Yesterday, Mars moved into its retrograde cycle, and recent solar flares from the sun made the news in what astronomers are calling the biggest space storm in seven years. Such science and tech news is catered toward a niche demographic, and while there’s no shortage of media outlets that realize this, a new Internet radio station has been created for NASA that combines science and space news with an indie, new rock, and alternative music format for an audience that is out of this world.
Third Rock Radio: America’s Space Station, has been streaming online for just over a month and has quickly gained a global, targeted audience. “The reception has been everything we hoped for and more,” said Pat Fant, co-founder of Third Rock. “We have listeners in over 40 different countries, and we kind of stopped counting.”
Fant, along with fellow co-founder who simply goes by Cruze, started RFC Media about three years ago and have built radio stations on the Web for brands and businesses. After a number of clients, they were able to start a new project for NASA. “When we first starting talking to NASA about the idea, everybody liked it, but wasn’t sure exactly what sort of form it would take,” Cruze said.
Both Cruze and Fant have long backgrounds in broadcast radio working in various markets, including prominent Houston rock stations 101.1 KLOL-FM (now a Latino pop format) and KTBZ-FM, The Buzz. Cruze also programmed stations in Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. “We both kind of put broadcast radio in our rear view mirror and jumped into the digital space to work on this concept,” Cruze said.
Everyone involved at the station lends a hand in selecting the music and has an extensive musical background and knowledge. Bands like The Black Keys, Radiohead and Interpol are common artists that are featured as well as more unknown artists that don’t get played often or at all on broadcast radio.
And unlike Pandora and other Internet music algorithm sites, Third Rock is presented and hosted by well-versed and talented personalities. Donna McKenzie is on the air as a host while she continues as a host at local Houston station, 103.7 KHJK-FM.
Additionally, David Sadof recently joined the station as a host and will debut a new music show soon called Lunar Rotation in which he will delve deeper into the week’s newest songs and upcoming artists. Fant and Cruze previously worked with Sadof and called him “one of the brightest music minds out there particularly for this genre, this feel.”
“We not only program the music but we also create the content, feature material and the news and information items that sort of happen in and around the music to give the listener this experience of what goes on at NASA,” Fant said. “And it’s working; it’s really getting people intrigued again.”
In just a month since its launch, the Third Rock Radio Facebook page has almost 6,000 fans and over 2,000 followers on Twitter. “It’s a real remarkable way to run a radio station and operation where you can really communicate with your listeners and interact with feedback and it all happens in real time,” Fant said. And for a younger tech-savvy audience, it continues to grow.
Cruze knows it can be hard to appeal to a crowd that does not want to be stereotypically defined, but Third Rock was the right mix. “What’s really interesting is that I almost can’t think of a higher-quality audience to be pulling together. People always talk about how hard it is to market to 18 to 34 year olds because you can’t tell them what to like and they don’t want to be sold. And here you have not only that kind of age group, but sort of the best and brightest of that age group,” he said. “So it’s striking a cord with talking about technology, exploration and NASA, along with exploring new worlds of music.”
Third Rock Radio is available through NASA.gov and can be streamed through all of the NASA apps on iPhone, iPad and Droid. Also, the station has entered a partnership with Tune In where Third Rock is one of the many Internet stations featured on the site and its mobile apps. They are also in discussions with auto makers that would enable Tune In stations to be available through the dashboards of new car models this year.
“So what excites us a lot about that is that when it’s just as easy to get to Third Rock as it is to get to any local FM station, that really levels the playing field,” Cruze said. “There are ways to listen to Internet radio in the car now, but you have to jump through a few more hoops to do it. It’s going to make it so simple, my mom could do it.”
Looking ahead, the focus will always be about integrating science and NASA information in a simple “short and sweet” tone. “We’re not looking to do any long-form technical or scientific programming because it really is first and foremost a music station,” Cruze said. “With that said, we’re already beginning to explore what the next avenues are going to be to bring content in an interesting, captivating way.”
In 2012, Third Rock Radio plans on live originations and reporting from New York, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles as the NASA shuttle orbiters are placed in their respective museum homes.
Ultimately, the station’s unique blend of music and science is a way to engage the next generation of listeners on topics they may not understand. Third Rock Radio is a perfect avenue to re-establish the excitement of the unknown with NASA’s upcoming missions and discoveries. “If you are under 35, you don’t have the same memory of watching man step foot on the moon for the first time and how exciting that was,” Cruze said.
“And ordinary radio has gotten extremely passive and it’s way too predictable. So we go out of our way to make sure there are plenty of surprises in what we offer day-to-day,” Fant added. “It’s anything but predictable.”
Making the Pitch
Not all of the technology and science news and information broadcast on Third Rock Radio has to relate to NASA. Fant and Cruze accept outside press materials that have anything to do with tech and particularly about how that technology affects people’s lives.
“So if it’s technology that’s going to make it easier or cost effective; airplane travel, better razorblades – whatever it is. That’s all interesting stuff,” Cruze said.
The most important thing to remember is that any information has to be factual and able to be validated.
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