Olympia area — and the rest of the world.
In April, Radio Olympia began streaming 24 hours a day of classic U.S. and foreign pop hits at radioolympia.org while sprinkling in brief announcements called “bumpers” that show love for Henderson’s hometown. For example, the station gives the time in “Olympia Daylight Time” and has proudly adopted the unofficial slogan “It’s the format.”
This middle-of-the-road format is likely to offer The Commodores, Queen and Bob Dylan alongside Guatemalan singer Ricardo Arjona, or YouTube guitar personality Pete Cottrell. The station also plays artists with local ties like The Fleetwoods and Noah Gundersen.
Henderson’s one-man operation will formally launch Oct. 1 with a live DJ — Henderson, of course. He hopes the station can appeal to a local audience while offering a quirky taste of home for listeners living abroad, such as military personnel and expatriates.
“I’ve been a radio nerd since I was 9,” said Henderson, 54, who counts himself among millions of audiophiles who see the digital music revolution as a blessing. He listens to radio stations from around the world and said he’s “a fan of pretty much everything.”
As the station evolves from a hobby to a business venture, Henderson also is watching a federal lawsuit that could shut out similar independent online stations in the United States.
Henderson’s Radio Olympia is among nearly 50,000 users who host their station for free through Belgian-based Radionomy Group.
Radionomy is seen as the final frontier for independent stations. Users are required to meet certain benchmarks for listenership to cover the cost of music royalties.
In February, a conglomerate of Sony record companies filed a federal lawsuit that accuses Radionomy of copyright infringement. The lawsuit cites examples of stations streaming songs or album cover art by copyrighted artists such as Michael Jackson and Britney Spears without paying royalty fees. The Sony companies seek damages of $150,000 for each song that was illegally played.
Until the plug gets pulled, or until he’s forced to get a license and pay royalties, Henderson will move forward with plans to expand Radio Olympia and its local focus.
“Internet radio in America is threatened right now,” he said. “They call us pirates, and we are not pirates. I believe musicians should get royalties.”
Radio Olympia isn’t the only local online streaming radio service. Established radio stations such as KGY 95.3 FM and KAOS 89.3 FM have an online streaming presence, but rely on terrestrial transmissions and local advertisers for their main business model.
Jackson Dell Weaver, general manager for KGY, estimates that about 5 percent of his station’s audience comes from online streaming. The audience tends to stream more during the day, with people accessing the station at office computers, for example.
“For us, it’s an extension of an existing audience,” he said.
Weaver said the streaming and royalty laws make it almost impossible to compete in online radio alone, and selling local advertising on streaming radio is difficult. He noted that every stream costs money and said the bigger the audience, the higher the cost.
“I always look at streaming radio as a fun thing. It’s a great petri dish for music and radio talent,” Weaver said. “But the lawyers have taken all the fun out of it again.”
Check it out
Radio Olympia will celebrate the Fourth of July by streaming “All-American artists” from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at radioolympia.org. The station says the playlist will include Johnny Cash singing in German, Billy Joel singing in French, Regina Spektor singing in Russian, Arlo Guthrie singing in Ndbele, and a rendition of “A Hard Day’s Night” in Yiddish.