There probably isn't a radio professional in the market who has dabbled with attempting to make an Internet broadcast model work more than Jim Parisi.
And he's giving it a go one more time, hoping this is the incarnation that finally takes hold.
Parisi's 18 years in Tucson have resembled a ping-pong ball, and getting metaphorically whacked by the fickle paddle of entertainment and technology can take its toll. At given times, he was the morning show host at KNST AM 790, then separated from the news/talk leader and unveiled a streaming Internet venture before shuttering that effort. Two years ago, he cut a deal with a small AM, KEVT 1210, to return to the terrestrial airwaves, but in February funding ran dry. That has precipitated another Internet only move, at a point where he hopes the timing is finally right.
Maybe he's onto something. Parisi has been embroiled in the ongoing transitional battle between traditional media and new technological outlets. The problem has been convincing advertisers to make that transition, and to a point where they would be willing to spend the kind of money to make digital platforms work. It remains a frustrating balance that continues to perplex multiple entertainment platforms. There are as many new attempts at content suffering from limited ad sales as there are more traditional media endeavors struggling to maintain a fleeting bottom line.
However, Parisi discovered the AM radio model has lowered expectations on its ad sales so dramatically, it made the necessary, and perhaps forced, transition to an Internet model more palatable.
The Zamora family has been great to us," said Parisi of 1210's ownership, "but it's hard for people who own AM stations to let go of the concept that the stations aren't worth what they were 20 years ago. If I could have bought the station for $300,000 I would have, but you can't. (As it was, Parisi was spending near that amount on an annual basis to rent the signal). But the billing some of the AM stations were doing just three or four years ago was in the millions. I'll guarantee there aren't more than two AM stations in this market, if that, doing that now. Everybody is hurting. But what am I doing locking myself into a financial model that's so difficult? We have a formula here where some people will pay a small fee to rent the studio space and then we still have some clients who advertise. We're weeks into this and we're still making a small profit. I don't know why it would make sense to go back."
As AM listenership has continued to dwindle—the advent of talk radio probably salvaged the band from near extinction more than 20 years ago—ad rates have plummeted. In some cases, an advertiser could spend as little as a couple of bucks per 30-second spot. Problem is, when sponsors are paying so little, there isn't enough time on the clock to bring in the revenue necessary to make that viable financially.
As a small AM that barely registered from a ratings standpoint, it was tough to convince advertisers to spend any money, and if they were on board they'd spend so little that any chance of making rent on that model alone just wasn't feasible.
Which is why transitioning to an Internet radio model has its advantages. There might not be quite as much money coming in, but there's a heck of a lot less going out.
"The clients are finally giving you the credibility online," Parisi said. "I wanted terrestrial radio for credibility. There's credibility with saying you're on an actual radio station. Certain percentages of the population believe it's not the same unless you're on the radio. Well, we did it for two years, and by all accounts we put on a good product. It was fun programming and very professional. I hope to retain 40 percent of those people and where we lose some of those older listeners who won't move from terrestrial radio, we gain all kinds of people who stream like I do."
That aspect has improved in recent years as well with more favorable smart phone data plans and modern vehicle upgrades that account for better streaming capacity.
The next step is pushing the PowerTalk app, one of the branding holdovers from the PowerTalk 1210 era.
"We're about to start a campaign called 'Get the App,'" Parisi said. "I keep telling people on the air you're going to hate me. You'll hear 'Get the App' every day."
Since the transition, Parisi has endured some pretty significant lineup changes. Long-time local talk icon John C. Scott left 1210 shortly before the signal went dark. It might be the end to one of the more noteworthy talk careers in Tucson radio history. Matt Russell's On the Menu weekend program was another casualty. His program now airs on KQTH 104.1 FM.
But Parisi, Steve Kass and others have stayed on board. The powertalk1210.com website is in the process of an upgrade which will include, among other things, podcasts of archived programs.
"I still sit in the same office and same studio desk," Parisi said. "We use a lot of the same equipment. We have the latest computers and software to do remotes. I still drive in at 5:30 (every weekday morning) and go live at 7. Our world hasn't changed. The stigma that used to be there for Internet radio, I don't think that's there anymore. I thought I was going to get beat up a little bit when we went back to the Internet, but people are fired up."