First Listen: The Radio League of Milwaukee

In recent years, broadcasters have done a better job of creating products that go beyond their AM/FM transmitters, whether it's hip-hop/R&B WQHT (Hot 97) New York getting its own reality series or cross-town sports outlet WFAN's morning team getting its own food kiosk court at the Barclays Center. What they haven't done so far is create a lot of other radio. The job of creating radio for people who can't be satisfied by what's on the dial has largely gone to Sirius XM. 

Radio League, the new app from Journal Broadcast Group's Milwaukee cluster, addresses that issue, offering a suite of seven stations that don't include JRN's broadcast signals in the market. There are "Variety" and '80s channels tied to (but not rebroadcasting) Adult Hits WLWK (the Lake). But there is also country, Christian AC, top 40, triple-A, and a station based on acts from Milwaukee's always mammoth upcoming Summerfest.

The Radio League also addresses one of broadcast radio's existential issues at the moment. FM music stations aren't equipped to compete with the online pureplays' lower spotloads. Heard last Saturday, Pandora ran six separate units adding up to a little more than two minutes an hour. That's unimaginable for most broadcasters. Yet, ceding the continuous music franchise means backing away from the biggest piece of what radio currently does.

In November, I wrote, "If broadcasters can't retrofit heritage brands to compete on the continuous music front, perhaps they should create new ones." Radio League does that. It promises "fewer commercials," but at the moment, its advertising seems to be primarily banner ads and sponsorships. The Summerfest channel had an ad for tickets. The variety channel announced that "this hour of the Radio League [was] kept free by [sister station] WTMJ-TV."

Unveiled on Monday, the Radio League app is, at this point, pretty basic. There's no title/artist info, for instance. And so far the stations aren't streaming outside the app. That said, there are already a number of significant advertisers included on those banner ads -- Progressive, Toyota, AT&T, Victoria's Secret, California Pizza Kitchen -- along with some of the more typical ads that you'd expect.  

The Summerfest station, which launched today, is appropriately eclectic given a festival lineup that ranges from Ray LaMontagne to Five Finger Death Punch to Ludacris. It's also a very enjoyable listen and the perfect vehicle for a station that transcends traditional formats. By contrast, the variety station felt, if anything, even tighter than The Lake. 

Here's the Summerfest 2014 station on Journal's Radio League app:

Kool & the Gang, "Celebration"

Fitz & the Tantrums, "Out Of My League"

Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, "I Hate Myself For Loving You"

Paramore, "Misery Business"

Dennis DeYoung, "Desert Moon"

Aloe Blacc, "The Man"

James Hunter Six, "Minute By Minute"

Kansas, "Carry On Wayward Son"

Fall Out Boy, "Sugar We're Goin' Down"

Timeflies, "I Choose U"

Head & the Heart, "Lost In My Mind"