Since October of 2011, Hairston’s broadcast brainchild, www.1067TheBridge.com has emerged as a three-way combination of online media, responsible programming, and business ownership. Based in San Antonio but heard solely over the Internet, “The Bridge” integrates light rock, gospel, old and new school jazz, along with news that is responsive to the financial, medical and spiritual interests of the discerning urban listener. The station is committed to the empowerment of both consumers and advertisers, frequently playing songs and/or artists that receive little airtime anywhere else. Likewise, business enterprises of all sizes can find an opportunity for exposure on The Bridge.
Hairston’s initial vision was to provide a desperately needed online alternative to a diverse listenership. “The concept behind The Bridge was to bridge the gap between different genres of music and also to bridge black communities a bit more culturally like they once were,” says Hairston.
More important to Hairston is his station’s commitment to positive and informative programming. “We don’t play music that exploits women. We don’t play music that’s laced with profanity, and we don’t play music that glorifies the destruction of black people or our race. We try to uplift people,” he says.
Hairston grew up in Shaker Heights, graduating from its high school in 1982. He attended Hampton University in Hampton, VA and graduated in 1986 with a bachelor’s in Mass Media Communications. He worked as an on-air announcer at Cleveland’s 1490- AM/WJMO.
Hairston has established a foundational Cleveland presence in creating his successful station. Sunday morning listeners, who have been tracked from as far as London, England can hear in succession sermons from a trio of clergymen with strong Cleveland connections. Shaker Heights native, the Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, senior pastor of Trinity United Church of Chicago, can be heard beginning at 9am EST. the membership of which includes the nation’s first family, The Obamas. Moss grew up in Olivet Institutional Baptist Church on Quincy Ave, during his father’s long and distinguished pastorate.
Following Moss are the sermons of Rev. Dr. Todd C. Davidson, now completing his second year as senior pastor of Antioch Baptist Church of Cleveland. His broadcast begins at 10 am EST. Finally, at 12 noon EST, listeners can hear another Shaker native, Dr. Alyn Waller, senior pastor of the 17,000-plus member Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church of Philadelphia. Waller’s late father, Alfred, was the long-time pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church of Cleveland during Alyn’s formative years.
In addition, former Cleveland broadcaster Lynn Tolliver, of WJMO-AM and WZAK-FM fame, has a regular program on Saturday afternoons as well.
Perhaps the most consistent challenge to The Bridge’s mission is financial support. Hairston is constantly seeking ways to make the operation more efficient. So sponsorship and fundraising opportunities are always needed.
“In today’s competitive marketplace, financial support is very important to keep the station going,” says Hairston. “We accept contributions in addition to add revenue. We have a format that is similar to satellite programming, which doesn’t contain many audio commercials. We run banner ads on the website to showcase our sponsors and their products. It’s what helps keep us on the air. We need to get additional funding for marketing and sales which would help us grow our listener base and sponsors.”
While seeking support the current operation, Hairston is also planning expansion. “Many areas of the country have lost their R&B stations on the FM dial as a result of deregulated F.C.C. (Federal Communications Commission) rules, which has prompted some stations to abandon R&B music formats for others that they think may be more lucrative. One of our missions is to bridge those gaps and help promote a global R&B community. We have listeners all over the U.S. and we continue to grow both in the U.S. and abroad. Some of our weekend programming originates in London.
“We hope to continue (the current broadcast) and are also working on a new station that we hope to have online in the next few months—www.thegospelbridge. com. It will focus on gospel music and more sermons. We hope to have that website up by this fall.”
The Bridge’s format and its focus on community uplift make it a rarity in the radio world. Sometimes, he says, “you have to do whatever it takes to be successful. The key is being versatile and open-minded. Internet radio is an extension of the terrestrial (AM/FM) format, so certain skills remain.”
Hairston’s parting advice, like his cross-cultural broadcast operation, speaks to the core of people who are both ambitious and responsive to the urgent need for growth in places like Cleveland. “You may not get the kind of recognition you might expect immediately, but you have to stick with it and people will eventually find you. Don’t be too proud to also work with social media, word-of-mouth, and other ways to introduce people to your website and what you’re doing. It’s a tough business, but you can become successful at it if you work hard and you are consistent.”