It was in January 2006 while researching wireless speakers that Playbill President and Publisher Philip Birsh came upon a device that could distribute wireless music from a home computer. One idea led to another, and the notion of Playbill Radio was born.
"For most of my life," Birsh explains, "Broadway music has been the stepchild in record stores — relegated to back-of-the-store bins with minimal inventory of only current shows. I believed there was a place for theatre music on a digital streaming platform that could be consumed by millions of fans who have been limited in the past by prehistoric distribution systems."
That digital streaming platform has been realized in Playbill Radio, which is completely free and can now be accessed by visiting www.PlaybillRadio.com on any computer, cell phone or hand-held device with internet access. The station, located in the heart of Broadway in Times Square, officially launched in September and streams show music 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It is maintained by the same staff that assembles another Birsh idea, the annual "Playbill Broadway Yearbook": Program director and news anchor Robert Viagas, engineer David Gewirtzman and Amy Asch.
Viagas, who hosted the "Radio Playbill" magazine show on Sirius Satellite Radio, says that Playbill Radio offers "the greatest songs from every era of Broadway, with only the best tracks from each show hand-picked by our staff." Not only can listeners expect to hear tunes from such musicals as Guys and Dolls, A Chorus Line, Show Boat, The Producers, South Pacific, Grey Gardens, My Fair Lady, Les Misérables, Annie Get Your Gun and Spring Awakening, but they will also be treated to solo recordings from Broadway stars like Barbara Cook, Bernadette Peters, Audra McDonald, Betty Buckley and Brian Stokes Mitchell as well as covers of Broadway favorites by such legendary artists as Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra. In fact, Playbill Radio has already built the largest database of show-tune tracks on the internet — 22,000 and growing. And if listeners don't hear a favorite song, they can visit PlaybillRadio.com and request it. Broadway music is only a portion of what Playbill Radio offers. Three minutes worth of the latest theatre headlines are broadcast at the top of each hour; that news can also be downloaded onto one's iPod for listening at the most convenient time. The web radio station also offers a variety of programs and podcasts. "Center Stage" features interviews with Broadway actors, writers and directors and also visits rehearsal halls to chat with those creating shows that are about to open. Among those already available are interviews with Curtains' Tony winner David Hyde Pierce, Annie composer Charles Strouse, Legally Blonde star Orfeh and Hairspray composer Marc Shaiman. The weekly "Composer Spotlight" offers a full hour of music penned by one of Broadway's great tunesmiths. And, as the New Year approaches, Playbill Radio plans to launch several other programs of interest to theatre lovers.
Playbill, which has been creating Broadway programs since 1884 and posting news on the internet at Playbill.com since 1994, began its venture beyond the written word last year when it teamed with SonyBMG to found Playbill Records. Playbill Radio further supports Playbill's ongoing commitment to provide up-to-date insider theatre information.
"We are entering an exciting arena with this endeavor," Birsh concludes. "Niche audiences are being valued in an unprecedented fashion today, and yet theatre, with its notoriously passionate fan base, has no internet radio station serving it. My vision for the radio station is that it's the answer to many people's desires to enjoy Broadway music, not just in their homes or while they're working on the internet, but also while they travel. Digital streaming signals will be able to be picked up by a variety of new technologies over the next several years: that includes cars, home radios, most telephones and other devices that allow people to pick up information through portable devices."
Playbill Radio is on the air — and it's okay to sing along.
To launch Playbill Radio, click here.