When Mat “Diablo” Bates and his radio cohorts were fired from the 91X morning show this past May, a pall fell over San Diego. Karl Strauss even brewed a special batch of beer for the crew called Black Friday. Bates had made local commercial radio cool again—at least for a couple of years—and now the city had another on-air dead zone.
Luckily for listeners, Bates is back, though not in terrestrial radio. He’s now the Senior Program Manager at Slacker.com, a Rancho Bernardo-based Internet radio company that pushes content in the U.S. and Canada. Actually, “radio” doesn’t do Slacker justice. Bates calls it “music discovery.”
“Slacker is my dream job,” he says. “Not only am I working with intelligent, passionate people, but our mission is to connect people with the music they want to hear.”
That music ranges from indie rock—a channel Bates oversees—to hip-hop and hits, classical and comedy, standards and spiritual. If it’s been recorded, chances are good Slacker’s got it, and it’s all packaged for web and Smartphone platforms.
“We provide an alternative to your commercial, corporate radio playlist,” says Bates. “We’re literally ubiquitous. You can take us anywhere you go.”
In 2006, Bates moved to San Diego to consult for Slacker, then a promising startup. Although the self-proclaimed music nerd had worked in radio since his college days in Reno, Nevada, he claims he’s never had a “radio personality.”
“I always just desperately wanted to share music with people,” he says.
His two-year stint at 91X was an opportunity for Bates to brand his name while also pushing the boundaries of FM broadcasts. Now that the 91X show is kaput, he retains a loyal following that will likely stick with him, even if he isn’t getting drunk or making fun of celebs on terrestrial radio.
Bates’ 91X listener base was confined to San Diego. Slacker, on the other hand, has 17 million registered listeners worldwide. Unlike Pandora, another popular online music app that uses algorithms to generate playlists based on user preferences, Slacker supplements its backend code with a human touch, meaning that Bates manages not just technology, but also about 100 radio programmers who are all experts in their individual genres.
From there, it’s up to the listener to customize the experience by adding artists, removing songs and so on. “You can create a totally custom station based on your taste,” Bates says.
Now, Bates is busy ramping up Slacker’s content initiatives, including a dedicated Lollapalooza channel, which will feature artists playing at the upcoming music festival in Chicago. On August 6, he’ll head to the Windy City to broadcast live from the fest. A deal with ABC News is also developing.
“I feel emancipated and elated,” says Bates. “There could not have been a job more custom-tailored for my passions. A lot of the ideas and philosophies I’ve always had about radio are not only being put to work—they’re actually working.”