Utah's one-of-a-kind Munchkin radio

Published February 25, 2010 5:55 am

Radio » Locally based Internet radio station caters to families with energetic, kid-friendly songs.
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Every day, radio station co-founder Mike Peer welcomes listeners to Munchkin Land.

The Herriman resident and former music director at one of Utah's most popular stations launched a new online station in October. Munchkin Radio is thought to be the first station in the country targeted for listeners too young for Radio Disney. Specifically, Peer's station is aimed at kids 7 and younger.

The idea is still new, and currently Peer and business partner Kevin Powell are ecstatic if the Web site reaches 100 hits a day. But they believe the station should be a natural fit for this family-friendly market -- and beyond.

"We want radio that is safe for little ears," says Peer, who has daughters ages 4 and 6. Adds Powell: "This is friendly and wholesome music."

The idea for the station was born some five years ago, when Peer began making mixtapes for his oldest daughter. As a radio programmer, then working alongside Howard Stern at the influential New York radio station K-Rock, he didn't want his daughter to listen to his own station. He couldn't stomach the idea of her hearing popular, catchy pop-radio songs such as Flo Rida's No. 1 hit "Right Round" or Lil Wayne's "Lollipop" -- which focus on oral sex.

He tossed around the idea with Powell, a Maryland marketer who has worked for record labels, and together they came up with a business plan. Munchkin Radio would be a safe haven for youngsters and their parents. It would play educational and other age-appropriate songs, without vulgarities or euphemisms. Even Radio Disney songs, Peer says, are too old for his daughters, with all of their lyrics about love and relationships.

Commercial radio needs advertisers, and Peer believes there are companies with budgets but nowhere to run ads. Pampers ads, after all, don't appear during commercial breaks of "Jersey Shore."

The pair plans to air only age-appropriate ads on Munchkin Radio, after Powell's recent bad experience watching a TV ad for the film "The Wolfman" with his young daughters. "Next thing you know, I've got a nightmare on my hands," he said.

Powell and Peer have researched the competition and believe the market is wide open. After all, they know of no kid-focused station like Munchkin Radio.

"Sirius/XM has a kids channel, and Much Music has a kids channel," Peer said. "Both are very poorly programmed, and probably the work of some guy who runs three country stations and four rock stations and they threw their kids channel at him and said, 'Here, you do this one, too.' "

Even the nonprofit Kids Public Radio doesn't hit the mark, Peer believes, citing examples of songs such as "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" performed by a band that sounds like Blink-182, or "The Wheels on the Bus" by a band that sounds like Metallica. "What kid wants to hear that?" he asks.

What kids want to listen to, he believes, aren't rock bands playing kids' songs. Instead, they would rather hear Dora the Explorer, or Barney, or the Chipmunks -- voices they recognize -- singing their songs. In addition, kids like hearing songs they remember from children's movies, such as "Life Is a Highway" from "Cars" and "All Star" from "Shrek."

Peer and Powell's idea is so brilliant, says Seattle-based radio consultant Sean Demery, he wonders why there aren't other kid-targeted stations. "He's playing the real hits for kids 2 through 6," said Demery, who also hosts the morning show at Seattle's 103.7 FM "The Mountain." "When [kids] see 'Aladdin,' they want to [hear] Aladdin singing, not Blink-182 or James Taylor."

Why should anyone believe Peer knows what people want to listen to? He's a longtime radio talent, known nationally as a tastemaker. At New York's K-Rock, he introduced listeners to Coldplay, Eminem, the White Stripes, Linkin Park and Matchbox Twenty (whom he touted back when the band was known by the name Tabitha's Secret).

He moved his family to Utah in January 2007, where as music director for 101.9 The End, he was known by his on-air name Parker, breaking such musicians as Colbie Caillat, Sara Bareilles, Metro Station and OneRepublic.

Peer was laid off in 2008 due to budget cutbacks. In part due to a no-compete clause, his wife, Karen, encouraged him to start something new. "God didn't move us here for you to work at 101.9," said his wife, a practicing Catholic. "Someone wanted you here to start Munchkin Radio."

Others agree. "Can you think of a better market?" asked Demery, who has come to know the area as a Park City home owner.

Now with time on his hands, Peer watches children's programs and cartoons all day, sometimes even without his children. His daughters have become his in-house focus group.

After years of organizing radio station promotions and giveaways, Peer finds himself back to the world of guerrilla marketing. Since October, he has handed out thousands of demo CDs to parents around the Salt Lake Valley and has placed some 150,000 fliers on cars in parking lots from Herriman to Salt Lake City. (If you've received a flier on your car, that's because Peer noticed your booster or child seat inside.)

To promote the station, he deejays child-focused events for free, playing sample music from Munchkin Radio. At one preschool festival in South Jordan, he met Jolynne Alger, a mother of two daughters, whom he labels Munchkin Radio's "first fan."

The music "was very appropriate for young children, which is hard to find," Alger said. She bookmarked the station on laptop computers in her children's rooms, so her daughters wake up every morning to Munchkin Radio and go to sleep every night listening to it. She says the lullaby section on the Web site calms her daughters down and helps them sleep.

Peer has deejayed at West Jordan's Jumpin' Jack's Indoor Inflatable Playground and at local Chick-fil-A restaurant's family nights. The music matches the company's vision to be a safe, community-oriented spot, says Betty Pickle, owner of the South Jordan Chick-fil-A. Her customers rave about the music, and ask how they can listen to Munchkin Radio, which she now plays at home, too.

Although the site has received hits from 43 countries, Powell and Peer want to grow their audience before they pitch the concept to local and national radio stations.

It's an idea whose time has come, they believe. "Parents will do anything to please their kids," Peer says. Adds Powell: "If my kids are happy, my wife is happy."

The demand is there, says Alger, the mother and station fan. "If we get enough people to listen to it," she says, "then maybe I can listen to it in the car."

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You can listen to Munchkin Radio at http://www.munchkinradio.com" Target="_BLANK">http://www.munchkinradio.com

Past sample playlists:

1. B-I-N-G-O / Kids Singing

2. Circle of Life / From "Lion King"

3. Allouette / Dora the Explorer

4. Billy Boy / Kids Singing

5. Theme From "Imagination Movers"/ From "Imagination Movers"

6. Gummy Bear / Gummibar

7. Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes / Kids Singing

8. The Animal Fair / Laurie Berkner

1. The Hokey Pokey / Kids Singing

2. Under the Sea / From "The Little Mermaid"

3. Sally the Camel / Barney

4. The Farmer in the Dell / Kids Singing

5. Life Is a Highway / Rascal Flatts (From "Cars")

6. See You Again / Miley Cyrus

7. Yankee Doodle / Kids Singing

8. Movin' Right Along / Muppets (From "The Muppet Movie")

1. I've Been Working on the Railroad / Kids Singing

2. Following the Leader / From "Peter Pan"

3. Into Action / Tim Armstrong (From "Hotel for Dogs")

4. She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain / Kids Singing

5. Mr. Sun / Raffi

6. You Belong With Me (Pop Edit) / Taylor Swift

7. Crawdad Song / Kids Singing

8. Gitchee Gitchee Goo / Phineas & Ferb

9. Theme From "SpongeBob SquarePants"

10. The Alphabet Song (A-B-C-D) / Kids Singing



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