the web guru and developer behind the Bonneville owned and operated ToastedRav.com has left the company. The move comes a few months after the website laid off most of its staff
If you haven't heard of ToastedRav.com
then you probably don't listen to much commercial radio. Bonneville International launched the site in March 2008 and promoted it heavily on its radio stations 106.5 The Arch, WIL 92.3, and the local ESPN radio affiliate 101 ESPN.
The concept -- a whimsical and snarky entertainment website --- was a pretty bold experiment for a big old media company like Bonneville, and Flynn was the guy inside the company who probably had the most influence on its development.
Now that he's left the company, I thought I'd ask him a few questions about his departure, the future of ToastedRav, and what he's going to do now. Also don't skip the hilarious exit video ToastedRav made about his departure.
Explain what Toasted Rav was indended to be, where the idea came from?
The initial goal of what ended up being ToastedRav.com was to find a way to 1. Group our current crop of radio stations together in to one "network" and 2. Add a new site to the mix that would appeal to people even if they don't listen to any of our radio stations since no matter how much great stuff we put on, for example, WIL92.com, if you didn't like country music you were NEVER going to go there. The entertainment content on ToastedRav.com was simply a way to bring in people with a more universal appeal and local flavor.
Were there other blogs that inspired it?
In the initial planning phases, I often dropped the venerable BoingBoing.net as an example and something to work towards. As far as the video side, we wanted something more stripped down and raw initially, and the only example that I kept using was some of the great work at VBS.tv.
How were you able to do something like that within the old media corporate stucture?
There was really just one reason: Need. "Old Media" needed to at least experiment in other areas and at the time there was a complete dearth of local entertainment-type sites. Credit also should go to Bonneville, the parent company, for not only letting us try something new, but actually pushing for it (for a little while at least). Sure ToastedRav's run wasn't exactly epic, but many companies didn't even try.
How did the project evolve over time and how did it diverge from the original vision?
We found out pretty quickly that the our self-appointed thesis of "St. Louis Entertainment" was a little broad for the staff we had, so we really started to bring in the boundaries of what we covered to become more focused. We were very much all over the place at the beginning.
Why are you leaving?
The management have made it clear that the web, and specifically ToastedRav.com is not where they want to focus their efforts. It started with the layoffs of the entire content side of ToastedRav and even some of the production/web side. That diversion of focus came to a head with some recent restructuring in our office. Together those moves painted a pretty clear picture that the focus was no longer on making cool new things on the web, but rather taking a step back to a more "traditional" structure of each radio station having its own site that is more or less a promotional vehicle rather than a separate content source.
In addition to that, there were some in-house issues a few months back with my short-lived St. Louis gossip site PunchingKitty.com
Basically, all I want to do is develop cool sites and applications on the web and have a few laughs while I'm at it. The environment there had soured on both of those fronts, so it was time to leave.
Where are you going?
I am thrilled to be joining the team at Announce Media
. My short time in the professional realm of the media is over, but I have plans to ramp up my personal "less than professional" brand of media again soon.
Most of the staff writers were laid off a few months ago, why?
The answer to that is the one that has been trotted out a lot lately (Say it with me!) "the economy."
If you look at any older established company, when the income goes south they tend to circle the wagons around the thing they know best, and in this case it was radio. Some would argue that when its hitting the fan is the time to innovate, but big companies rarely see it that way. In this particular case, they immediately rallied around what they knew best and cut everything they didn't think they needed. Once again, to give credit where credit is due, Bonneville did hold out a lot longer than other radio companies did before cutting people, and from what I understand, cutting people had to happen. I just wish they would have thought about the future a little more before pulling the plug on the project early.
How committed do you think Bonneville is to continuing with ToastedRav?
As far as the "ToastedRav Platform" i.e. the actual site engine and the social networking layer built on top of it, that will continue on. The sites might appear different soon, but the engine beneath is not even two years old yet so it still has some legs.
As I understand it, the ToastedRav content will continue on as well, but it has already evolved to be more in support of the content on 1065thearch.com and WIL92.com rather than stand-alone. The articles that are written along with Chris Files' awesome work on The Toast and his "P.D.As" will continue, but will be also showing up on those other two station sites which I'm happy to hear since it just more exposure for some great work.
The upshot is so far they are committed to continuing the ToastedRav core, but mainly to help supplement the content on the two stations where entertainment content makes sense. That doesn't mean that The Toast will any less funny though.
Did they do anything similar in other markets?
Yes and no. The idea of grouping all of their local media properties in to one group site has been done at many of the other Bonneville radio clusters, but the main difference is that in those locations each cluster has an established local news source. Having that already established news brand certainly takes a lot of the "Who the hell are you?" work that we did for that first year out of the way.
How much stuff were you able to walk out with (steal)? [I KID!! See the video]
From the looks of the video, a lot! A chair, some cables and then later on some speakers and monitors! Sadly none of that ever actually left the building. All those Craigslist ads selling office supplies under my brother's name are merely a coincidence.