Old-school radio in a modern-day format.
That’s the idea behind Rancheria Radio, a new digital music venture from the Indian tribe that owns Jackson Rancheria Casino Resort, said programming director Justin Valencia.
Launched this past week, Rancheria Radio is trying to gain traction by streaming popular music nonstop, without commercials or sponsor ads, via its website and free mobile app.
The platform’s four channels include: Spin, a mainstream Top-40 station featuring artists such as Drake and Rihanna; The Fuze, an alternative rock format spanning the ’90s to the current day; Sage, a more laid-back adult contemporary playlist; and The Ranch, which plays hit songs in the country genre.
Live video on the platform’s Facebook page gives a glimpse into the studio, where Valencia and broadcast associate Manuel Duarte periodically jump on-air. A morning show is set to debut July 17 on the Spin channel. But at the moment, the venture is focused mostly on the music.
Valencia, 36, has previous radio experience at stations in Santa Rosa (KSRT), where he did programming, and in Sacramento (KHHM) and Hawaii (KIKI/KUCD/KBMB), where he was an on-air personality. But he said he was working in IT in El Dorado Hills two years ago when the Jackson Rancheria Band of Miwuk Indians, which runs the Jackson Rancheria casino, approached him about a possible job.
Valencia had been a ring announcer for “Global Knock-Out,” a mixed-martial arts series at Jackson Rancheria, and said he assumed the tribe wanted him for voice work. Instead, he was asked to design and program the new station. Valencia said the idea of a digital format appealed to him for the freedom it allows.
“Old-school radio back in the day was stunts, prank calls, having fun,” Valencia said. “Now a lot of people are putting personalities on websites. For me, it’s about being able to have old-school radio and not have corporate America breathing down our necks. Not saying we’re going to be those guys cussing and causing (problems). But we’re still going to be able to do some stuff. And I don’t have to spin certain music because a record label needs me to.”
Rich Hoffman, CEO of Jackson Rancheria, said the tribe initially wanted to start a radio station as a way of informing guests at the casino and resort about events and promotions. It first needed to build and equip a studio. Hoffman did not give a specific number but said the cost of the venture is “definitely north of seven figures.”
“It’s a two-pronged effort,” Hoffman said. “One is public service – it gives the tribe the ability to promote what it’s doing in the community. ... And then the other prong is marketing the resort.”
Hoffman said tribally owned radio stations are “probably more common than you would think,” and often used for public outreach in more remote areas.
The Jackson Rancheria Band of Miwuk Indians is not new to operating media outlets. In October, the tribe bought the Amador Ledger Dispatch, the main newspaper in Amador County, and folded its operations into the Acorn News, a competing newspaper created by the tribe. Hoffman said at the time that the tribe paid $1 million to purchase the Ledger Dispatch.
Rancheria Radio currently plays in some areas of the casino, Hoffman said, but the hope is that it’s “programmed in a way that’s compelling enough to get people to listen from all over.” Asked if the platform will eventually introduce advertisements, Hoffman said: “Who knows?”
“The first order of business is to get content that people want to listen to,” he said. “And then if it’s compelling enough, there are enough ears, you go out and sell those ears.”
Valencia said that if Rancheria Radio does implement advertising, he intends for it not to be traditional blocks of on-air commercials. He suggested selling banner ads and other space on the website and “10-second snippets” for sponsors between songs.
“(We’re) not saying we’re like Pandora or (iHeartRadio),” Valencia said. “But we are our own stand-alone thing. We’re basically two guys in a studio right now, just holding it down.”