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JEMP Radio: Phish (and more) for fans; by fans

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At this moment, in a modest radio studio on the coast of Maine, computer servers are connecting listeners around the world to music by the band Phish and related artists.

As the soft hum of fans cool the equipment, the sound of an audience is heard through the studio monitors and the next track begins: A live version of Phish’s “Back on the Train,” recorded during their most recent tour. Welcome to JEMP Radio – a listener supported station, streaming live 24 hours a day at JEMP Radio.com.

Maine radio veteran Race Ashlyn is the man behind JEMP Radio, a station that evolved from an earlier incarnation called Coastal Maine Radio. That station featured an eclectic singer/songwriter format, seasoned with a healthy dose of Phish and the Grateful Dead.

“With Coastal Maine Radio, I was playing too much Phish for people who didn’t like Phish and not enough Phish for people who do like Phish. It almost seemed too polarizing,” Ashlyn told me in a recent interview.

Following his instincts, Ashlyn began ripping hundreds of new tracks into the automation system. Paying tribute to Phish’s record label JEMP (an acronym utilizing each member’s first name – Jonathan, Ernest (Trey), Mike and Page), he then changed the name of his station to JEMP Radio.

When Ashlyn switched his station to its current Phish-oriented format two years ago, excited listeners spread the word through social media and he soon found that his station was a hit. Through analyzing daily listener data, he could see that people around the world were tuning in.

As listenership grew, the cost of keeping JEMP Radio afloat increased exponentially. Each click meant an increase in licensing and streaming fees. Again, JEMP Radio’s listeners responded.

“It’s been amazing,” Ashlyn told me. “We did a sticker campaign where people were donating small amounts of money and we sent a JEMP sticker to thank them. We did hundreds of mail-outs to every state in the country. I’ve got that list and it’s so cool to scroll through it and see all of the names, towns and cities where JEMP is playing.”

Prior to making the switch to JEMP Radio, Ashlyn says he wanted to be certain that his station was in compliance with guidelines established by the band. “Since we were going to be playing so much of their music, we needed to be a licensed radio station,” he said. “It’s always been important to us that all of the artists that we play are paid the royalties due to them. JEMP Radio is licensed with performance rights organizations (PRO’s) ASCAP, BMI, SESAC and Sound Exchange – that’s the big one that disseminates the money.”

Operating a licensed streaming radio station is not an inexpensive endeavor, Ashlyn explains.

“Some of them get paid quarterly, some annually. ASCAP, BMI and SESAC are more concerned with what we’re making in revenue. All donations are claimed. Any advertising is claimed. The fee for Sound Exchange is based on ‘plays.’ In other words, we pay per play. When we started, I wrote them a check for $500 and have paid them (on average) $300-400 per month. That’s only to Sound Exchange.”

Ashlyn says that JEMP Radio’s listeners have helped him cover those expenses through donations and the sale of T-shirts and stickers, each bearing the name of the station.

Listeners of the station can be heard on occasional between-song station IDs while some even host their own specialty program on the station. (Full disclosure: I’m one of them. I host ‘The Other Mike’s Corner’ each Wednesday at 2 p.m. Eastern. Each episode has a theme and features material drawn mostly from my own Phish archive of material accumulated over the last 25 years.)

“The original programming is what anchors the station,” Ashlyn says. “Each one of those shows has a following and it’s so cool to see the numbers (of online listeners) because they bump up each week. People tune in specifically to hear the shows and they become benchmarks. It brings all of our experiences and collections to one place where we can talk about it and expand on it.”

“This Week in Phish” is a weekly two-hour show, airing each Thursday at 2 p.m. and hosted by Alex Grosby of Ellensburg, Washington. “On that show, Alex dives in plays (in some cases) the audience recordings that we don’t otherwise play,” Ashlyn said. “But those audience tapes are a big part of Phish’s history and a lot of those shows haven’t been released.”

“I get to have fun constructing a mini two-set Phish show, putting eras side by side and highlighting the big jams and also forgotten numbers and hidden gems,” Grosby told me in an interview.

Another Maine radio vet, Brett Slater of Wiscasset, hosts a two-hour Grateful Dead program called “The Dead Zone” each Friday at 2 p.m. Each episode features an hour of live Grateful Dead music. “There are a lot of phenomenal Dead shows out there that don’t get heard as often,” Slater told me. “Those are the ones we try to feature. I think the Dead fit nicely on a station that is predominately Phish-centric.”

Russell Snyder of Tiffin, Ohio, plays Phish and the Grateful Dead on “Pool House Rocks,” each Saturday at 2 p.m. “I’ve worked in traditional, college and internet radio and I can say with full confidence that JEMP Radio is my favorite,” Russell told me in an interview. “Through listener support and the support of my fellow show-hosts, we know JEMP Radio is, and will continue to be, a place that jam-band fans can call home.”

Andy Michaels of Lansing, Michigan hosts “All Things Reconsidered” each Tuesday at 2 p.m. “Hosting the only talk show on JEMP Radio has been a fantastic ride,” Michaels told me. My show features interviews, games, and just recently, I did a music contest featuring bands from all over America.”

Matt Lennon was an advertiser on JEMP Radio before he began hosting “All Covered Up.” Lennon, of Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, owns “The Loving Cup,” specializing in coffees from around the world. New episodes of his program air each Thursday at 11 a.m. and feature jam bands covering songs by other artists. “Covers are a staple of the jam community,” Lennon says. “They really show you where your favorite band got its chops.”

One of the first things that a listener might notice is the quality of JEMP Radio’s stream. For starters, all of the music is loaded into the system at a high bit-rate. When you purchase a song from iTunes, you receive a file encoded at 256 kilobits per second. All of JEMP Radio’s titles are encoded at 320 kilobits per second.

“I’m an audiophile and I want everything to sound good,” Ashlyn says. That ethos also applies to the station’s audio processing. Ashlyn says he uses Omnia Audio processing for JEMP Radio.

“It’s funny because the preset that I started with on the processor is called ‘Sparkle.’ It’s a Phish title (‘Sparkle’ appeared on the 1993 album ‘Rift’) so we had to go with it. I’ve tweaked the station to specifically process live Phish. Everything else sounds great but it’s specific to Phish. When you hear a Grateful Dead cut, it might sound like it has a lot of bass because their stuff was mixed with a lot of low-end. Most Phish from the 1.0 era (a term which refers to the band’s output through October 2000 when they took a two-year hiatus) had Mike (Gordon, bassist) much lower in the mix so I have heavy bass on the station intentionally to make up for that. Bringing out the instrumentation was the goal.”

Ashlyn says that his overall goal for JEMP Radio is to see the station grow and evolve as the band has over the last 33 years.

“My overall vision for the station was a ‘for fans, by fans’ place to go to hear what’s going on in the community. I’d like to have more of that. We’re going to continue to add shows and live cuts from Phish. When tours happen, we’ll have material from that tour. I see the station evolving as the band does.

“JEMP Radio is the perfect little nexus of like-minded people that’s unlike any conventional radio station I’ve heard or worked for,” according to Slater. “It’s great music being played for people who love it, by people who love it. There’s no motive, other than for a love for the music.”

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