When Tom Cheney launched idobi as a side-project to his producing gig at MTV, the internet was not entirely ready for radio. “When we started this in 1999, most people still had modems, you were broadcasting at 24 kbits per second,” he said.
But alternative rock seemed ready to burst into a new medium. “It was the beginning of the pop punk scene, and that is definitely not something that immediately took to traditional radio,” said Cheney.
So, with a hunch that online radio would take hold and a desire to share the music he loved, he created idobi Radio, a rugged space for an emerging set of alt rock artists.
“I started with a computer in my apartment,” he said. At the time, “you spent like three hours programming in Flash trying to save 15 bytes to make things faster.” idobi was initially broadcasted on Live365, but it soon switched to SHOUTCast and is now also available on iTunes.
Cheney started out with one “Top 40” and one alternative rock stream, but he quickly dropped the pop channel. “There’s no real effort in picking a pop song,” said Cheney. “Rock is more interesting in terms of trying to figure out whats going to be the next big thing.”
In time, idobi Radio propelled groups like Good Charlotte, Simple Plan and Fall Out Boy and grew a base of over 2 million unique listeners per month by the early 2010s.
Then, Pandora’s success unleashed a new, viable business model for online radio.
Before, the industry was “basically like the Pink Sheets of advertising,” said Cheney. “It was really the rise of Pandora that made internet [radio] advertising OK.”
idobi incorporated in 2012 after running for over a decade on the work and dime of Cheney, with assistance from radio host Eddie Barella and a handful of volunteer DJs.
For the launch, idobi raised a $150,000 friends-and-punk-rock-family seed round. Simple Plan guitarist Sebastien Lefebvre, drummer Chuck Comeau and Good Charlotte frontman Joel Madden joined Cheney and Barella as co-owners of the new company.
“As a hobby we helped them launch their careers,” said Cheney. It was “life coming full circle.”
Thanks to an onslaught of new advertisement opportunities since the launch, “we doubled our revenue every year,” Cheney said. The station’s grown its reach 5.8 million unique listeners per month, he added. It regularly has the longest listening time of all top 20 online radio stations, according to rankings from research firm Triton Digital.
idobi now employs a staff of about 25 full-time workers, including a core team of five in WeWork Dupont Circle.
For Cheney, the last few years have been a whirlwind. “Sometimes, I have to pinch myself to make sure that it’s all real,” he said.
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