The original Roots went silent on March 5th, 2017. The reason was money. Or rather a dramatic increase in the amount we had to pay the record companies who owned the copyright on the music we played. Our budgets were based on licensing costs that had been in place for a number of years.
But just as our audience size was peaking, the fees we paid were switched from being revenue based to being audience based. We at The Roots had been far more skilled at building an audience with great programing, than we were at selling advertising and convincing our listeners to buy Roots memberships. Our accountant projected that at the rate our audience was growing, when factored against the cost of our music licensing, would create yearly losses of over $50,000. After the response to a membership drive was well below our target, we did the only thing we could, we pulled the plug and paid off every bill with our remaining cash.
The Original Roots was just like a commercial radio station and we expected to make money. We had a paid staff and we sold commercials to pay the bills. We had highly skilled, well known DJs like Bob Burch, Gordon Atkins, Katie Kruse, Ted Habeck and Rick Dalton. None of these talented Pros were paid anything close to what they made at their career peak. But even the modest sums (we called it drinking money) added up to thousands of dollars each month. We had a good number of loyal advertisers who covered most of our expenses. But when the music licensing went way up it was just too much to cover.
We also invested in promotion on social media and even had bumper stickers and Roots T-Shirts. At our peak we had 16,000+ followers on Facebook. We took The Roots to the people with weekly live broadcasts from community events and even broadcast a few live concerts. But in the end, our revenue just could not cover how much it cost to run the station.
As the months and years passed, we continued receive encouraging e-mails from former listeners expressing their hope that we could find a way to return to the air. Around the same time most of us reached retirement age. So a small group of former Roots staff members starting searching for a legal way to make the numbers work and bring The Roots back to life.
We discovered that non-profit organizations paid a very different music licensing rate than a for profit corporation like The Roots. Churches, colleges and even arts organization are non-profits and they take advantage of the much lower rates for their radio stations and streaming sites.
Armed with a better understanding of how non-profit status might be the answer, we started talks with the St. Louis Classic Rock Preservation Society, a local non-profit. Their goal is to preserve, promote and honor St Louis’ unique classic rock heritage and its place in music and pop culture history. SLCR posts seven different music streams on their WEB site and now The Roots is included.
By originating our stream from their WEB site we can no take advantage of their non-profit music licensing rates. That is why when you click on the player down on the bottom of our from page, you see the SLCR player page pop up.
After two months of construction, The Roots is now rocking again. And we are back to the same old subject question, how to pay the bills. The first thing we did was dramatically reduce our costs. That means fewer DJs and less promotional investment. We just launched our new membership campaign. The response in the first month was encouraging. About 25% of the original Roots members signed up. We also received a number of $250.00 Leadership members. But so far the majority of the old Roots members are taking a wait and see position. Considering that the entry level membership is only $35.00 for the entire year, that was kind of surprising.
So that is where we stand. We made our first month membership goal. But we need a lot more listeners to sign up and become Roots members. Our goals are very modest and we know thousands of people are listening. The time to wait and see past past. It is time to step up to the bar.
Thank you for reading.
John M Stephens, Founder