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Radio Meets Social

On Monday, April 4, 2011, UC Irvine will host the official launch of RadioFlag, a startup company based in Irvine that is meshing together the live radio industry and social networking.

“Traditional radio is alive and thriving despite what the upstarts want you to believe,” founder Anthony Roman said. “Social media applications have ignored broadcast radio until now. We intend to give it and its 239 million listeners in the U.S. the respect it deserves and we are proud to have KUCI, one of America’s most innovative stations, officially introduce us to the social media scene.”

The launch event, which will go from noon to 4 p.m. at the Student Center, will be broadcasted live and on the Internet exclusively from KUCI. It is expected to feature the likes of Los Angeles Lakers radio announcers Mychal Thompson and Spero Dedes, Angels broadcaster Mark Gubicza, Hall-of-Fame broadcaster Rich Marotta, the personable Laker Ron Artest, boxer Sugar Ray Leonard and Extra TV’s Mario Lopez.

It is also intended to showcase UCI’s top-notch Donald Bren School of Computer Science, as UCI undergraduates, graduate students and alumni are a part of RadioFlag’s team.

RadioFlag offers real-time, online social interaction between members of a live radio audience, looking to re-establish traditional radio as the original social media.

“The company is an attempt to rekindle the radio industry,” said Devin Pigera, a fourth-year information and computer science major at UCI. “The problem in radio is that people channel surf and we want to solve that by incorporating social networking.”

With their free web and mobile applications, compatible with the iPhone and Android, they will find what you are interested in and use “flags” to filter what you like. The flags can then be added to your favorites and shared with friends.

“There is also an entertainment aspect to it because it helps in finding people,” said Anthony Tse, a fourth-year majoring in Computer Science and Engineering.

In what they dub the “selective listening” experience, they will provide streaming radio so people can listen to it on the go, but with a more crisp sound because it is all digital.

What’s more, there is a viral aspect, where users can reflag and share in 140 characters, standard to a Tweet.

Other features include monitoring real-time trends to figure out what and who is trending and a powerful search engine that sorts by flags, radio stations or people.

Because RadioFlag is using the FCC database, approximately 15,000 stations will be available across 60 to 100 genres.
After results from beta testing came back, they are set to improve their product even more, incorporating international stations like BBC.

Later on, they look to incorporate laser-pointed advertising to generate profits. They stress, however, that users will not be bombarded with spam; instead, they use your interests to target the ads you want to see.

Roman is an avid radio listener, who first came up with the idea in 2006.

“I missed something I really wanted to hear,” Roman said. “I thought, ‘there has to be a better way to deliver content to listeners who couldn’t find what they wanted.’ I wanted to take the listening experience into the 21st century by bridging it with social media.”

From the company’s inception in April 2010 to their first strategy session on May 18 to now, the road has been far from easy.
By establishing relationships with UCI, a school Roman says is very “pro-business” and “attracts talent,” their company was put on ZotLink, which is where both Pigera and Tse were first introduced to RadioFlag.

After sifting through hundreds of applications and resumes, their team now consists of 18 people – a combination of undergraduate and graduate students.

“The first day I came, Anthony [Roman] basically just wrote the idea on the white board and asked what we should do now,” Tse said. “From the concept to the finished product, we were given so much responsibility in shaping a real product.”

It was this team of students that built the entire application from scratch. Under intense pressure, they had to learn from the beginning and still have the ability to deliver without compromising quality.

The atmosphere at RadioFlag is one of a big family. They have been through the ups together, where they take the pure classical theories they have learned at Bren and apply it to industrial practices.

“I’m constantly using the foundations I learned during my freshman year to adapt to the industry and pick up things fast,” Pigera said. “We came in not knowing, but now we’re writing real-world software.”

And, of course, they’ve gotten through all the tension, which comes with the territory of being one, big family that is open to all opinions. People have walked out on meetings because they are so passionate about how features should go in and become implemented.

“In the end, though, we all know we are one team. It’s us against the world,” Tse said.

To prove just how passionate and dedicated this group of entrepreneurs is, they have been meeting every Saturday for the past 10 months. They have the promise of equity, but they are currently working without pay because they believe so much in the idea and in RadioFlag’s vision.

Tse even personally took out his own time and money to enroll in UCI Extension to acquire more knowledge on the Android, while Pigera took it upon himself to get better acquainted with the iPhone.

With UCI students on board behind the scenes, developing the entire application, RadioFlag partnered with KUCI, attempting to use college to inspire, much like what Harvard did for Facebook.

“This partnership has been so great because RadioFlag is an Irvine-based startup, working with UCI students,” said Ravind Kumar, who co-hosts a technology show on KUCI every Monday morning at 9. “UCI is all in the house – it’s the blood, sweat and tears running through this company.”

Indeed, RadioFlag is centered on UCI. Coupled with Roman’s ideas and brain power, UCI has supplied the talent and devotion through its students. When their application gets running, they hope people will look at it and remember UCI.

“The whole message to young students is to find the kind of internship where management believes in you,” Roman said.

“They should give you the opportunity to show what you are made of and showcase your potential.”

And UCI students are certainly grateful for their opportunity.

“The thing I learned the most from RadioFlag is the sense of entrepreneurship,” Pigera said. “We complain that there are no jobs, but I’ve learned that that should never be a block in life. We need to go out there and create the jobs, not getting held back by corporations.”

“If you really have an idea, there is no reason why you can’t pursue it,” Tse agreed.