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Online Southern Gospel Music - All Quartets Radio
In January last year, broadcasting veteran Carl Ramsey realised a dream with the launch of his online Southern Gospel streaming audio station, All Quartets Radio.
As Australia’s self-proclaimed biggest fan of Southern Gospel music, I was excited when I discovered the station, and it quickly became a favourite. Last week I interviewed Carl (by email) about the challenges he has faced.
* Your station’s so great. I’d love to hear how you got started.
Carl: I gave my testimony as a teen on Pat Robertson's original television station in my hometown of Norfolk/Portsmouth, Virginia. Someone came out after the programme and said, “How would you like to be a radio announcer?” It was my bass voice that caught their attention.
About that same time, as a new Christian, I was looking for Christian music to enjoy and heard some quartet music on a local country station. I went to hear the Blackwood Brothers and the Statesmen when they came to town, and was hooked forever.
Over the years I have dreamed of having an all-music station that featured only quartets. I think four-part harmony is the fullest and allows the most creativity.
About two years ago the Lord started laying this idea on my heart. My wife and I prayed about it as I researched the possibilities, and in September 2001 we felt the final okay from the Lord and ordered equipment.
Almost immediately I was laid off from work, but Carlotta and I both felt the Lord wanted us to use our money for the station, so we did.
* Why the internet? I thought I was being adventurous launching a website, but an online radio station sounds a huge task.
Carl: It is affordable. The start-up costs are a small fraction of what a good over-the-air station would be. Plus, it gives us broader reach. Anyone in the world with access to the internet can listen.
* How's your audience?
Carl: The audience numbers are good. I look at them now and realise how only a few months ago I was saying if we had half the listeners we do now that would be wonderful. We are the Number One Southern Gospel station on Live365, the largest streaming audio provider in the world.
My goal and prayer is that we will have an audience four times the size we have now within the next one to two years. Internet audio is still a growing medium, though it has slowed in growth a bit since 9-11. And the royalty issue in the US forced thousands of webcasters off the air. Thank God we are still here.
* How have you handled the royalty problem?
Carl: No one except the record industry expected royalties to be set so high. It would have cost our station $4,000 to $5,000 a year. But providentially, we did not start broadcasting until January of last year. If we had been on air prior to 1998 we would probably have been bankrupted. Some of the large multi-million dollar companies owed huge amounts of back royalties and decided that was enough.
Thank God, as I studied the law, I saw a way legally to get around the issues by obtaining royalty-free licences from the groups I play. I had a lawyer prepare a form, and unbelievably we got four of the five big quartet recording labels to sign, and we've forged agreements with scores of quartets.
This was a huge task. God's hand was certainly in it to get some of the people we did to sign. As it was, we still had to pay over $2,100 in royalties for what we played from January until October, when we switched to the royalty-free music format.
* How are your finances? Are you getting much advertising? What can listeners like me do to help keep you on air?
Carl: Finances are the only real challenge we face. We need about $1,700 a month to operate and we've only received that much one month. We are not big enough to sell much advertising because advertisers are scared of internet radio.
So we rely on donations. Unfortunately, a large percentage of our listeners never make a donation. We really need to get more people making monthly commitments. We have a place on our website for donations.
My prayer is to bring in enough regular donations that we won't ever have to put emergency appeals on the air again. I would much prefer to keep the emphasis on the music.
* Finally, what are some of your "desert island discs", the recordings you’d have to take if you were stranded on a desert island?
Carl: I would need so many that they might cause the ship to sink. But I could get by with some from the Melody Boys Quartet, the Dove Brothers, the Modern Statesmen Quartet, the Harmonizing Four (a black quartet from the 50's that sang outstanding music very similar to Southern Gospel) and a quartet record featuring tenors Larry Ford and Bobby Clark. I would also need some Andy Williams and Perry Como.
February 8th, 2003