All posts by Joe Knapp

MusicMaster Oldies on Live365

MusicMaster Oldies

Radio is in my blood. My mother played the radio for me while I laid in my cradle as a baby. When she put on the “beautiful music” station, I would cry. But, when she switched on the R&B station, I smiled and let it lull me to sleep. I loved radio so much, I built my own illegal station when I was 11 years old. When I turned 18, I got my FCC license. At age 19, I had a job building a new radio station from the ground up in suburban Cleveland, Ohio. I ended up doing the evening shift on that station. I spent the next dozen years moving back and forth from disc jockey to engineer. I loved being on the radio, but engineering had the advantage of being an extremely stable job. Unless they’re very talented, disc jockeys don’t keep their jobs very long. Apparently, I wasn’t that talented!

In late 1983, my unique background of engineering and programming merged. I had been teaching myself computer programming – back when home computers were just becoming a thing – and working at a radio station in Milwaukee as their Chief Engineer. The Program Director and I were good friends, and he knew about my background in programming. I was spending a few hours a day helping to schedule the music for the next day. To save myself some time, I ended up writing a computer program to do some of the heavy lifting. Computers are lightning fast at making thousands of comparisons and decisions, so they’re particularly well-suited for scheduling great playlists for radio stations! This turned into a business, which has grown to a global enterprise today. Tens of thousands of radio stations in dozens of countries around the world are now using the program I created, MusicMaster, to schedule their music. They love it because it helps them build a bigger audience and keep them listening longer. That translates into higher ratings and bigger profits.

I’ve collected vinyl records throughout my entire life. Somewhere around 1990, I started cataloging my record collection in MusicMaster. Later, I began using that database to schedule an oldies format that played songs from the 1950’s and 1960’s. Adding music to that archive became an addiction for me, so it wasn’t long before I had added every song from those years that ever became a chart hit. I discovered B-sides that were also great songs, but never managed to get radio airplay. Those were added into the archive. I added lots of metadata to my archive, including peak chart positions and chart debut dates. Around 1996, I started streaming an oldies channel that was scheduled by MusicMaster from my huge database. I recorded the songs from my vinyl collection. Where I could not find the song on vinyl, I’d try to get a copy of it from CD, sometimes even borrowing CDs from the public library! I discovered Napster in 1999 and used that to collect the more obscure songs that I couldn’t find elsewhere.

Napster (circa 2000)
Napster (circa 2000)

When I discovered Live365, I quickly became a subscriber so I could rebroadcast my oldies stream to a larger audience. I traded a copy of my software to a jingle company in Dallas for some MusicMaster Oldies jingles to play between the songs. I added some old radio commercials to give the audience a better feel for the era. All the while, the library kept growing. Now I added hit songs from other countries, including all the top 40 chart hits from Canada, England, Germany, Australia, and wherever else I could find. I added foreign language covers of American hits. My goal – make that my obsession – was to collect every song I could find from those years and add it to the mix. I expanded it a bit by adding the number one hit songs from 1890 through 1950, along with the top 40 songs from 1970 through 1973. I also added all the Country and R&B chart hits that never crossed over to the pop charts.

My obsession with vinyl came to a peak when, just for fun, I bought out a used vinyl record shop that had been closed due to the owner’s illness. Besides adding a million or more records to my growing collection, I also began buying up records from estate sales and other dealers and collectors. Being CEO of MusicMaster was my full-time job, but the record shop was where I built my office. I loved meeting customers and fellow vinyl record enthusiasts. As much fun as it was, maintaining a retail business on the side simply became too demanding. After running an auction on eBay to sell the shop inventory, a retail chain in New Zealand bought the entire contents – over two million vinyl records! All I kept were the most collectable and valuable records of the bunch, and I’m still holding on to them today. Even after all this time, I’m still adding 100-200 songs to my oldies database every week – and still ripping these from vinyl records.

Live365LogoMusicMaster Oldies had listeners via Live365 from nearly 100 countries. When the service shut down for a half-year, I was forced to move my oldies stream to another service called TuneIn. But, when Live365 came back to life, I didn’t hesitate for a moment to get my oldies stream back running on it.

Running a music stream on the Internet is my way of keeping my past alive. It’s the modern version of the bootleg radio station that I built in my bedroom as an 11-year old kid. It’s a labor of love, really, and a form of expression like posting funny cat pictures on Facebook or sending out comments on Twitter. Personal music streaming is a bona fide form of social media when you do it as a hobby. My heart and soul go into the curation of the oldies database that drives this channel, and I personally edit every playlist. Throughout the week, I add songs whenever I get some free time. On the weekend, I schedule music for the following week and export the playlists to the MusicMaster audio player and encoder. There’s literally no profit in this for me at all, but the experience is worth more to me than anything money could possibly buy.

As an experienced radio programmer, I know – absolutely without question – that my MusicMaster Oldies channel isn’t designed to appeal to a mass audience. It’s really a “long tail” service that is likely to be sampled by anyone who is curious about music from the dawn of rock and roll, and loved by anyone who loves obscure oldies and vinyl record collecting as much as I do. If you want to build a large audience, I can help you do that. If you want to make money doing it, I can help you with that as well. The trick is to do the exact opposite of what I’m doing on MusicMaster Oldies!

MusicMaster Oldies will go on until I’m no longer on the sunny side of the grass, sucking oxygen from the air, or physically unable to maintain it. After that, who knows what will happen? My hope is that someone will keep it running long after I’m gone, perhaps as some strange shrine to the MusicMaster who created it. If that happens, I will have achieved the ultimate dream of immortality.