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Jumpy Enough to Chew a Chair? Try DogCatRadio

badger
November 1st, 2005, 05:39 PM
By DINITIA SMITH
"Remember, be kind to your mailman," said Jane Harris, a disc jockey. Then she softened her voice until it was a little insinuating: "He only wants to deliver the mail."

It is a message that many of her listeners need to hear. Ms. Harris is a D.J. on DogCatRadio.com, a new Internet radio station for pets. Now dogs, cats, hamsters and parrots can keep the anxiety, the loneliness, the restlessness at bay while their owners are out. It is radio just for them, live 17 hours a day, 4 a.m. to 9 p.m. Pacific time, and podcast for the rest of the 24 hours.

Those who listen to DogCatRadio will find that there is generally an animal motif to the playlist, like "Hound Dog": "You ain't nothin' but a hound dogcryin' all the time."

This Elvis song is a frequent request from listeners (presumably the owners), as are the Baha Men, singing: "Who let the dogs out (woof, woof, woof, woof)."

And Dionne Warwick is also popular, especially her soothing song "That's What Friends Are For": "Keep smiling, keep shining,/Knowing you can always count on me."

Since many pets are apparently bilingual, DogCatRadio also has a "Spanish Hour," 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. Pacific time daily, with Hispanic commentary and music, like Luis Miguel's "No Sé Tú": DogCatRadio.com was started last June by Adrian Martinez, who is also president of Marusa records, an independent record label in Los Angeles. He runs the station out of a customized RV parked in his office lot in the Eagle Rock section of Los Angeles.

Mr. Martinez, 34, who owns six dogs and two cats, said he founded the station because "my cat, Snickers, asked me to do it." One day, Snickers was pacing the floor restlessly and meowing. "I said, 'What do you want?' " Mr. Martinez recalled in a telephone interview from Los Angeles. "I turned up the music, and she was fine." He discovered that Snickers likes 80's rock, particularly the Eddie Money version of the song "Take Me Home Tonight:" "I feel a hunger /It's a hunger that tries to keep a man awake at night."

Mr. Martinez added, "I wanted to do something for the pet community."

The first week that DogCatRadio was broadcast, the local CBS television station showed a feature about it. As a result, so many people tuned in, 130,000 in one day, that the server crashed, Mr. Martinez said. "We had to get a bigger server to accommodate more listeners." Now, he said, "We average close to 8,000 hits a week. We have a meter that tracks it."

"People are just e-mailing us," calling from all over the world, Mr. Martinez said. "I love what you are doing, but please don't forget our equine friends," an e-mail message from Australia said.

When Mr. Martinez gets requests, he springs into action. "We go to Tower Records within the hour," he said. "Since we're conquering the globe, we want to make sure we can accommodate these people."

Sometimes Mr. Martinez broadcasts from the field. DogCatRadio showed a segment on people walking their dogs first thing in the morning outside the Rose Bowl in Pasadena - a very popular early morning route for dog walkers, bikers and joggers - with interviews (with the owners). It reports on animal charity events like "Walk for Paws," recently sponsored by the group "Nuts for Mutts."

Internet radio, which claims about 20 million regular listeners, is still in the early stages of development and has a relatively small number of fans who use their laptops, desktops or hand-held computers to tune in.

Mr. Martinez said he believed he had latched onto something unique with his little station: "With all the news you hear on Iraq, it's something to balance the bad news."

Meanwhile, the broadcast has received some notice. Dr. Larry Family, who has a talk show program, the Pet Vet, on WROW-AM in Albany, recommends DogCatRadio to his patients' owners. "It's of interest to those people whose pets have certain phobias or anxiety issues," he said in a telephone interview from the outskirts of Schenectady, where he has his practice.

"I have recommended it to those whose dogs are having certain problems behaviorwise in the home environment," he said.

"It might be helpful with dogs with separation anxiety issues," Dr. Family went on. "Dogs, especially, are interested in watching TV with their owners and listening to music."

Mr. Martinez said that at the moment, the station has no advertising and is making no money. But, he said, "I'm not in it for the money." He added, "Eventually, I'm sure, people will advertise."

That is not such a leap, since it is estimated that American pet owners will spend $35.9 billion this year on everything from electric toothbrushes for dogs to bird pedicures to self-flushing litter boxes for cats, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association.

So far, the six people associated with the station, four of whom act as D.J.'s, are paid only a small stipend to cover expenses. "I'm so involved with the pet community," said Ms. Harris, the D.J. and an owner of five dogs. "I'm looking to this as an avenue to open something up." When Ms. Harris isn't broadcasting on DogCatRadio.com, she works as a market researcher.

"How are all my furry friends doing out there?" Ms. Harris asked her listeners recently. "We hope you're doing great and not chewing on anything but your toys."