The Custom Channels Blog

FM Radio Stations Need to Stream Side Channels to Build Audience

Posted by John on May 15th, 2015

Does an online customized version of a broadcast station cannibalize the over-the-air FM version?

Custom Channels creates and programs customized online music channels for non-radio brands. Our clients include the Bonnaroo Music Festival, Stoke Radio, 30A Radio, and Floyd’s 99 Radio. Our clients also include a few FM radio stations. We’ve believed, since we began streaming in 1999, that multiple online channels are a natural fit for FM radio broadcasters to grow their audience and solidify variations of their music territory from competitors.

We recommend having one or more different channels that stream compatible, desirable versions of the main brand in addition to the main FM signal online. We’ve done it and it works. We’ve streamed music channels (often called “side channels”) for large and small broadcasters, including WTTS in Indianapolis, with content specializing in new releases, deep classic rock, Christmas music, niche Alternative, classic country, and acoustic-only.

The problem we’ve often encountered is that radio broadcasters view their own branded online side channel as unneeded competition with their FM signal for people’s listening time. The argument is that a curated stream takes listeners away from FM listening and minimizes having one largest possible audience they could get on FM without side channels.


There are many problems with this point of view, primarily not acknowledging that people already listen to many radio stations and online streams, not just one. This narrow view would be as if Coca-Cola didn’t want varieties of the Coke brand (Diet, Cherry, Zero, Caffeine-Free) because it would cut into the volume of people drinking regular Coke. Or if retail stores did not open outlet stores because they were fearful of losing traffic in the main store. “If we give them an outlet they won’t visit the flagship store.” Not true. Different variations of the brand EXPAND the customer base, not shrink it. It’s true for retail, it’s true for consumer products, and true for radio broadcasters.


Dave Van Dyke of Bridge Ratings has the data to show that an online customized version of an FM broadcast radio station DOES NOT cannibalize the over-the-air version.

Van Dyke writes that “It takes courage, confidence and foresight on the part of programmers, group owners and managers to travel down this road.” He says listeners like the curation aspect of the customized radio station, and says “there is a great opportunity in this option – will broadcasters see the light, before the opportunity is squandered?” See the results and graphs from Bridge Ratings’ study “Broadcast Streaming is at a Crossroads” for a guide on how to produce greater tune-in, improved engagement, and brand enhancement.

Custom Channels believes that multiple, curated online versions of an FM radio station can ADD to the overall listener base, thereby increasing and targeting the overall audience available to advertisers. Contact us to find out how we can help a radio station or broadcast group grow their overall audience reach by using several branded channels, not just one.

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