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Qcity entrepreneur launches R&B Internet radio station

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Time was, an entrepreneur looking to launch a radio station would need deep pockets and a license from the Federal Communications Commission. Technology, at last, has changed all that.

Nala Ruiz of Charlotte launched WUFO, an Internet-based station, about a year ago with little more than a big dream and self-funding. She says her 24-hour station now attracts about 2,000 listeners.

Like all traditional media, traditional radio stations have seen their audiences dwindle in the face of satellite radio, MP3 players and, yes, the ever-present Internet.

WUFO operates from a rented room inside a building on Albemarle Road in east Charlotte. Its format, recently changed, is popular R&B with a dose of talk and independent artists.

Like its more traditional cousins, WUFO employs a stable of on-air personalities -- Chill Will, Mista Johnson and Aiesha Riley, to name a few – or “aliens,” as they are known to Ruiz, who calls herself the “Alien Leader.” Her listeners are known as the “Alien Nation.”

The station will host a re-launch party for its new format on Tuesday, January 25, at The Art House in NoDa at 7 p.m. Until then, WUFO is temporarily off the air, Ruiz said Monday.

Ruiz grew up in Chicago, served a stint in the Navy and moved to Charlotte about a year ago from Florida after her marriage dissolved. She recently sat with Qcitymetro.com to talk about her business venture.

A Q&A from that interview is below. Answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Q. How did you end up launching a radio station, of all things?
Actually, that’s a funny story. I was a guest on another Internet-based radio station. And for some strange reason they liked me, and they kept me around. I was a guest for, I’d say, about a week. In the course of that one week, a lot of things happened. I was initially asked to come and help with their financials. They had asked me to come and make sure their books were straight. That station eventually dissolved, but I saw how much fun it could be and how lucrative it could possibly be. I liked the thought of having a platform to put out whatever I wanted to put out.

Q. Given all the stations out there, why do we need another?
I see a need for good radio. I think what WUFO brings to the table is, I’ve taken a lot of things that traditional radio has done, but at the same time I’m putting a twist on it. A lot of people do things for the money – you're in business to make a profit, obviously – but with WUFO being Internet-based radio, I can do whatever I want to do. We’re not corporate; we’re independent. I can put out more educational programming. I can put out things that empower more. While I am in business to make a profit, it’s not only about making a dollar. Some other stations, because they are out to make a profit, they are going to put a song out because it’s hot, because it’s popular, not because it uplifts, not because it teaches you anything. With me having the final say, I can put out the type of music that will uplift and empower.

Q. But you still must attract listeners. Is there an audience for the kind of music you mention?
I have an audience, and I’m building an audience that does. Make no mistake, we still play some of the more popular music, but we don’t play something that’s going to beat you down. And we will be around because there is a listening audience for the kinds of music we play. You won’t hear hard-core rap that is degrading women and degrading people. You just won’t hear that. While we do play rap, it’s more of a conscious type of music with a message.

Q. Who is your target audience?
We are targeting the business professionals who are in front of their computers. Our main programming is between 9 in the morning and 7 at night, and the age of our audience is 21 and up, male and female. They are business-class, working professionals. Because they are people at work, we have to make sure that the music we play doesn’t get them to a point where they can’t play it at work. I know that there are doctors and lawyers and offices that have our music playing.

Q. How is the station doing from a business perspective?
I think we are doing ok. You can always have more advertisers, I think. But we have a few good advertisers. We have a few corporate advertisers. There is a lot of competition, so we’re doing some unique things in order to bring a little bit more to the table. We have a print partner, so when an advertiser advertises with us, they get the radio portion but they also get a printed publication.

Q. Who is the print partner?
We have two different magazines that we partner up with. One is the Showcase Magazine, and one is Sophisticated Charlotte magazine.

Q. You have about 2,000 listeners currently. What are your projections?
For the end of the first quarter, we’d like to take that up to at least 3,500 listeners. Internet-based listeners are not the same as traditional listeners. It’s a little bit harder. You have to grab that listener and hold them there. It’s not the same as someone who can listen in their home or in their car.

Q. Where do you think you’ll top out?
I don’t want to say I’m going to top out anywhere. I know another Internet-based radio station out of Ohio; they’ve got 80,000 listeners. There’s another in D.C. They’ve got 120,000 listeners.

Q. You recently changed format. Tell me about that.
We were more hop-hop oriented, and we were doing whatever they were doing – “they” being some of the more traditional stations. I changed that because that does not make me unique. Plus, I didn’t feel good about it. I wasn’t being true to myself, and I couldn’t put the business out there like I wanted to. You have to stand behind what you are putting out.

Q. Do you have investors?
No, everything is independent.

Q. What’s been the biggest surprise so far?
Everything has been a surprise. The biggest surprise is that you have to keep pushing. And you have to realize that people don’t always do what they say they're going to do.

Q. Tell me about those interesting call letters – WUFO.
“Well, my husband used to always say, “You don’t think like anybody I know. You’re not from this planet.” I would hear that four or five times a day. I guess he was referring to some of the thought processes I had. I felt that things should be a certain way. He said I thought more abstract than anyone he had ever met. He used to say, “You’re an alien.” And it just kind of stuck. Plus, you have the whole cyberspace thing, the Internet radio, you know, kind of outer space. I thought it fit.

Editor's Note: Tell us about your entrepreneurial venture. We might just make it our next Monday Business focus. Email editor@qcitymetro.com.

Got news to share with Qcity readers? Email us at editor@qcitymetro.com.
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