Get to know Rick O'Dell's New Day Online

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Posted by on November 10, 2009 at 10:54:44:

New day for Rick O'Dell

RADIO | Former WNUA smooth jazz master bounces back -- online

November 10, 2009

BY LEWIS LAZARE | Chicago Sun-Times

Former WNUA-FM (95.5) on-air talent Rick O'Dell has seen the future. And he's learning to like it. After his unceremonious ouster from WNUA last January, the station's former smooth jazz guru is programming and co-hosting no fewer than 14 Chicago-centric smooth jazz music channels continuously streamed online at www.chitownsmooth

After WNUA-FM (95.5) changed from smooth jazz to a Spanish-language hot adult contemporary format last May, O'Dell understandably needed a few months to deal with the blow before he could begin to consider the future. But Kurt Hanson, founder and CEO of the nine-year-old Chicago-based AccuRadio Inc., offered O'Dell a chance to help chart radio's future on the Internet.

"At first, I was skeptical and a little intimidated by the Internet technology, but now I'm a believer," O'Dell said.

The Chicago Web channels are a small portion of more than 400 diverse radio channels in the AccuRadio Internet radio empire. They range from the main outlet "Chitown Smooth Jazz" to niche channels such as "Chill with Mindi Abair," "Sunday Brunch" and "Smooth Covers." There's even a "Smooth Jazz Christmas" channel that debuted in late October, well ahead of WLIT-FM's (93.9) annual switch-over to all-holiday music, which usually occurs around mid-November and drives listeners to the station.

Each AccuRadio channel is a small wonder of detail and convenience. As each song plays, listeners can see its title and the artist. Each track can be stopped and restarted on command. Listeners also can delete the music of as many artists as they wish from any channel so they never have to hear it, but commercials cannot be deleted. And listeners can click through to to order any song or album while it is playing, though O'Dell said AccuRadio doesn't generate much income from this service.

O'Dell and his co-host, Danae Alexander, another former WNUA talent, spend a portion of their time recording constantly updated inserts with weather and pertinent information about concerts and weekend events tailored to the Chicago market.

The two hosts also spend a chunk of time responding to questions listeners can pose via the "shoutbox" on the www.chitownsmoothjazz home page.

"The 'shoutbox' is a way for us to maintain a more intimate relationship with our listeners," explained O'Dell, who also is responsible for regularly freshening up the play lists on all 14 channels in the Chicago smooth jazz collection. In his new Internet smooth jazz radio world, O'Dell is working at any one time with more than 1,200 smooth jazz songs spread among 14 channels, more than four times the number of selections on the WNUA playlist in the waning days of his tenure there.

The 14 Chicago-focused channels that O'Dell now handles are part of AccuRadio's larger plan to create similar channel collections in markets where smooth jazz is already dead or dying out as a format in the traditional, terrestrial radio industry. AccuRadio already has San Francisco-branded channels, and plans call for smooth jazz channel collections in Los Angeles, Phoenix and Philadelphia. "I guess they can no longer find a way to monetize it and make money," he said.

But now O'Dell is committed to growing his beloved music format online. Compared to traditional radio, the numbers of listeners online are comparatively small -- about 1,600 or so people are listening to the smooth jazz collection of channels on average at the peak time around 2 p.m. But that peak total is growing by about 100 every week.

"I believe we have great opportunity for growth," O'Dell said.

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