East Village Radio to Close, Cites High Cost of Licensing

4:52 PM PST 05/14/2014 by Andrew Flanagan, Billboard
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The influential outlet, which started airing in 2003 as a 10-watt pirate station, was the victim of its own success.

East Village Radio, a commercial-free station launched in 2003 and located in a New York storefront on First Avenue, has announced that it will be fading out its broadcast at the end of next week.

"We are ceasing operations as of the 23rd," EVR general manager and head of programming Peter Ferraro told Billboard this morning. "We're humbled [by the response]."

The station, which hosted a wide range of artists and DJs, from Biohazard to Miike Snow member Andrew Wyatt, as well as New York legends such as Lou Reed and Richard Hell, was a widely respected outlet for eclectic music that wasn't getting, or wouldn't get, played elsewhere.

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"I got emails from a station in Amsterdam, saying 'You guys were the inspiration for our station,' " Ferraro told us.

The station's former DJs and friends are all invited to come back ahead of the closure. Ferraro issued a blanket invitation, saying that "We want these next two weeks to bring people who made this thing special back."

Restaurateur Frank Prisinzano, owner of Frank, Lil Frankie's and Supper, launched EVR as a 10-watt pirate station in 2003, telling the New York Times that ''the East Village has been extremely supportive of us. We wanted to return the favor to the neighborhood.''

The station has been bringing in a million listeners each month from across the globe following its switch to web streaming shortly after the publication of the Times article -- a success that may be responsible for its closure. Song licenses, according to Prisinzano, were a large nail in the station's coffin. "We get penalized every time we have a new listener," he said. "We have no ads. When we get more listeners, that doesn't translate into more dollars."

As well, the ubiquity of streaming services like Spotify presented a significant, less personable competitor to the station, which took its neighborhood as its name. "When you look at the whole David-and-Goliath thing...we were a small outlet trying to champion traditional sales of music. Everyone else is championing streaming. What always baffled us was label presidents talking about Spotify, when they should be trying to sell records."

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Prisinzano said the station, one of the most successful, community-focused, web-based radio stations in the world, proves there's a too-high hurdle to operating an outlet like EVR, one he says should be addressed. "I think it says we need legislation in Congress that will promote local, Internet radio. This is a problem. That's the biggest message we should all take from this -- we tried very, very hard and were unable to succeed. It's not fair -- that's what it comes down to."

Pandora, which is supported by ads on its Internet radio streams, has been raising its hackles despite that revenue, which EVR lacks. Pandora now will pay a rate of 1.85 percent of annual revenue to publishing body ASCAP. On-demand services like Spotify pay varying rates depending on their licenses with labels, but generally fall into the range of $0.005 per stream.

Regardless of the rates and legalese, East Village Radio will join its namesake in music history. "Birthplace of punk rock, man," Ferraro said. "If the New York Dolls didn't go to London, who knows if we ever would have heard from John Lydon?"

This article originally appeared on Billboard.com

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