Newspaper Rocks San Diego

By: Joe Strupp

Alana Seifi is no Alan Freed. But when the history of online radio in San Diego is written, her part in it may one day draw comparisons to the ’50s rock ‘n’ roll disc jockey. She’s a producer for a radio station hosted by SignOnSanDiego. com (Web site of the San Diego Union- Tribune), and as such, selects the music for one of the few radio stations to be presented by a major U.S. daily.

AmplifySD, which launched in 2006, mixes the power of the Internet with the local impact of a daily paper, giving those who log on a musical experience not found on any other local Web site. “There’s nothing like this, because we only play local music,” says Seifi, a Web producer and graduate of nearby San Diego State University. “It is a pretty niche market.”

Content Manager Ron James says the 24-hour programming is unique because it is strictly local, and open to any area musicians who want to submit their work: “It can be a group signed to a record company or just a musician who is local ? and the music has to fit the genre that is indie rock, maybe a little reggae. It is an audience that isn’t really served, the radio stations around here are not focusing on local music.”

The only requirement is that those who submit their music must live in San Diego County ? or at least have a scheduled upcoming gig in the area. He says the station, which targets an audience of 18 to 34-year-olds, has received tens of thousands of songs and has played about 3,000.

“When we first started, we put up everything we got,” James recalls. “Now we are much more selective.” Bands with names like Manuc and Kite Flying Society simply submitted their music on CD. Seifi says the site had about 10 listeners when it first launched, but now averages 2,000 to 3,000 per day. “We have other programming that comes from the arts and entertainment staff and the newsroom,” James notes, citing the station’s Mix Tape show ? a weekly production that offers the top 10 songs selected by Union-Tribune staffers.

“We also have bands come in that play in the studio and do interviews,” adds James. “That happens about once a week.” Among the recent live performers was A.J. Croce, son of Jim Croce and a well-known local musician. AmplifySD also hosts numerous blogs (with some linked to other music sites) and chat rooms.

“It has definitely built awareness, and it is a pretty good format on the Internet,” says Nick Venti, the drummer for Republic of Letters, which had a single from its first album in AmplifySD rotation this year.

But even more music is on the way: The newspaper site’s second online radio station is scheduled to debut Sept. 17. SignOn Radio will expand the format to include more music and talk, but will continue to highlight local artists.

“Clear Channel has kind of homogenized the radio,” James says about the giant broadcasting chain, which is often criticized by musicians for its repetitive, milquetoast playlists. “There will be guys on who love San Diego and know about San Diego.”

The station has already lined up a number of local radio veterans, including Joe Bauer, Happy Hare, and Charlie and Harrigan. “It gives us instant credibility to have jocks of this caliber on the air,” he says. “We will also have other music that we didn’t have on AmplifySD ? blues, jazz and American standards, all local bands.”

James adds that the programming will have limited costs ? the on-air personalities have to line up their own sponsors. But the station also will feature some U-T staffers, including Opinion Page Editor Bob Kittle (who will host a weekly show) and other writers on a wine and food program. “I think you are going to see this as a huge part of newspapers in the future,” James says. “I think it is going to be huge.”

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