o-wow: former wmms program director set to launch internet radio station

After two years of jumping through financial hoops, the brains behind WMMS's heyday years will be launching oWOW, a Cleveland-based live and local internet radio station, this Friday, but you can help yourself to a sneak peak.

"We're on the air right now, testing," says John Gorman, oWOW Media LLC's chief content officer and former program director at WMMS, from the outfit's temporary studio space in the 78th Street Studios.

As if on cue, a purring voice interrupts the interview.

"Hey everybody, I'm Ravenna Miceli. Got a B-side of a Stone's tune for you, "Jump On Top Of Me Baby" going back about 15 years, but it sounds brand new here on oWOW."

And as Jagger and co. pour from the studio speakers, that unmistakable feel from radio's past is reanimated: Ravenna Miceli picked this song just for me.

Miceli will join three other oWOW personalities: Steve Pappas, Susie Frazier and Charlotte DiFranco, all of whom have traditional radio experience. The staff has been trotting between a makeshift office (affectionately nicknamed "the trolley") and the temporary studio while their permanent 1,600-square-foot digs undergo construction. Scheduled for completion in mid to late spring, the space will include a studio and a production area with large interior windows so 78th Street visitors can look in on the action, be it a celebrity interview, a live performance or just the everyday studio buzz.

"What used to get people interested in radio was that it was exciting," says oWOW director of sales and marketing Jim Marchyshyn. "You looked in. You saw the DJ and you thought: this is cool. We are in show business. That's been forgotten."

"Studios are all empty," adds Gorman of today's traditional radio venues. "They don't have an air staff. Most of them are disembodied voices coming from another city. We're real live people. We're based in Cleveland. We can do all the things that radio can no longer do."

That means attracting listeners as well as advertisers. To wit, House of LaRose and Budweiser will be sponsoring oWOW's launch this weekend. As for programming, Friday Night Live will run Fridays from 5 p.m. to midnight and exclusively feature live concert audio. Daily programming will aim to give people back that live mix-tape feel, one the oWOW team thinks listeners will respond to in a world where bots make calculated music recommendations based on mysterious algorithms.

Look to hear Cleveland performers such as Kristine Jackson, Bob Gatewood and the Speedbumps. Lesser-known acts from across the country will also find airtime on oWOW, adds Gorman, citing Lucero and Charlie Faye.

"She's the new Joni Mitchell," says Gorman of the little-known singer songwriter out of Austen, Texas. "She's on a small independent label so she can't promote and market." Hence, play on oWOW could make a difference in her career while delighting Cleveland listeners, despite the geographic divide.

oWOW's target area will cover Northeast Ohio at large, from Erie to Columbiana County. As a perfect side note, David Helton, who created WMMS's legendary buzzard, also designed oWOW's logo.

While details on the complex deals are confidential, oWOW was funded by a host of private investors, a local bank and a loan and grant from the City of Cleveland.

"We had the odds so far against us at one point that it looked like it would never happen," says Gorman. "It made us fight even harder. We refused to give up." He adds that the founding partners also have a significant financial investment in the effort.

"We have serious skin in the game," says Gorman. "This has to be successful."

Photos Bob Perkoski

Erin O'Brien
Erin O'Brien

About the Author: Erin O'Brien

Erin O'Brien's eclectic features and essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and others. The sixth generation northeast Ohioan is also author of The Irish Hungarian Guide to the Domestic Arts. Visit erinobrien.us for complete profile information.