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Social Influencer Series | Johnny L, Founder Indie 617

Social Influencer Series | Johnny L, Founder Indie 617

Nobody knows the name, John LaVassuer. Who? Exactly. John LaVassuer is the man behind the curtain of the legendary Johnny L.

Everybody knows Johnny L.

If you grew in Boston in the eighties or nineties or early two-thousand's, chances are you had a love affair with Boston's Alternative Rock Station - WFNX. It defined three generations of "coming of age" and then overnight, it was gone. On July 20th, 2012 - Boston's beloved alternative station went off the air at to the sound of The Cure's "Let's Go to Bed."

It was a fitting ending to a sad goodbye. Johnny L was a fixture in the Boston Radio Scene and did incredible things at WFNX for over 14 years. He had the red-carpet rolled out for any radio station group in town, but chose an alternative route which was to help WFNX rebuild and rebrand as a digital channel. And like that - Radio BDC was born.

Today, Johnny L is the Managing Partner at Indie617 - an revolution of sorts of this online radio juggernaut and if you haven't made it part of your audio repertoire - what are you waiting for? It is pretty awesome!

I caught up with JohnnyL recently and here is a snapshot of what he had to say:

You were a long-time legend in Boston radio representing the coolest station in the market (WFNX) and then it went away. Boston's Alternative Rock Station just up and vanished. You took an alternative approach and instead of just going to work at another radio station, you chose to reinvent yourself and the FNX brand in digital. What were the early days like - launching RadioBDC? 

The day after FNX was sold my phone rang from every major radio group in Boston, about job opportunities, so I knew I would not be unemployed for long. One call came from the Boston Globe, I was intrigued by the idea of teaming up with Boston.com to continue what I had enjoyed for 15 years at FNX. The best part of their offer was that if I came on board they would hire the entire team that I loved working with. Henry Santoro, Julie Kramer, Adam 12, Paul Driscoll and Mike Snow. At the time I had 3 teenagers at home and never once did I see them turn a radio on, everything came out of their phones. Light shines on marble head and this old guy starts to think you may not need a tower and signal to reach the people anymore. The early days of RadioBDC were a challenge, as The Boston Globe had zero radio launch experience, but what they lacked in knowledge they more than made up for in exuberance. My team of veteran FNX staffers built out the studio from scratch, which was a lot of work because we had nothing. Three months later, we launched RadioBDC. I'd like to say I helped, but I didn't, I watched an amazing product being born by highly motivated individuals who wanted their station back. I did build a sales team and train 40+ print advertising reps the intricacies of internet radio advertising sales, in which I had zero experience. But with hard work and vision the advertising and sponsorship dollars came in. We built it and they came. It was pretty incredible.

You were successful. RadioBDC became a promotional powerhouse in Boston surpassing the cache of the other "alt" rock station in town. What are the advantages that digital radio has over traditional terrestrial radio? What were the keys to your success? 

The advantage is cost - the 800 pound gorilla in the terrestrial radio world is the high cost of operating on the FM dial. Digital radio does not have these costs, so we can deliver promotions and events to our clients at a very competitive price. We always had the reputation of crushing the competition when it came to ROI at RadioBDC. We continued to crush them and make a profit our first year operating, and we grew that each year for 5 consecutive years. All the while, the radio market was contracting.

Your new venture is awesome - indie617. What was the motivation behind launching a new channel? 

About a year ago, myself and Paul Driscoll thought it would be best for the station if we could expand the platforms that we were available on. Boston.com was an awesome launching point, but we felt as the station grew it would be better served on other platforms. Our first partner with our player available is Vanyaland, which we saw as a perfect compliment to what we do here at indie617. We are always looking for ways to expand our reach across New England. We have found that we really are the "true alternative station" of Boston, and fill the void in the market for what we do better than anyone else - break great new bands and execute awesome events (e.g. St. Patty's, Marathon Monday, Opening Day, Sushi Sunday, the best ski program in New England, free +1 concerts, etc).

How does social media play into your brand-building?

Haha, great question, Mark... not my strong point, but I realize the importance of social media presence, so the first thing we did at indie617 was promote Christine McKeon to Social Media Director. So here's what Christine has to say about this: "indie617's social accounts are a major reflection of what we focus on in the studio - the music. We aim to keep our long time fans, as well as newcomers, up to speed with all things indie, with a Boston twist. indie617 has many reasons besides the music to connect socially - artist experiences (like interviews and performances - we just had Kate Nash in studio!), concert ticket giveaways to top shows, and exclusive events. Connecting socially is the best way to let people know everything that we do, and we want them to be a participating piece of it all."

How does experiential (and social in an extension of that) play into your business model and value proposition for sponsors?  

As an internet streaming radio station we would starve if we depended on spot sales to finance the station. I have taken the best promotional ideas from both FNX and RadioBDC and expanded them on Indie617. We constantly work with clients and their national advertising platforms to develop ways to activate locally, putting proverbial asses in seats as they say. Whenever we sell a program it comes with spots, appearances and jockspins, supported by all social platforms and usually culminate with a huge event. Our most recent success was Sapporo Sushi Sunday. This brand wanted a holiday of their own, like Corona has with Cinco de Mayo, so we gave it to them. We rounded out year 3 and expanded to 'Sapporo Sushi on the Slopes' with our ski partners at Nashoba Valley. Approx. 800 people showed up to sample sushi from Boston's best sushi restaurants, listen to indie617 jocks spin, with a live performance from one of many great emerging bands we feature on indie617... a great day!

Where is traditional radio falling down today in your eyes? 

The lack of creativity, curation and risk-taking. Very vanilla if you ask me, that's why indie617 exists. We come up with great ideas, and as you know, good ideas sell. 

Speed Round: 

  1. Celebratory Cocktail: any domestic light beer, that buys indie617.

  2. Proudest Accomplishment: , Little known fact, I put Coors Light on the map in Boston back in the 80s/ 90s... you can ask Leo Kiely CEO of Coors Brewing Company (retired)

  3. Go to social channel: Facebook

  4. Best moment in your career: The Day WBCN offered me a boatload, and WFNX matched it immediately no questions asked, feels nice to be wanted.

  5. Inspirational Hashtag: #Indie617

About the interviewer:

Mark Keaney is a Husband, Dad, Coach, Mentor and Leader. With over 20 years of experience in the media industry and a wild ride in the world of tech start-up & social - Mark is helping brands deliver world class CX at Lithium Technologies, where he is the Regional Vice President of Sales for the East and Central. His mantra is - Brand Globally. Market Locally. 

e: markkeaney8@gmail.com or t: @markkeaney2pt0


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